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Green Ambition

Green is getting functional as tech advances bring it into our daily lives.

Ed Hatton

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Solar furniture

Charge up over java

With increasing demand being placed on the grid and rising electricity costs, this novelty solar table might be the beginnings of a pretty cool business idea.

The sleek, glassy table top pictured is actually a 30-watt solar panel that is capable of fully charging portable devices like tablets, MP3 players and smartphones in 3,5 hours via two USB ports. Two DC ports also allow laptops or other low wattage devices to charge.

When not in use, a concealed 12-volt rechargeable battery holds the charge, and a sliding cover protects the outlets from the elements. This particular table is 76cm x 64cm, weighs 15kg and retails for around $299,95.

Our Expert Says

This could have a niche market as a gimmick addition to the patio, if the design was acceptable to that market. It has a green appeal by saving electricity and catering for blackouts but an equivalent solar charger is available for a fraction of the price. An entrepreneur considering this product must test market it.

High margins will be required because volumes are likely to be low.

The sales channel selected must have access to the relevant market. Marketing and sales costs are likely to be very high.

Another potential market is as dual purpose furniture for camping, but this has limitations. Tables are made to put things on which would reduce the solar panel effect, it’s heavy and would be more practical with folding legs.

Rock Paper

Rock-Paper-recycling_Launch_Starting-a-Business

Paper goes back to the stone-age

Paper is made from trees right? Think again. Hong Kong company, Repap, which is paper spelled backwards, makes paper from stone. Made from powdered limestone recovered from quarries, building and industry waste, and mixed with non-toxic resins, it looks and feels like the real thing, but it’s 100% tree-free, water resistant, tougher, and uses less ink for printing. It’s also recyclable, emits less CO2 in production, is resistant to discolouring and tearing, and edges don’t cut you so it’s safe for children.

Our Expert Says

This is a novel idea, and I like the superior features of the product which shows it’s not merely a gimmick. The green appeal of using waste material from building sites and old quarries rather than trees could be a powerful message.

Marketers attempting to introduce this product would need adequate marketing budgets to promote its advantages and green credentials in competition with the pulp industry, which promotes the fact that more trees are planted than cut down as its green credentials.

The price will be key in assessing its potential market. If it’s considerably more expensive than conventional paper it should be sold by specialty stores to a limited market for invitations, annual reports, marketing promotions and the like.

Contained living

Contained-Living_Launch_Starting-a-Business

Shoebox living gets chic

Repurposing shipping containers to use as homes, retail outlets or offices isn’t necessarily new. But living in a container doesn’t have to mean being boxed in by cheap materials and finishes.

This prefab concept, created by New Zealand architects Atelierworkshop, shows classy, comfortable residential containers at their best. Interiors are spacious enough to sleep four, and accommodate a dressing room, kitchen and bathroom. Room dividers offer privacy and versatility. The whole concept is lock-up and go, it’s self-sufficient, transportable, and perfectly suited to remote or non-service supplied land.

Our Expert Says

This is a product that could be very applicable in other parts of the world but may not work here. Conversion of shipping containers into dwellings and office space is not new; what sets this apart is the level of finishes, fittings and features like the sliding doors, all of which will add to the cost.

The question is who would buy it? I suspect people looking for low cost housing will see this as expensive and impermanent accommodation, middle class families would want more space and security.

There may be a niche market for holiday cottages or construction workers away from home with their families, but there are existing solutions for these applications. In the local market this looks like a solution looking for a problem to apply itself to.

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(Video) 10 Wacky Business Ideas That Made Millions

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Would you be keen to start a green business? Tell us in the comments section below…

Ed Hatton is the owner of The Marketing Director and has consulted to and mentored SMBs in strategy, marketing and sales for almost 20 years. He co-authored an entrepreneurship textbook and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to succeed.

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Launch

The 3 Blueprints For Starting A Business

There are three templates to starting a business. Get this first step right, and success will fall into place.

Douglas Kruger

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“One reason that America continues to do so well as a market,” an economist explained to the audience at a recent conference, “is that they are still leading the charge to do new things. In addition to pioneering new products, they are still pushing the boundaries of frontiers like space-travel and technology. They don’t merely copy the products made in other countries. They make and do entirely new things, and that matters.

“By contrast,” he explained, “many of the older economies, like Europe, are just ‘kicking the can down the road’. They don’t really have a vision for the future. They’re just trying to maintain what is, to survive a little longer.”

Grow or shrink

Companies, countries and entire economies are all broadly following one of these two approaches. One is the bold, growth option, while the other is only about maintaining what already exists. The trouble with maintaining, however, is that, in a dynamic system, you tend to be either growing or shrinking. A dynamic system rarely tolerates anything simply standing still. To stand still is, often, to shrink.

Related: The Hard Truth About Launching A Business

Once in a lifetime chance

Your company, team or organisation’s founding moment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this one right. Are you simply going to kick the can down the road? Or do you want to build spaceships? Are you going to be a soulless ‘also played’? Or would you prefer to do something new and meaningful? Mission matters greatly.

In Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations are Ten Times Better, Faster, and Cheaper than Yours (and what to do about it), Salim Ismail calls it a ‘Massive Transformative Purpose’. The stronger your purpose, the more you attract tribes of people, both as aspiring employees and as a supporting community of customers.

This is not to say that you are obliged to invent something brand new and original. A good deal of research is showing that pioneers in a new industry do not tend to do as well, or last as long, as the ‘settlers’ who come after them. One reason is that the pioneers have to make all the initial mistakes. The settlers get to enjoy greater leverage, by observing what has already worked or failed, then capitalising on that learning.

The idea of founding a company that thrives on meaning has more to do with how meaningful the work is, and how much of a drive to achieve goals is built into your corporation.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is certainly not the pioneering organisation in space-travel. We have left earth’s atmosphere before, decades ago. In that sense, SpaceX is a settler, and not a pioneer. That said, it is nevertheless a strongly goal-oriented, purpose-driven organisation. You don’t have to invent something entirely new to create a mission-driven company.

The Israeli Defense Forces is highly mission-driven, because it has to be. Pixar is mission driven, because it chooses to be, and because it believes in magic.

Being mission-driven, from the top to the bottom of an organisation, changes the energy. It converts ‘mere work’ into ‘shared purpose’.

Which blueprint?

blueprint

Sociologist James Baron and his group of experts led a study in the mid-90s looking at how people founded their companies, across a wide spectrum of industries, including hardware, software, medical devices, research and manufacturing.

The study asked about their original blueprints. What organisational models did they have in mind when they started?

Baron determined that there were three templates for starting a business. You might start your company based on:

  1. A Professional blueprint, in which you hire people with a preference for specific skills (prior to its fall from grace, Kodak hired people based on specific educational qualifications)
  2. A Star blueprint, in which you hire ‘superstars’ based on future potential, placing a premium on choosing or poaching the brightest hires. You look for raw potential, not current knowledge
  3. A Commitment blueprint, in which you believe that skills are nice, but cultural fit and buy-in to shared values is more important. You build strong bonds to the company. Employees tend to be passionate about the mission.

Baron and his experts tracked the firms through the 1990s and into the next decade. Those that used the Commitment blueprint, which prioritises a shared sense of mission and values, greatly outperformed the others. The failure rate for firms with a Commitment blueprint was zero.

Failure rates were substantial for the Star blueprint, and more than three times worse for the Professional blueprint. It seems these approaches don’t keep people going in the same way that buy-in to a mission does.

Nevertheless, the Professional blueprint, which prioritises the specific skills on people’s CVs, tended to be the most common.

There were two other rare blueprints: Autocracies and bureaucracies, focusing on detailed rules and procedures. These blueprints were the most likely to fail, and autocratic was most likely to fail out of the two. This is an important point: Rules-based organisations and dictatorships, according to this finding, are so likely to fail that investing in them is not worthwhile. But where a culture of people is part of a mission, they are most likely to succeed. Translation: Autocracy rarely ever works, and systems of intense rules and guidelines work slightly less badly.

Rules and dictatorships = likely to fail.

Mission-driven culture = 100% success rate.

Most real-world autocrats would probably agree with this finding, if they heard it. Then they would continue to run their business as autocrats, because, they’d say, “My situation is different, I happen to be right, and people should do what I say.”

When you’re an autocrat, it’s hard to know that you’re an autocrat. When you create your business to follow a mission from the word go, and you allow a degree of genuine democracy in which others can outvote you for the good of the mission, you instil the possibility of overcoming this blind spot, sometimes in spite of yourself.

Related: Bongiwe Mhlongo Knows Launching a Business Means Starting What What You’ve Got Now

But wait

Now, here’s the kicker: The Commitment culture is extremely effective in starting an organisation and ensuring its initial survival. But over time, the same study found, it is not the best performer.

The challenge is that when organisations mature, encouraging layer upon layer of like-minded people tends to discourage innovation and original thinking. Too much shared value = groupthink.

So, what’s our total moral? In a best-case scenario, we need to start with a common mission and committed people, and focus on growing. Once we’ve matured, we need to make a point of bringing in diverse thought, in order to avoid too much homogeneous thinking and yes-mannery.

In Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant shows how these findings map perfectly onto the rise and fall of Polaroid. Like-mindedness worked well to get the brand going initially, but then, ultimately, the same like-mindedness prevented them from learning, growing, changing and adapting in a volatile market.

Like the IDF, they had a strong sense of shared purpose. But unlike the IDF, they were incapable of a belief system that said ‘the only tradition is that we have no traditions’. They were not a learning and growing organisation.

The more a company develops a culture, the more it will tend to hire for that culture, and the more resistant its own people will be to new ideas or contrary views.

So what if…?

What if you decided to be an organisation on an important mission, rather than merely a group of people kicking the can down the road?

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The 7 Culture Pillars That Will Skyrocket Your Start-up To Success

Culture can make or break the future growth potential of your start-up. Are you giving it the focus it deserves?

Matt Brown

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Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Every time. This is especially true in the world of start-ups. I liken a start-up to flying a plane, and then attempting to build the engine in mid-air. The engine in this case is the team, and culture powers the plane. Without the right culture ,  start-up founders can quickly see their perceived Concorde unravel and turn into the business equivalent of the Hindenburg disaster.

Culture vs Strategy

The reality today is that a start-up’s strategy is often forced to adapt to shifting market conditions, changing customer needs and to an increasing extent, disruptive competition. But regardless of the strategy, it still requires a team and, ultimately, culture to drive its agenda internally and its execution in the market place.

In my interviews with some of the world’s leading CEOs and entrepreneurs, the influence of culture is often credited with playing a key role in business success. It’s ironic however, that even though a high-performance culture is a critical aspect of succeeding in business, start-up founders commonly overlook and often under-appreciate its role in building and running a successful business.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig Answers Why You Should Focus On One Thing And Have Trust In Your Partners

The Seven Pillars

A business culture can also be described as an expression of the dysfunction of management. The strategic management function is critical in creating and developing a winning culture. Here is my view on how to do just that.

1A Landmark Methodology

The lean start-up methodology by Eric Ries is designed to eliminate the uncertainty in the product development process by validating iterations of product developments with customers. It has become the status-quo in terms of building a new start-up. While it is an excellent methodology in the product development context, the value and impact of culture dwarfs the value that is created by the lean start-up methodology.

Let’s take Steve Jobs for example  —  imagine if he attempted to validate the iPhone using the lean start-up methodology. My guess is that it simply wouldn’t work. What differentiates Apple, is their innovation-led culture, and their unique approach (‘Think Different’) to product innovation and its underlying business model. It’s what fundamentally makes them the company they are today.

I recently interviewed the serial entrepreneur Vinny Lingham and he said: “If Henry Ford asked his customers what they wanted, they probably would have said faster horses!”

When start-ups are establishing a play on the edges of what’s known to be possible, it becomes increasingly harder to validate ideas. This puts a greater emphasis on the engine  —  the culture of the business  —  to redefine what innovation means and the categories within which they operate.

2A Compelling Narrative

The human brain is hardwired for stories. We find messages that are framed as stories more memorable, easy to understand, and convincing. Because of this, a brand’s story is equally important to its customers and to the staff that serve them. Seeing things through the lens of narrative can lend a start-up’s culture meaning and texture, and they can galvanise a team around a single purpose and goal.

To quote Elon Musk: “A company is just a team of people working towards the same goal.” His space exploration company SpaceX has one ridiculously compelling narrative  —  to enable humans to become a multi-planetary species. Besides showing that innovation is truly iterative, their attempts at creating reusable rockets is a classic narrative that they uniquely own and it’s a narrative that speaks volumes to their business culture and ambition. 

3A Forward-Looking Business Model

In today’s digitally enabled economy, if the rate of innovation inside your company is slower than the rate of innovation outside it, then you’re likely to run into trouble. Disruptive competition is on the rise, and legacy traditional business models are paying a heavy price because of it.

The same can be said for start-ups. Even if you have first mover advantage, it’s likely that before long you’ll be joined on the ‘beachhead’ by a competitor who’s learnt from your initial mistakes, and has since come up with a shiny, new and improved product and business model designed with the sole purpose of eating into your existing and hard-won market share.

Future-proofing a business relies heavily on business model innovation i.e. the process of defining new ways to deliver existing products to existing customers using existing technology. A tool I’ve found helpful is the Business Model Canvas  —  it’s an attempt at providing a common framework that all businesses can use to create new or improved business models.

Related: 4-Step Formula To Pursuing Your Dreams

4A Powerful Belief

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

One of the more striking commonalities between successful CEOs and entrepreneurs that I’ve interviewed, is their unwavering belief in what they are doing in business. Successful founders and executives use belief to inspire mass corporate action, and to align organisational behaviour towards a common goal.

To quote Steve Jobs: “A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

5A Striking Motto

Mottos have been used to express cultural beliefs for centuries. From America’s ‘In God We trust’ to Airbnb’s ‘A World With No Strangers’, Apple’s ‘Think Different’ and Nike’s ‘Just Do it’  —  they are simple but essential forms of communicating cultural beliefs. Mottos (or slogans) impart a key message into the minds of consumers and most importantly, the staff that serve them.

6A Strategic Vocabulary

The enablement of a strategic vocabulary in a business’s culture goes a long way to driving the organisation’s collective understanding of a top-down business strategy. One could even argue that it is a pre-cursor to the strategic alignment of disparate business functions and ultimately the enablement of business performance through collaboration.

Creating and implementing strategies that ultimately create value for customers, stakeholders and shareholders, all need to be aligned with a broader business vision and communicated in a similar fashion and at all customer touch points (both offline 
and online).

It is also vital that executives give their staff the tools and training they need to acquire their own rich strategic vocabulary as it relates to specialised departmental functions and disciplines.

Related: How To Successfully Open An International Office

7An Open Talent Policy

Businesses with the best people win. Period. An open talent policy should creatively address the way start-ups acquire, develop, reward and retain their staff to address ‘the future of work.’  This means that employers and employees must come to terms with a new working environment in which flexibility and adaptability take priority over job security and long-term employment, structured environments, and standardised roles. A fresh approach should be adopted by start-up founders so that their staff can enjoy better work/life balance, autonomy and career control.

Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and merchandise. But take heed of your culture  —  it’s important to get it right to truly enable disruption and challenge the status quo. Happy flying.

business-model-canvas

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How The Sanlam Enterprise And Supplier Development Programme Is Helping Start-up Businesses

The balance between funding, business development and mentorship can make or break an enterprise development programme

Francois Adriaan

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Sanlam Enterprise and Supplier Development

165 new employment opportunities, 172 SMEs developed and 1046 jobs sustained. These are some of the numbers recorded by Sanlam as the company prepares to wrap up the fourth year of its Sanlam Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programme.

The flagship incubation scheme has turned around loss-making enterprises, helped some participants get critical accreditation and funding, but most importantly, R12.6 million was spent procuring goods and services from the participating businesses by the end of 2016.

Related: Enterprise Development Programmes For Black Entrepreneurs

Receiving funding isn’t the secret to start-up success

Francois Adriaan, head of Sanlam Foundation says the secret to a successful enterprise development programme is not the amount of funding big corporates can give SMEs: “It’s having the right mix of mentorship; business intervention and procurement spend flowing from your corporate to small businesses.

You have to show the entrepreneur you are mentoring that you trust them enough to do business and walk the journey with them instead of giving them a once-off grant and leaving them to their own devices,” says Adriaan.

Financial support that’s timed to business need

Like in many other ESD programmes, participants in the Sanlam ESD programme also have access to funding. But what sets the programme apart from others, says Adriaan is that the amount of funds disbursed to each participating businesses is directly linked to its need, its commitment and progress record.

“Financial support is timed according to the specific needs of each SME. Those who qualify for funding are then provided with a further seven years of SME growth support through the ASISA Enterprise Development Fund.”

The Sanlam ESD programme

The Sanlam ESD programme was launched in July 2013 in collaboration with the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (ASISA) to empower SMEs, create jobs and contribute to economic growth in South Africa. An independent evaluation shows that participating enterprises have grown their annual revenue by 19% on average.

D&P Auto participants

One of the programme participants is D&P Auto, a panel beating business based in Retreat. For two decades, the owners of the business (husband and wife) poured their life savings, bank loans and even pension policy pay-outs into the business to keep it afloat because it was not making profit. Three years of focused business incubation and mentoring under the Sanlam ESD programme resolved D&P Auto’s 20-year loss-making battle.

“Our business has grown from a non-profitable business to the extent that we now have to pay provisional taxes to SARS for the first time in 24 years,” said Pam Douglas on their business maiden profit.

Successes of the incubation programme

The incubation from the programme has helped other participants brush up their bookkeeping skills, file successfully for tenders and get accreditation that took their businesses to the next level.

G&T Auto, the only fully accredited Major Structural Repairer in the programme, bagged Mazda accreditation last year, a rare accolade that will see the enterprise repair Mazdas that are still under warranty. The owner, Thembi Sithole says the programme has given her confidence to approach bigger clients as she now understands the requirements to get big contracts. She has also become more knowledgeable about financial statements and their impact on obtaining funding.

Related: Why Employee Engagement Programmes Backfire And What You Can Do About It

Adriaan says enterprise development initiatives of this nature give big corporates an opportunity not only achieve their business objectives, but also impact broader South African society.

“This commitment is around impacting issues of inter-generational poverty, unemployment and inequality. It is also about aligning around public-private-civil society partnerships in sustainable ways,” concludes Adriaans.

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