It’s often said that success in business comes down to being ‘at the right place at the right time’. There is, almost always, an element of luck involved when a company experiences exceptional traction early on.
But luck will only get you so far. As McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc famously said: “The two most important requirements for major success are, first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it.”
And the longer a company is around, the less of a factor luck becomes. A bit of luck might get you to the top fairly quickly, but it won’t keep you there for thirty, forty or fifty years.
Surviving in business is hard, and it’s only getting harder. Thanks to constant innovation (and disruption) and a highly competitive global marketplace, companies are disappearing at an alarming rate.
It was widely reported a few years ago that, based on research from Yale professor Richard Foster, the average lifespan of a company listed on the S&P 500 in the United States has decreased by an astonishing 50 years. In the 1920s, the average lifespan of a company was 67 years. Today? A mere 15 years.
The secret to (long-term) success
But it’s not all bad news, of course. There are plenty of examples of companies that have managed to stay the course for years and years. The vast majority of the world’s most recognisable brands have been around for decades. They have survived tough economic times, disruption, increased competition and changing demands from consumers.
How have they done it?
Here’s some great advice from great brands. Read on to discover how they have managed to stay relevant for so long.
Turn challenges into opportunities
Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica, believes in looking at challenges and asking yourself how you can turn them into opportunities.
In the early days, for example, Dermalogica was trying to talk about skincare and health while the rest of industry was obsessed with beauty. A lot of people didn’t understand why the brand was taking such a ‘medical’ approach to skin products. Instead of succumbing to the peer pressure, though, Wurwand and husband Raymond were committed to their unique approach.
“The fact that the industry didn’t understand our approach was a challenge, sure, but we also saw it as an opportunity to carve out a very specific niche for ourselves,” says Wurwand. “We were doing something no one else was doing.”
Another challenge was the rise of the Internet. Dermalogica had relied on a sales model based on real-world relationships. The company embraced the challenge, however, and now runs a successful online store, boasting a vibrant online community. By embracing the challenge instead of ignoring it, Dermalogica was able to grow and flourish in a digital world.
“You have to look at a challenge and try to see how it could become an opportunity. That’s the true entrepreneurial mindset,” says Wurwand.
Customer first, always
Spitz is a well-known brand, and its elegant shoe stores can be seen in just about every high-end mall in South Africa. Today, it is owned by the JSE-listed AVI, but it started out as a simple family business.
Spitz was started by Anthony and David Spitz in 1968, right in the centre of Johannesburg’s business district. The brothers eventually sold the store and Anthony Spitz moved to London in 1989, but he rejoined the company in 2000 as a non-executive director. He is still there today.
When asked why he believes Spitz has grown so successfully, his answer is simple: “Because it is still run like a family business. We used to know and care about our customers. We valued them, and did whatever we could to keep their business. The same is true today of the Spitz stores. The customer still comes first.”
According to Spitz, this is the secret to long-term success. Once you stop caring about your customers, your business goes into decline.
“Companies spend millions to acquire customers, and then throw all that money away with bad customer service. A marketing campaign might bring someone through your door the first time, but it’s customer service that’ll keep them coming back. Care about your customer, and your business will flourish.”
Innovate your own way
Consider for a moment the forces of disruption currently impacting a manufacturer of high-end luxury goods
Gadgets such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit are making people swop their flashy watches for something that can count their steps, track their sleep and monitor their heart rate. Laptops and tablets mean that most business people need a stylus instead of a pen. And then there’s the fact that simple yet elegant luxury items are no longer good enough. Everything needs to be ‘smart’ and ‘connected’ these days.
So where does that leave a company like Montblanc?
Many companies in the same position would probably try to jump on the bandwagon — try to push out their own line of smart items. But emulating competitors and chasing trends rarely leads to long-term success. So Montblanc has done something different. It hasn’t ignored modern trends, but it hasn’t let them dilute its essence either.
When Olivier Laurian, Montblanc’s international director of business development, visited South Africa, he explained how the company is keeping up with the times.
“A Montblanc pen or watch is a timeless piece — not something that will become obsolete in a year or two. So in order to balance modern demands with our classic approach, we provide alternative solutions to customers’ needs. We still sell a classic watch, but we put the modern tracking technology in the strap. So it remains something that can be passed on for generations. Similarly, we have a pen with a tip that can be swopped out to turn it into a stylus — modern and functional, yet timeless. These are all modern items that stay true to the heritage of the brand.”
Take risks, but stay consistent
Innovation and consistency can seem like opposites, but great companies manage to take risks and innovate, while at the same time providing customers with a consistent and predictable experience.
If you’ve ever had a Big Mac in Europe or the United States, you’ll know that it tastes exactly like it does in Joburg or Cape Town. And that consistency keeps customers coming back.
At the same time, though, McDonald’s has been a great innovator. Over the years, it has greatly modified both its menu and its services. In the 1970s, the company created the drive-thru. Today, it delivers food. Its menu has grown massively, and McDonald’s now even sells breakfast and premium coffee.
The key to success when it comes to balancing these opposing forces is knowing where you can afford to take risks, and where you can’t.
Ray Kroc expected the following from every franchise: “Consistent restaurant operations, procedures, service, quality and cleanliness.” But when it came to the menu, Kroc allowed franchisees to experiment. The Happy Meal, Hot Apple Pie, Egg McMuffin and McFlurry were all created by franchisees. Even the Big Mac was created by a franchisee.
It all comes down to knowing where you can take chances, and where you can’t. Coca-Cola has changed the design of its bottles and cans, it has even added Coke Zero and Coke Life, but it’s only tried to change the formula of Classic Coke once. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Be obsessed with the consumer
We live in an era of big data in which everyone is always telling you to crunch the numbers and look at the big picture. This is important, of course, but it brings with it a certain danger: If you’re not careful, you can lose sight of the consumer at the individual level, especially when your business scales quickly and real customers are replaced by dots on a chart.
According to Charl Bassil, marketing director for Pernod Ricard South Africa, you need to be obsessed with the individual consumer and understand what he or she expects of you, regardless of how large your organisation is.
“Consumers are not just stats on a page that need to be manipulated,” says Bassil. “For us it’s incredibly important to not only know consumers — understand that they’re real people with real needs — but also to have genuine empathy for them.”
This isn’t only the ethical and socially responsible thing to do, it also makes good business sense.
“By understanding and having empathy for consumers, we believe that our business will grow and increase its market share,” says Bassil.
“If you add real value to consumers’ lives, more and more of them will migrate to your brand, which means you will benefit commercially. Selling consumer products has to be a mutually beneficial relationship. We can’t just flog stuff. In the modern business environment, you need to understand consumers and give them what they need. It’s the only way to survive long-term.”
Always be humble
Humility is something that large and fast-growing companies often lack. When everything keeps going your way, you start thinking that you can’t lose. But even giants fall… or at least stumble, on occasion.
Starbucks, which opened its first stores in South Africa in 2016, is a good example of a company that, despite exceptional growth, has stayed humble.
Starbucks, like McDonald’s, is all about consistency, but it also knows that you can’t just replicate the exact same experience everywhere. You need to be sensitive to different cultures and countries.
Visit the Starbucks store in Rosebank to see how the company incorporated local culture into the design of the shop. Artwork in the store includes woven leather ceiling panels that pay homage to the South African tradition of basket weaving and a 3D recreation of the famous Starbucks Siren in wood.
Related: Taste Holdings: Carlo Gonzaga
“This store will not only offer amazing coffee and world-class customer service, it is a representation of our commitment to South Africa through its localised design,” said Carlo Gonzaga, CEO of Taste Holdings (Taste Holdings is Starbuck’s official partner in South Africa).
“We have taken inspiration from rich local colour palettes and designs, with materials and artworks produced by local artisans. It signifies the start of our coffee journey in South Africa.”
In addition to opening its first store in South Africa, Starbucks will also be entering another new market soon: Italy.
Having been inspired by the coffee shops of Italy in the first place, the company is acutely aware of the fact that it can’t barge in without a lot of respect. Selling an Italian experience to the Italians is risky, which is why Starbucks is only going there now, decades after it first started operating.
“Starbucks history is directly linked to the way the Italians created and executed the perfect shot of espresso. Everything that we’ve done sits on the foundation of those wonderful experiences that many of us have had in Italy, and we’ve aspired to be a respectful steward of that legacy for 45 years,” says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
“Now we’re going to try, with great humility and respect, to share what we’ve been doing and what we’ve learnt through our first retail presence in Italy.”
How To Embrace An Exponential Mindset For Your Business
In the age of exponential technologies, it’s a risk not to take a risk.
Think global and exponential
If you’re an entrepreneur trying to establish a successful business, it’ll be dead before it even takes off, if you don’t build it for the future. You have to think three to five years ahead, so when it launches, it’s still relevant.
Think like former Canadian pro ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky, who said: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” And these days it’s easier for entrepreneurs to predict the future thanks to technology and data insights.
Consider what Singularity University co-founder Ray Kurzweil calls The Law of Accelerating Returns. He says the only thing that’s constant is change and that change itself is accelerating exponentially. As per Moore’s Law, information-enabled industries are doubling their performance and halving their price every 18 months, according to the price-performance ratio. The field of biotechnology has managed to surpass that.
There’s no time to slow down, your business has to constantly evolve, and you have to keep asking “what’s next”. Encourage experimentation and innovation in your company. Innovation focuses on incrementally improving your already existing products and services, while experimentation allows for fresh outlooks and breakthrough strategies that leapfrog old ways.
We should reprogramme our linear mindset into an exponential one. Don’t aim to grow your business by 10 per cent year-on-year, but rather 10 times. The first thing I learned at Singularity University is the potential of exponential growth. If you take 30 linear steps, you only move 30 places, but if you move 30 exponential steps your place doubles with each step and by the 30th step, you’ve moved over a billion places.
We’ve seen this happen with unicorns – not the magical creatures, but start-up companies that are valued at over $1 billion within their first year – like Slack (cloud-based team collaboration tools and services) and Square Inc. (a mobile payment company). It once took around 20 years for American companies to reach the billion-dollar valuation mark, now it may take less than a year.
In the early stages – until your third step – your progress may seem linear. Many exponentially-geared companies give up at this point – just as their growth rate is about to explode. Persevere!
A few decades ago it was unthinkable for an individual or start-up to disrupt entire industries. Start thinking globally, not locally. Use staff-on-demand and crowd souring to propel your business ahead of the competition. It’s unlikely that you have the world’s smartest minds working for you, however with the power of the crowd, you just might.
If you’re struggling to find a solution, turn the challenge into a game and offer prize money. You’ll have thousands of people attempting to solve your problem, but will only pay for the best solution. Kaggle is a platform for predictive modelling and analytics competitions. It lets statisticians and data miners compete to produce the best models for predicting and describing data. Mining company Gold Corp placed its geological data online and offered money to anyone who could locate gold at their Canadian mine. Four of the five winning entries struck gold. And in 2011 it took a team of gamers 10 days to solve an enzyme riddle that could hold the key to curing AIDS.
The six Ds of tech
As companies become information-enabled they should internalise what Singularity University co-founder Peter Diamandis calls the six-step growth cycle of digital technologies. These Six Ds of Tech Disruption are digitisation, deception, disruption, demonetisation, dematerialisation, and democratisation.
The first step is digitisation. Once something enters the digital realm it gains the potential for exponential growth. Think of the radio and CDs. You no longer need either, instead you can stream online, listen via YouTube or download music. After digitisation, growth appears slow, even deceptive. Sadly that’s when many companies opt out. Be patient!
No one imagined Kodak would disappear after a century. Kodak thought they were in the business of printing photographs, while they were in the business of memories. Think about the need your business solves. Kodak invented the digital camera, but was too scared to disrupt its own industry. It didn’t realise that people were no longer taking photographs in the same way, so their competitors disrupted the industry instead.
Today, the camera has become part of the smartphone and photographs are predominantly shared via social media. Instagram epitomises the next step in the equation: demonetisation. With time technology becomes cheaper and even free. Instead of printing photographs, many people instantly share them on a free smartphone app like Instagram.
Next comes dematerialisation. The radio, camera, video recorder, GPS, calculator and calendar are disappearing from the physical world as they’re being built into the smartphone. The wallet will dematerialise next with the advent of online transactions and cryptocurrencies.
Finally, democratisation happens when government, corporates and the wealthy no longer hold control and masses of people have access. Just think, the average South African with a smartphone has access to much more information than the president of the United States of America had 20 years ago.
In the age of exponential technologies, it’s a risk not to take a risk.
Why, When You Fail, You Should ‘Fail Forward’
So, you’ve fallen on your face? Consider that you’re walking in the footsteps of some ‘famous failures,’ like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Stephen King.
5 Inspiring stories to keep in mind1000 times he failed
Teachers described him as “too stupid to learn anything.” He got fired from two jobs because he was “non-productive.”
Then he tried inventing something completely new. What’s even crazier is that he tried 1 000 times, unsuccessfully. When a reporter asked him how it felt to fail 1 000 times, the story goes, he replied, “I didn’t fail 1 000 times. “[The invention] was an invention with 1 000 steps.”
Through pure determination, Thomas Edison – initially a failure – made the world a brighter place to live in. If such good things come from success, then why do we choose to always look at the brighter days and completely disown the tough times?
Here are five more inspiring stories to keep in mind, should you ever feel that you’re the biggest failure.
The woman whose book got rejected 36 times
You’d think that once one book you’ve written becomes a bestseller, publishing another one would be a walk in the park. But it’s not that easy. At least not for Arianna Huffington.
Having produced that first bestseller, The Female Woman, when she was only 23,, Huffington tried to pitch her second book, but none of the 36 publishers she approached said yes. Still, she didn’t give up.
And that’s just one of a couple of failures from The Huffington Post’s co-founder. She has been dropped from hosting a BBC show, garnered 0.55 percent of the vote (when she ran for governor of California) and been unsuccessful when she called for then-President Bill Clinton’s resignation through her website.
But now The Huffington Post gets millions of visitors every month; she’s had a successful book career; and, if it helps, she’s very rich. Clearly, “failure is a stepping stone to success.”
The woman who was “unfit for television”
Oprah Winfrey is worth more than $3 billion. But it hasn’t always been like that. And, considering that a Baltimore TV producer called her “unfit for television” right before he fired her, it’s telling that the main source of Oprah’s success was a TV show that ran for more than 20 seasons.
Oprah also tried to get into the movie business with the movie Beloved. It lost to Bride of Chucky in terms of revenue and consequently lost the $80 million invested in it. Oprah has said this failure sent her into a state of depression.
But then, in 2013, she got back onto the horse (speaking cinematically) with The Butler.
See? Even when you make it, you’re still at risk of failure. Henry Ford, William Crapo Durant and Walt Disney (among so many others) all went bankrupt after they’d already made it big. But each one sprang back in his own way.
The man who was fired from the company he’d founded
Not all of Apple’s products have received mass acclaim. More specifically, not all of the Apple products launched by Steve Jobs have been successful.
One such failuret was the Lisa computer. This was supposed to be a desktop computer targeted at personal business users. For a purchase price of $10,000 (about $24,000 today) consumers could buy the first desktop that would allow them to use a mouse to work with a 5MHz processor and up to 1MB RAM. The Lisa sounded like a magnificent idea, at least at the time.
However, the pricey computer sold poorly, and then-CEO John Scully, someone Jobs had chosen for that position a few years earlier (there are so many lessons in this story), helped remove Jobs from the Macintosh division in 1985.
So Jobs left Apple. Then he founded NeXT, and failed again, but sold the software division of NeXT to Apple in 1997. Then he returned and became CEO in 2000, and this time he was determined to make Apple something special. He succeeded.
The man who almost gave up after 30 rejections
Stephen King was just selling short stories and teaching English when he had the idea to write Carrie. However, despite the $2,500 advance he received for the novel, he decided to give up on the book after 30 rejections.
But his wife wasn’t going to let him do that. She urged him on, and he finally agreed to submit the manuscript again.
Carrie is one of King’s bestsellers and went on to become two film adaptations, one of which won the lead actress Sissy Spacek an Oscar.
The man who quit – just before striking gold
One last story comes from Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich. In it, the author writes of an interview with a millionaire named R.U. Darby who in turn described an uncle of his who, having heard of the riches that came from finding gold, set out to do just that. After weeks of commitment, this miner finally spotted a vein of shining ore. He raised the money for the necessary machinery and went ahead and he started shipping the gold. However, before long, he’d lost the vein of the gold ore.
He tried to find it again and was unsuccessful. Then his workers quit and sold the machinery to a junk man. The junk man called in an engineer to inspect why the project had failed, and it was determined that the vein was just 3 feet (three) away from where the Darbys had left off.
The lesson? Before you stop trying, try again. If not for yourself, then for other people. What would the world be like without Thomas Edison’s invention? How about Alexander Graham Bell? Use failure as a step to elevate you because it’s by learning to accept failure that we can see great success.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Recession-Proof Your Business
South Africa is in a technical recession. Here’s how to navigate the turbulent times ahead.
For the lay-man like myself, it’s important to understand that a technical recession is an economic term that describes two consecutive quarters of negative growth in an economy. For South Africa, gross domestic product (GDP) declined 0,7% during the first quarter of 2017 after contracting by 0,3% in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Why is this a big deal? Because the economic outlook, even without the technical recession, was bleak. Ratings agencies are losing confidence in South Africa. S&P downgraded the country to junk status earlier this year, followed by Moodys, which revised South Africa down a notch.
How organisations respond to recessions
There are a number of knee-jerk reactions to a recession as a direct result of decreasing revenues and profits. The most relevant to SMEs are:
- Cutting R&D spending. This means no new product lines, and no incremental innovation expenditure unless it returns direct value to the business.
- People get fired. In a time where underperformance has a double impact on the business, people that aren’t performing are performance-managed out the door.
- Market shares shrink. This is often due to reduced R&D spends.
- Processes are evaluated. Companies start looking for efficiencies that should have already been in place.
Outlook and opportunities for SMEs
For SMEs, sales and product planning in a recession is key and must align to the way big business is responding to the recession.
Fundraising for capital expenditure is more expensive, but not impossible. It may be valuable to invest ahead of the curve to capture the emergent big businesses during this period and therefore external investment may make sense.
In an increasingly collaborative economy, SMEs should look to each other for partnerships and complementary projects that cost little to assemble, but amount to great value for a big business.
Survival of the nimblest
SMEs have the ability to be nimble and move quickly to change organisational structures and deliver on just-in-time value. This can be hamstrung by unpredictable fluctuating expenses like cell phone contracts that may vary in cost in an unpredictable way from month to month. The fewer of these costs on your books, the better.
The term ‘always be closing’ is a famous sales mantra, it’s also applicable in a recessionary context. First, because you don’t know what they don’t know and unless you tell them — who will? Second, the feedback loop of understanding the concerns and actions from your customer or client can only be understood through interaction.
Is it clear that you are the best provider for the job that needs to be done? If not, it is important to build a stakeholder strategy that puts your business in front of the key procurement and strategy custodians. This may be a great opportunity to exhibit demos, case studies and showcase the efficiency that you offer.
Focus on value
I can’t over-state this. Value, value, value. It goes without saying that one of the key reasons anyone would consider an alternative supplier is because of the specific problem they solve, so this should be your approach in reinforcing the value you bring to the table. Repetition builds memory structure.
One recession doesn’t fit all
It’s important to understand that for SMEs a recession can have an expansionary effect in the same way the lipstick effect applies to luxury goods and services.
The lipstick effect is the theory that when facing an economic crisis, consumers will be more willing to buy less costly luxury goods. Instead of buying expensive fur coats, for example, people will buy expensive lipstick.
A series of psychology experiments have confirmed for the first time that while tougher economic times decrease desire for most items, they also reliably increase women’s yearning for products that boost their attractiveness.
So, for SMEs, the formula is simple — don’t panic, analyse your customer value chain and position your solution accordingly and then sell, sell, sell.
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