Sometime in June, I had the opportunity to visit the United States of America (USA) under the Mandela Washington Fellowship programme. I went under the Business and Entrepreneurship track and I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Throughout my interactions with business owners, professors and entrepreneurs each time I explained my publishing business to them, I would receive a similar response. How do you scale this up? I often mumbled through an unconvincing response.
I began to gather the notion that in America, unless a business can be scaled up then it is not a business worth investing in. I got where they were coming from with the successes of AirBnB, Uber, Facebook and many other businesses. Scaling up meant can it go beyond the town or country in which the business exists? Can someone in India, Mexico or Burundi use the service or whatever product you have created? It also implies that can the expansion take place without the hurdle of having to build large scale infrastructure. This has often meant that can my business take advantage of technology to grow. For investors who want a return on their investment as soon as possible scalability of a business matters. An investor should be able to see the growth trajectory and in most cases an exit plan too. If any of the two are missing the less attractive the investment.
Since that trip I have been struggling with that one question, “How do I scale up my business?” I have gone to bed thinking about this question and it has crept up like an ugly nightmare every time I try to forget it. I have rattled my brain, had brainstorming sessions with me, myself and I, and gone to the internet for inspiration. But I have come out with close to nothing each time. This exhausting endeavour to somehow prove that my business can be beneficial for someone in Spain or Algeria has not borne any tangible fruits. And this past week someone reiterated my concerns when I explained my business to them. They said they did not see how it would grow beyond a certain ceiling. It was at that moment that I said, “To Hell with it,” (well I said it to myself actually). It was then that I had to face the hard cold truth.
It suddenly dawned on me that I did not start my current business with the goal of going global. I did not start Butali House to solve problems for writers in other countries; I came up with it to solve the problems Zambian writers faced. It was the foundation upon which the business was built; therefore, I was trying to build a skyscraper on a foundation meant for a one storey building. In this vein, it was absolutely fine to accept that my business in its current state was not scalable. This means that if I am to look for investors I would have to offer them more than the promise of scaling up the business.
I have decided that rather than grappling with the question of whether the business is scalable or not, I should be concerned with whether it is profitable or not. I should worry about how I can add other revenue streams to the current existing one. Not every business is meant to be a billion dollar company others are just meant to niche businesses that cater to a select group of customers. Perhaps in this business journey I will come up with that idea that I can call a scalable business opportunity until then having a non-scalable business is fine.