1Communicate, communicate, communicate
Working together with my colleagues, we get to steer the business through a relatively democratic process. I’ve discovered that the more I talk to them, the easier it is to make decisions.
In a start-up, there’s no time for ineffective communication.
Unlike my past experiences where I’ve worked in larger teams, we don’t have as many meetings as we have actual conversations. If you’re going into a start-up, be prepared to start some real relationships, and have an open agenda.
Miscommunication, ego, and politics are really damaging to a small team. Try to leave the drama at home.
Lesson for owners: Foster a culture of transparency from the moment you open your doors. As the business grows you will need to implement policies and processes, but that original culture will be sustained as you grow — and it will be invaluable for your overall organisational culture.
2Love the process, not the outcome
I have dreamed of running my own business. I imagine myself wheeling and dealing, owning boardrooms with my undeniable charisma, leading a team of happy and well-adjusted staff members with my unparalleled people skills. I have quite an imagination.
The danger of these kinds of flights of fancy is that you tend to fall in love with the outcome, and what you really need to do is fall in love with the hard work required.
This is something that I see in Pieter. He has his fingers in a lot of pies. He isn’t doing it because he imagines himself to be some rich and powerful globe-trotting businessman. He’s doing it because he is in love with the process. He likes putting the work in. He likes dealing with people. He likes seeing how the little seeds he plants will begin to blossom.
Great rock stars aren’t in love with the record contracts, they’re in love with the music. It’s the dedication and devotion to crafting something beautiful that makes them successful. The fame and glory is just a by-product.
If you’re in love with an outcome, a daydream, a lifestyle, be careful. The work is what gets you to the outcome, and if you have no love for it, you will not succeed.
Lesson for owners: Great start-ups are built on passion. You need to love what you do, and enjoy doing it. The cliché that if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life is all about the process and not the outcome — and here’s the secret:
If you enjoy the process, the outcome takes care of itself.
3Learn to shift your priorities
We started out with a focus on being a service design agency. We were going to consult to big business and help them innovate and build better products and services. We quickly discovered that service design is quite new and nobody really knows what it is.
While we’re working hard on promoting service design, we also find that we have to rely on our skills as a traditional digital agency to put food on the table.
You have to have an idea of what you want the outcome of your start-up to be. In fact, you need more than an idea, you need a plan. I won’t go into the details around planning and the importance of having a structure to work within, but what I will say is that plans change.
You will need to learn to roll with the punches, adapt, and survive. As I mentioned, communication with your team and your clients is key. You might find that the star product or service that you thought was going to make you rich takes a backseat while other products and services that you like a bit less become the real money-spinners.
While you should never put away your hero product, you might have to reprioritise based on customer feedback.
Lesson for owners: The art of the pivot is often what separates a successful start-up from its less successful counterparts. Being willing and able to change direction based on new information is your biggest competitive advantage. It’s a level of flexibility your larger competitors don’t have. Use it.
4Learn new skills
My role is that of strategist. In short, my job is to look at the client brief and budget and come up with a direction for the creatives and a plan for the roll-out. I sometimes do more, I sometimes do less.
The first thing that changed at Havas Boondoggle was that I played a role in helping my clients write that brief. I found that I was more actively involved in their businesses and that I was seen as part of their team in a very real way. I started to see myself that way too. Sure, I was an employee of Havas Boondoggle, but I gladly stepped into other roles in other businesses too.
I also began taking initiative in the creative aspect of our service. Taking my strategies a little further into the realm of creative ideation. I found that working for a much smaller business gave me the opportunity to try new things; to spread my wings a little.
The thing you quickly discover is that not only will you start tackling tasks that you’re unfamiliar with, you’ll have to tackle them with confidence. You’re going to have to learn to let go of your fear of the unknown, because if you don’t, someone else from another start-up will.
It’s an awful feeling looking back on something that you decided you couldn’t do, to discover that someone else with less experience than you did it. You’ll definitely discover that there are things that you are terrible at, but that’s one of the benefits of working for a start-up — self-discovery.
Lesson for owners: If you hire the right people for your start-up, they will take your business to incredible new heights. Look for passionate individuals who want to be involved in creating something great, instead of working a normal, safe 9-to-5. Fuel their passion and make them feel like they are integral to your own start-up story.
5Be prepared to sacrifice
If you’re going to work for a start-up, whether as the boss or as an employee, be prepared. You’re going to work weekends, you’re going to work after hours. You’re going to be on your phone late at night with teammates, you’re going to come in early, you’re going to go home late.
You’re going to spend time sleeping in hotel rooms in other cities, away from your family. You’re going to discover that there are things you’re not good at. You’re going to discover that sometimes the pressure is too much. You’re going to find out how strong you really are.
Being part of a start-up is a very rewarding experience, but don’t do it if you’re not prepared to make sacrifices. Sometimes those sacrifices are time-based, sometimes they require you to let go of preconceived notions you had about yourself.
Lesson for owners: You’re going to be asking a lot of yourself and your team, so remember to stop and also have fun once in a while. Burning out serves no-one. Make sure your team take time for themselves, celebrate and respect each other’s personal lives — and remember why you’re doing this in the first place. It isn’t to turn into a sleep-deprived zombie, but to live your passions.
Pulling it all together
I’ve been with Havas Boondoggle for just over a year now. The experience has been very different from working in a large agency, mainly because we walked into this hoping that we were going to do things differently. In part, we got that right. In part, we didn’t. All things considered, that’s okay, because start-ups are really about the journey.
Entrepreneurs! Do You Know What Your Customers Want?
Take off those rose-tinted spectacles and start looking at your business the way your customers do.
Do you know what your customer’s need? Have you really looked at their problems and challenges and asked yourself how your product or solution helps solve them? Do you even know if your business addresses any one of the myriad pain points they face every day in their personal and professional lives? If your business talks to other businesses, are you speaking in the language they want to hear? If you don’t answer a definitive YES to every one of these questions, then you need to start paying attention…
Put in the effort
Research, research, research. Find out what people need through all the myriad of digital and physical research channels available to you. And when you engage with your customers in person, ask them questions and write those insights down. Listen.
Bad feedback is great feedback
If clients are unhappy, they talk to you. This is good news. Use this feedback to build solutions that change these issues into advantages. This is when you should consider building an open feedback loop or mechanism into your business to ensure that you are getting the best possible insights from your customers. I
It’s also a good idea to check their criticism against reality before you spend thousands on fixing a problem that doesn’t really exist. For example, if they complain about poor customer care, assess your process and see how many complaints you have. It may be that one customer happened to deal with that one unhappy employee.
Understand their business
Your client has their own clients who have their own clients, and so on, and so forth. Take the time to get to know their business and their market. Often entrepreneurs don’t get to know how their client’s businesses work and they miss a crucial trick. By spending time with them and listening to them you get to understand their pain points and their needs. This way you can be the one who helps to fix their problems properly.
Don’t stop innovating
Don’t fear the ability to change something to suit a client’s needs. Your products and services have to evolve constantly as your market and consumers are changing constantly. You need to add value, change features or adjust your services dependent on the business you are in. Pay attention and innovate.
Why Failing Is A Necessity Proven To Guarantee Success
We should always have this at the back of our minds whenever we have that nudge to give up on our dreams.
There comes a time, especially after a terrible defeat, when we feel like giving up or even quitting. The defeat clouds our minds and make us forget completely what victory feels like. We forget the successes and judge ourselves solely on the defeats. This feeling isn’t unique to a single individual as even the most successful businessmen, inventors, politicians, world leaders have experienced failures at different points in their lives.
We all love success stories. It’s a matter of fact that behind every success story is a large amount of failed attempts. The notion of overnight success is a myth. It took the Wright brothers between four and seven years of scientific experimentation and several failed attempts before their maiden flight covering a distance of 852 feet which lasted a mere 59 seconds was achieved.
History is replete with instances of individuals who were written off after a terrible fall from grace. These individuals, against all odds, didn’t give up.
Tiger Woods, for example, has for the most part of his adult life being in the public eyes. That’s why when he went to his very public divorce, tales of womanising, dabbling with prescription drugs. Also plagued by injuries, his golf was seriously failing and in danger of being a “has been,” analysts advised he should just retire. It was obvious Tiger had a different plan up his claws by winning his first PGA tournament in five years.
His recent resurgence in form is testament to the fact that no one has the stop button to our life or life’s dreams and ambition. No one but you. It’s only when we stop innovating and trying that we’ve failed. Having lost a business deal that had the chance to change our lives positively forever isn’t the end of the world. Hence we need to reinvent and innovate.
If achieving success was easy, the vast majority of people would be successful. We have to put in the work and our skill to be able to achieve success because the most worthwhile things don’t come easy.
Defeats, if seen from a positive perspective, bring out the best in us. Victories don’t. Victories swell our egos, fill us with the air of invisibility, and this is dangerous. Hence we need a large dose of failures and defeats to bring us down to earth, to make us learn and better appreciate success the moment we’re able to achieve it.
What then do we do when we experience a poor run of defeats that make us doubt our abilities. Being fixated on the defeats for one, isn’t the solution. It has the tendency of making us forget what it felt like to win and totally derail us from our set goals. This, in itself, is a problem as it may lead to a state of unhappiness.
The bad results we might have experienced isn’t an indication of our inabilities, it’s an opportunity for us to look at the venture from a different perspective and take necessary action to improve or try a different approach towards achieving our aim.
Defeats can be depressing when we have dependents who rely on us for guidance and in some cases sustenance. Dependents could be in the form of a spouse, children, wards, parents, even staff. The pressure can be enough reason for some to give up and settle for the safer option.
With the decision to settle comes the likelihood of regret which may be more depressing than the expectations of dependents. Fortune they say favours the brave and nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without the possibility of failure.
Why You Need Smart Legal Foundations For Your Start-up
The legal background to a start-up might not be the most exciting area for an entrepreneur, but it’s your foundation for growth. Are you aware of everything you need to have in place?
One of the best parts of what we do is helping start-ups — the right legal foundations can mean the difference between a start-up that’s geared for scale, and one that needs to retroactively put agreements, checks and balances in place. If you’re aiming for growth, you want to get these foundations right from the get-go.
When Benji Coetzee launched EmptyTrips, a hot up-and-coming start-up 16 months ago, Legal Legends was on the ground floor with her. Although your start-up trajectory may not be identical to that of EmptyTrips, many of the foundational principles canvassed in this article will apply at some point in the lifecycle of your business. They highlight what you should be thinking of from the word go.
Laying the right legal foundation
By the time we were introduced to EmptyTrips, they had already registered their entity as a company and had started to prepare for their first beta public launch in April 2017. When our dealings with the start-up began, the business had already enjoyed a quick and accelerated cycle.
As with all start-ups, the founders had a clear vision and objectives. Unlike too many start-ups however, Benji understood how important the right legal foundations would be, particularly as the business matured and required different support structures.
The following three actions are a good example of the legal foundations all businesses should consider, particularly if growth is a part of the founder’s vision:
1. Why you need trademark protection
Given that EmptyTrips is a digital solution, with limited physical assets, protecting intellectual property as ‘soft’ assets was critical to its differentiation and valuation given the recognition of brand value over time.
At first, we set out to ensure that EmptyTrips’ marketing materials and properties, such as company name, slogan, and product names were protected sufficiently from use by others. This was done by filing for various trademark registrations.
A trademark is a sign or symbol that is unique to your business, and which distinguishes it from other businesses. The most common forms of trademarks are business names, product names, logos and slogans.
By registering a trademark you are granted exclusivity over the use of the name, slogan or logo, and may prevent others from using similar names, slogans or logos in their business in the future.
When it came to EmptyTrips, they had already filed a trademark for their business name, so we focused on protecting the names of the different service offerings on the business’s platform as the solution evolved and pivoted. These included Trip Exchange; Freight Open Exchange; SureFox and RailFox. As the business grows and product lines are added, we will continue to update this list.
2. The importance of website legal documents
EmptyTrips is predominately an online marketplace solution to enterprises. It is a digital transport brokering agency that has been developed to source, match and market available transport capacity (empty space on trucks, trains, vessels and so on) to commercial freight with on-demand supporting financial products (insurance etc).
Each company’s Terms of Service will be unique to that business, market and customers, but privacy policies are universally required by law.
3. The legal frame work around outside investment
Like many high-growth starts-ups, Benji and her team reached a point where outside investment was needed. This is an area where your legal partner is key. Apart from attending to various due diligence meetings and ensuring proper governance controls, we were tasked with ensuring that the contracts for external investment were prepared in a manner that sufficiently protected the interests of EmptyTrips and its founding members.
It’s common during a seed or series A round of funding for an investor to present the start-up with a term sheet detailing the nature or basis of the intention and extent of their investment, as well as all the terms relating to the governance of the company that they would like to put in place.
In this case, the institutional investor presented EmptyTrips with a term sheet that detailed the monetary investment that the investor would provide over a number of years, the monthly draw-downs of the investment that EmptyTrips would be entitled to, the number of shares that the investor would be issued for their investment, as well as the manner in which the governance of the company would be changed in order to protect their investment.
Often, and this applied to EmptyTrips, the terms contained in the term sheet require a new shareholders’ agreement and/or memorandum of incorporation in order to protect the interests of the minority shareholder (the investor).
A shareholders’ agreement governs the relationship between the shareholders of the company and their ability to administer the company.
A memorandum of incorporation governs the relationship between directors, shareholders, prescribed officers and the company. A standard memorandum of incorporation is issued when a company is registered, but it will often need to be amended at a later stage if, for example, measures to protect the minority shareholders are introduced.
A memorandum of incorporation can regulate the same aspects as a shareholders’ agreement, however, the main difference is that it is a public document available for inspection by anyone, whilst a shareholders’ agreement is a private document.
In addition, if there is any conflict between a shareholders’ agreement and a memorandum of incorporation, the shareholders’ agreement will not apply and will be voided to the extent of its inconsistency. This often means, as was the case with EmptyTrips, that certain aspects of the shareholders’ agreement that provided for protection of the investor required a redraft of the memorandum of incorporation so that the two documents were aligned.
A shareholders’ agreement might not be enforceable until a memorandum of incorporation has been aligned with it.
Read next: 5 Lessons From The Legal Legends On Pivoting
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