Obinna Ekezie is the cofounder and CEO of Wakanow.com, the leading full-service, online travel company in Africa. Obinna played in the NBA for eight seasons and was selected with the 37th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft by the Vancouver Grizzlies after playing with the Maryland Terrapins from 1995-1999.
There is no direct path to successful entrepreneurship. Whether starting a mom-and-pop pizza shop, a digital marketing agency, or a worldwide travel company, every path leading to success will be different. But one thing is similar: every startup founder needs strong leadership skills to succeed.
Since launching my company Wakanow.com in 2008 -- Nigeria's online travel company that provides customers with everything they need to research, plan and purchase a trip locally and globally -- I've continued to not only polish my leadership skills, but also completely rebuild them as the business grows and changes.
But before that growth is possible, some concrete leadership skills are a must. The more skills one obtains, the more one will accomplish. Based on my experience, here are some of the most crucial ones.
Recruit a Talented Team
During the initial stages of a startup, recruiting a team is a must, but don't settle for second best. Recognize what qualities to look for in others; this will make recruiting future talent much easier. I learned how to recruit talent during my years of playing professional basketball. NBA teams analyze a player's talent down to the finest elements such as attitude off the court, and you should do the same.
Most successful entrepreneurs are obsessive about seeking true talent to build out a team, and there is nothing wrong with this. You are only as good as your team, so be obsessive.
Embrace Public Speaking
Entrepreneurs not only need loads of self-direction for success; they also must present their company's vision and direction to their team or prospective clients/customers. Learning to perfect your public speaking will assist in this feat. I learned by speaking every chance possible; regardless of audience size, constant speaking helps build and maintain a smooth delivery.
When attending conferences and networking, take mental notes from the strongest speakers - and the most successful entrepreneurs. You may have the most optimal message and product/services, but if you can't clearly and concisely explain them, your brand may suffer.
Adapt to Change
Humanity would have never survived without adapting to change. This is also true for a business; it will slowly dissolve if you refuse to adapt to change.
The attitudes of entire industries can change quickly, whether it's because of a new technology (think of the electric car in the automobile industry) or some radical mindset change in the marketplace (think of implied health benefits of organic foods in the food industry). Learn to adapt to these changes, and if you can, work on predicting them.
Appreciate Constructive Feedback
Constructive feedback is a natural byproduct of running a business. Learn to embrace feedback from others who have succeeded before you -- especially within your industry. When starting Wakanow.com, I listened to what others were saying within the travel industry, embraced their constructive feedback, and used it to offer better solutions for my customers. Note that feedback should not be interpreted literally; take from it only what will make you a better entrepreneur with a more successful business.
Learn From Failure
Unfortunately, failure is quite common in entrepreneurship -- it's something I learned in my early years of building Wakanow.com. However, how you deal with failure, or not achieving a particular outcome as expected, is critical to your success. Specifically, failure is an opportunity to learn and minimize the likelihood that you will fail the same way again. Embrace it and study what you did wrong. Learn to not make the same mistake twice.
Frequently Review and Update Plans
When just starting up, plans change often. Just when you think a plan is solidified, something else happens. Don't get caught unaware. Frequently review your plans and outlook, weekly if you can. Daily focus makes keeping plans current much easier. I awake every day at 5:30 a.m. and spend an hour planning my day, when my mind is freshest.
Balance Work and Home Life
Too many entrepreneurs obsess over all business details and spend nearly all of their time thinking about the business.
Keep your work life in balance with your home life. Family should always come first -- especially when children are involved. Take some time for yourself too by playing your favorite sport, reading a non-business related book, or participating in anything that keeps you mind off the business.
While starting Wakanow.com, all of my thoughts were always on the business. This is a natural inclination, but it's imperative to take time off and allow the mind to refresh. Once I learned to fully relax, my head was clear, which gave me the clearest perspective of Wakanow.com and ultimately the future success of the business.
While being an entrepreneur will pull you in many directions, these tips will ensure you can consistently adapt to change and bring your business ahead in whatever direction your industry may take you.