Flowers then Fruit

I recently took to gardening. I decided to grow some vegetables, berries, and fruit for my family’s own consumption. The process has taught me a lot about business in general and entrepreneurship in particular. There are some obvious parallels. Firstly, there is hard work involved: Clearing the area for the beds is back-breaking work for someone that is usually accustomed to working while seated. Naturally, some of that process was outsourced 🤭. Secondly, it’s a “dirty process”: gardening, like entrepreneurship is a “dirty” work the patience required: After a few weeks of constant watering and “fussing” some of the veggies planted have still not shown any signs of life, while others are “doing the most” as the young people of today say (at least in SA). The main object lesson that I learned provided the title for this article: flowers then fruit. I have come to find that the life cycle our business(es) have gone uncannily resemble the life cycle to my berry bushes.

The nothing phase

The first phase is what I call the “nothing phase”. The eternal optimist in me calls it the “100% potential phase”. In this phase, you have prepped the soil, mixed the compost thoroughly into the soil, planted the seeds at the appropriate depth to maximize sunshine and rain/watering, but there are no VISIBLE signs that you veggies/business will grow. At one point (between 7 – 10 days after planting) I became convinced that I did not know what I was doing and that nothing was going to germinate and grow… In fact, I was sure that the time to “start over” had arrived. Fortunately, I did not give in to the negative self-talk and soon began to see some “green” bursting through the soil. 

The weed phase

Just after the nothing/100% potential phase, much to my delight, some shoots punched through the soil. After a few days, however, my puffed up chest was quickly deflated: Being a novice, I could not tell the leaves of the shoots from the almost identical weeds that were growing in the nearby grass. Once again, self-doubt started to creep up. I found myself seeking reassurance, confirmation, and comfort from other members of the household, family and friends. Sadly, no one could confirm with certainty that what was growing was in fact NOT weeds. After launching your business, you will go through a phase not dissimilar to the “weed phase”… You’re seeing “activity”, but you cannot be sure at this stage whether you’re just experiencing busy-ness or whether you actually have a business. Your friends and family, well-meaning though they may be, know little more than you. It is always important to seek professional advice: People that know the country, culture, demographics, sub-region, region or continent.

The growth phase

After much googling and pondering I decided not to pull out “the weeds”. It turned out to be the right call, ultimately. It turned out that many shoots (especially Swiss Chard) look like common weeds when they break through the soil. A few days of patience and it was soon confirmed that we were well on our way to reaping SOME rewards. Your startup will delight you when you begin to see some results. When your idea, your potential and your “busy-ness” begins to yield some results. Perhaps you are seeing some demand for your service/product/etc. Enjoy this phase, it shows that, if you stay the course and take the right decisions, there will be feasting at some stage. However, like we couldn’t eat the swiss chard let alone the berries at this stage yet, so too the entrepreneur who mistakes this stage of his start-up enterprise as a destination, rather than just the beginning of the journey may quickly find themselves reeling.

The flowering phase

Protecting my fledgling garden is a daily exercise in vigilance. It seems that every species under the sun suddenly became interested in the little patch of earth. From creepy crawlies to the aptly named hadeda (hadeda ibis). Everything seemed to find a past-time in the beds – poking, nibbling and rearranging things… This entailed frustration, brainstorming on how to “one-up” nature, yelling and flapping of arms and other comical activities to protect the delicate produce. Until, one morning, I glimpsed the first flowers on my young bush of gooseberries. The sense of accomplishment… Your business will require protection from all sorts of “predators” – some overt, some covert. Any startup, if it is to make it the flowering stage must be fussed over. Many of the activities required will make you look and feel downright silly, but are necessary. The “flowering phase”, though encouraging and aesthetically pleasing MEANS very little, however, if your business does not make it through the next two phases of the cycle.

The Fruit phase

In business, like in nature, the fruits follow the flowering phase or the “pretty” phase. Many times people who do not grasp this can be tempted to think that a business that looks “shiny” or like it is doing well is ACTUALLY profitable. Scientifically, in order to reach the profit-generating phase of the business cycle (or the “fruit phase” of the agricultural cycle), an enterprise HAS TO be “appealing” to a defined number of customers or clients. It has to be attractive. This is marketing. In most fruit-bearing plants and bushes, the flowers BECOME the fruit. Similarly, in business, the activities that generate goodwill and rapport with your customer base (flowers) and your ability to nurture and protect this goodwill ultimately dictates your yield. All your choices and efforts in the previous phases – the type of soil (the location or target market of your business – more here), the protection of the roots from vermin and pests (your competitive strategies and/or employment practices), etc. become telling in the fruit phase.

The Harvest phase

You made the right choices. You were patient and stuck it out even when self-doubt arose. Through discipline, you actively protected your garden patch. The natural and inevitable consequence of your efforts is that you will yield a harvest. Likewise in business, your effort MUST and WILL yield a return – a “reaping”. As per the previous paragraph, however, the quantum will be determined by your choices and your research going in. Whether your harvest is “worthwhile” is usually in direct proportion to the sum total and the quality of your input information. The better your estimates, the better your leveraging of other peoples’ experiences (or google in my case) the more your results will match your efforts.

Flowers then fruit

In business-like in science, the Fruits follow the Flowers. You can never expect to make a profit without packaging your business for the market. Conversely, not every well-packaged business is profitable. There is usually still a requirement of WORK/SWEAT and TIME required. Lastly, in nature, like in business, one cannot SKIP a phase in the cycle. Sure, the length of each phase will differ from species to species – from type of business to type of business. But attempting to skip over a stage will hurt your berries and fruit in the long-run… Same for your start-up.

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Born in Zambia, but residing in Johannesburg, Chipego Himonga is passionate about the African Continent. Having spent a decade in the Petroleum industry (Chevron), he finally decided to "give Entrepreneurship a go". He is currently based in Côte d'Ivoire as co-founder and director of Promont Group an agri-centric business and Phoenix Property Investments - a property development house. He studied law at the University of Cape Town to Masters level (Maritime and Shipping Law).

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