On The Blue Couch with Jabulile Msimango-Galawe

In this episode of On The Blue Couch, I caught up with Jabulile Msimango-Galawe, a senior lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Business School. Dr J holds a PhD in Entrepreneurship from the University of the Witwatersrand and an MSc in Mathematical Statistics from the University of the Free State.
In addition to her work as a university lecturer, Dr J is also an entrepreneur, statistician, business coach, mentor and managing director of DrJ Business Support.
She has also served as the head of adjudication and a judge for the Gauteng Department of Economic Development’s township entrepreneurship awards competition and has published in numerous academic journals on the efficacy and failure of small businesses.
In her Blue Couch session, we spoke about how she got into academia after having worked in the private sector, the public sector, as well as being self-employed. She also touched on how her failures have challenged her to find her passion.
We spoke about her dreams of becoming a medical doctor, which ultimately did not work out, but worked in her favour in the long term.

Funny enough, I’m happy I never got into medicine because I think I would have been bored injecting people and prescribing medicine everyday. I could say it was God’s intervention. Sometimes when we fail, we cry because we want certain things and we don’t get them. So I was very sad that i didn’t get into medicine. But connecting the dots backwards I am happy that I didn’t because that drove me to keep on trying different things so that I could find something that I am passionate about and that i enjoy. [When my business failed] it also drove me to a different path. That’s where the issue of failure comes in. What do you do with your failure? Do you allow it to put you down or do you take the lessons and build something out of it?

She spoke about how she drew on her extensive professional experience as an entrepreneur to choose her PhD topic.

But as my journey was moving towards the academic route, at the back of my mind, I still had the scars that I got from failing in my first business as an entrepreneur. That stayed on and felt like a debt I needed to pay. In paying that debt, it pushed me to do a PhD because what I realised was that in academia you are nothing without a PhD. So I pushed the PhD route but I combined it with the love for academia, the teaching that I enjoyed and the debt that I felt I needed to pay on the failure on my first business as an entrepreneur to go and understand why most businesses (90%) fail in the first 3 to 5 years of operation.

She touched on why she is passionate about mentoring and business coaching.

It dawned on me that maybe if I had someone who has walked the [entrepreneurship] route who mentored me during [my] journey, I may not have made the same mistakes that I made or the degree in which I failed might have been minimal. Based on that, that’s where my journey as a mentor for entrepreneurs started and then I got exposed to coaching as a tool for development. My journey broadened from just being a mentor for entrepreneurs to being a business and executive coach. Because then I realised that the mentorship has its own limitations because you must have really walked the path to be able to mentor someone. But then with coaching you need the coaching skills, you need to have been exposed to that person’s environment a bit to understand some of the things, but then you can still coach people even if you haven’t really walked [their] path.

I asked her what she would advise prospective graduates about entrepreneurship in our current economic climate, as well as how someone should get started if they wish to start their own business.

it’s always best to start early. But sometimes we sit comfortably because we think we will get jobs with our qualifications, then when you start realising that no one wants to give you that job, you start thinking: ‘what else can I do?’. It’s never too late, but it’s always best to start early. If you studied something that didn’t cover entrepreneurship and you have no idea where to start, there are a lot of support organisations out there that support start-ups. There is also a lot of information on the internet where you can attend courses, masterclasses, or training, so you get an understanding of where to start. How do I build a business model? How do I build my value proposition? Start following people who share content on social media, look out for training, there are a lot of free conversations online; that helps. Find a mentor who has achieved what you hope to achieve but in a similar industry and ask that person to mentor you. But most of it is by trial and error; you learn as you go. There is no university for entrepreneurship except your failures. The only thing that will make you an entrepreneur is the practice. Even those who studied entrepreneurship still have to go and practice it. The more you do, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the more you improve and the better entrepreneur you become.

I asked her what she thinks the most critical traits are for an entrepreneur.

You must not be scared to fail. You have to try and go where there may be a lot of uncertainty. Uncertainty will always be there but you have to throw yourself at it and try, but make sure you build your competence by learning and upskilling so you minimise failure. It’s guaranteed you’re gonna fail, but what you want to do is fail fast and fail cheap. You do that by going to the market and trying and trying and trying until you get it right. The lean start-up principles advocate for this. Don’t build products and fancy functionalities that’ll cost you over a million just to find the market doesn’t like it and then you fail with a million plus. But if you do the minimum (MVP) possible, you may find that you fail with half of that. That way you can recover quickly and pivot as fast as you can to make all the alterations you need to make.

I asked her whether people should get advanced degrees if they know that they definitely want to go the entrepreneurship route.

There is no blanket answer, it depends on what you need, what you think you are gonna get out of it, and your industry. Is it something you need to get a qualification for? It is a very individualised decision, you have to do your own analysis and decide what do I need and how will it help me going forward? But at the same time there is no learning that is wasted. I got a master’s in statistics, it helps to run a business and the skills you get is not just technical, you also get developed as a person. That can never be wasted. Today you can decide to be an entrepreneur tomorrow you can decide I am going to corporate, like I did. [A day later] you can decide I am going back to entrepreneurship. You wouldn’t have wasted that because you would have learnt something anyway. The key is what you do with it.

This article is a paraphrased summary of our chat. The full interview can be watched here.