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Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

Is Entrepreneurship Dying In SA

No says Darlene Menzies – but we have some lessons to learn.

Darlene Menzies




It is critical for any economy to maintain a positive level of growth.

A key factor in this growth are the efforts made by entrepreneurs who are willing to take the plunge and risk investing their time, money and skills in starting small businesses.

SMEs are in fact the building blocks of the economy, with a surprisingly high number of SMEs providing employment in big economies across the globe – for example China sees 84% of employees in SMEs, Germany 62.7%, Japan 69%, and France at 63.9%.

Related: Sage Supports Government’s Call To Grow SA Entrepreneurship

What is the situation elsewhere?

Darlene Menzies, established entrepreneur and CEO of SMEasy and finfind, recently visited Kenya to contribute her knowledge and experience at Dot Finance Africa. While there, Menzies made some keen observations regarding Kenyan vs South African entrepreneurship.

“Everyone you meet in Kenya is an entrepreneur and has some kind of business interest. People working full time in corporates have their own businesses on the side or are involved in investing in small business ventures if they can’t give their time. They don’t see full time employment as a security as the labor laws aren’t as strictly regulated as they are in SA – so you can find yourself out of work anytime.

“There is a genuine spirit of entrepreneurship there, it’s the norm; if you don’t have a business of your own you’re the exception not the rule. It’s so different to SA where only nine in 100 people start their own businesses. Here having your own business is typically perceived as being second best to being employed…generally people feel that only if they can’t find a job or if they lose their job should they consider starting a business.”

Where are all the South African entrepreneurs?

According to a recent article in The Times, titled ‘Where have all our entrepreneurs gone?’ The Global Entrepreneur Monitor South Africa report, released in May 2016, states that the number of South Africans interested in starting a business has halved since 2010. The decline has been particularly sharp among black people and women. 

“The question we must ask is why there is this decline and what can we do to address the issue?” says Menzies.

Related: The Era Of Entrepreneurship



She believes “we need a massive mind-set change” while the article states that government policy is a ‘culprit’, access to finance and lack of training and education are also significant contributors to the problem.

While Menzies agrees that the realities of red tape experienced by South Africans can hinder our entrepreneurial growth she maintains that the same is in fact experienced by the Kenyans for example. The only difference is that the Kenyans are not deterred by these hindrances and actively seek solutions. 

Access to finance

The access to finance problem has a solution for example here in SA. Services such as finfind, a revolutionary, free one-stop solution for access to finance for small business can greatly assist.

Another tool to help entrepreneurs starting a new business is SMEasy, the easy-to-use, online business management and accounting software that is specifically designed for entrepreneurs entering the small business market.

With this in mind, a significantly positive observation from the report is that ‘South African entrepreneurs are more innovative than their counterparts in the rest of Africa and have a better global orientation with at least a quarter of revenue coming from global sales.’ So there is definitely hope in restoring South Africans commitment to starting small businesses.

“While the figures are down from the previous year, it’s definitely not the end of the road for entrepreneurship in SA” says Menzies.

Take the risk

“South Africa has moved forward in leaps and bounds over the last two decades and in order to maintain this growth we need to focus on giving our talented entrepreneurs the proper policies, access to finance, education and training, ensuring we can continue to grow. Also, encourage your children to start businesses, teach them to risk and be courageous, to persevere through hardship.

Related: Eva Longoria And Social Entrepreneurship

“Teach them that failure is a normal part of life and should be embraced not avoided. Foster a mentality of overcoming and breaking through.  Help raise future entrepreneurs – the true builders of our economy “concludes Menzies.

Darlene is a tech innovator and serial entrepreneur. She is the founder of the award winning online accounting software SMEasy as well as Finfind, an online access to finance solution for entrepreneurs recently launched by the Minister of Small Business Development. Darlene won SA Innovation Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2010 and has also been recognised by Swiss-based Stars Group as a future Global Leader. Darlene believes that technology should play a leading role in the fight against poverty in Africa. She has been invited to speak in Zurich and London on harnessing technology for Social Change. Darlene works alongside Government, Business and Civil Society to address youth unemployment and to develop small businesses in South Africa. Her life motto is “to live an extraordinary life you must resist an ordinary approach”.


Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

Why Optimism Isn’t Enough – You Need To Also Accept The Brutal Facts

Entrepreneurs tend to depend on optimism in the same way that fish depend on water. It’s absolutely crucial for survival. In fact, it’s arguably the single most important character trait that a successful entrepreneur can have, but it also has a dark side…

GG van Rooyen




A realistic path to success

  • Lead with questions, not answers
  • Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion
  • Conduct autopsies without blame
  • Build red flag mechanisms.

No matter how bad your day’s going, it’s probably nothing compared to your average day at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. This was the euphemistically-named prisoner-of-war camp (actually called Hoa Lo Prison) where American soldiers were interned during the Vietnam War. Pilot Jim Stockdale was shot down on 9 September 1965 and sent to the prison. While there, he was tortured, denied medical attention, kept in a windowless cell and locked in leg irons at night. Stockdale spent almost eight years in the prison, and while many other American soldiers died there, he survived.

This brings us to the topic of optimism. You don’t survive eight years in a prison camp by giving up hope. Despite almost impossible conditions (and odds), you need to stay optimistic. Stockdale never lost hope.

“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade,” Stockdale later said about his time in the prison.

Related: Shark Tank Funded Start-up Native Decor’s Founder on Investment, Mentorship And Dreaming Big

The Stockdale paradox

So, Stockdale was an optimist right? Yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Jim Collins interviewed him while writing his seminal book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. After hearing how Stockdale refused to give up hope and stayed optimistic throughout his internment, Collins asked him who didn’t make it out alive.

“Oh, that’s easy,” he replied. “The optimists. They were the ones who said: ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say: ’We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.

“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

From this, Collins identified one of the key things that differentiated great companies from others: The ability to accept brutal facts. Greatness demands optimism, but not in the face of obvious disaster. Collins called this the Stockdale Paradox.

Too much optimism

What happens when a bunch of executives enter a boardroom with their charismatic founder? The founder is optimistic, inspiring… and demanding. He has absurd expectations. He wants the impossible. (Steve Jobs was a good example, who employees said had a ‘reality distortion field’ around him). The executives are eager to seem equally gung-ho, of course, even those who know that a crucial deadline won’t be met, so the brutal facts are ignored.

“We’re going to be shipping product by Christmas,” they all say. And Christmas comes, and Christmas goes. Then they say: “We’re going to ship by Easter. And Easter comes, and Easter goes. And then Thanksgiving, and then it’s Christmas again…

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

An overdose of optimism is a dangerous thing. While optimism is a crucial tool in the entrepreneurial kit (especially when it comes to motivating employees), it can lead to disaster if administered too liberally. Like morphine, a sensible amount can take the edge off a scary reality, but too much will distort reality to such an extent that you become oblivious to existential threats.

And how do you keep your company off the morphine? Collins suggests four things: Lead with questions, not answers. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion. Conduct autopsies without blame. Build red flag mechanisms. If you do this, optimism becomes a powerful tool, and not a ticking time-bomb.

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Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

Alan Knott-Craig Weigh In On Living Your Entrepreneurial Dream

From raising capital to getting the most from your employees, business ownership is all about living your dream.

Alan Knott-Craig




How do I chase my dream? — Sam

First, you need money. Moola. Cash. Capital.

Chasing your dream without enough capital is akin to having a premature baby. All the baby’s energy goes into survival rather than growth. Start-ups are not about survival (paying the bills). They’re about growth (getting rich).

Before you chase your dream, make sure you have enough capital. Keep your lifestyle simple and living costs down. Save up enough to last two years. Or marry rich.

I’m considering selling my business. I need help. — Clark

Before you enter M&A conversations, first decide: “Am I a seller?”

You won’t find it easy backing out during negotiations. Don’t start a process you can’t finish. Don’t look for buyers if you don’t want to sell.

Most people I know that sold their business regret it, unless they had a very specific reason: i.e. the business was about to die, or the business can’t grow without a big brother, or they want to leave the country. If that’s your reason, go ahead and sell. If it’s simply to have a pile of cash, reconsider.

Related: Your Questions Answered With Alan Knott-Craig

What are you going to do with the money? Put it in your bathtub and wash yourself with notes? Buy fancy cars? Buy a fancy spouse?

Lots of money in your pocket can only tempt you to the dark side. Eventually you’ll get bored and you’ll want to start a business again, and you’ll start all over. If you don’t need to, don’t sell.

How do you instil an ownership mindset in your staff? — Johan

It’s hard to work with people that have no drive. Some people just come to work and go home with no planning or vision or energy. Start with getting rid of the bad apples, then start fine-tuning recruitment to only let in the folks with a good attitude.

Use some of these methods to motivate and encourage buy-in from staff:

  • Ask staff for feedback.
  • Do not tolerate mediocrity.
  • Make sure everyone knows their job.
  • Share information. Keep everyone in the loop.
  • Look after your staff and they’ll look after you.
  • Lead by example. Pick up litter. Be first to office. Be last to leave.

How do I determine what venture to dedicate my energy to and when do I know when to stop pursuing one of the opportunities? — Mike

Go with whatever gets traction first. Ruthlessly scratch everything else off your to-do list. Generally speaking, go with the business with the most tried-and-tested business model. 

I left my former employer to move away from the legal side of things. I know that I have the technical skills in this area and I have used that in completely running the legal side of the micro lending venture, but the ultimate aim is to be an entrepreneur/businessman rather than constantly seen as the ‘lawyer’. Do I discontinue the legal consulting or slowly taper off? — Mike

If you can live without the sideline income, do so. Focus 100% on business. If you need the money, keep selling hours on the side.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig’s Answers On Selling Internationally And Researching Your Idea

I have a very successful farm store. I’m considering expanding countrywide. Any advice? — Elo

Ask yourself “why?”

If the answer is to get rich, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to scale your successful farm store.

Maybe a better option is to take the free cashflow of your farm store and invest it in a different business. An annuity revenue business. A business that will make money while you sleep, rather than only when you’re behind the till. Cash cows are hard to come by. If you don’t want to lose your cow, don’t try to scale it unless you’re 100% sure you never have to sell it.

Can you help me flesh out the detail of a pitch to investors? — Mamkhele

There’s only so much you can rely on others for. At some point, you need to man up and do the work yourself. You need to answer the questions yourself. The answers for all pitch-related questions are on the Internet. Google it. No one will save you, only you will save you.

Listen to this

Alan’s audible book Be a Hero: Make Life an Adventure is now available on and

Read by Alan himself, Be a Hero is a collection of stories on how to make your life an adventure by changing your mindset and tackling adversity.

Go to or to download your copy. Be a Hero is also available in Kindle and paperback through

Read ‘Be A Hero’ today


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Are You Suited to Entrepreneurship

What Real Entrepreneurs Do When They Hear The Word ‘No’

Are you strong enough to push through early struggles?

Jason Saltzman




In this video, Entrepreneur Network partner Jason Saltzman sits down with two founders to hear their stories of perseverence and resilience.

Raul Tovar is the co-founder of WindowsWear, a fashion tech company based in New York City that archives display windows. He moved from Mexico to New York determined to make something of himself and resolved that he would not go home empty-handed.

Jordan Wan is the founder and CEO of CloserIQ, which builds sales teams for startups. He started his business through tragedy – losing his mother and his marriage in the early stages.

You might think these difficulties – whether moving, or being told their ideas weren’t good enough, or working through tragedy – would be enough to make them give up. But they didn’t. They only spurred them to greater success.

Related: How To Start A Business With (Almost) No Money

Click play to learn more.

This article was originally posted here on

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