11 Entrepreneur Lessons I Learned From My Immigrant Mother
My mother is my role model, especially when it comes to hustling to make a dream into a reality. The fact that she left her Nigerian village to study abroad has always inspired me. She is a risk taker, a trailblazer and she embodies the qualities I strive for as I run my technology startup. When I was in high school, my mother, a full time teacher, also had a side gig to help her pay the bills.
Every day, despite her full time job, she ran her ice cream truck business she was all about the hustle: Going after what you need to do to get to where you want to go. She wanted to be able to go to Nigeria every summer to see her family.Oh, and to raise 5 kids!
These are the business lessons I learned from my mom. Even though I was embarrassed when she picked me up in the ice cream truck, and even more embarrassed when she asked me to stop hiding and get up to sell ice cream to my classmates before she’d leave the school parking lot, I still think back on those lessons as I get my own hustle on every day.
Being a hustler isn’t about always trying to make more money. It’s about understanding your goal and knowing what you need to get there. My mom’s goal was to have extra money so she could visit family in Nigeria. So after teaching all day, she drove around town playing that sometimes-annoying ice cream truck song, and sold ice cream.
Lesson #2: Shame has no place in your vocabulary
I admit I was embarrassed and ashamed in the ice cream truck, and I sometimes felt the same way when she showed up in her traditional Nigerian outfit at our all-white suburban school. This was before it was cool to be ethnic. My mother felt that shame has no place in your world (unless you’ve done something horrible), and you can and should get up in any room or any crowd and show who you are.
Lesson #3: Differentiate yourself
Tuesday was free bubble gum day. All the kids knew this, and they would show up because her sales pitch was: reliable product and they gave out something for free. Here in New Orleans they call that lagniappe.
Lesson #4: There’s nothing wrong with a freebie, as long as it’s not your core product
My mother sold ice cream and she gave out free bubble gum, but she didn’t give out her core product which was her ice cream. By giving a little something for free and letting her users have a taste, they always came back and actually wanted to buy more.
Lesson #5: Make your product accessible
Other than free gum Tuesday, she always had some ice cream that was a bit damaged. She reserved these and sold them for half to 75 percent off. She had kids who didn’t have a dollar, but they had some money. She always found something for them, and made them feel they could be part of her club.
Lesson #6: Make your uniqueness work for you
My mother allowed herself to be who she needed to be. She was the woman who gave out free bubble gum, sold not so perfect ice creams instead of throwing them away, and embraced her cultural differences. She had her Nigerian accent and her broad laugh and she didn’t try to change it.
Lesson #7: Jealousy is a waste of time, unless you can use it to your benefit
I remember one day when my sister and I were fighting over a yellow shirt, and we both wanted it. My mom said we couldn’t come out of our room until we worked it out. After that she said “Jealousy has no point unless you can use it.” There will always be somebody prettier, smarter, more accomplished. Ask yourself why you’re jealous. Instead of hating them, become a friend and ask them how they did it.
Lesson #8: Sometimes, you’ve got to champion yourself
Sometimes there won’t be anyone who understands what you’re doing or what it’s like to run a business, so you have to champion yourself. Go out and buy yourself flowers, chocolate and champagne to celebrate your successes and acknowledge how far you’ve come.
Lesson #9: Don’t sweat the small stuff
Some days, you’ve just got to laugh it off and keep going. Don’t get weighed down by every wrong move. Just keep going.
Lesson #10: Go for success, but don’t take yourself so seriously
I remember laughing with my mother. It was the serious knees collapse, tears-start-flowing and I-think-I-peed-my-pants kind of laughter. That taught me to take time and laugh, enjoy and let things go. Tomorrow brings another opportunity.
Lesson #11: Tomorrow brings another opportunity
When I failed at something, my mom always said: That’s alright honey, tomorrow is another opportunity.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t east, and being successful is even more difficult, but I’ve learned to keep my mother’s lessons in mind. While you can’t control the fact that most startups fail, you can focus on making your product accessible, knowing what your hustling for (what are you trying to acheive?) and differentiating yourself (and your product) by making your uniqueness work for you.
What business lessons did you learn from your mom? I’d love to know. Hit me up in the comments!
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