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7 Investor Commandments for Startups

Oh, ye Startup founder! You have a great idea, a ghost of a product haunting the recess of your mind. A beautiful concept that will undoubtedly set the World on fire with its sheer genius...and yet, and yet you just can't seem to get this idea moving.

Fear, resources, time, imposter syndrome, networks? Whatever the stumbling block is, it still does not help you understand how everyone out there seems to be 'making it', how all these young startup founders are seemingly having millions of dollars thrown at them in all directions.

And the headlines are not joking around:

  • Kenya's Pariti raises $2.85 Mln Capital!

  • Seven African start-ups shaking up the global tech ecosystem!

  • Sendy startup seeks to raise over $100 Mln for African Growth!

  • Kenyan start-ups Copia, Poa Internet raise a total of $ 78 Mln!

  • Kenyan Foodtech Startup Kune raises $1 Mln in pre-seed funding!

How in the $%^&* @&* World are they doing it ?

The numbers are mind-boggling and you would be excused as an ambitious startup founder for wondering how your novel business idea could also get in on the action. You are, after all, a genius with a genius idea that the world needs, right?

I feel your pain dear reader. I have heard the majority of theories (some more conspiratorial than most) about the 'KEY' to having a successful start-up: have a white co-founder, know a white financier, have an ivy league university background, have great political connections, be lucky to have been born to HNW (high net worth) parents. On and on, from the possibly logical to the monotonously mundane - all the ingredients to significant startup success seem to be out there.

Or are they?

Now, a bit farther away and slightly unrelated... let me take you a few months back to when I was watching a talk social media marketing guru, Gary Vee was giving. Before the enthralled audience (me included), Gary was pontificating about the relatively new phenomenon of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), and while a big chunk of what he was saying went over my head, what was not lost on me was how he casually mentioned making $1.2 Million selling his doodles as NFTs! Casually. He apparently did his research into this in just 3 months and made his money. If you care to Google, you will see Gary Vee has continued making more money on NFTs since. Meanwhile, you are struggling to make $1.2 Million across your whole lifetime.

Stay with me. Another story, this one closer home :

I was at a business engagement with a cross-industry group of entrepreneurs and in the meeting, I mentioned that for one to be a truly tried and tested entrepreneur, they must embrace failure and not just basic failure but true tangible failure: auctioneers, lawsuits et al. True, I may have gotten a bit overboard there but the response from my fellow entrepreneurs that day is what got me surprised. Apparently, a set exists that believes you do not have to suffer to succeed, that with the right connections or parental lineage, with the right mental acumen - you can be an entrepreneur par excellence, millions of dollars to boot. They were serial entrepreneurs, they were doing it did without failing once and so can YOU. That was the message I was given and fair enough, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. As for me, I still hold on to the stubborn belief of no pain, no glory.

I have also had talks with top business accelerators and they have told me verbatim that they are aware that startups who successfully acquire funding also seek the 'soft life'. And why not? In an era of Crypto, NFTS and the Metaverse are we not risking personal financial ruin by hanging on to traditional views of what entrepreneurship, success, and hard work really mean?

Nonetheless, today and in this article, we will attempt to debunk WHAT PRECISELY YOU NEED to do to get your idea, your startup business out of your mind, off that comfortable couch, and out into this beautiful world, and no, you do not have to be a member of the lucky sperm club (rich parents) to attain this feat.

If you follow the steps I will outline in this article, you will have more than a worthy chance at startup success because you will be at the very least communicating to your audience ( customer, co-founder, shareholder, financier, or media ) the magic words that open that door to the opportunity for business success you seek.

To begin with, there are 2 things: there is the startup and there is the startup founder. The startup is the business and the founder is the creator of the business, simple. The thing is, on social media, the focus has been more on WHAT YOU NEED TO DO as a startup founder and comparatively not so much on WHAT YOUR BUSINESS (as a startup) NEEDS TO DO.

For clarity's sake, I will be focussing on the startup here and NOT on the startup founder. I will be focussing on the top things your startup business needs, to make sense to the people that matter to your startup business. If these things are not in place, you will constantly speak a different language and no one will support your business no matter how good or grand your intentions.

Another thing to consider, and why these top things are crucial, is that before you change the World, your business needs to be in order. So listing down the things you need to put your business or startup in order is what we will be doing today as well.

Before trying to save the world try cleaning your room first...........Professor Jordan B. Peterson



It seems basic, almost obvious - but you will be surprised how many startups kick off without the right documentation, paperwork, patenting, or tax compliance in place. I will tell you for free that a non-compliant business will have trouble gaining significant startup success since startup success is predicated almost always on repeatability, scalability, and growth and for you to grow your business meaningfully, it pays to have the inception documents in order.

Plus, compliance will save you money and heartache in future penalties, fines, or lost business opportunities.


My product, my app, my design, my team, my company. My, my, My, mine. Seems in the marketplace (or during business pitches) a lot of people tend to seek personal validation over giving actual value. Please do not make this be the story of your startup, ok?

Look, problems abound in this World. The thing is we are more adept at complaining than offering solutions. Whining always gets the most clicks anyway. Dare to be different: understand the pain out here, really do. Make it your mission to resolve this pain. Then create a product, not to dazzle but to speak directly to solving this pain like yesterday. Push your solution, because that is what we need. A solution.

A product or service is merely the tool by which that solution is given and quite frankly, we do not care about the features of your app.


Most entrepreneurs create products they think customers need, but what customers do not really want. The only way to understand our customers is by speaking directly to them and understanding their challenges.

A lot of times even they do not understand their own problems, so this engagement will have to be ongoing. A survey is one way of going about it but essentially what we are trying to do as a startup is to truly understand the job to be done.


And after speaking to your clients, take on their feedback and use that to improve your approach to solving their problems. This isn't easy. Some feedback can be punitive, personal even to the point of triggering.

Nonetheless, this is the only true way to build actual value into our final solution. If we do not follow this route we will base our product development on competitors' hearsay or our own assumptions and just get more frustrated on our business journey.


One thing I tell most of my established business mentees is that their business should have consistent cash flow no matter how small. First for their own personal upkeep, secondly for a sense of self-esteem, and finally for a justifiable framework that a co-founder, shareholder, or financier can latch onto. Erstwhile known as 'skin in the game'.

Traction in terms of customer pipeline and MRR (monthly recurring revenue) is important, no matter how small. It proves your business has some life and where there is life, there can be growth.

Do not seek funding or financing to start a business if that business has not shown any small semblance of a life of its own. Money should sustain a business, not be its parentage.


How do you engage your customers, talk to them, update them or even appreciate them? What does the strategy behind that look like? Is your communication random or do you actually have a sales and marketing calendar and budget for the year?

A startup business has to have a deliberate customer engagement model if it is serious about growth and scale. The ability to grow and scale is really predicated on 3 things: the number of customers (what we call pipeline), the frequency of engagement, and the messaging.


You will be amazed by just how many businesses owners do not have annual targets for their revenues nor budgets for their expected costs.

Do raise your hand high up in the air if this describes you? And do not be ashamed or frustrated. We are many! The thing is that a startup business cannot definitively grow if this growth has not been quantified or tracked prior. This is because accountability and discipline are crucial components of any serious business owner or successful startup founder and these same financial targets subconsciously keep one on track whilst acting as an impartial judge on daily effort vs returns.

So to prevent being unnecesarily busy, bitter, and broke let us commit to at least set revenue and cost-based targets for our startup business today if we have not already done so. That would be a massive success in the right direction.

And there you have it.

When we step out into the World and our business does not embrace at least 7 of these rules, understand that we are planning for imminent disappointment and the cycle will repeat itself incessantly until we learn better.

Here's to more structure and clarity ( and oh yes money, we need that SOFT LIFE ! ) in your startup business journey!

The author, Jan Okonji is an entrepreneur, speaker, coach, and Founder of the Pan-African accelerator BGS – Business Growth Solutions.

Jan is passionate about helping employees transition safely into entrepreneurship whilst turning their great ideas into profitable businesses and has helped entrepreneurs collectively grow their revenue to over $ 10 Million in the course of running BGS.

Get in touch with him and book a personal session HERE



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