A few months back one of my students visited me. He had recently read the best-selling book, Blue Ocean Strategy. I had strongly recommended the book in one of my classes and, on my recommendation, he had purchased it and invested his time in meticulously working through the concepts. Yet on finishing the book he felt lost, despondent and overwhelmed.
He and his older brother had recently bought a struggling independent coffee store which they wanted to transform into a viable, thriving operation that would enable them to pursue their passion for music with a sustainable income. He complained that concepts in Blue Ocean Strategy seemed foreign and unrealistic and he wondered why I would recommend such a ‘pie in the sky’ book. Just a few days earlier I had met up with a friend from my MBA class. She was involved in launching a new social networking application that has the potential to transform the way we interact online. She explained to me how the same book had helped her create a practical and relevant blueprint for designing and implementing her new innovative product. She described in great detail how it was the “most valuable and insightful book” that she had ever read.
Why does one entrepreneur interpret Blue Ocean Strategy to be ‘pie in the sky’ while another interprets it to be the most valuable and insightful book that they have ever read? The answer lies in this simple statement: Not all entrepreneurs are the same. The term entrepreneur is used to describe any person launching and managing his or her own business, but in reality there are many different types of entrepreneurs. The ingredients for entrepreneurial success are very different depending on what kind of entrepreneur you are. It is hugely valuable for a person launching and managing a business to understand what kind of entrepreneur they are and to align their actions with the principles that govern that kind of entrepreneurship.
So what kind of entrepreneur are you and what does that mean for the way you manage your business? Some of the research that I have done would suggest that there are four broad categories of entrepreneurs: survivalists, lifestyle entrepreneurs, growth entrepreneurs and revolutionaries.
Survivalists are in business merely as a means of economic survival. They operate micro enterprises to feed themselves and their families. They create very little long-term wealth in their operation; they are merely keeping the business afloat while living on the profits from one day to the next. Examples of survivalist entrepreneurs can be found all across South Africa – they are the basket sellers on Durban beachfront, the people selling sunglasses on the corner of William Nicol Highway and Republic Road and the person selling Stormers flags outside Newlands Rugby ground.
Lifestyle entrepreneurs get into business as a means to a particular lifestyle. Being in business for themselves means that they can live in a certain place, have the freedom to pursue another passion (such as music, sailing, writing) and the autonomy to dictate when they do and don’t work. They tend to engage in higher value activities and use more infrastructure compared to survivalists. They therefore usually need to make a larger upfront investment in the business than survivalists but they get better returns. In most cases these people are forgoing the certainty of being an employee in an existing business for the freedom of autonomy and choice that goes with being an entrepreneur. The owner of a thriving guesthouse in Plett, the coffee shop owner who needs time for his music and the local nail parlour owner who wants afternoons off to spend with her kids are all examples of lifestyle entrepreneurs.
Growth entrepreneurs are driven by the competitive nature of business. They get into business for themselves to create something of long-term value and they continually seek to make the business bigger and more competitive. They usually need to make a larger investment in the business than lifestyle entrepreneurs, both in terms of upfront capital investment and the time they invest in managing the business as it grows. They often take on more risk than lifestyle entrepreneurs but that risk comes with financial rewards if the business succeeds. The consultant who keeps hiring more associates to service more clients, the media entrepreneur who is continuously launching new products to sell more advertising space and the estate agent who is franchising her operation to facilitate growth are all examples of growth entrepreneurs.
Revolutionaries create a business as a means to change the world. They are driven to disrupt and reshape markets. They look to make big bets and if these pay off they usually become famous. Globally, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Bill Gates have left indelible marks on the industries they entered. In South Africa, Raymond Ackerman reshaped the retail industry, Adrian Gore disrupted the healthcare sector and Gidon Novick turned domestic airline travel on its head. Such entrepreneurs often need to invest substantial amounts of capital in their businesses to facilitate growth; with that comes high expectation. They are notorious for working hard and for demanding much of those who work for them.
These four kinds of entrepreneurs can be represented in a simple diagram (see figure 1) which depicts the investment required and the revenue generated by the different categories of entrepreneurs. As can be seen in the diagram, survivalists invest very little in their business but they barely operate above the ‘breadline’. Lifestyle entrepreneurs make an investment in their business – usually their own money or money from family and friends. They use that money to create a business that initially grows but after a period of time it reaches a steady state and they are able to live on the income. Growth entrepreneurs typically need to make larger investments in their business and often rely on capital from external sources to facilitate growth. They push hard to grow the business and keep pushing for growth, even after it is making more money than they need for their chosen lifestyle.
Revolutionaries usually need to make very significant investments in their businesses to disrupt a market – Fred Smith of Fedex raised US$100 million in 1971 to create the infrastructure for his overnight delivery service. Adrian Gore ended up owning only 5% of the company he created because he needed to access significant amounts of external capital to get Discovery off the ground. Revolutionaries invest this capital in ventures that have significant potential. If the business takes off it will generate substantial growth and will probably keep growing for a number of years.
The questions every entrepreneur must answer:
My research indicates that there are two key factors that determine whether an entrepreneur is likely to achieve success with their chosen entrepreneurial trajectory.
- First, does their chosen trajectory – lifestyle, growth or revolutionary – align with their personal values and subconscious entrepreneurial desires?
- Second, do they have the skills to deliver within their chosen trajectory?
People subconsciously have a desire to be a certain kind of entrepreneur. This desire is driven by their underlying values – the things that they hold most dear.
Those who recognise how their personal values are driving their subconscious entrepreneurial desires, understand what kind of entrepreneur they want to be and act in accordance with that choice, are more likely to be successful.
Those who fail to recognise how their personal values are driving their entrepreneurial desires risk getting on the wrong trajectory which can have catastrophic consequences. Such people find it hard to align their individual actions with the actions demanded by the business. Being a successful entrepreneur takes hard work, effort and energy, no matter which trajectory you are on. To sustain that hard work, effort and energy, the entrepreneurial journey needs to fit in with the entrepreneur’s life. If your entrepreneurial journey fits in well with your desired life, you will have the energy to sustain what you are doing. If your entrepreneurial journey is out of sync with how you would like to live you are likely to run out of energy.
If your values and desires align with your chosen trajectory, you need to have the skills and knowledge to deliver within that trajectory. If you have the desire but not the skills and knowledge, you may work hard and do everything in your power to try to succeed, but you will continually come up against barriers. Such a person would do well to first develop the right business and entrepreneurial skills before pushing too hard down their desired entrepreneurial trajectory.
So what does all this mean for you?
If you wish to be satisfied, fulfilled and successful on your entrepreneurial journey, follow these three steps:
- Recognise which entrepreneurial path you subconsciously wish to be on – lifestyle, growth or revolutionary.
- Assess if you have the skills and knowledge to be effective on that path.
- Assess if the path you are currently on aligns with where you really need to be and make the necessary adjustments.
1. Assessing your desired entrepreneurial path
Assessing your desired entrepreneurial path involves being brutally honest with yourself. Many people automatically assume that they wish to be revolutionary entrepreneurs – “Wouldn’t it be nice to transform a market and become incredibly rich and famous?” they think to themselves. But when pushed to think about what they really desire, they don’t want the risk, the stress and the endless hard work that goes with building a revolutionary business. You need to go beyond your surface level desires to understand what kind of business will meet your long-term desires and align with your personal values.
10 by 10
One way to do this is to engage in what I call the ‘10 by 10’ exercise. This requires you to get a blank sheet of paper and write down ten sentences describing the kind of life you would like to be leading ten years from today:
- What work do you want to be doing?
- Do you want to be living in a specific location?
- How do you want to spend your days?
- How do you want to spend your weekends?
- How wealthy would you like to be?
- What other aspects of your life do you wish to nurture?
- What would you like to have achieved in the past ten years?
- What assets would you like to own?
- How do you want to divide your time?
- What role will family play in your life?
Be thoughtful and deep in answering these questions. Don’t sell yourself short – write at least ten sentences to create a full picture of what you desire.
Once you have ten sentences outlining your life ten years from today, consider the kind of entrepreneurial trajectory necessary to get you there and whether you are willing to embark on it. Living out each entrepreneurial trajectory has very different implications for your life and you need to figure out if your desired life and your desired entrepreneurial trajectory are compatible. Are you are willing to tolerate the stress and risk that go with being a revolutionary? Are you prepared to put in long hours and hard work that go with being a growth entrepreneur? Are you happy to forgo business growth for control if choosing the lifestyle trajectory? Table 1 provides insight into important elements of each entrepreneurial trajectory. This table can be used to assess if your chosen trajectory is likely to align with your desired life path.
2. Assessing your skills and abilities
The second order of business is to assess if you have the knowledge and skills to execute within your desired trajectory. The knowledge and skills needed to run a lifestyle business are very different from those required to build and grow a revolutionary or growth business. Lifestyle entrepreneurs need basic business management skills accompanied by the specialist skills of the business they are building. Growth entrepreneurs need skills and knowledge related to strategy, marketing, operations and human resource management to be able to find and create new markets, and hire people to manage their business in those markets. Revolutionaries need to innovate and disrupt. They must have the charisma and vision to sell a crazy idea; then, they need to surround themselves with experts who can help make that vision a reality.
3. Assessing your current trajectory and jumping trajectories
The third order of business is to assess if the path you are currently on aligns with where you want to be and to make the necessary adjustments. By carefully interpreting the outcomes of the 10 by 10 exercise and assessing your knowledge and skills, you can ensure that there is alignment between your skill levels, your desired career outcomes and the entrepreneurial trajectory you are currently on.
If there is alignment, you need to strive to be as effective as you can within your chosen trajectory. If there is no alignment, you should identify what you need to change. Do you need to shift your trajectory or develop your knowledge and skills to create alignment? Developing knowledge and skills may require work experience in an industry, attending a business course or doing some deep reading and research. Changing your trajectory involves realigning expectations and taking on the risks and work practices that are associated with a new trajectory. If you want to move from lifestyle to growth or revolutionary, you may need to bring on new partners, spend time crafting a strategic plan to set goals for the business or invest in the skills of the people in the business to create a platform for growth. If you decide to scale down and transition to a lifestyle business, you may need to simplify things, scale back on the risk within the business and realign expectations and work habits.
Understand your needs
Two years ago I shared this framework with a friend of mine. At the time he was trying to create a high growth organisation in the medical supplies industry. He had hired a number of sales and operations people, he was endlessly looking for new markets, new channels and new suppliers, yet he constantly came up against roadblocks. Early one morning as we were driving out to a triathlon together, we chatted about some of these challenges. I asked him what he really wanted from the business he was creating. After some thought he said that he was trying to create an organisation in which he would be in control and through which he would be able to make a good living and provide for his family.
Through this discussion, he realised that he had not properly thought about what kind of organisation he was trying to create and whether that would align with the life he desired. It dawned on him that the only reason that he was pushing so hard to grow his business was because “that is what is expected if you get an MBA.” Over the past two years he has scaled back his operation, reduced the amount of debt in the business, cut the payroll and changed his expectations. He is now taking home more money than before, he is less stressed and he gets to swim, bike or run much more than when he was pushing so hard for growth.
Aligning your deep personal desires with your entrepreneurial trajectory is one of the most valuable things that you can do to enable entrepreneurial success. Start now.
Your Organisation’s Values Must Generate Value – Otherwise Why Have Them?
Your values have to be the foundation of your organisation’s present AND its future if you are going to ensure sustainable value for your stakeholders.
In the modern world of business, where social media compels organisations to tell the truth, transparency and ethics have become essential. Consumers no longer only care about getting value for money, but also about what your company values and how that transpires in what you offer.
Defining a set of values that describes your organisation’s heart, i.e. your organisational culture, is immensely personal and, if lived, immensely powerful. Successful leaders realise that an important factor in building brand loyalty is getting their organisations to wear their proverbial hearts on their sleeves and to authentically honour it in the way they do business. Sadly, many organisations define their values as a tick-box exercise that serves as mere decorations for their website.
Just think of infamous examples like KPMG, SAP and Steinhoff as well as more recent culprits like Bain and Gartner: Besides the millions many of them had to pay back, their severely tarnished brands are still costing them dearly. It is clear that if the values you proclaim to espouse are not overt in your client-facing staff and the way you do business; this lack of integrity will eventually catch up with you. As what happened with KPMG, this not only leaves you with less clients, but with a diminished team too. High potential employees do not want to be associated with leaders who don’t honour the organisation’s values.
Related: Here’s How To Value Your Business
For the organisation’s values to truly become visible in how they engage and do business, it has to start with the leaders and their message. Those we lead must see it in our example on a daily basis. Our organisation’s values serve as a moral compass, but if the leaders responsible for steering the ship do not abide by this compass, our crew can’t get us to where we want to go. Our team members either follow us, become disengaged or abandon ship. They will not make an effort to uphold the values within a business where the leaders themselves disown it.
As a business, we make a certain promise or commitment to our clients. However, if our values do not underpin this promise and if we, as the leaders, don’t role-model our values to achieve this, it remains an empty promise. Therefore, it is important to keep the following aspects in mind when selecting or re-viewing your organisation’s values:
- Before defining your values, you should ideally define what kind of culture you want your values to underpin. Consider what is important to you and what is important to your customers: Is your organisation’s culture customer-centric, as it aims to exceed customer expectations, or quality-centric because of its strong focus on excellence? Perhaps your organisational culture leans more toward being cost-centric, as providing real value for money is important to you. A service orientated organisational culture, on the other hand, implies that providing your customers with the best possible experience is top of mind for you. Your organisation’s culture could be one of the above, or your culture could consist of a bit of an eclectic mix.
- Once you have defined the above, choose values that will help your desired culture become a reality and that your team members and customers will buy into. Again, ensure that it captures the heart of your organisation.
- Values are personal and we all interpret them in our own way. Although we don’t want to promote a homogeneous culture, we do have to communicate what we mean by our values. Therefore, the next step is to craft a set of behaviours that describe how the individuals in your organisation will live these values. Again, it is important to emphasise that the example must be set by the leaders but that it is the responsibility of every team member to role-model these behaviours.
- Finally, your organisation’s values must come alive and inspire, as they are intended to, and it is your responsibility as a leader to make this happen. Ask your team and your customers to tell you how they will feel if these values are lived authentically, and then measure the organisation against their feedback. If your team and your customers do not experience your values in this way on a daily basis, chances are your values are probably still dormant.
It is the responsibility off all leaders to inspire hope and trust in the organisation’s future in good times as well as bad times. To keep your team engaged, you constantly have to paint an emotive picture of what the future looks like for your organisation. If you connect this picture to your values and role-model them as a leader, they become a powerful tool for fostering the emotions and engagement that will help your team members buy into your vision.
How You Can Achieve Growth Through Access To Markets
If your goal is to scale your business, you need to increase your sales and access to markets. We found the best way to do that was through key strategic partners whose existing clients were our target market.
Many sales-led organisations have come to the same conclusion at some stage in their business growth life-cycle: In order to build a sales-led business for scale, you need to adopt a multi-channel sales distribution strategy. In our world, this means a combination of direct sales (boots on the ground), digital marketing and strategic partnerships.
After five years we had grown Merchant Capital as far as we could organically. We needed a much larger sales distribution channel. Understanding the need for a multi-channel sales distribution strategy is one thing, execution is something else entirely. After paying significant school fees, our strategic partnership distribution strategy was crystallised, and off we went to bring our chosen partners on board.
1. Finding strategic partners
Re-calibrating our sales strategy led us to the conclusion that we needed a strategic partner who could bring us ‘one-to-many’. In other words, we needed to identify potential partners (‘one’) who have ‘many’ sweet spot clients who are also our target clients, and whom they are already servicing with other products daily.
The end result of this three-year process has been strategic partnerships with Standard Bank and Discovery Insure. In the case of Standard Bank, every business that utilises a Standard Bank point of sale (POS) system can apply for a cash advance from Merchant Capital. Thanks to the partnership, Standard Bank POS merchants can access a cash advance within less than 24 hours of application.
It sounds incredibly simple and straightforward, but the process of identifying the right partner, creating the value proposition and then building a relationship that can result in such a partnership is anything but.
The most crucial element in this process was identifying partners who could benefit as much from a relationship with us as we could from them — in other words, ensuring a strong mutual value proposition.
When you have a business need, it’s easy to convince yourself that your prospect or potential partner needs you as much as you need them. Unless you are absolutely sure that this is the case however, there’s a strong possibility that you end up having a life-changing initial meeting and then never hear from them again.
This can happen for one of two reasons: Either you haven’t found the right partner who will also benefit from a partnership with you, or you haven’t been able to adequately distil that value. If this happens, very often you’ve missed your opportunity and won’t get a second chance.
We therefore had to be extremely disciplined in identifying which partners we wanted to approach. We focused on removing any subjectivity from the process by building an objective ‘partner scorecard’ that allowed us to weight certain attributes of the partner (such as a large client base, deep client relationship and mutual value proposition) with what we could offer them. This empowered us to make educated decisions.
2. Making first connections
Identifying the right partners is only the first step — now you need to make contact. By design, the partners we had identified were behemoth corporates with much larger priorities than meeting us, and convincing them on the upside of a strategic partnership needed to be robust and well-articulated.
Step one is getting your foot in the door. We began the process by identifying ‘champions’ within the partner organisation. This process takes time. We were able to secure meetings and found that running pilots was a good way to provide demonstrable evidence of the proposed ‘win-win’ proposition.
Early on in a business life-cycle (before any traction and brand equity exist), we found that leveraging off our network of shareholders and mentors to make introductions to the appropriate decision-makers within the organisation was of great assistance.
When we signed our previous investment deals, this was actually a key consideration for us. For obvious reasons, growth funding holds value, but the network and mentorship that the right board and shareholders bring to the table can be much more valuable.
Until you’re able to build brand equity and gain traction with a partner (or client), the right networks, introductions and referrals help you secure the meetings you need to prove yourself. And then you need to start small. Don’t expect a meeting with the CEO. Start with someone who could be your champion within the organisation.
3. Finding your champion
Finding a business sponsor to champion the partnership within the corporate partner is fundamental to your overall success. They will understand the internal friction and potential hurdles in navigating the naysayers within the organisation.
There will always be people, and rightly so, who challenge the partnership and ask why they can’t just do it themselves. If you don’t have an internal champion who is engaged and passionately buys into the partnership, then the initiative will most likely fall over and die.
Being the first mover in a partnership with an innovative start-up has many advantages if the product takes off. Often, these people want to be involved on the ground floor.
That said, big corporations are still taking a chance teaming up with young companies (brand risk and financial losses, to name a few). The upside of having already landed a smaller partner where significant traction can be demonstrated goes a long way in softening the initial concerns and risks from the large corporate’s perspective.
4. Nothing worth having can be rushed
The one word that comes to mind when thinking about this journey and the past three years is grit. In our experience, landing great partnerships takes many years of relationship-building and demonstrating solid business metrics and track record.
As I’ve already mentioned, our discussions with Standard Bank began three years before doing the deal. What we found useful in the early days of the partner discussions was communicating that in the next quarter we were going to achieve certain results and then coming back the following quarter and presenting the fact that we had hit our milestones, or hopefully exceeded them.
Just as you would do with an investor, this built a track record and credibility. The rhythm of checking in every few months and reporting back on progress is a great way to build the relationship over time without being too pushy as well.
Pulling it all together
There are two types of growth: Organic growth and scale. We’re an organisation that wants to scale. We’re aiming for exponential growth. This wouldn’t be possible without exponentially increasing our access to market.
We identified that the best way to do this was through the right strategic partner, but there are many channels that business owners can consider.
The important thing is not to just do what you’ve always done, unless you’re comfortable with organic growth. Evaluate your current model, and critically examine what you need to do to increase your sales, distribution and access to market. There is no one right way to do this. It took us time, and we needed to learn a few tough lessons before we were confident in the direction we wanted to take.
Related: My Business Is Growing… What Now?
5 Lessons On Scaling Up Your Company From An EOY Winner
It takes a combination of grit, hard work and the right strategies to navigate the challenges of the scale up journey. What do some entrepreneurs do differently to make it to the top?
Building a successful company is really hard. Even when you have made it through the start-up phase – product development, market fit, building a team, earning first traction – the process of scaling up remains a challenging road.
Louw Barnardt CA(SA), recently named the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year at the Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® Awards, shared his five top lessons learnt from fast-growing clients and from their own journey of scaling up Outsourced CFO to twenty five full time professionals.
“There are many stumbling blocks that hinder exponential growth at the scale up phase. Successful start-up founders do not always have the right skill set and experience to build a business from five to fifty people or from twenty to two hundred.”
Louw and his team have taken the concept of an ‘Outsourced CFO’ – a go-to finance person for emerging companies – and built a very exciting business from it. “There are hundreds of lessons one learns on the journey of building a scale-up company. These five stand out among all of the biggest lessons learnt.
1. Invest in People
Doing business is all about people. In start-up phase, founders are able to manage almost everything. From the social media post to the invoicing to the recruitment – it all falls on you. One founder can manage this for a short while and a founder team for a bit longer, but somewhere between five and twenty people this changes. The founders can no longer make every call, have every meeting, answer every client query.
It’s critical to build a solid leadership team and then to equip them with enough autonomy and authority to run with the various portfolio’s within the company. Put a head of HR, head of sales, head of client engagements, head of operation and head of finance in place as soon as you can and keep investing in them – it’s the only way to scale out of start-up mode.
2. Manage Cash Flow
The finance function sits at the heart of every business. If the numbers don’t add up, everything comes to nothing quite fast. Founders need to make sure that they have a firm eye fixed on financials. New cloud systems enable entrepreneurs to have access to every detail of revenue, profitability, debtors and cash flow in real time.
That’s right – exact live financial information at your fingertips for decision-making. Foreseeing cash crunches ahead of time and actively being able to navigate to avoid them makes all the difference in the scale-up process. Growth eats cash, so be sure to manage yours on the way up.
3. Streamline and Automate
A start-up can afford to do what needs to be done in the moment. Scale-ups cannot. Automation of company processes is key to enable scale in various company functions.
Automate your sales process with a tool like Sales Force or HubSpot. Automate your marketing with a tool like Hootsuite. Automate your finance with a tool like Xero. Automate your company culture input with a tool like Hi5. Putting a good system in place and investing in the understanding and utilisation of all of its functions is a prerequisite for high growth.
4. Prioritise Strategy
As execution becomes a bigger and bigger part of your company, the strategy that directs that execution plays an ever-increasing role. The most successful management teams set and stick to good habits around strategy: Annual breakaways to direct long term strategy. Quarterly strategy days to cement key strategic priorities for the next 90 days and the likes.
It may seem counterintuitive to have your full management team out of action for so many full days of work, but putting the right strategy in place to execute is the real deep work required to scale.
5. Brand and Awareness is key
The value of owning a top brand and of being top of mind with all your stakeholders cannot be overstated. A stronger brand lifts the market’s perceived value of your offering. Continuously starting conversations and finding ways of reminding your networks and target market of who you are and what amazing things you are doing opens up ever-bigger opportunities that play a huge part in creating scale for our top entrepreneurs.
“Building a company is hard work. But if you do it smartly, the juice is worth the squeeze many times over. Make these five lessons your own to hack the scale up journey as you build the business of your dreams.”
Women Entrepreneur Successes4 days ago
Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch
Snapshots4 days ago
25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa
Support for Women Entrepreneurs1 week ago
11 Quotes On Hard Work, Risk-Taking And Getting Started From Beauty Billionaire Estee Lauder
Entrepreneur Profiles1 week ago
The House That Moladi Built – How Challenging Traditional Building Empowers Local Entrepreneurs
Leading3 days ago
How To, In Practice, Distinguish Between Executive, Non-Executive And Independent Directors And Their Functions
Lessons Learnt1 day ago
How Lorenzo Escobal Bootstrapped His Way To Competing With Titans And Attracting Top-Tier Clients
Company Posts4 days ago
Smoothie Franchise Opportunity: Puré Frooty Is A One-Of-A-Kind Smoothie Franchise Business
Entrepreneur Profiles3 days ago
In Touch Media’s Margie Carr Shares How She Made An Out-Of-Home Media Agency A Solid Competitor