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Start-up Advice

Taking the Entrepreneurial Leap? Get Your Spouse on Board

The journey of starting a business is a challenging one, with the initial excitement and enthusiasm giving way to gut-wrenching effort and sacrifice.

Standard Bank




When your partner decides to leave a secure job to start a business, there is often a lot of uncertainly on whether it is a good choice and how it will affect the relationship.

Related: How to Put your Small Business in the Best Position to Get Credit from a Bank

One thing is for sure, though: to make it work, to reach entrepreneurial success, you will need to work together, trust each other and most importantly, set financial boundaries.

Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank says, “When you are used to a steady income, the unpredictability in your finances can be really stressful and careful money management is vital in this situation. While your partner may be excited about the future, you are perfectly within your rights to get involved with the financial decision-making. For example, if he/she wants to cash in your savings or increase the mortgage on your home to fund the business, you can and should draw a line in the sand.”

Balancing Support and Financial Security

In most cases, starting a business from nothing can place quite a burden on your finances. For that reason, you must have some serious discussions about the limits.

In most instances, entrepreneurs rely on pension pay-outs to start their businesses, so you will already be on the back foot when it comes to your retirement savings. Or, if your partner intends using equity in the home, you will be acquiring a large debt.

Therefore, you need to determine how to balance your desire to support him/her and your need to retain some financial security.

“It could take four to six months to get enough income flowing and even then, it may not cover overheads or operating expenses,” says Nyembe.

“Any money made in the early stages is used to set up an office and for marketing, so there is a good chance that you will be living off one income, if you have a job. If you are a homemaker, the situation is even more precarious and you may need to think about getting a job to assist with the expenses.”

Related: New Merchant Online: Peace of Mind for Business Owners

It Will Take a Team EffortHusband-and-wife-partnership

It is important that both of you confront the realities of entrepreneurship, which are long working hours, snatched weekend vacations and no cash for the time it takes to reach success. It may be years before you get the promised vacations, extra cash in the bank and more family time.

This is difficult to accept and even the most supportive and loving partner will get tired of broken promises and angry creditors. If you are married, starting a business is a team effort and both partners should consider the following tips:

1. Before a business plan is written

You must have an in-depth discussion about the business. Look at all the pros and cons in detail and do some “worst case scenario” planning.

2. Have at least six months’ living expenses in the bank and as little debt as possible

To avoid financial stress, reduce your short-term debt from credit cards and retail accounts. You may need to access this credit later.

3. Set a deadline

You should make the commitment that if after one to three years the business has not made any headway, your partner will go back to working for an established company.

4. “Keep your operating expenses really low,” says Nyembe.

“Work from a spare bedroom or convert your garage into an office. Avoid committing to the extra expense of a lease or office rent before knowing that you have a viable business. If you can, design a business that can run from home.”

5. Keep your personal finances separate from the business activities

If you fail to do this, you will have no way of keeping track of the venture’s profitability.

6. Always continue with your retirement savings payments

So that if the wheels fall off your business, your ‘golden years’ will be not be ruined.

7. Realise that a new business means short-term sacrifice for long-term gain

If you are not prepared to make a few sacrifices, the business is unlikely to succeed. Remember that 75% of all businesses fail in their first five years and 96% in the first ten!

8. If the business starts to get positive cash flow

Try to resist buying luxuries like expensive cars. You may need that money to employ more staff or buy new equipment.

9. “Both parties should be in the loop on every aspect of the business,” says Nyembe

Never keep secrets from your partner, as both of you will need the reassurance that your financial situation is stable. If belt tightening is required, you will need to work together.

10. The success ladder is slippery and you may need a few attempts before you are able to climb all the way to the top.

In the end however, the rewards can be great and the personal feeling of achievement is worth the financial pinch.

Standard Bank SA is the largest operating entity of Standard Bank Group, Africa’s largest bank by assets. Standard Bank SA provides the full spectrum of financial services, with more than 720 branches and over 7 100 ATMs. Independent surveys of customer satisfaction consistently place Standard Bank at or near the top of their rankings. The personal and business banking unit offers banking and other financial services to individuals and small-to-medium enterprises. For further information, go to


Start-up Advice

Alan Knott-Craig Answers Your Questions On Money And Partners

From starting the right business, to managing business partners and finding your magic number, there is a secret to happiness.

Alan Knott-Craig




If I get rich will I be happy? — JC Lately

Does money equal happiness? Mostly, yes. Research in the US shows that your happiness is proportionate to your earnings up until you earn $80 000 per annum. Thereafter, incremental income gains have a negligible effect on your happiness.

In other words: More money will make you happy as long as you’re poor. Once you break out of poverty and enter a comfortable middle-class existence, more money will not make you happier.

These are the top three for old folks:

  • I wish I’d spent more time with family.
  • I wish I’d taken more risks.
  • I wish I’d travelled more.

Therein lies the secret to happiness. Spend time with your family. Take risks. Travel.

But first, make money. Don’t do any of the above until you’re making enough money not be stressed about money.

Related: Your Questions Answered With Alan Knott-Craig

What is the magic number? — Mushti

The magic number is the amount of money you need to not worry about money ever again. If you don’t need toys like Ferraris, yachts and jets, the magic number is R130 million. Here’s the math: R130 million will earn R9,1 million in interest annually (assuming 7% interest). After tax that is R5,46 million.

Assuming you need 50% to maintain a good lifestyle, that leaves approximately R2,7 million for reinvestment, which is enough to keep your capital amount in touch with inflation for 50 years. The balance of R2,7 million (after tax) is for your living costs. In South Africa, R2,7 million will afford you a lifestyle that allows you to send your kids to a great school and university, to travel overseas a couple of times a year, and to live in a comfortable house.

Over time your living costs (and inflation) will eat into your capital amount. After 50 years you should be down to nil, assuming you earn zero other income in that time.

In 50 years, you will probably be dead. If you’re not dead, your kids will be able to support you (because they love you and they have a great university education).

I am the sole director of a company (the others still have full-time jobs and don’t want to be conflicted) and there is pro-rata shareholding based on our initial shareholder loans. However, I am putting in most of the hard work, together with one of the other actuaries. How best do I manage the director/shareholder dynamic? I obviously want to make as much progress as possible but there are times when I need the input from the others (and their responses aren’t always as quick as I would like). — Mike

If you have any perception of unfairness regarding effort/risk vs reward, deal with it NOW! You can’t do so later. The best approach is honesty. Call your partners together. Explain your thinking. Perhaps argue for 25% ‘sweat equity’ for yourself. Everyone dilutes accordingly. Ideally cut a deal whereby you have an option to pay back all their loans, plus interest, within six months, and you get 100% of equity (unless they quit their jobs and join full-time).

Equity dissent must be resolved long before the business makes money, otherwise it will never be resolved.

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

What do you think of WiFi in taxis?— Ntembeko

It’s a good idea, but not original. Before embarking on a start-up, you should survey the landscape for competitors. Just because there are none doesn’t mean no one has tried your idea.

It just means that everyone that tried has failed. You need to be 100% sure that you have some ‘edge’ that makes you different from everyone who came before you (and failed). Otherwise you will fail. What is your advantage that is different to everyone who came before?

Read ‘Be A Hero’ today


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Start-up Advice

What You Need To Know About The Lean Start-up Model

The Lean Start-up philosophy was developed by Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur who also sat on venture capital advisory boards. He published The Lean Startup in 2011, igniting a movement around a new way of doing business.





The model follows key precepts that include:

Taking untested products to market

The fact that too many start-ups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want, spending months (or even years) perfecting that product without ever testing it in the market with prospective customers.

When they fail to reach broad uptake from customers, it’s often because they never spoke to prospective customers and determined whether or not the product was interesting. The earlier you can determine customer feedback, the quicker you can adjust your model to suit market needs.

The ‘build-measure-learn’ feedback loop is a core component of lean start-up methodology

The first step is figuring out the problem that needs to be solved and then developing a minimum viable product (MVP) to begin the process of learning as quickly as possible. Once the MVP is established, a start-up can work on tuning the engine. This will involve measurement and learning and must include actionable metrics that can demonstrate cause and effect.

Utilising an investigative development method called the ‘Five Whys’

This involves asking simple questions to study and solve problems across the business journey. When this process of measuring and learning is done correctly, it will be clear that a company is either moving the drivers of the business model or not. If not, it is a sign that it is time to pivot or make a structural course correction to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy and engine of growth.

Lean isn’t only about spending less money

It’s also not only about failing fast and as cheaply as possible. It’s about putting a process in place, and following a methodology around product development that allows the business to course correct.

Progress in manufacturing is measured by the production of high quality goods

The unit of progress for lean start-ups is validated learning. This is a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when an entrepreneur is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty. Once entrepreneurs embrace validated learning, the development process can shrink substantially. When you focus on figuring the right thing to build — the thing customers want and will pay for, rather than an idea you think is good — you need not spend months waiting for a product beta launch to change the company’s direction. Instead, entrepreneurs can adapt their plans incrementally, inch by inch, minute by minute.


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Start-up Advice

Start-Up Law:  I’m A Start-up Founder. Can I Pay Employees With Shares?

Bulking up employee salaries with equity is a common method to attract, retain and incentivise top talent.




Every early stage start-up company battles with restricted cash flow and not being able to pay market related salaries to their employees. Bulking up employee salaries with equity is a common method to attract, retain and incentivise top talent.

Can I pay salaries with shares?

South African labour laws require that employees be paid certain minimum wages, and “remuneration”, as defined within the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Act, either means in ‘money or in kind’.  ’In kind’ does not include shares or participation in share incentive schemes, as determined by the Minister of Labour. As such, there is no room for start-ups to completely substitute paying salaries with shares or share options. However, there is no restriction in topping up below market related salaries with equity via an employee share ownership plan (‘ESOP‘).

Related: 7 Ingredients Of Small Business Success Online

Employee Share Ownership Plans

There are a variety of ways in which employees can be incentivised, and it will always be important for the start-up founders to consider what goal they wish to achieve by incentivising their employees.

ESOPs can be structured in several ways, for example: employees may be offered direct shareholding in the company, options for the acquisition of shares in the future; or alternatively, a phantom / notional share scheme can be set up.

ESOPs permit employees to share in the company’s success without requiring a start-up business to spend precious cash. In fact, ESOPs can contribute capital to a company where employees need to pay an exercise price for their share options or shares.

The primary disadvantage of ESOPs is the possible dilution of the Founder’s equity. For employees, the main disadvantage of an ESOP compared to cash bonuses or bigger salaries, is the lack of liquidity. If the company does not grow bigger and its shares does not become more valuable, the shares may ultimately prove to be worthless.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

Key Features

Some key features to consider when setting up an ESOP are:

  • ELIGIBILITY – who will be allowed to participate? Full time employees? Part-time employees? Advisors?
  • POOL SIZE – what percentage of shares will be allocated to incentivise employees?
  • RESTRICTIONS – will employees be able to sell their shares immediately?
  • VESTING – will there be a minimum period that service employees will have to serve with the start-up to receive the economic benefit of his or her shares?

Employee share ownership plans are great corporate structuring mechanisms for attracting and retaining employees, as well as fostering an understanding of the company ethos and encouraging loyalty and productivity. It is essential when implementing an ESOP that all the tax implications are considered and that the correct structure and legal documentation are in place.

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