1. Look to Africa. Nautic Africa has leveraged the enormous boom in the African market. The company has procured contracts in several emerging African markets including Nigeria, Ghana and Angola.
“Africa is a very exciting space at the moment. There are massive opportunities. I would advise any entrepreneur who has half an idea about doing business in Africa to get on a plane tomorrow and go and see,” he says.
But, he also notes the complexities of conducting business in other African countries. Conducting business by remote control shouldn’t be considered as an option.
“Business should be as direct as possible,” he says, “Don’t be afraid of setting up an office. We’ve set up an office in Ghana and Nigeria. It helps you to do business more directly. If you have to use networkers use them together with your own in-country people.”
All this means travelling within the continent, which can prove to be an expensive endeavour.
“It‘s very expensive to do things like hire a car and stay in a hotel, because the options are so limited. For example, the Sheraton in Lagos can be more expensive than the Plaza Hotel in New York,” he says.
Finally he adds, “Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the established multinationals who’ve established a footprint in Africa.”
2. Cash. The difference between sink and swim. “For an entrepreneur, cash flow is everything,” says Fisher. “It can starve and strangle even the best business in the world. You need to guard cash flow with your life. Get a strong financial person on board to make sure you are spending cash flow on your product and your customer and nothing else. Nothing else is important. We had cash flow hiccups in Nautic’s early days and ran very close to the red line, but we survived through absolute vigilance.”
3. Learning fast. About the power of patents. The Snakeboard was ultimately patented in 26 different countries but Fisher says they didn’t even know what a patent was when they started: “When we created the Snakeboard we had taken it to quite an advanced level before we even knew such a thing as a patent existed.
“I remember we were trying it out in the street and a neighbour, who was a prominent businessman, saw us and got really excited about the product. He asked if we’d patented it and when it became clear that we didn’t know what he was talking about he rushed upstairs, came down with his business card and wrote the name of patent attorneys on it. He told us not to do anything else, not to show it to anyone until we had patented it. That’s how green we were when we started.”
4. How to succeed in the race against China. Fisher believes that to compete with China your business doesn’t necessarily need to drop its pricing or production costs. Rather he suggests that if you deliver ongoing customer service, success will follow – and don’t exclude partnering with Chinese firms. “Our business includes the support and servicing that follows sales, and this has helped us build strong relationships with our customers. This allows us to compete against countries like China,” he says.
Providing consistent product maintenance and communicating with clients is imperative to striking a marketing deal, which cannot be met by Chinese mass-production.
5. Get your product right. Before you do anything, get your product right – even if that means you delay launching it. It must be right because it‘s your first show. It‘s your image going forward. Right might mean a range of things.
6. The power of passion. “Be relentlessly passionate and never give up. Believe in yourself, your product and your service. You can’t ‘buy in’ that belief and you cannot read it in a book. You must feel it in your stomach and imprint it in your consciousness.”
Balance single-minded passion with the need to take advice. Don’t listen to, “That’s not going to work, go get a degree.” But you should listen to “Go visit a patent attorney and use professionals.” Have passion but don’t think you know it all.
The Innovation Check List
- Is the individual passionate about the product to the exclusion of all else? The business has little chance of success if it‘s being treated as a sideline.
- Will the product fit into the market easily?
- Can it be manufactured at the right price?
- Is it the ‘flavour of the month’?
- What sort of money would be required to get it to where its going?