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Start-up Advice

Alan Knott-Craig Answers Your Burning Start-Up Questions

Alan Knott-Craig




Readers took the opportunity to “Ask Al” some start-up questions.

How do you get rid of an unwanted partner that has a 20% shareholding in your business? – Joe

There are three ways to deal with a troublesome minority shareholder:

Buy her out

This only works if the counterparty is willing to be reasonable. For example, if your 20% partner is your former wife that you left for the office secretary, thereby embarrassing her in front of her entire community, then you have very little chance of a reasonable negotiation.

Pretend she’s not there

A minority shareholding in an unlisted company is worth nothing. She has no voting meaningful rights, so she can’t influence the company. If you don’t want her to have financial upside then instead of paying dividends you can pay yourself a salary that equates to 100% of net profit. Whether this is ethical is for you to decide.

Sell your shares

Sometimes the only ethical and pain-free solution is to sell-out. This can be painful. Maybe the business is your baby. Maybe you’re emotionally invested. The thought of handing it over to your useless partner makes you want to vomit. That’s life. The trouble with troublesome partners is that they add no value, and they know it. They don’t want to get off the ship because they know no other ship will pick them up.

If you can’t reach agreement on a reasonable valuation to buy her out, cutting yourself loose from your venture is perhaps the only way to get on with your life.

Going into shareholding relationships is liking joining the mafia. It’s hard getting in, much harder getting out.

Related: 5 Startup Lessons That Could Have Saved Me 5 Years

Who will pay for my app? – Anonyomous

Ahhh… the million-dollar question. You want to make an app, but you don’t know who will pay for it.

Before you invest your life-savings in the app of your entrepreneurial dreams, start with a quick-and-dirty version. There are online services that will cost less than R10 000.

Once you have something to show in real life, start showing it.

Try find a company that’s willing to sponsor the app, therefore de-risking any further investments in app development.

If you can’t find a company to sponsor you, you should have a serious rethink.

The only revenue model for apps are paid-for, in-app purchases, and in-app advertising.

None of the above work outside of the top 20 apps in the world, none of which are from South Africa.

It’s easy to spend money on apps, much harder to make money from apps. Tread carefully.

Related: The 5 Stages Start-ups Must Go Through to Make That First R1 Million

I have registered my company but I’m daunted by the prospect of starting. What is the first step I should take? – Lwazi Ngozi from Alexandra Township

Congrats! You are now an entrepreneur. The bad news is “being an entrepreneur” is not a wildly difficult thing to be. It’s easy to be an entrepreneur. Just like it’s easy to be poor.

What’s hard is being a successful entrepreneur. Success for an entrepreneur is measured by how much money you’ve made.

In order to make money you must sell. To sell you must have a product. Before you find a product, find a customer.

Find someone, with money, that has a problem. Figure out how to solve that problem. Ask the customer to pay you for solving the problem.

Rinse repeat.

Try find solutions for which people are willing to pay you a monthly fee. Annuity revenues are the only path to peaceful sleep.

In the meantime, try find something that people are willing to pay for, then find a customer.

Related: Steve Wozniak Offers 4 Pieces Of Advice For First-Time Entrepreneurs

Where does a start-up business start looking for angel investors in South Africa? – Charl Visser

S.A.V.C.A have a list of investors.  But almost all of them are venture capitalists, i.e.: not angels.

The uncomfortable truth is that angel investors are usually relatives, friends of relatives, or colleagues.

If you’re not lucky enough to have successful/connected parents, or to have gone to a fancy high school, then the only path to finding angels is working in a successful corporation where you can develop a reputation as an honest, smart, hard-working person. When you want to raise money, you can approach the successful execs in your company for angel funding.

Ask Al

Do you have a burning start-up question? Email:

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 but also changing your mind-set and tackling adversity.

Read ‘Be A Hero’ today


Alan Knott-Craig is a successful entrepreneur and best selling author. Founder of over 20 companies in the tech space, he was named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2009. To find out more about Alan’s new book, The 13 Rules for Entrepreneurs, go to

Start-up Advice

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden




You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden




Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck


This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

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Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black




Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

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