If you’re not sure about having kids or, better yet, a business of your own, get a pet first.
You see, my first and only pet so far was a cat – a kitten that had strayed into our compound one hot and NEPA-less evening. We were playing in front of the house – the neighbours and us (my siblings and I) – when we suddenly heard a meow.
Curiosity saved the cat, in this case.
She had gotten her left hindquarter tangled in something – we assumed it was barbed wire. She had broken free, but had severely damaged the leg. It was bleeding and I could see it was infected because it was flaming hot to the touch. I took it to the vet’s (a friend who understood animals way better than me, actually), got it treated and warmed some milk for it.
Wait. How did I know cats liked warm milk?
There wasn’t internet access at this time; I had never even heard the word. But I did a lot of reading then – Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and the likes. Somewhere along the line, I learned what cats like – fish and milk. The cat took to me like a child to its mother. Over the years, my role in the cat’s life evolved. I became friend, then nurse, then doctor, then partner (when she had a litter of kittens) and then, one day, she left and never returned.
My point is – whatever role I was playing in my cat’s life taught me several things, lessons I could have picked up from the internet but wouldn’t actually know how to apply. I learned to identify her hungry cry, her angry meow, her attention-seeking mood and I could tell when she was sick. I knew what to look out for if I wasn’t sure what she required.
More importantly, caring for and about something other than myself made a lot of difference to me as an individual. It opened me up more than anything else I had ever done before then. I became more self-aware.
Besides, I was happier.
You might think there’s a difference between having a pet and owning a business – and you’re right; at least in terms of scale. But as far as care and attention are concerned, there’s not a lot of difference.
For a startup, you must have your finger on the pulse of your business. It is of utmost importance that you know whatever is happening as soon as it’s happening. The Yoruba would say: “Someone else’s eyes are not quite the same as the owner’s eyes.”
I subscribe to the truth in that, and I hope you do the same.
The reality is that no matter how much that employee likes you or is devoted to your business, they cannot be as invested in it as you are. The employee cannot make out time for it like you will have to and cannot sacrifice for it like you will.
Therefore, whose eyes should be tightest on the business?
That’s right. Yours.
It’s like having a first child. This baby cannot talk. All she can do is grunt, moan and scream. A mother has to learn to anticipate the baby’s needs at a particular cry; she has to able to tell when the child is hungry and when she just want some attention.
In the exact same vein, your business cannot speak in regular words and sentences. You have to learn to listen to its pulse. Can you do that?
The simple way is by paying attention.
A new business needs attention to grow. It needs nurturing, patience, care, focus and a whole lot of other things. Just like a pet, it needs pampering and sacrificing. One who is not willing to devote his time shouldn’t own a business or a pet, for that matter. Indeed, your business is your pet.
I have not had the courage to own another pet after my cat. When she left, something left out of me with it.