How Failure Fuelled My Quest for Business

This is a story of how failure fuelled my quest for business. I wasn’t always called Alexander. My father christened me when I was five. Back then, without grief or a care in the world, I spent my days building wire cars and burying lizards (sorry, little guys!). My early years were a whirlwind of exploration, a time that undoubtedly shaped the curious and enterprising spirit I carry today.

The tinkering and exploration of my childhood blossomed into a full-blown entrepreneurial fire in my adult years. I had the zeal, an insatiable desire to build something of my own, but lacked the knowledge and experience that come with seasoned business ventures. This didn’t stop me from trying! From selling books to forming a multimedia company, even a brief stint selling tomatoes and fresh produce at the Mtendere market – I tried whatever I could. Yet, none captured my imagination quite like Alfresco Foods, which I founded with my dearest friend Maria in November 2018.

Driven by a dream to reduce the time it took from farm to folk, we jumped right in. I took leave from work, sold the first Toyota I ever owned, and in its place, bought a quirky little van, which was charmingly riddled with fuel leaks and temperamental gears. It became our noble steed. We promised farm-fresh produce delivered straight to customers’ doorsteps with incredible speed- from farm to folk within four hours. No one else was doing this at the time. The bigger stores took two days to deliver on their promise. Our promise resonated with Lusaka’s expat community. Our clientele flourished, fuelled by enthusiastic word-of-mouth referrals- and we grew. 

However, amidst this growth, our inexperience began to show. Pricing was inconsistent, our business model lacked clarity, and our marketing effort? Nonchalant. Supply chain issues and storage problems nearly put us out of business many times. Despite these shortcomings, we persevered, fuelled by sheer passion.

The failure of Alfresco gave me a new resolve. I determined to understand how business works, and how economic forces can make or break a business. I embarked on a challenging journey. In 2021, I enrolled for a master’s programme at the University of Zambia. Juggling finances, family, and academics pushed me to my limits, but I graduated in 2023, armed with the knowledge I craved.

This quest for knowledge wasn’t just for me. Now, with Wisteria Learning and its associated Business Review, I share my experiences and knowledge in the hopes that I might help even one person out there to realise their dream of starting a business. I have a new mission in life- helping first-time founders launch and grow their businesses.

Over the years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons the hard way, lessons I want to share with you on this journey of learning and self-discovery:

  1. Ideas Evolve
    Don’t be afraid to share your business ideas. Feedback can validate your idea and help it adapt to market needs. Scared that they might steal your idea? Remember, passion for execution trumps an unrefined idea.
  2. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
    The people you choose to work with can make or break your business. Choose wisely and ensure alignment in vision and goals.
  3. Embrace the Unknown
    Fear, especially if it’s visceral, is a crippling force. Start, even if you don’t have all the answers. Be comfortable with ambiguity as long as you’re moving towards your goals. 
  4. Solve Problems, Not Just Look Pretty
    Beautiful websites, office spaces and branding are important, but they don’t pay the bills. Focus on solving real customer problems. That’s where the money is. Focus on that. If you focus on anything else, you will soon be out of business.
  5. Know Yourself, Know Your Business
    Self-awareness is key to finding the right business fit. Find a business that is the right fit for your temperament. If you’re an introvert, businesses that require you to interact with a bunch of people will just frustrate you and you might not have much success because of misalignment.
  6. Get Rich Slow
    There are no shortcuts to getting riches in business. Don’t believe the hype or those motivational speakers with tight suits who have never launched a real business that solves people’s problems. Provide value, and success will follow. That’s it. That’s the pro tip!
  7. Go Big or Go Home

    Half-hearted efforts lead nowhere. Give it your all, or don’t start at all. Whole-hearted approaches don’t mean you through yourself mindlessly in a business. Don’t quit your job just because you’re hyped about starting a business. That’s not a wise thing to do. Quit when you’re sure your business will sustain you. And when you start, pour your soul into it. Charles Bukowski put it so well: 

    “Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you and let it devour your remains. For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.”
    -Charles Bukowski
  8. The Grind is Real

    Building a business takes sacrifice. Be prepared for disrupted sleep, social life, and finances. But keep building, and the rewards will come, if you do not give up.
  9. Love, Support, and Follow Your Dreams

    Family may not always understand, but their love is essential. Follow your heart, for a life lived without passion is a life half-lived.

    Wisteria Business Review is a platform where I’ll share insights, experiences, and the hard-won lessons I’ve learned. Join me as we explore the ever-evolving world of business, together. Let’s turn your entrepreneurial dreams into reality, one step at a time. Here’s to growth, here’s to 2024, and here’s to you!

Alexander Zulu


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