Entrepreneurship on the rail tracks

Image credit: Tshepo FPS / Instragram: @tshepo_fps

Imagine, for a moment, that your office is built into a train. As such, it will often be unbearably hot, noisy and full of people walking in and out. Would you get anything done? Or survive the first two weeks of it all?


The whole point is to illuminate you on this: life and how you end up living it hinges on your perceptions — your worldview. Do you consider your glass to be half full or half empty?

Well, you get the point.

It’s essential to adjust one’s eyes to see opportunities for growth where others see doom and gloom. Another question: if the train, as we know it, were to be first launched today, would you ever look at it as an opportunity to trade?

Some people did. And today, are the ladies and gentlemen who do business on trains (particularly the one I used to board, Metrorail). They too, like big corporate businesses, need certain characteristics to survive. Those would be the ability to adapt, perseverance, branding, offering great service, amongst others.

I used to come across great people who make their living on the rail tracks. One thing which always impressed me are the unmatched people skills they possess — I was often in awe! Likewise, a salesperson in corporate needs those set of skills more than anything to deliver.

In a world that changes rapidly, the rule is: adapt or die! And an imperative quality in business to reinvent and evolve yourself and your offering. As my fascination grew and I closely studied these business people I realised they’re very nimble. Their trading environment necessitates that they stay relevant or get passed over. So, you find someone selling fruit and vegetables today, and tomorrow it rains or gets cold, in which case you’ll need an umbrella or a beanie — that particular day the same guy becomes your go-to-guy.

And as with many pursuits, there are setbacks and seemingly dead-end situations. These entrepreneurs face a myriad of those, perhaps a tad more than in any other sector. Their remarkable ability to deal with challenges makes them fascinating!

I also can’t rattle on about entrepreneurship without mentioning branding and marketing. How does a train vendor brand himself, is it even possible?

Often, my trips were made more fun by the diversity and uniqueness of the people selling their wares. There was a guy who has a wonderful voice and great a signing talent. So he uses his voice to distinguish himself — yes, he sings as he goes about his business.

I’m also reminded of an old lady who serves her products with unbelievable humour and conversation. She talks mostly about life’s general goings-on and recounts her life’s experiences. So funny and engaging that passengers buy the minute she makes them laugh. Now, I’m no psychology expert, but I can confidently reckon — from my observations — that how she uses her personality works for her. Often, what she says resonates with her audience. You might pick up an important life lesson from her musings, and subconsciously pull out a rand or two and she closes the sale.

These and many other ways and skills these business people — and professionals in formal organisations — use to distinguish themselves. Personal branding. When a guy sings so beautifully and a lady is hilarious and they both incorporate those traits into the way they run their businesses, it inevitably becomes their product, brand and how it is perceived and received.

What I have figured is that there are numerous exciting things in your world, you just need to change your perception of them.

While another person whines about a lack of opportunities to justify their position, someone else is hopping onto different trains all day long, making a living.

In thinking about your own life, how you can grow out of where you currently are, your talents and how you can maximise them, remember the harsh conditions of entrepreneurs doing business everyday on the rail tracks. Also etch the following words by one Vusi Thembekwayo into your memory:

“No. You’re not a poet, artist, writer, actor, speaker. You are a business person whose trade is the arts. Small change = big results!”