Folly of clinging to a failed business

Jackson Mutuku went from thriving trader to homeless man

In Summary

• Despite an entrepreneur's best efforts, external circumstances can crash a business

• Coast trader learned the hard way of need to change one's plans whenever necessary


Tenacity of purpose. Passion. Discipline and hard work. Savings. Patience and perseverance. Honesty. These are a few of the personal virtues recommended for success in any business.

World-famous entrepreneurs – many of them now billionaires – describe these virtues as the secret to growing wealthy. And they are right. Nobody ever made it rich from sloth, drunkenness, indiscipline, indebtedness, dishonesty and bad customer service.

However, practising the right values is not a sure guarantee of success, as many have found out.

Jackson Mutuku, 41, recalls his experience running a retail shop at the Coast five years ago. Flush with money from a previous employment contract, Mutuku ventured into business rather than look for another job. He knew it would be tough and was prepared to weather the challenges. He had a business plan, he watched his expenses, he listened to his customers and adapted his products accordingly.

“Things took a turn for the worse when the open-air market near my shop was closed for renovation," Mutuku recalls. Suddenly, the teeming masses of people vanished. "I would stand at the door of the shop, look in both directions of the street and see just two or three people. I would feel a lump in my throat. Honestly, I was scared for my future."

Sales declined dramatically and, with it, the income from the shop. Within three months, Mutuku could not keep up with the rent for his shop. In six months, he had to let go of his shop assistant because he couldn't afford her. "I would be in the shop almost every day, often without meals. I was motivated by the hope that business would flourish as it used to," Mutuku says.

Lacking money even for transport, he would walk three kilometres to his business at dawn and the same distance back home after closing. "I had several clients who owed me money. Each day, I prayed they would pay me so I could stabilise my finances. Each day, I would get disappointed."

The lowest point in his entrepreneurial experience was getting locked out of his house for being late with the rent. "I had never defaulted on house rent. It was the 15th of the month and I was still saving my little income to pay the rent. I assumed the landlord would be understanding. It was the first time in my life to get locked out of a rental house." Mutuku walked back the three kilometres to his shop, where he spent the night in a plastic chair.

I would be in the shop almost every day, often without meals. I was motivated by the hope that business would flourish as it used to
Jackson Mutuku

It was an eye-opening experience. "I had to accept that the business had failed. My health was at risk because I was hungry most of the time. If it wasn't for the shop, I would have been homeless that night. I could not tell relatives and friends because I did not want them to know I had failed."

After closing down the business, Mutuku looked for any job that could pay him. He has since been surviving on casual work in construction and as a housing agent. He has not saved much money because the income is erratic, but at least he can pay his rent on time.

“I lost money in that business. I was homeless for a couple of days, but I got lots of experience," Mutuku recollects. One of the things he learned was that, despite an entrepreneur's best efforts, external circumstances can crash a business. Something else he learnt was the need to change one's plans whenever necessary.

“Looking back, I'm glad my clients did not pay me at that time because I would have put all the money into a failed business," he says. "One day, I'll get back into the business and do better because of the lessons from five years ago." 

Winston Churchill, probably the most famous British Prime Minister, said, "Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." Many successful people remind us they failed often before they achieved their goals.

Doing the right thing is no guarantee of success. There must, however, be a willingness to learn and change tactics because the journey to success is very long.

Edited by T Jalio

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