Kofi Oppong, a successful entrepreneur and founder of Urban MBA, shared some industry secrets with us here at Velvet Community on how to work towards a successful business. The road that he has walked and the many entrepreneurs he has supported as part of Urban MBA give him deep knowledge of the things business people often miss or need to pay attention to and his insights are helpful. He is a seasoned advisor to have by your side.
How Urban MBA started
Urban MBA was first organised as a charity. The reason for this was because his community of focus – those from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community in the UK – do not easily receive funding, especially through grants. Kofi explains that as a charity, Urban MBA could qualify for 100% of all grants awarded to charities, as opposed to a Social Enterprise (which receives only 40-50% of funding) or a Community Interest Company (which only receives 60-70% of funding). Therefore, when Kofi had to decide on the structure of Urban MBA he decided to structure it as a charity.
Before he received any grants, he piloted his courses with another organisation that he partnered with. Kofi mentions that “having read many books about partnerships and how long they usual last, I had the knowledge that they usually last around three years”. He saw this materialise when he was product manager at Nike when they formed a partnership with Apple. “The partnership lasted three years on the dot,” he says.
So, he was not surprised when he had to pull out of the first partnership. However, Urban MBA did benefit from the partnership. At one of the pitches for the courses that he has designed and run, an investor was present. The investor was keen on the work that he was doing and awarded Urban MBA a £12,500 grant.
Only 5% of applicants who applied for the fund were BAME community members, but Kofi’s capabilities were what tipped the scale for the grantor in allowing the grant. This gave Kofi a year’s grace to develop his idea to the fullest. Kofi then decided to develop a commercial side for the courses that he was offering, and Urban MBA was successfully born. Do we keep this in?
Learn from Kofi
Kofi encourages entrepreneurs to make mistakes and learn from them. He believes that “mistakes should not hinder you from succeeding, what you should do instead is to learn from them. Ask yourself what you did wrong and what you can do to prevent the mistake from happening again.”
Take his experience for example: what Urban MBA gained from that first partnership was the ability to prosper even though the partnership did not work out long term. Kofi firmly believes that through keeping his head high, he was able to gain the exposure he needed. “If I had allowed the bad partnership to stop me from continuing, I would not have gained half of the experience or success that I did.”
One piece of advice that Kofi can offer to SME owners and entrepreneurs, that he hopes everyone takes to mind, is that every business needs a revenue model. “No matter the size of your business, a revenue model will help you see the end, the future of your company.” He adds that he has met with many business owners who have no idea what a revenue model is, or how to set one up.
“Entrepreneurs get caught up in the social aspects of their business and sometimes struggle to put down on paper what they have achieved and what they would like to achieve in the future,” Kofi says that a marketing calendar is the best practice for any business. He recommends that business owners find out when their products or services sell the best. Research, according to Kofi, will be your best friend.
A good example, Kofi says, is his friend’s wedding business. Most weddings are held between July and September (in the UK at least) due to the good weather. He points out that to have business come July, working on it from September to June will benefit you far more than trying to convince brides to hire your business in June.
Kofi says that a market calendar is the best practice for any business as it helps to highlight peaks and troughs and prepare better within your business. This will ensure that you know in which period your business is most successful and it allows you the opportunity to market towards that period.
What if your idea isn’t new
Many entrepreneurs feel like they cannot start their business as there are already similar businesses out there that are successful. Kofi suggests that it is not about the product or service that you sell, but rather the gap that you fill.
“Take Ghana as an example”, Kofi points out “they have far more resources than China, but they do not sell on a global scale like China.” He continues to say that China realised that they were great at producing goods and saw the gap in the market for selling globally.
Another important thing to realise is that culture will always rise above policy. He makes the comparison between Ubers and the black cabs in the UK. Transport of London (TFL) does not want to allow Uber to take away something that is so integrated that it has become the fabric of London—the black cabs. He adds “but at some point, TFL need to realise that they need a system similar to Uber, so what will they do?”
Have a good team
For a business to strive, a good team is of utmost importance, especially a team that is competent. “Sometimes you will need people. Yes, you have done all of this on your own so far but asking for help does not make you weak.” Kofi says that the best thing you can do for your business is to figure out what you can outsource, what you can do in-house, and what you can do on your own.
Kofi encourages business owners to look at individuals who have the necessary skill sets to complete their team. “And attitude,” he adds “nothing gives your business the advantage it needs like a team with the right attitude.” He believes that someone with commitment and the willingness to learn is far greater for a team than someone who has the right qualifications. “We can teach those with the right mindsets the necessary skills if they have the qualifications or not.”
According to him, what is far more important for the success of a business is a team that consists of members that have lived experience. “Actually,” Kofi adds “the UK is now transforming so that a company needs to ensure that an employee receives more lived experience. I am so glad that we have incorporated that into Urban MBA.”
One last piece of advice that Kofi would like to add is that change will happen. “Change is not always a bad thing, and we should not shy away from it. What we should rather do is embrace it and prepare for it.” He points out that in any business venture there will always be a turning point after three years. “We cannot always prepare for the turning points but adjusting yourself slightly is the best you can do for the future success of your business,” Kofi concludes.