10Vusi Thembekwayo says to lead, be disruptive
“By the time you realise your competitor has moved away from you it’s too late. If you want to be a clear industry leader, you need to be the disruptor.”
- Vusi Thembekwayo is the founder of Motiv8 Merchant Services and a Dragon on South Africa’s Dragon’s Den.
It’s easy to get complacent when you do well and make targets. The problem is that your competitors are trying to figure out how they can outbox you in your own markets. That’s the warning from lead strategist, advisor and investor, Vusi Thembekwayo.
At 25, Thembekwayo served on the Operations board at Metcash Africa, a R17 billion business at the time. He was tasked with launching a new division, which he built to a R461 million turnover business before leaving to launch his own company.
Today, he’s acknowledged as a leader in understanding the challenges of growing market share in a declining economy. His advice is simple: to compete in this disruptive environment, you need to unlearn your own learnings. The single most important tool at your disposal is the ability to understand that what got you here won’t get you there.
“If you want exponential growth, you need to be disruptive. Safe strategies lead to linear growth, which for many business owners is fine. But it’s not enough if you want to be a market leader. New business models, products and solutions are quickly old and ubiquitous, and while you keep innovating, so does everyone else. Keep this top of mind: What do people say about your brand when you’re not in the room? What sets you apart from everyone else? As brands increasingly imitate each other, how are you changing the market you operate within?”
9Vusi Sithole said goodbye to corporate to launch Nestlife Assurance
“One of the biggest mistakes I have made is letting excellent employees leave the business without fighting for them. Without skilled staff there is no business.”
- Vusi Sithole founded Nestlife Assurance in 1996.
In 1996 the founder of Nestlife Assurance, Vusi Sithole was the chairman of a subsidiary of Hollard. He had worked his way up the ranks of the insurance industry and was earning an executive’s salary, with further advancement on the horizon. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted to leave a legacy, and to do that, he needed his own business.
It wouldn’t be an easy journey. He bought an insolvent company in Mafikeng, and for four years travelled between Joburg and Mafikeng while he built up the business. Sithole is a firm believer in the power of hard work, and that nothing in life worth having comes easily.
Nestlife Assurance is not the product of a BEE deal or BEE funding. Before he launched his own company, Sithole spent years learning the industry from the inside out, and once he became an entrepreneur, he rolled up his sleeves and got his hands dirty, taking care of everything from meeting new clients to answering the phones and even sweeping the floors.
He had to, he had a staff of one: Himself. “My start-up journey was a rollercoaster of highs and lows,” he recalls.
“I have never been afraid to take a step backwards in the present if it meant future growth. That’s how you build sustainable foundations. But it also meant sacrifices for myself and my family.” It’s this commitment to a long-term goal that has really paid off, for Sithole, his company and his employees.
When you can’t compete with large, established industry players on price, you need to find another differentiator. For Sithole, this was service, which became his core focus. “I didn’t try to get all of a client’s business at once. Instead, I convinced them to give me a small percentage so that I could prove myself. 5% of a company’s business soon grew into 10%, then 20%, until in many cases Nestlife now holds 100% of each client’s business, all through an unwavering focus on service.”
Read more: Nestlife Assurance full story here
8Madoda Khuzwayo: From rural boy to coding entrepreneur extraordinaire
“I was a rural boy, and so the first time I ever touched a computer was my first semester at varisty. It changed my world.”
- Madoda Khuzwayo is the co-founder of OPENTENDERS, an SME marketplace that he launched with Mnive Nhlabathi and Sivu Maqungo.
Madoda Khuzwayo doesn’t know the meaning of the words ‘give up’. Born and raised in rural KZN, he only touched his first computer when he got to university, and he’s been in love ever since. Even though he had an engineering bursary from Eskom, his goal was to launch a tech business, and that’s been his core focus since his late teens.
It’s been a challenging journey. After completing his degree, he moved to the UK to get an IT degree. His plan was to work to pay for his studies. It meant long hours and weekends, but he managed to secure a job at the Mini factory working the long weekend shifts, and by 2003 he was returning to South Africa with his second degree in hand, and big plans for the future.
Of course, things never go quite as planned. Khuzwayo’s first business idea – a website that matched prospective renters with rentees for the FIFA 2010 World Cup – won the SAB Kickstarter nationals, but never got off the ground thanks to changes in FIFA’s regulations around certified accommodation.
“You don’t get everything right first time round,” he says, adding that the important thing is to keep pushing. “Every pivot in a business model or pricing structure takes you one step closer to success. You just need to see the lesson in every change, learn from it, and keep looking for the perfect product market-fit.”
His latest company, OPENTENDERS, launched with business partners Mnive Nhlabathi and Sivu Maqungo is aiming to be South Africa and Africa’s largest SME marketplace and tender website in the very near future.
With the right mix of passion, focus, and tech acumen that keeps improving the OPENTENDERS platform, the ingredients for success are certainly there.
“We had to go back to the drawing board three times before we found a platform that offered real value to SMEs as well as a revenue model that worked for us. We know that in order to create a business of value, you need to be willing to listen to your market and pivot when needed. Keep pushing, keep looking for better solutions, and keep focusing on the end goal.”
Read more: OPENTENDERS full story here
7Tim Tebeila, SA’s home-grown mining magnate
“The determination not to borrow money became a fundamental part of my business philosophy. I said to myself, ‘I’m down now, but I’ll push to bring in the business and then I’ll be up again’.”
- Tim Tebeila grew up in a poor household in Limpopo.
- His mother took care of seven children, while his father supported them as a migrant worker in Joburg.
- Today he is the founder of several enterprises, including Morethi Insurance Brokers, Sekoko Resources and Reliance Life.
In 1995, Tim Tebeila left a successful career as a top Santam insurance sales exec to launch Morethi Insurance Brokers.
Coming from a poor rural background, his success in the corporate world was already a win, but it wasn’t enough for Tebeila. He wanted to make a difference in his community, and that meant starting his own company. His first entrepreneurial venture was Morethi Insurance Brokers. To build up a client base, he’d wake up at 3am each morning to make sandwiches for his clients.
He knew that breakfast was a real value add: When people do not have a lot of money, food is received as a gift, and lays the foundation for a real relationship.
This focus on hard work and tapping into the needs of the community has been the foundation of everything Tebeila has done since, both in the insurance industry and construction and mining. His companies focus on putting the community and employees first, which drives goodwill, loyalty, and the ability to make a meaningful difference through entrepreneurship.
“Your job is your second home, not just for me, but my staff as well. I see myself as a father figure, and I want to be respected as such. Our employees all have shares in our businesses. I think it’s critical to feel real ownership in everything you do. Once you share mutual goals, trust and respect, business success is that much more possible and sustainable.”
Read more: Tim Tebeila on Taking the Gap
6Bokang Seritsane’s maverick mind-set
“As long as you work with integrity and deliver on your promises, you’re consistently building a great brand.”
- Bokang Seritsane is the founder of Under35Mavericks, SA’s first entrepreneurial awards programme that exclusively celebrates young entrepreneurs.
When Bokang Seritsane launched his company, Under35Mavericks, which helps young entrepreneurs build their businesses through a Maverick Mindset Programme, supported by ED funds, he needed to find a way to gain brand traction.
He realised the best way to do this was to draw attention to something he was passionate about: Entrepreneurship. And thus the Under35 Maverick Awards were born. It’s an innovative and exciting way to showcase his own talents while simultaneously supporting businesses launched and run by young entrepreneurs.
Of course, building the foundations of a successful business takes more than one bright idea. “Before I could officially launch the business or the awards programme, I needed the right relationships in place and to have proved myself as a trusted partner. This takes time, but it’s essential for long-term success.”
To close those essential early deals, invest in doing work for free. “It might sound counter-intuitive, and it’s important to not set a precedent of doing work for free, but often that first ‘no’ is because you lack a track record. If you can prove yourself in a risk-free way, you can turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.
Read more: Under35Mavericks full story here
5Polo Leteka and the perfect pitch
“Numbers tell the story – it’s as simple as that. They are a health check and will help you identify where the problem areas are in your business. When it comes to income projections or turnover projections, every entrepreneur thinks they’re going to start off like ‘this’ and it never happens like ‘that’.”
- Polo Leteka is the co-founder of both IDF Managers and b, and is responsible for the day-to-day running of IDF Managers.
- It is an investment holding company that was established to exploit the opportunity of profitably investing in the entrepreneurial SME sector by providing appropriate products and support to the sector.
- She also acts as one of the Dragons on the local version of Dragons’ Den.
As both the head of IDF Managers, which invests money in SMEs, and a Dragon on Dragons’ Den, Polo Leteka knows a thing or two about being pitched to. She also knows what it’s like to be an entrepreneur on the other side of the table, pitching to an intimidating group of potential investors.
It’s not just about the investment opportunity, she believes. It is also about you – the entrepreneur. “You need to really know your numbers,” she says. Investors know you are nervous during your pitch, so they don’t care if you slip up or look nervous. But you need to be prepared. You should never be unprepared.
“The problem you are trying to solve needs to be very apparent in your pitch – it needs to be clear how you can convert the opportunity into a reality, and demonstrate how you are going to make money out of it.”
Read more: 10 Tips From The Dragons Of Dragons’ Den SA
4Lebo Gunguluza is the self-made millionaire
“I wanted to be in an environment that was creative. I can’t stress enough how important it is to find out where your talents lie when you are young so that you can make choices that hone your skills.”
- Having grown up very poor as a child, Lebo Gunguluza went on to become a phenomenally successful entrepreneur, motivational speaker and all-round mover and shaker.
- He also became one of South Africa’s youngest self-made black millionaires at the tender age of 27.
Lebo Gunguluza has had exciting entrepreneurial ride. While he managed to make his first million when he was only 27, he didn’t actually possess the skills and discipline needed yet to turn that first million into a second, third, and so on.
Gunguluza lost it all, but managed to make it back. Then he lost that fortune. Eventually, though, he learned from the hard lessons he had been taught and managed to find his groove. Today, Gunguluza is not only a very respected entrepreneur, he is also a motivational speaker and one of the Dragons on the South African version of Dragons’ Den.
Whatever business you go into, you had better know it inside out, down to the last bolt; you must always have a strong sales ability in the business; and cash is king, so whatever money you make, try to retain as much of it as possible and use it to advance the company.
Read more: Lebo Gunguluza’s full story here
3Ephraim Mashisani built a part-time empire
“What do you do? You’re going to need to work for someone else. The good news is that it’s not for ever and it’s not all day. We’re talking part-time work.”
- Entrepreneur Ephraim Mashisani worked in banking and ran a small printing business part-time.
- Business was slow at first, keeping his day job allowed him to pay for projects and buy equipment.
- Eventually, though, his business took off and he decided to leave the day job behind.
Leaving your job behind can be tough. Not only can it be difficult to replace your salary with income for your business, but you also need to leave the security of guaranteed work behind.
For Ephraim Mashisani, the answer was to keep his job and start his business on the side. For a long time, he could use the security (and income) of his job to provide his business with runway.
Even when business picked up, he stuck with his job. “When business picked up, I wouldn’t take calls while at my corporate job. This meant I was potentially losing business. My solution was to hire a tiny office space, get a landline, and hire a receptionist. It cost me R3000 a month from my salary, but it meant business could continue while I was focused at work.”
When it finally became clear that the business needed his full attention, Mashisani took the plunge and quit his job. The first year he was on board full-time, the company grew by 300%.
Learn the discipline you’ll need. Holding down a job while running your business will teach you time management and better financial management. It will provide a cushion while you learn business acumen by fire.
2Basetsana Kumalo is a media mogul
“Publishing has been one of the most difficult and challenging businesses I have ever embarked on. At my last count, there are over 572 titles so you need to have a unique product offering. Initially, advertisers have a ‘wait-and-see’ approach, so I had to hussle and push, making use of all the contacts I had built up.”
- Basetsana Kumalo is best known for being a presenter on Top Billing and the editor of Top Billing magazine.
- She is also an excellent businesswoman with interests in diverse fields such as property and mining.
Known to most people as a presenter on Top Billing, Basetsana Kumalo is far more than just a pretty face. Behind the former Miss South Africa title lies a business brain that has built a personal brand of extraordinary value in a very short space of time. Using her title as a platform to launch herself into the business world, she is an example of someone who can identify an opportunity and pursue it.
Basetsana Kumalo became a 50% partner in Tswelopele Productions in 1995, the company that is responsible for producing the television show Top Billing. In 1999, Tswelopele merged with Union Alliance Media and was listed on the JSE. Kumalo is now the executive chairperson of the Tswelopele Productions, Tswelopele Publishing and Tswelopele Group.
“Consumers are very sophisticated and the product must speak for itself, so our strategy is to back our sales pitch with an excellent product. I try to impress upon the team that we are only as good as our last performance and when we have a bad issue, I tell them. Nothing goes to print without me seeing it first.”
1Miles Kubheka saw an opportunity… and took it
“If your product is good enough, people will pay for value.”
- Miles Kubheka is the founder of Vuyo’s – a fast-food operation that was launched on the back of a popular beer ad.
A few years ago, Hansa beer launched an ad campaign on television that featured a young entrepreneur called Vuyo who had turned a simple boerewors operation into a global operation. The ad caught Miles Kubheka’s attention, and he decided to find out more about Vuyo and his wors.
He quickly discovered that Vuyo and his operation was entirely fictional – dreamed up purely for the TV ad. Kubheka was disappointed, but he also saw an opportunity. A lot of marketing for Vuyo’s had been done through the ads, yet it was a non-existent brand. So Kubheka copyrighted the brand and took it over.
Kubheka had spotted a great opportunity, but he knows that quality is important. No amount of clever marketing can rescue you if customers feel as if you don’t offer enough value. So Kubheka focuses on providing Vuyo’s customers with an exceptional experience and an exceptional product.
“There are four factors to consider with pricing: Who’s your competition, what are they charging, can I charge a premium if my product/service is better, and do you want to get in at the bottom to see if people like it and then up your prices?”