This article was originally posted on Business Day
Two core customer segments for the Asset Management industry, at least in Africa, are the upper Middle-Class and High Net-worth Individuals. These are the clients with enough liquidity and assets to invest. As a Fund Manager, experience has shown that a large subset of these individuals have successful corporate careers, as C-Suite or Senior Management Executives in Private Organizations, Multinationals, and International NGOs.
From career executive to entrepreneur
Many executives understand that their careers have a timeline and that they need to plan for the future and possibly that of the next generation. Thus, their interest in investment opportunities. Not surprisingly, some dream of even transitioning into entrepreneurship by starting a business of their own.
A few will try it, but they quickly realize that life as an executive in an established organization is worlds apart from life as an entrepreneur. As someone succinctly put it, “Start-ups are not smaller versions of big companies.” They are a completely different ball game.
While one may have performed well as a company executive in an expert domain, it is no guarantee that they will succeed at running their own business. Many have failed because they think they can simply translate their skills from the corporate world to entrepreneurship. But running an enterprise demands a different mindset and mix of skills – finance and sales being the most important. How do you keep costs low? And how do you ship products fast?
The reality of entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship, especially in the early stages, will demand breadth of knowledge rather than depth, i.e., the ability to wear different caps and stretch beyond one’s comfort zone. This idea is the logic behind Startups being referred to as “Ventures”. A venture means: “a risky or daring journey or undertaking.” You start without knowing if you will succeed, and without having the golden parachute of a corporation’s balance sheet.
It is understandable then that executives delay starting a venture until “everything is just right.” But there’s never a perfect time to take the plunge. Some things only become clear in a live environment – after launch.
Also, sacrifices must be made. There’s no recurrent salary to sustain a predictable lifestyle. People won’t automatically take your calls because of your privileged corporate position; you are now on the other side of the table begging for favours and courting customers.
Venture builders – A less risky way to transition to entrepreneurship
But what if there was a chance to take the leap while reducing the fear of failure? What if there existed a seamless way for executives to make the transition to entrepreneurship with minimal risk?
Quite unlike the average down-and-out entrepreneur who may be bootstrapping from the business’s inception, many executives have a nice little nest egg to provide months of business runway. So, they are less bothered about start-up capital than ensuring product fit and finding people brilliant enough to think at their wavelength so they can execute quickly.
This is where Venture Building helps, also known as Venture Studios. A venture-building program pairs an experienced executive with a proven entrepreneur who steers them through the start-up phase. Think of a co-creator who may or may not have equity in your business and is not looking to compete with you or steal your idea. For a predefined fee, their role is to be your sounding board, provide introductions and linkages where needed, and open up their rolodex of contacts.
Some Venture Builders even share risks by providing the operations infrastructure to help start-ups grow and scale. However, this version of venture building often requires founders to give up some equity to pay for the risk.
Four types of venture builders
Broadly, four types of Venture Builders exist. Advisory Firms that provide strategic advice and connect entrepreneurs to resources, Start-up Studios that build multiple start-ups concurrently, Incubators that help existing start-ups grow to scale and finally, Accelerators that do the same as Incubators but are focused on sectors e.g., Fintech, Agritech or Proptech.
Regardless of what they are called, Venture Builders often come in the form of Professional Services, Business Coaching, Office Space, Administrative Support, Access to Business Networks, Potential Co-founders, Legal Support, and Marketing among other things. And while it might not be a focus, as contrasted with Venture Capital, venture builders may also provide some funding.
In a report by the Global Startup Studio Network (GSSN), “Disrupting the Venture Landscape,” start-ups who go through venture studios have 30 percent higher success rates.
Volition’s Venture Advisory Program
At Volition Cap, we pair our funding for startups with an Advisory Venture Building Program at Volition Blue, to ensure greater success rates. We prioritize corporate executives who are transitioning into entrepreneurship, as our own founders understand this sub-group all too well. Both of our co-founders had decades of experience in the corporate sector and understand the peculiar strengths that executives bring to new ventures.
Our Venture Build program provides a structured and guided approach to making entrepreneurial transitions. Our primary focus is helping executives identify business opportunities that are best aligned with their skill sets and interests. We then offer product validation and provide our database of resource persons and partners during the early stages of the business. This approach mitigates the uncertainties and knowledge gaps often associated with a new venture.
For any executive hoping to build or grow an enterprise, the Venture Build approach may be a less stressful way to build. It’s often the co-founder you wish you had.
Plumptre is the CEO of Volition Cap, an SEC-licensed asset management firm. She’s also the co-founder of Volition Blue, a consulting firm that helps African and diasporan businesses scale globally.