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Avoid The Founder’s Trap And Learn From Propertuity’s High-Impact Growth

This is how you take one small idea — to bring communities, development and businesses back to the inner city through an ambitious urban regeneration project — and turn it into a reality. Welcome to Maboneng, place of light, nestled in the heart of Joburg’s inner city.

Nadine Todd

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jonathan-liebmann

Vital Stats

  • Players: Jonathan Liebmann (founder and CEO) and Ricky Luntz (MD)
  • Company: Propertuity
  • Launched: 2007
  • Current property portfolio: R1 billion
  • Visit: propertuity.co.za

It’s called the founder’s trap, and it’s the hardest part of building a high-impact organisation: As the entrepreneur, there comes a time when you have to let go. You have to trust others (an exco, management team, and perhaps even an MD or CEO) to take your vision and implement it. You have to learn that truly scalable and successful businesses are built by teams. And you have to let those teams do what they were hired to do.

The entrepreneurs who have successfully transitioned from start-up ‘jack of all trades’ to visionary founders who rely on strong management teams for the day-to-day operations of their businesses include Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

Those who can’t — or won’t — make the transition, either continue to run reasonably successful businesses that are unable to scale, and will never be sold as assets of value, or they slowly stop moving forward, which is followed by irrelevance and eventually decline. Why? Because great businesses are built on incredible teams. That’s the role of the visionary leader, and that’s how business owners avoid the founder’s trap.

Related: Maboneng Precinct: Jonathan Liebmann

At the crossroads: From start-up to high-growth

propertuity

When Propertuity’s current MD, Ricky Luntz walked into Propertuity’s offices four years ago, he was greeted by the very definition of a lean start-up: Six people in a single, open plan office. No systems; no processes. There wasn’t even a bookkeeper.

At that point, Maboneng had already established Arts on Main, as well as a portfolio of residential buildings, a hotel and some retail businesses and restaurants. Founder Jonathan Liebmann’s vision was clear, and people were buying into it. They wanted to be a part of an urban city renewal project, to get in on the ground floor and be integral to the growth of a new community. Walking the streets of Maboneng, you could feel the buzz of energy and excitement.

This is what visionary entrepreneurs do. They take a dream and not only turn it into a reality, but bring hundreds — thousands — of people along for the ride. That’s Jonathan’s super-power. But he’s not an accountant.

Hire-in the talent you need

Ricky had completed his articles at Grant Thornton, and Propertuity’s investment partner had reached out to their internal recruitment division. “The business was looking for a financial manager, and they thought I might suit the position,” he recalls.

Ricky didn’t want to join an established firm, where his role was rigid and clearly defined, but wanted to play a key role in a start-up instead. He wanted to help build something unique and ground-breaking. Propertuity was an ideal fit.

“Jonathan and I clicked immediately, and I could see that he was a visionary who had a big idea, and the scope and vision to see it through. We both believed that for Joburg to work, the inner city must work — the path to economic growth is through the inner city.

“But I also knew that successful businesses need both a grand vision, and a strong back-end to support that vision. And this was what Propertuity was lacking.

“When I agreed to join the business, my handover pack was ten pieces of handwritten, A4 papers. There were no books. No processes. No structures or operational management to speak of. My wish had come true: I was joining a business with a handful of successful projects under its belt, but with a massive vision. It was time to get to work.”

Related: Meet The 40 Richest Self-Made Entrepreneurs On Earth

It was 2013. Jonathan had convinced an investor (Buffet Investments) to come on board and support his idea a few years earlier. He’d started with Arts on Main, because he knew that if you can get the artists to support you, the rest will follow. Every project, product or service needs early adopters, and in the urban space, that’s artists. Maboneng stretched across a few blocks. It was on the map. It was generating great PR and public interest.

But as a business, Propertuity was at a crossroads. It could remain a ‘one man band’, or become a full-fledged business able to achieve Jonathan’s vision.

More than R1 billion has since been invested in Maboneng, with a further R1 billion earmarked for the urban renewal of a six-block land parcel recently purchased by the business. Propertuity has launched Rivertown, an urban renewal project in Durban, and a bespoke JV in Hyde Park. It also has plans to launch in Cape Town once a suitable project is found; the team is currently reviewing a number of potential deals.

Rand Merchant Holdings has invested in the business (its second ever property investment), and in June this year, Jonathan launched DiverCity, a R2 billion property fund in partnership with Tallis and Atterbury.

On high-impact growth: 5 lessons

Propertuity

In 2013, Jonathan was at a crossroads. He chose to avoid the founder’s trap, lay strong foundations, build an incredible team and take Propertuity to new heights. This is how he did it.

1Know who you are

“Theoretically, I’ve been aware of the founder’s trap since I became an entrepreneur,” says Jonathan, who was 24 years old when he registered Propertuity ten years ago.

“I owned laundromats before I launched Propertuity, so I’ve been a business owner all my adult life. An awareness of what I don’t know has driven me to learn as much as I can — from biographies, business books, magazines and other entrepreneurs — anything I can get my hands on and learn from. I’ve exposed myself to business theory, and used it to figure out my entrepreneurial path.”

A critical element of Jonathan’s business journey has been to determine who he is as an entrepreneur. “We all have multiple influencers who shape who we are and how we understand our roles in business. The first successful person I was exposed to was my dad. He’s a perfectionist and micro-manager who ran his own law firm. It was cash generative and successful, but unscalable because of his management style.

Learn from different leadership styles to find what works for you

“My second exposure to business leadership was through my first mentor and founding investment partner. He’s a delegator. Through my exposure to two completely different leadership styles and personalities, I started to understand where I was on the spectrum, and that you need to lead from a point of example and energy.

“I’m comfortable in a leadership position because I’m happy to delegate and I don’t micro-manage. I’m inspired by Jack Welch and Mark Zuckerberg. I want to grow and lead teams. This realisation helped me to shape the organisation we have today. We’ve achieved scale and success because of the people we’ve brought in, such as Ricky. He joined us as financial manager and is now MD because he’s grown with the business and been instrumental in putting proper operational controls in place.

“That’s not where my strengths lie. I’m the innovator and strategist. Elon Musk has been a huge inspiration to me in this regard. You need to know yourself, and most importantly, you need to be able to hand the operations of the business over to concentrate on your core areas. Where do I provide the most value? What do I do that pushes the needle? And where should I not get involved? Where could I actually do more harm than good? I’m not good at the small details. But I have been able to step back and let people who are take ownership and run with it.”

Related: How Mark Sham Earned His Suits & Sneakers

2Strategies need to evolve

propertuitys-canteen

In the beginning, Propertuity’s mission was simple: How can we contribute positively to the city? The first four years of the business were focused on catalytic growth, getting early wins and breaking the mould to gain a foothold in the sector and neighbourhood.

The lynchpin of the strategy was Arts on Main — bring in the artists, and use culture-led regeneration to gain traction. “We learnt so much in the early years. Our original focus was on retail, but we realised that to build communities, we needed to start with the residential component. For a community to work, you need people living there, working there and being able to shop there.

“This has become our north star: Community numbers. How do you get a community to a size big enough to sustain itself?

Believe in your business enough to use it personally

“I’ve lived in eight different apartments in Maboneng. I don’t know another entrepreneur who literally lives in their product. But it’s allowed me to understand what we’re doing from the ground up, which has shaped how we’ve grown and developed the business and our focus.

“In particular, we’re a development business. Our first model purchased buildings and reconditioned them, maintaining the original structure as much as possible. Because many inner-city buildings are only a few stories, we’ve had to build up in some cases, but the idea was regeneration, not knocking down and starting from scratch. We’ve wanted to preserve beautiful architecture in the inner-city as much as possible. Going forward, and to meet market needs, most of our future pipeline is new builds.

“Ultimately, to continue developing the area, we need cash moving through the business. Our model is to buy, develop and sell but we hold onto the management of the buildings. Cash from sales is reinvested into new developments and projects.”

Upgrade your strategies as your business grows

As a company achieves its goals, strategies need to shift. What worked in the early days of Maboneng has developed into a model that can be replicated, enabling Propertuity to achieve sustainability and scale.

“Our next phase is to use the principles we’ve learnt and expand into other markets. We opened a Durban head office in 2014 and have started regenerating an old industrial area near the ICC and beachfront called Rivertown. I’m from Durban, and even though we’re replicating our model, we know that it’s not plug and play. Durban has a different economic cycle to Joburg and Rivertown is about combining beach and city life.

“If you don’t pay attention to your market, you won’t deliver the right product. That’s been a big lesson for us, and one of the drivers behind adjusting our strategy where necessary — communities will buy into your vision, but you also need to allow them to lead. If we tried to exert too much control, we wouldn’t have achieved so much in such a short space of time.”

Develop your business model to accommodate your business’ growth

As Jonathan has grown as an entrepreneur, and as his business has developed, his business model has had to follow suit. He started out small: A catalyst to bring people in, keep them here, then lay roots and a foundation, and finally, help shape a vibrant, self-sustaining community.

“It was my fascination with Elon Musk and his Master Plan — and Master Plan Part Deux — that helped me pull the various threads together of what we were trying to do, and concretise them into the need for our new volume-based product that we can roll out and scale to achieve real urban renewal.”

Elon’s Musk’s Master Plan

In a nutshell, here are Elon’s Musk’s Master Plan, and Master Plan Part Deux (published ten years later as the first Master Plan was coming to fruition):

  1. Create a low volume car, which would necessarily be expensive
  2. Use that money to develop a medium volume car at a lower price
  3. Use that money to create an affordable, high volume car
  4. Provide solar power. No kidding, this has literally been on our website for ten years.

In short, Master Plan, Part Deux is:

  1. Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  2. Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  3. Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  4. Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it.

Lay the foundations for a much grander vision

The reason behind the first Master Plan was to help consumers see that Tesla wasn’t meant to be a new, expensive sports car because there was a shortage in the market. It was a very specific way to lay the foundations for a much grander vision.

Tesla’s scale is larger than Propertuity’s, but the foundations are the same: Build something that matters, and use each step of the strategy to bring you closer to an ultimate, enormous, audacious goal.

As of 2016, Tesla and Ford were the only American motor companies that hadn’t gone bankrupt post the recession, so it’s safe to say Musk is doing something right.

Related: The 50 Richest People In The World

3Strong teams build incredible businesses

propertuity-building

Integral to Propertuity’s overall strategy has been to put strong teams in place, starting with the appointment of Ricky Luntz as financial manager in 2013. Over the past four years, Ricky’s role has grown and today he is MD. Alongside this growth has been the development of an exco, including a director of asset management, a CFO and an HR strategist.

“We hired an HR strategist five years ago as part of our second phase of development. HR is a huge focus for us because we know that great businesses are only built with the right people in place,” says Jonathan.

The key is finding people who want to be involved in entrepreneurial businesses, because the rewards can be great, but it takes hard work and dedication.

“I came in as a financial manager, but what I actually did was my role, plus data capturer, bookkeeper and financial director,” says Ricky. “Most early start-up positions look like this. It looks flashy and fun from the outside, but the reality is that it’s the hardest work you’ll ever sign up for. You need to be willing to
roll up your sleeves and help out wherever you’re needed.”

This takes a strong focus on staff appreciation and incentives. Ricky worked 20 months straight without a break, and he wasn’t the exception to the rule. “There are no segmented approaches in start-ups. You can be the operational director and the plumber, and you need to always be willing to put in 15 out of 10.”

Find the right people to better your business

Finding the right candidates, who are willing to pour passion and hard work into your business, isn’t always easy. When you find the right individuals, you need to keep them.

“I’ve always believed in sharing risks with rewards,” says Jonathan. “It’s one of the ways that our philosophies align with RMH. They believe that there should always be an alignment between exco and the rest of the management structure to ensure continuity in a business. They encourage wider participation. It promotes scalability as well because people perform better when they have ownership over something.”

This was one of the reasons why Ricky was promoted to MD in 2016, when the RMH deal closed, and why he received shares in the business as part of the deal.

Implement your own incentive strategies

Across the organisation, Jonathan has always implemented shareholder-aligned bonus schemes, as well as creative incentives for all staff members based on outcomes and outputs that are more creative than a thirteenth cheque.

Over the past four years. Propertuity has grown from seven employees to over 120. “One of the first things we did was open a Durban office so that we could have a dedicated team with a strong GM on the ground. If you don’t trust your people,
you’ll never reach true scale. They make
it possible.”

Having a dedicated GM in Durban has played an integral role in helping the business to scale geographically.

Related: 27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

4Make marketing work for you

Urban renewal projects will naturally garner attention. On the one hand, this means marketing is happening for you, without even lifting a finger. On the other, there are certain responsibilities the business needs to take on to ensure a consistent message is heard and understood. The first is putting your golden thread in place.

“We’ve focused on ensuring that the precinct is easy to navigate. We pay a lot of attention to detail, and we’ve developed certain urbanism and design principles that we implement in everything we do. Propertuity buildings and areas are easy to pinpoint as a result,” explains Jonathan.

“This ties in with our understanding that successful precincts and neighbourhoods must be accessible and desirable. That’s the secret sauce. No marketing in the world will be successful without those core ingredients. Businesses don’t operate in isolation — your product or service must have a symbiotic relationship with your customers.”

This understanding of how to market property as an idea, and not just a building or collection of buildings, has led to Propertuity’s current JV with Narrative. “The Hyde Park venture is new for us — it’s bespoke and high end, which hasn’t been our mandate in Maboneng, but the principles are the same. We’re the design and marketing guys. This has become our niche, based on our experiences building a precinct and community from the ground up.”

5Focus, focus, focus

When you’re an innovator, you’re bound to make mistakes. You’re travelling new paths, trying different things and learning a multitude of lessons along the way. This may mean you have to pivot as well. But that doesn’t mean you should lose focus.

“We haven’t always been right first time round,” says Jonathan. “Some mistakes are more expensive than others, but we always learn from them and make sure we don’t lose focus when something derails us.”

A recent example is 8 Morrison, a building in Durban’s urban renewal project that started out as a retail centre. “Within a year we realised it was too soon for retail to succeed there. We converted the building into an office space. We were wrong, and we had to take the hit and move forward.

“When that happens, it’s essential not to lose focus. That’s been my biggest shift this year. I’ve evolved as an entrepreneur and founder. I’ve built an incredible team, and I leave them to do what they do best. This has opened up my time to focus on what I do best: Innovation and strategy. I have a list of 13 key things that I’m focusing on this year. Every day I look at that list and remind myself that these are the most important things for 2017. Everything, unless it’s an urgent operational issue, must link back to one of the 13 things on my list, or I don’t do it. That’s how you push the needle.”

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

6 Lesson Gems From Appanna Ganapathy That Helped Him Launch A High-Growth Start-Up

Twenty years after first wanting to own a business, Appanna Ganapathy launched ART Technologies, a business he aims to grow throughout Africa, starting with Kenya thanks to a recently signed deal with Seacom. As a high-growth entrepreneur with big plans, Appanna spent two decades laying the foundations of success — and now he’s starting to collect.

Nadine Todd

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appanna-ganapathy

Vital Stats

Like many entrepreneurs before him, Appanna Ganapathy hadn’t even finished school and he was already thinking about his first business venture. A friend could secure the licensing rights to open Nando’s franchises in Mozambique, and they were very keen on the idea — which Appanna’s mom quickly dampened. “You can do whatever you want,” she said. “As long as you finish your degree first.”

Unlike many other entrepreneurs however, Appanna not only finished his degree, but realised that he had a lot of skills he needed to develop and lessons to learn before he’d be ready to launch the business he wanted.

“We launched ART Technologies just over two years ago. If I had started any earlier, I don’t think I would have been as successful as I am now,” he says.

Here are six key lessons that Appanna has learnt along his journey, which have allowed him to launch a high-growth start-up that is positioned to make an impact across Africa.

1. You don’t just need a product – you need clients as well

Business success is the ability to design and execute a great product and solution, and then be able to sell it. Without sales, there is no business. This is a lesson Appanna learnt while he was still at university.

“I was drawn to computers. I loved figuring out how they worked, playing computer games — everything about them,” he says. “My parents lived in Mozambique, and during my holidays I’d visit them and a friend who had a computer business. I helped him assemble them and thought I could do this too while I was studying. I convinced my dad to buy me a car so that I could set up my business — and never sold or assembled a single computer. I delivered pizzas instead.”

So, what went wrong? The simple truth was that at the time Appanna had the technical skills to build computers, but he lacked the ability to sell his product.

“If someone had said, ‘I’ve got an order for 30 computers’, I would have filled it — but to go out and get that order — I didn’t really even know where to start.”

2. Price and solution go hand-in-hand

As much as you need the ability to sell your solution, you also need a market that wants and needs what you’re offering, at a price point that works for everyone.

In 2007, Appanna was approached by a former supplier whom he had worked with while he was based in Mozambique. The supplier had an IT firm and he wanted to expand into South Africa. He was looking for a local partner who would purchase equity shares in the company and run the South African business.

“I loved the opportunity. This was something I could build from the ground up, in an area I understood well,” says Appanna. The firm set up and managed IT infrastructure for SMEs. The value proposition was simple: “We could offer SMEs a service that they could use for a relatively low cost, but that gave them everything an enterprise would have.”

The problem was that although Appanna and his team knew they had a great product, they were competing on price with inferior products. “If we couldn’t adequately unpack the value of our solution, an SME would choose the cheaper option. It was a big lesson for me to learn. It doesn’t matter how good the solution is that you’re offering — if it’s not at a price point that your target market accepts, they won’t choose you.”

It was this understanding that helped Appanna and his team develop the Desktop-as-a-Service solution that ART Technologies now offers the SME market.

“While I was developing the idea and the solution, I needed to take three key things into account: What do SMEs need from an IT infrastructure perspective, what is the most cost-effective way to offer them that solution, and what will the market pay (and is it enough to cover our costs and give us a small profit margin)?”

Appanna’s experience in the market had already taught him how cost-conscious SMEs are, and so he started developing a solution that could deliver value at a price point SMEs could accept. His solution? A unique Desktop-as-a-Service product that combines all the processing power and Microsoft products a business needs, without any capex outlay for servers or software.

“It’s a Cloud workstation that turns any device into a full Windows computer,” Appanna explains. “We hold the licences, and our clients just access our service. A set-up that would cost between R180 000 and R200 000 for 15 users is now available for R479 per user per month.”

It took Appanna and his partners time to build the solution, but they started with the price point in mind, which meant a solution could be designed that met their needs as well as the needs of the market.

“Too many businesses set everything up, invest in the solution, and then discover they can’t sell their product at the price point they need. My time in the market selling IT and infrastructure solutions gave me invaluable insights into what we needed to deliver on, and what we could realistically charge for our service.”

3. Get as much on-the-ground experience as you can

appanna-ganapathy-art-technologies

The time that Appanna spent building the IT firm he was a part-owner of was invaluable. “I started as a technical director before being promoted to GM and running the company for three and a half years. Those years were very, very important for me. They’re where I learnt everything about running a business.

“When I started, I was responsible for sales, but I didn’t have to actually go out and find clients, I just had to meet them, compile quotes and handle the installations. Everything I did was under the guidance of the company’s CEO, who was based in Mozambique. Being the guy who did everything was the best learning ground for me. It set me up for everything I’m doing today. In particular, I learnt how to approach and deal with people. Without people and clients your business is nothing.”

Appanna didn’t just learn by default — he actively worked to expand his understanding of all facets of the business. “At the time I wasn’t planning on leaving to launch my own business,” he says. “I was a shareholder and I wanted to grow that business. That meant understanding as much as possible about how everything worked. If there was something I wasn’t sure of — a process, the numbers, how something worked — I asked. I took personal responsibility for any errors and got involved in every aspect of the business, including areas that weren’t officially ‘my job’. I wanted to really grow and support the business.”

4. Stay focused

Interestingly, while the experience Appanna has accumulated throughout his career has allowed him to build a high-growth start-up, it also taught him the importance of not wearing too many hats as an entrepreneur.

“I’m glad I’ve had the experience of wearing multiple hats, because I’ve learnt so much, but I’ve also learnt that it’s important to pick a lane, not only in what you do as a business, but in the role you play within your business. I also race superbikes in the South African Kawasaki ZX-10 Cup; through this I have learnt how important it is to focus in the moment without distractions and this is a discipline I have brought into the business.”

“If you’re the leader of an organisation, you need to let things go. You can’t be everything to everyone. When I launched ART Technologies, I knew the key to growth would be the fact that although I’m technical, I wasn’t going to run the technical side of the business. I have strong technical partners whom I trust, and there is an escalation framework in place, from tech, to tech manager, to the CTO to me — I speak tech and I’m available, but my focus is on strategy and growth. I believe this is the biggest mistake that many start-ups make. If you’re wearing all the hats, who is looking at where you’re going? When you’re down in the trenches, doing everything, it’s impossible to see the bigger picture.”

Appanna chose his partners carefully with this goal in mind.

“All the partners play a very important role in the business. Ruaan Jacobs’s strength is in the technical expertise he brings to the business and Terry Naidoo’s strength is in the support services he provides to our clients. Terry is our technical manager. He has the most incredible relationship with our customers — everyone wants to work with Terry. But there’s a problem with that too — if we want to scale this business, Terry can’t be the technical point for all of our customers.

“As partners we have decided what our blueprint for service levels will be; this is based on the way Terry deals with clients and he is developing a technical manual that doesn’t only cover the tech side of the business, but how ART Technologies engages with its customers.

“Terry’s putting his essence down on paper — a step-by-step guide to how we do business. That’s how you build a service culture.”

5. Reputation, network and experience count

Many start-ups lack three crucial things when they launch: Their founders haven’t built up a large network, they don’t have a reputation in the market, and they lack experience. All three of these things can (and should) be addressed during start-up phase, but launching with all three can give the business a valuable boost.

Appanna learnt the value of networks at a young age. Born in India, he moved to Zambia with his family as a young child. From there he moved to Tanzania and then Mozambique, attending boarding school in Swaziland and KwaZulu Natal. At each new school, he was greeted by kids who had formed strong bonds.

“I made good friends in those years, but at each new school I recognised how important strong bonds are, particularly as the outsider.”

Appanna’s early career took him back to Mozambique, working with the UN and EY on various projects. When he moved to South Africa, as a non-citizen he connected with his old boss from the UN who offered him a position as information officer for the Regional Director’s team.

His next move would be to the tech company that he would run for just over three years — also the product of previous connections. “Who you know is important, but how you conduct yourself is even more so,” says Appanna. “If your reputation in the market place is good, people will want to do business with you.”

Appanna experienced this first hand when he left to launch his own business. “Some key clients wanted to move with me,” he says. “If I had brought them in it would have settled our business, but I said no to some key customers who hadn’t been mine. I wasn’t ethically comfortable taking them with me.”

One of those multinational clients approached Appanna again six months later, stating they were taking their business out to tender and that they were hoping ART Technologies would pitch for it. “Apart from the Desktop-as-a-Service product, we also provide managed IT services for clients, particularly larger enterprise clients. Due to the client going out on tender and requesting for us to participate, we pitched for the business and won. The relationship with this client has grown, allowing us to offer them some of our services that they are currently testing to implement throughout Africa.”

“I believe how we conduct ourselves is essential. You need your own personal code of ethics, and you need to live by it. Business — particularly in our environment — is built on trust. Our customers need to trust us with their data. Your reputation is key when it comes to trust.”

Interestingly, although Appanna and his team developed their product based on a specific price point, once that trust is built and a certain standard of service is delivered, customers will pay more.

6. Start smart and start lean

Appanna was able to launch ART Technologies with the savings he and his wife, Kate, had put aside. He reached a point where he had ideas he wanted to take to market, but he couldn’t get his current business partners to agree to them — and so setting up his own business became inevitable.

Although he was fortunate to have savings to bootstrap the business, it was essential for the business to be lean and start generating income as quickly as possible. This was achieved in a number of ways.

First, Appanna and Kate agreed on a start-up figure. They would not go beyond it. “We had a budget, and the business needed to make money before that budget was reached.” The runway Appanna gave himself was only six months — highly ambitious given the 18-month runway most start-ups need. “Other than my salary we broke even in month three, which actually extended our runway a bit,” says Appanna.

Appanna had a server that he used to start with, and purchased a second, bigger server four months later. He also launched another business one month before launching ART Technologies — ART Call Management, a virtual PA services business that needed a PABX system, some call centre technology and two employees.

“I’d been playing around with the idea for a while,” says Appanna. “We were focused on SMEs, and I started noticing other challenges they faced. A lot of entrepreneurs just have their cellphones, but they aren’t answering them as businesses — it’s not professional.

“In essence we sell minutes — for R295 you get 25 incoming calls and 50 minutes of transferred calls. We answer the phone as your receptionist, transfer calls and take messages. How you use your minutes is up to you. For example, if you supply the leads, we can cold call for you. ART Technologies uses the call management business as a reception service and to do all of our cold calling. It’s kept the business lean, but it’s also brought in an income that helped us with our runway.” In 2017 ART Call Management was selected as one of the top ten in the SAGE-702 Small Business Awards.

The only problem with almost simultaneously launching two businesses is focus. “It’s incredibly important to know where you’re putting your focus,” says Appanna. “The call management business has been essential to our overall strategy, but my focus has been pulled in different directions at times, and I need to be conscious of that. The most important thing for any start-up is to know exactly where your focus lies.”


Into Africa

Thanks to a distribution deal signed locally with First Distribution, ART Technologies was introduced to Seacom, which has available infrastructure in a data centre in Kenya.

“It’s a pay-per-client model that allows us to pay Seacom a percentage of every client we sign up,” says Appanna. “First Distribution will be our sales arm. They have a webstore and resellers, and we will be opening ART Kenya with a shareholder who knows the local market.”

From there, Appanna is looking to West Africa and Mauritius. “We have the product and the relationship with Seacom gives us the foothold we need to grow into East Africa.”

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Kid Entrepreneurs Who Have Already Built Successful Businesses (And How You Can Too)

All over the world kids are abandoning the traditional notion of choosing a career to pursue until retirement. Gen Z aren’t looking to become employable job-seekers, but creative innovators as emerging business owners.

Diana Albertyn

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Do kids have an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to starting and building a company? It depends on how you look it. Juggling school, friends, family and other aspects of childhood and adolescence comes with its own requirements, but perhaps this is the best age to start.

“Being an entrepreneur means having to learn, focus, and connect to people and these are all traits that are valuable throughout life. Learning this when you are young is especially crucial, and will set you up for success and to be more open to other opportunities,” says billionaire investor, Shark Tank personality and author Mark Cuban.

Here are some of the most successful kidpreneurs who have cashed in on their hobbies, interests and needs to start and grow million dollar businesses borne from passion and innovation:

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Entrepreneur Profiles

30 Top Influential SA Business Leaders

Learn from these South African titans of industry to guide you on your entrepreneurial journey to success.

Nicole Crampton

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Entrepreneurship is said to be the answer to South Africa’s unemployment challenges and slow growth, but to foster entrepreneurship we ideally need business leaders to impact grass root efforts. Business leadership is vital to improved confidence and growth. These three titans of global industry say:

  • “As we look ahead, leaders will be those who empower others.” – Bill Gates
  • “Leaders are also expected to work harder than those who report to them and always make sure that their needs are taken care of before yours.” – Elon Musk
  • “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” – Steve Jobs

Here are 30 top influential SA business leaders forging the path towards a prosperous South African future.

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