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Appie Pema On How He Built his R600 Million Business

Aptronics recently celebrated its 22nd anniversary. As with many small businesses, it was started with zero capital and run from a suburban garage.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats:

  • Company: Aptronics
  • Founder: Appie Pema
  • Est: 1992
  • Turnover in 2001: R26 million
  • Current turnover: R600 million
  • From 2001 to 2014, the company has grown by 25% year-on-year. This figure includes a drop of 10% in Aptronics’ revenue between 2009 and 2010, when the group company was impacted by the global recession.

 

Rather than internal perceptions of value and success, Appie Pema makes sure that his customers believe they’re getting good value from his company, because in today’s world, customer perceptions signal whether you are on the right track or not and that’s the secret to growth.

Aptronics recently celebrated its 22nd anniversary. As with many small businesses, it was started with zero capital and run from a suburban garage.

Founder Appie Pema, 24 at the time, had lost his job after the company he was employed by went under due to poor management. Today, Aptronics has a turnover of more than half a billion rand and employs 220 people in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

We asked him how he has unfalteringly guided the Aptronics group on a rapid and sustained growth path that has seen the company evolve from a small start-up into an industry leader with a reputation for being a respected and trusted adviser to big South African businesses.

Describe the climate when you started the business?

It was a fantastic time to be in the computer industry. Intel introduced its long-awaited new processor, the Pentium, and personal computing started to take off in a big way.

Everybody wanted the latest, greatest technology. Internet providers started to offer access to the public, email was taking off, and corporates were starting to move from cumbersome legacy systems to exciting new technology. I was one of the few people around who could combine Novell and Windows onto a single platform, leading to a huge demand for my services.

What differentiates Aptronics from other companies in the IT industry?

My strategy has always been a simple one – combining the best portfolio of products with the top people in the industry. That is the recipe that results in customer satisfaction.

We truly believe in putting the customer at the heart of the business. Deliver exceptional customer experience, and you will ultimately boost profits. We use customer outcomes as a guide, not products or services. Wear a customer lens, and you can articulate the high-level goals customers seek.

There may be extra cost involved in doing this, but making it part of our objective to deliver customer excellence is engrained in our company culture and it has enabled us to thrive.

This is an approach that has worked for Apple, Google and Amazon, and it’s part of our DNA. To get it right, you have to listen to the customer, understand their expectations, and deliver accordingly. There’s an art to exceeding expectations just enough to be outstanding, without the cost being exorbitant.

What impact has the economy had on Aptronics?

Our profitability has been impacted in the last few years in that we have not achieved our targets, but we are still profitable.

Economic conditions, including the ongoing global downturn and the pressure on the rand, have created a dent in the business, although it’s nothing that the dent doctor can’t fix. The way I see it, there is no use looking back. When something bad happens in the business, acknowledge it, adjust accordingly by re-engineering and redesigning where necessary, and then carry on. If you make a loss, don’t chase that loss – let it go and move forward.

It’s also important to note that the group has also grown through a combination of strategic investments and company acquisitions. For example, when we bought Linux System Dynamics in 2010, the company had a profit of between R300 000 and R400 000. We have grown that to a net profit of R5 million.

The growth of the group as a whole has always been self-funded. We do not borrow cash from any banks, ever.

Aptronics recently celebrated its 22nd anniversary. As with many small businesses, it was started with zero capital and run from a suburban garage. Founder Appie Pema, 24 at the time, had lost his job after the company he was employed by went under due to poor management. Today, Aptronics has a turnover of more than half a billion rand and employs 220 people in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

We asked him how he has unfalteringly guided the Aptronics group on a rapid and sustained growth path that has seen the company evolve from a small start-up into an industry leader with a reputation for being a respected and trusted adviser to big South African businesses.

Describe the climate when you started the business?

It was a fantastic time to be in the computer industry. Intel introduced its long-awaited new processor, the Pentium, and personal computing started to take off in a big way. Everybody wanted the latest, greatest technology.

Internet providers started to offer access to the public, email was taking off, and corporates were starting to move from cumbersome legacy systems to exciting new technology. I was one of the few people around who could combine Novell and Windows onto a single platform, leading to a huge demand for my services.

What differentiates Aptronics from other companies in the IT industry?

My strategy has always been a simple one – combining the best portfolio of products with the top people in the industry. That is the recipe that results in customer satisfaction.

We truly believe in putting the customer at the heart of the business. Deliver exceptional customer experience, and you will ultimately boost profits. We use customer outcomes as a guide, not products or services. Wear a customer lens, and you can articulate the high-level goals customers seek.

There may be extra cost involved in doing this, but making it part of our objective to deliver customer excellence is engrained in our company culture and it has enabled us to thrive. This is an approach that has worked for Apple, Google and Amazon, and it’s part of our DNA.

To get it right, you have to listen to the customer, understand their expectations, and deliver accordingly. There’s an art to exceeding expectations just enough to be outstanding, without the cost being exorbitant.

What impact has the economy had on Aptronics?

Our profitability has been impacted in the last few years in that we have not achieved our targets, but we are still profitable.

Economic conditions, including the ongoing global downturn and the pressure on the rand, have created a dent in the business, although it’s nothing that the dent doctor can’t fix.

The way I see it, there is no use looking back. When something bad happens in the business, acknowledge it, adjust accordingly by re-engineering and redesigning where necessary, and then carry on. If you make a loss, don’t chase that loss – let it go and move forward.

It’s also important to note that the group has also grown through a combination of strategic investments and company acquisitions. For example, when we bought Linux System Dynamics in 2010, the company had a profit of between R300 000 and R400 000. We have grown that to a net profit of R5 million.

The growth of the group as a whole has always been self-funded. We do not borrow cash from any banks, ever.

Describe your business model and how it has evolved over time, if at all?

Our business model is straightforward – we make money by delivering integrated, innovative IT solutions that respond to the challenges of today’s evolving and dynamic markets.

The technology we provide has changed over time, but the business model has remained the same. We are focused in what we do. Too often, entrepreneurs make it hard for their businesses to succeed by trying to do too many things at the same time.

Diversification is seductive for some, because they believe the more they do, the more likely something is going to succeed. That’s seldom true. Success starts with intense focus on your primary line of business which, over time, leads to mastery. Once you’ve mastered your business, you are in a position to diversify.

We have done that through the Aptronics group of companies, comprising of holding company Aptronics, and its subsidiaries Ubusha Technologies, Linux System Dynamics and Inobits Consulting, with each company contributing to the consolidated corporate model. It’s a combined footprint that covers most of the IT ecosystem in South Africa, but essentially, we deliver IT solutions.

One of the other main reasons for our ongoing success is that we do not sell what we cannot support.

How are you addressing the skills shortage in the ICT industry?

A shortage of key skills is affecting business growth generally. There’s a widening mismatch between the skills of the workforce and the skills our country needs to achieve strong growth.

The Aptronics group is addressing that by helping to create a skilled workforce. We run an internship programme every year, in which we take some of our most promising employees and help them to develop additional skills.

We also have a great partnership with HP – we interview around 100 graduates that are employed by HP every year, and I select between 15 and 20 of them to work for us as interns. We enable them to grow their technical abilities by working in real-world scenarios and gaining hands-on experience.

At the end of that internship period, which is between one and two years, we employ the cream of the crop, and the others are sent out into the industry with their newly acquired work experience.

Describe your organisational structure?

Like most other aspects of the business, our structure is deceptively simple. I don’t have an office door and my staff are welcome to talk to me whenever they want.

An open door policy has several benefits: Accessibility gives you a better understanding of what is going on, including any difficult issues; an open flow of communication allows for discussions that often lead to important insights about the business; employees have quick access to information because they can come by whenever they need to; and we also have a culture of friendly openness as a result.

My employees know that I believe in them, which helps to build closer relationships and enhances loyalty to the business. The structure is flat, with department managers reporting directly to me. One of the benefits is that we have no politics in the organisation.

Because of my past experience of working for a company that was liquidated, we have very strict financial controls and governance mechanisms in place. The people appointed to do these jobs are experts in their field and I do not dictate to them how they should perform their tasks.

I make recommendations, but the managers are empowered and I trust them to do what is in the best interests of the business.

How has your management style contributed to Aptronics’ success?

I have a hands-on approach, but I don’t believe in micro managing. Every individual in the group is allowed to do their job in the way that is most comfortable for them.

The managers I employ are adept at executing the company’s vision in a systematic way and directing employees on how to do so. They can see all of the intricate moving parts and understand how to make them harmonise.

Now that you have exceeded the half a billion mark, what’s next?

The industry is changing, and it’s all about added value now. To chase the one billion mark, we are separating the group companies and allowing them to focus more strongly on their core markets and strengthen their operations so that each one can contribute more efficiently to the group as a whole. It makes the individual pieces more appetising.

Appie-Pema-On-How-He-Built-his-R600-Million-Business_Entrepreneur-Profiles_Success-Stories

Three lessons to learn from a R600 million company

1. Keep your business simple

Do not make the mistake that many entrepreneurs do, of taking on too much. Before too long they are overwhelmed by how many projects they have going at once. Instead of having ten business ideas on the go, take one and run with it until you have a valuable product or service offering. Remember that entrepreneurs who really make it big focus on one project at a time. Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t creating Facebook and something else. Try to do too much, and something is bound to fall through the cracks.

2. Build your culture around service


Everyone talks about customer service, but you need to make it a reality — the DNA of your business. Amazon is one company that is tops for its customer service. Founder Jeff Bezos is passionate about customers and has been known to have an empty chair in boardroom meetings, which serves as a powerful reminder of who the real boss is.
He believes that understanding how your customers view, use, and talk about your products and services is vital.

3. Tackle the skills shortage head-on

The right level of skills, competencies and abilities allow businesses to compete globally and sustain economic power. Confront the current skills shortage by developing skills internally, and even upskilling and preparing workers to find employment elsewhere. By investing in staff training you’re ensuring that your team is equipped and able to cope with the demands of the business and skilled to provide solutions for clients.

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Jason English On Growing Prommac’s Turnover Tenfold And Being Mindful Of The ‘Oros Effect’

Rapid growth and expansion can lead to a dilution of the foundational principles that defined your company in its early days. Jason English of Prommac discusses how you can retain your company’s culture and vision while growing quickly.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital stats

  • Player: Jason English
  • Position: CEO
  • Company: Prommac
  • Associations: Young President’s Organisation (YPO)
  • Turnover: R300 million (R1 billion as a group)
  • Visit: prommac.com
  • About: Prommac is a construction services business specialising in commissioning, plant maintenance, plant shutdowns and capital projects. Jason English purchased the majority of the company late in 2012, and currently acts as its CEO. Under his leadership, the company has grown from a small business to an international operation.

Since Jason English purchased Prommac in 2012, the company has experienced phenomenal growth. At the time he took over as owner and CEO, it was a small operation that boasted a turnover below R50 million.

Today, Prommac is part of a diversified group of companies under the CG Holdings umbrella and alone has grown it’s turnover nearly ten fold since Jason English took over. As a group, CG Holdings, of which Jason is a founder, is generating in excess of R1 billion. How has Prommac managed such phenomenal growth? According to Jason, it’s all about company culture… and about protecting your glass of Oros.

Jason English

Related: 5 Top Lessons From LAWTrust To Prepare For Super-Charged Growth

“As your business grows, it suffers from something that I call the Oros Effect. Think of your small start-up as an undiluted glass of Oros. When you’re leading a small company, it really is a product of you. You know everything about the business and you make every decision. The systems, the processes, the culture — these are all a product of your actions and beliefs. As you grow, though, things start to change. With every new person added to the mix, you dilute that glass of Oros.

“That’s not to say that your employees are doing anything wrong, or that they are actively trying to damage the business, but the culture — which was once so clear — becomes hazy. The company loses that singular vision. As the owner, you’re forced to share ‘your Oros’ with an increasing number of people, and by pouring more and more of it into other glasses, it loses the distinctive flavour it once had. By the time you’re at the head of a large international company, you can easily be left with a glass that contains more water than Oros.

“Protecting and nurturing a company’s culture isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Prommac has enjoyed excellent growth, and I ascribe a lot of that success to our company culture. Whenever we’ve spent real time and money on replenishing the Oros, we’ve seen the benefits of it directly afterwards.

“There have been times when we have made the tough decision to slow growth and focus on getting the culture right. Growth is great, of course, but it’s hard to get the culture right when new people are joining the company all the time and you’re scaling aggressively. So, we’ve slowed down at times, but we’ve almost always seen immediate benefits in terms of growth afterwards. We focus heavily on training that deals with things like the systems, processes and culture of the company. We’ve also created a culture and environment that you won’t necessarily associate with engineering and heavy industries. In fact, it has more in common with a Silicon Valley company like Google than your traditional engineering firm.

“Acquisitions can be particularly tricky when it comes to culture and vision. As mentioned, CG Holdings has acquired several companies over the last few years, and when it comes to acquisition, managing the culture is far trickier than it is with normal hiring. When you hire a new employee, you can educate them in the ways and culture of the business. When you acquire an entire company, you import not only a large number of new people, but also an existing organisation with its own culture and vision. Because of this, we’ve created a centralised hub that manages all training and other company activities pertaining to culture. We don’t allow the various companies to do their own thing. That helps to manage the culture as the company grows and expands, since it ensures that everyone’s on the same page.

“Systems and processes need to make sense. One of the key reasons that drove us to create a central platform for training is the belief that systems and processes need to make sense to employees. Everyone should understand the benefits of using a system. If they don’t understand a system or process, they will revert to what they did in the past, especially when you’re talking about an acquired company. You should expect employees to make use of the proper systems and processes, but they need to be properly trained in them first. A lot of companies have great systems, but they aren’t very good at actually implementing them, and the primary reason for this is a lack of training.

“Operations — getting the work done — is seen as the priority, and training is only done if and when a bit of extra time is available. We fell into that trap a year ago. We had enjoyed a lot of growth and momentum, so we didn’t slow down. Eventually, we could see that this huge push, and the consequent lack of focus on the core values of the business, were affecting operations. So, we had to put the hammer down and refocus on systems, processes and culture. Today Prommac is back at the top of it’s game having been awarded the prestigious Service Provider of the year for 2017 by Sasol for both their Secunda and Sasolburg chemical complexes.

Related: Establishing The Wheels Of Change In Business

“If you want to know about the state of your company’s culture, go outside the business. We realised that we needed to ‘pour more Oros into the company’ by asking clients. We use customer surveys to track our own performance and to make sure that the company is in a healthy state. It’s a great way to monitor your organisation, and there are trigger questions that can be asked, which will give you immediate insight into the state of the culture.

prommac

“It’s important, of course, to ask your employees about the state of the business and its culture as well, but you should also ask your customers. Your clients will quickly pick up if something is wrong. The fact of the matter is, internal things like culture can have a dramatic effect on the level of service offered to customers. That’s why it’s so important to spend time on these internal things — they have a direct impact on every aspect of the business.

“Remember that clients understand the value of training. There is always a tension between training and operational requirements, but don’t assume that your clients will automatically be annoyed because you’re sending employees on training. Be open and honest, explain to a client that an employee who regularly services the company will be going on training. Ultimately, the client benefits if you spend time and money on an employee that they regularly deal with.

“For the most part, they will understand and respect your decision. At times, there will be push back, both from clients and from your own managers, but you need to be firm. In the long term, training is win-win for everyone involved. Also, you don’t want a client to become overly dependent on a single employee from your company. What if that employee quits? Training offers a good opportunity to swop out employees, and to ensure that you have a group of individuals who can be assigned to a specific client. We rotate our people to make sure that no single person becomes a knowledge expert on a client’s facility, so when we need to pull someone out of the system for training, it’s not the end of the world.

“Managers will often be your biggest challenge when it comes to training. Early on, we hired a lot of young people we could train from scratch. As we grew and needed more expertise, we started hiring senior employees with experience. When it came to things like systems, processes and culture, we actually had far more issues with some of the senior people.

“Someone with significant experience approaches things with preconceived notions and beliefs, so it can be more difficult to get buy-in from them. Don’t assume that training is only for entry-level employees. You need to focus on your senior people and make sure that they see the value of what you are doing. It doesn’t matter how much Oros you add to the mix if managers keep diluting it.”

Exponential growth

When Jason English purchased Prommac late in 2012, the company had a turnover of less than R50 million. This has grown nearly ten fold in just under five years. How? By focusing on people, culture and training.

key-insights-from-jason-english

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Who’s Leading Your Business Billy Selekane Asks – You Or The Monkey On Your Back?

You’re either a change-maker, or someone who is influenced by the shifting conditions around you. The truly successful know how to determine their own destinies. Here’s how they do it.

Nadine Todd

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Vital stats

  • Player: Billy Selekane
  • Company: Billy Selekane and Associates
  • About: Billy Selekane is an author, internationally acclaimed inspirational keynote speaker, and a personal, team and organisational effectiveness specialist.
  • Visit: billyselekanespeaks.com

We live in a world of disruption. We live in a world where Airbnb’s valuation is $31 billion, but the Hilton’s market cap is $30 billion. Airbnb doesn’t own one square kilometre, and yet they’re worth more than the world’s biggest hotel chains with enormous assets. We live in a world where things have been turned upside down.

In this brave new world, you can either thrive, or fight to survive. As a leader in your organisation, the choices you make, the mental mind-space you occupy and how you engage with those around you, will determine your personal success, as well as that of your entire organisation.

“The business of business is people. You can’t just pay lip service to the idea that they are your most important asset. You need to live it. Leaders must be intelligent and honest. You can’t just push people to meet the numbers,” says Billy Selekane, personal and business mastery expert and international speaker.

The problem is that great leaders need to first find balance within, before they can successfully lead their organisations.

“Things can no longer be done the same way,” says Billy. “Success today is defined by people who are driven, are inspired by their own lives and goals, and have the power and capability to inspire others.” But before you can achieve any of this, you need to rid yourself of the monkey on your back.

Related: Billy Selekane

The monkey on your back

“If I continue doing what I’m doing, and thinking what I’m thinking, I’ll continue to have what I have,” says Billy. “That’s the definition of insanity. Are you doing things by default or design?”

Billy’s analogy is a simple one. It’s something we can all relate to, and it’s the single biggest thing stopping us from clearing our minds, focusing on the positive and achieving success. He calls it the monkey on our backs.

“Every one of us is born with an invisible monkey on their shoulder,” says Billy. “Your monkey is always with you. Sometimes they’re the one speaking, and you need to be careful of that.” What you need to be even more aware of than your own monkey though, is everyone else’s monkeys.

“Every interaction we have is an opportunity for what I call a monkey download. You have an argument with your spouse before work, and you end up getting into your car with not only your monkey, but theirs as well. Your irritation level has doubled thanks to the extra monkey. Now you get irritated with a pointsman, another driver or a taxi on your way to work. You’ve just added three monkeys.

“By the time you walk into the office, you’re bringing an entire village of monkeys with you. They’re clamouring, clattering, arguing with each other, and the noise is deafening. Not only does everyone get out of your way, but you can’t hear yourself think. And the more your mood drops, the more monkeys you download from the people around you. This is not the path to focus, achieving your goals or being happy. It’s certainly not the path to great leadership.

“Great leaders know how to keep all those monkeys out. They know how to control their moods, and regulate their own positivity. They understand that they are the architects of their own success.”

Getting out of the monkey business

To be a great leader — and personally successful and happy — you need to start by getting out of your own way, and as Billy calls it, ‘getting out of the monkey business.’ You need to not only shake your own monkey, but everyone else’s as well.

According to Billy, there are four simple areas you can begin focusing on today that will help you become the person (and leader) you want to be.

First, honesty is the foundation of everything else you should be doing. “Be clear and straight. Speak to people simply and honestly, but with respect. Connect with them, not through the head, but with the heart. Don’t play tricks.”

Related: 5 Top Lessons From LAWTrust To Prepare For Super-Charged Growth

Next, be authentic. All great leaders are authentic, and recognised as such. Aligned with this is integrity. “This is sadly out of stock, not only in South Africa, but the world,” says Billy.

“There is nothing as disturbing as a leader without integrity, and on a personal level, you won’t achieve emotional stability if you aren’t a person of integrity.”

Finally, you need to embrace love. “Wish your employees well. Wish your family, friends and connections well. When we are given love, and trusted to perform, we take that and pay it forward. In the case of business, this means your employees are giving the same love to customers, but if everyone showed a little more love, the world would be a better place. When people feel cared for, they show up with their hearts and wallets, and they pay it forward.

“Great leaders understand this. They don’t only focus on making themselves better, but adding to everyone around them. Remember this: In every business, there are no bad employees, just bad leaders. Employees are a reflection of that.”

If you want to build a better future, business or life, you need to start with yourself.


Do this

Stop letting negative thoughts and minor irritations derail you. You are the master of your moods and thoughts, so take personal responsibility for them.

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

Vusani Ravele secured offers from every single Shark in the first episode of Shark Tank South Africa, eventually settling on an offer from Gil Oved from The Creative Counsel. Entrepreneur asked to him how this investment has changed his business.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital stats

  • Player: Vusani Ravele
  • Company: Native Decor
  • Established: February 2016
  • Visit: nativedecor.co.za
  • About: Native Decor creates visually pleasing products from sustainable timber. The company’s designs are innovative and functional, with its creations mostly inspired by South African cultures, landscapes and wildlife.

It all started with a cordless drill. In February 2015, Vusani Ravele received a drill from his girlfriend as a Valentine’s Day gift. He immediately became obsessed.

“I couldn’t stop drilling holes in things,” Vusani laughs. “I just loved working with my hands.”

Unlike most people, who lose interest in a Valentine’s Day gift by the first day of March, Vusani’s passion for his cordless drill didn’t dissipate. Instead, it had reignited a spark. Thanks to that cordless drill, he rediscovered a love for design he’d first felt in high school. And one year later, he had started a company called Native Decor.

Related: 6 Great Tips For A Successful Shark Tank Pitch

As a start-up he then made the bold move to enter the inaugural season of Shark Tank South Africa. He was funded by Gil Oved on the very first episode. It was a life-changing experience, but Vusani is keeping a level head. The money helps, but he’s trying not to let it change his approach too much.

I’m doing my best not to think of Native Decor as a funded start-up. The money has allowed me to do certain things, like buy a new CNC machine, but I still try to think like a founder without money. Once you have a bit of money in the bank, the temptation exists to throw it at every problem, but that’s not how you create a successful business.

You need to bootstrap and pretend that you don’t have a cent in the bank. With a bit of lateral thinking, you can often come up with a solution that doesn’t require money. It might require more effort, sure, but I believe it creates a stronger foundation for your business. If a business can carry itself from early on, its odds for long-term success are much higher. You also need to fight the urge to spend money on things like fancy premises or extra staff. The longer you can keep things lean, the more runway you create for yourself.

Vusani Ravele of Native Decor

I didn’t enter Shark Tank just for the money. The money was important, of course, but there was more to it than that. Looking purely at money versus equity, Gil Oved’s offer wasn’t the best, but I knew that I wanted to work with Gil. Stepping into the room, my primary aim was to attract him to the business.

He wanted 50% equity for R400 000 of investment. I wanted to give away 25% for the same amount. We settled on 40% for R400 000 with an additional R3 million line of credit. It was more of the company than I initially wanted to give away, but I was okay with it, since I saw it as the cost of Gil’s involvement, which I knew would add bigger value to the business than just the cash injection.

Related: Shark Tank’s Dawn Nathan-Jones: How Leaders Who Focus On Growth Will Build Successful Companies

Investment comes in many forms. I wanted Gil to invest in the business because I realised that investment isn’t purely about money. I didn’t just want him to invest his cash in Native Decor, I also wanted him to invest his time and energy. You can get money in different places. You can create a business that funds its own growth, for example, or you can get a loan from a bank.

What an investor like Gil offers, however, is knowledge and access to a network. Money can help a lot with the growth of a business, but a great partner can help even more. By giving Gil 40% of the business, I’ve ensured that he has skin in game. He has a vested interest in seeing Native Decor succeed, and that’s worth more than any monetary investment.

True mentorship can be a game-changer if you’re running a young start-up. A great advantage that often comes with investment is mentorship from someone who knows the pitfalls of the entrepreneurial game. With a new business, it’s easy to be sidetracked or to chase an opportunity down a dead end.

Gil is visionary, and he has helped me focus on the long-term goals I have for Native Decor. He has also helped me to think big. As young entrepreneurs, I believe we often think too small. We don’t chase those audacious goals. Someone like Gil, who has seen huge success, can help you push things further and to dream bigger.

You need to dream big, but act small. It’s important to have big dreams for your business, but you should also chase those easy opportunities that can help you build traction. When I started, I wanted to try and get my products into large retail stores, but the fact of the matter was, as a start-up, I didn’t have a strong negotiating position.

There was a lot of bureaucracy to deal with. Gil advised me to focus on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ — those small gift stores that would be keen to carry my products. By doing this, I’m gaining traction and building a track record for the business. Also, I realised the importance of aligning myself with the right kind of stores. Perhaps being in a large retailer isn’t a good idea, since this is where you typically get cheap items produced overseas. Unless you’re purely competing on price, that’s probably not where you want to be.

Related: Shark Tank’s Romeo Kumalo Weighs In On High-Impact Entrepreneurial Businesses


Take note

Funding is great but it’s not all about the money. If that’s what you’re chasing you’re doing your start-up an injustice.

Watch the Shark Tank investment episode here:

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