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How Craig Bright And Brian Little Launched Rocking The Daisies

The first Rocking the Daisies festival left its founders more than R400 000 in debt. Craig Bright and Brian Little decided to keep going anyway. It took four years to settle that debt, but they knew they were breaking into an industry notorious for low margins and even losses.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

Some businesses and industries have an in-built ‘cool’ factor that mundane but often more important sectors do not.

Try as we might, it’s tough to make commercial transport, construction or farming sound sexy, but where would we be without these valuable industries?

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When choosing to launch a business, entrepreneurs are often drawn to the industries that modern society simply cannot do without — after all, there will always be a market.

Unfortunately, there is usually a multitude of competitors doing exactly what you’re doing, and it becomes difficult to differentiate your offering.

The Road Less Travelled

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Craig Bright and Brian Little didn’t go this route. They chose an industry virtually unknown in South Africa.

One with notoriously low profit margins, a propensity to not break even, and with no local players to learn from — good or bad. But man, the cool factor was off the charts.

They wanted to host music festivals, the likes of which form part of the backbone of European and American culture, but were not common in South Africa a decade ago.

They knew it would fulfil multiple passions, from business ownership to creating events with international acts they wished they could attend in South Africa – but most of all, they wanted to find a way for their dreams to make money in an incredibly tough industry.

Ten years later, Rocking the Daisies is a mainstream event that thousands of people attend every year. Festivals like Sowing the Seeds and Vodacom In the City are well-known, mainstream brands. Bright and Little are responsible for bringing international acts like The Lumineers, The Kooks, UB40 and Bastille to South Africa, with many more surprises up their sleeves.

Their turnover has tripled year-on-year for the past three years, and they’ve figured out a way to make the business sustainable and profitable.

They’ve also continued to learn tough lessons, and are consolidating the business to maximise revenue streams and ensure they’re never solely reliant on ticket sales. Their festivals bring in a captive audience, and financial sustainability comes from other, integrated verticals.

Here’s how they took a cool but not-so-lucrative idea, and are creating a new model that’s breaking rules and shaping an industry.

From 700 to 22 500 Fans

When Brian Little and Craig Bright first decided to host a music festival, they knew they’d have a few challenges. They had no money, no venue and no acts, and while a few isolated events existed, there was no music festival culture in South Africa.

They decided to do it anyway. Step one was choosing a date. Spring in the Western Cape seemed like a good time, and they could align it with the Namaqualand flowers. Now they needed a venue.

“We started calling our old boarding school mates to see who had a farm we could use. One guy said yes. It would take us four years to pay him the rental fee we agreed on, but at least we had a venue,” says Bright.

Next, they needed cash. Bright sold his house and Little sold his car. They both borrowed cash from their parents. “We were so inexperienced we ended up spending money on all the wrong things,” says Little. “We put a full 2kms of fencing up,” recalls Bright.

“We were very, very ambitious about how many people would attend, and we didn’t want anyone sneaking in. That fence cost us R20 000 and a lot of time and hard work because we put it up ourselves. And then 700 people arrived,” he laughs.

Through contacts they secured new local acts the Parlotones and Goldfish, printed fliers and hoped for the best. All in all, the event cost R1,1 million to put on. They had R350 000 in cash.

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After selling everything else they could, and Little moving out of his house and onto a mate’s couch so that he could rent it out, they were still R400 000 short.

Turning Things Around

“We owed on the venue, the bands and the equipment,” says Little. “We worked with some very understanding people who basically waited a long time to be paid.”

Based on those numbers, the future of Rocking the Daisies seemed uncertain at best, but Bright and Little didn’t let it deter them.

“We knew we’d lose cash; we’d made the decision to view it as an investment and lose it well,” says Bright. “We had such great feedback and support, and that motivated us to keep going, despite our losses.”

The following year they had 4 500 people and partnered with Cloof Wine Estate for the first time. To this day, Rocking the Daisies continues to be held in this beautiful setting.

By year three, 10 000 people attended the event. Today the title sponsorship has grown from R40 000 in year one to over R3,5 million.

“We’ve learnt so much about perseverance, following your passions and organic growth. We’ve been patient, and we’ve grown this incredible brand as a result,” says Little.

Creating a Showcase

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A showcase can be anything, from the ideal client to a situation where your product works seamlessly. You need to be able to show potential clients what you can do, and ideally have a space where you can keep testing and refining your offering.

When Little and Bright first went into business, they knew their ultimate goal was music events, but the reality was that bills needed to be paid.

Bright had been organising sporting events in Durban, and so initially they focused on hosting school rugby tournaments and beach volleyball events, supported by a strong relationship with Vodacom. Within a year they took the plunge and opened an office in Cape Town. The KZN events continued, but they wanted to build new relationships.

The reality was daunting. Despite a track record in Durban, no one was hiring them, and they experienced very little growth. “It became the only thing we thought about or talked about,” says Bright.

“It became a discussion over braais and beers with our mates — what could we do to showcase ourselves? How could we get noticed?” And then one night an idea began taking shape. “It was a weird situation,” says Little.

“We were building the business on client and sporting events to develop the capital and experience we needed to launch music events, but we realised that to win clients, we needed a branded music event that showcased what we could do.”

That night, the first pieces of Rocking the Daisies began to take shape, and although it was a financial disaster, it delivered strategically — Bright and Little had their showcase. They had also planted the seed for what was to become South Africa’s largest annual multiple-day music festival.

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Celebrating its tenth year in 2015, title sponsorship at Rocking the Daisies is now over R3,5 million, 22 500 people attend each year and the event has won multiple local and international greening awards.

Plot the Lessons

It might sound strange to plot a curriculum within your own business, but the more focused your approach to identifying and then filling in gaps, the greater your foundations and ultimate sustainability and market domination will be.

Great businesses rarely happen by accident, and part of a winning strategy is continuous growth.

Bright and Little knew this, and were willing to learn. They took hard knocks, including one memorable occasion in their first year of business, when they hosted a big screen IMAX event, showcasing the Springboks vs Australia. “It was my first event,” recalls Little.

“We were screening the game in Durban and Cape Town, and Craig was at one venue, which meant I was flying solo for the first time. Nick Mallett and Dave Campese agreed to unpack the game at half-and full-time, and eTV were covering the whole thing, which was a major coup.”

It was a disaster. The power at Little’s event went out, and no one, including the commentators, saw a single minute of the first half. “I was in a complete panic,” says Little.

“Not only did our guests and eTV see nothing, but Nick and Dave were actually writing sports columns for major news outlets based on the game and they saw nothing. It was one of the worst experiences of my professional life.”

However, it taught Little that not everything goes as planned, and sometimes you have to pick yourself up and move on. As a team, Bright and Little also learnt how important fail-safes and contingencies are.

“You’ll never be able to plan for every eventuality, but we’re a lot better now at predicting worst-case scenarios,” laughs Bright.

The School of Life

These are the on-the-fly lessons that all businesses learn and Bright and Little have taken their schooling very seriously.

“We had two key areas that we needed to work on,” says Little, “growing our business acumen — which for me was non-existent — and learning the ins and outs of music events. Our strategy was to build the business on corporate events to create a stable income, but we couldn’t lose sight of the ultimate goal.”

And so they started formulating a very specific product. Bright’s background was sports psychology.

He had contacts in the sporting world, and they’d built up a solid client relationship with Vodacom. Vodacom’s Durban July stand and Vodacom Beach Africa became the year’s staple events. Everything else was focused on the music scene.

“We crafted brand experiences around music,” explains Bright.

“That was our niche. It was our way of learning about musicians, booking acts, dealing with managers and agents and understanding how people respond to music in a branded, experiential marketing framework, while still paying the bills.”

Even more important, the business was steadily building relationships with a number of consumer brands, particularly alcohol brands like Smirnoff and Mainstay, and other consumer brands like Wrigley 5Gum, Converse and Durex.

“We crafted exclusive, branded music events,” says Little. Each event taught the partners something new, taking them closer to their ultimate goal.

“We weren’t tapping into traditional marketing spend, which meant we could work well with each brand’s agencies instead of competing with them,” says Bright.

“We created live experiences at each event and worked with advertising agency DDB who created buzz around pre-campaign tickets and the digital experience. They got the interest, held it and got people sharing it.”

Customer Experience

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Bright and Little believe they have succeeded with both their branded client events and their own festivals because they’ve always put the consumer first in their planning. The lesson is a simple one: Start with your customer and build from there.

As Little’s background is in advertising, he approached each event from a brand messaging perspective while also considering the complete eventing experience.

“We always approached each event with a single core question: If I was at this event, what would I want from the brand?”

“Or ultimate goal is to create an experience that’s inextricably linked to the brand, but that only works if the consumer is getting real value from the brand engagement. Once that happens, they do your marketing for you, because they want to share the experience,” says Bright.

Bright and Little used the dual platforms of client events and Rocking the Daisies to perfect their theories. “The festival was our testing ground,” Little explains.

“We were very careful about sponsor selection, because we were creating a specific brand with Daisies, and then we took those lessons and applied them to our client events.”

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“Daisies was our showcase,” adds Bright. “It wasn’t a money spinner at that stage, but it was a great place to test ideas, show what we could do, get brands involved and prove the value of our ideas.”

Have Patience

Most great and sustainable businesses are built on solid foundations, and that takes time and patience. In 2009, Bright and Little were lucky enough to be invited to one of Europe’s largest outdoor music festivals, Paleo, held over six days each year in Switzerland.

With the 2010 FIFA World Cup fast approaching, the organisers wanted an African theme for their World Stage the following year, and so they reached out to the company doing the most in the South African festival space.

“The timing worked out really well,” says Bright. “We were guests of the organisers, which meant we got to see how a huge festival operated behind the scenes.”

Even more beneficial to the two budding festival entrepreneurs was hearing about Paleo’s history. “We faced similar challenges, trying to grow a festival culture from the ground up,” says Little. “What really struck home was when they told us that the first time they made a profit was in their sixth year.

“This giant of a festival, one of the largest in Europe, took six years to make a profit. We realised that there was hope for us, and that struggling was normal. If anything, we were in a better position, because we had our corporate clients paying the bills while we grew Daisies.”

With assurances from the Paleo team that they were on the right track, Bright and Little returned to South Africa and decided to let the growth of Rocking the Daisies plateau.

“Your instinct is to keep pushing to grow, grow, grow, and get as many people to your event as possible — after all, more people equals more money. The reality was that if we wanted to grow a festival brand that’s loved and trusted, we needed to take things slow and not over-extend ourselves,” says Little.

Slowing Growth

“We had to plateau,” agrees Bright. “The year before we’d grown to 10 000 people, a massive jump from the previous year’s 4 500. We weren’t equipped or experienced enough to handle those numbers. We let it grow organically instead of pushing it, giving ourselves time to learn before getting too big, too fast.”

The partners also recognised the need to start bringing more experienced people on board. “We identified our gaps and filled them,” explains Little.

“We were still green, and we needed to learn from people more experienced at production. This would also allow us to focus on the areas where we added value.”

But Bright and Little were effectively leading the charge when it came to the local festival space — there were no experienced people they could hire. “We needed to look beyond South Africa for the skills we needed,” says Bright.

“We found someone who specialised in festival production in the UK and Europe and could come to South Africa on a contract basis during our summer months when his season was over.”

Bright and Little were now free to concentrate on other areas of business growth, but they needed to start employing a team that could learn and bring those scarce skills in-house.

“These are all expenses, often before you can actually afford them, but they were necessary if we wanted to become leaders in this space. We were always looking long term,” they say.

Strategic Partnerships

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Partnerships come in many forms. Bright and Little work well together because their areas of expertise align but aren’t the same. As the business started growing, they recognised the need to bring in a partner whose financial experience exceeded their own.

“When Craig’s brother, Marc Bright joined us, he started by sorting out our books, which were a disaster,” says Little.

As the business grew, so did Marc Bright’s role. “We now had someone who was thinking strategically about the numbers, which made a big impact on our decisions, and how we viewed our income versus expenses,” adds Bright.

Like the founders, Marc Bright is acutely aware of his strengths and weaknesses, and has recently appointed an FD to take his place.

“In many ways, we’ve been victims of our own success, learning where our gaps lie as we’ve grown,” says Little.

Scaling Up

“It’s important to be aware of these areas if you want the business to scale, and so we’ve focused on finding them and implementing solutions. As our turnover has grown, cash flow has become even more important, which has made strong systems and processes vital. This has required a new skill set.

“An established business needs different decisions, and a more careful focus on the bottom line. Every decision we make focuses on bottom-line growth.”

There are other external decisions and partnerships that are vital to growth. “Our main draw card from the beginning has been international acts, and that takes a lot of relationship building, with agents, managers and even companies doing what we’re doing on different continents,” explains Bright.

“Paleo opened a lot of doors for us, connecting us to international agents and managers. We’ve fostered those relationships, because they’re so crucial to our business, not just to get acts to South Africa, but for when we have an emergency as well — if someone drops us at the last minute for whatever reason, we need ticket insurance, but we generally try to find a replacement act that the audience will also love — and that takes assistance from agents. We can’t do what we do in isolation.”

South Africa is off the beaten track as far as concert tour schedules are concerned. “We’ve been working with companies in Dubai and Australia to be able to offer a full tour leg to international acts,” says Little.

“First, we added additional shows locally, so when someone comes out they play at least two or three different venues. Together with our partners, we offer a comprehensive tour leg, which makes the trip to the southern hemisphere more worthwhile.”

Create a Brand

“When we started out, we would do anything for cash, even weddings,” says Bright. As the brand activations side of the business grew and full year campaigns were signed, the partners were able to specialise in the music space, carving a niche for themselves, but the ultimate goal remained the same.

“We were waiting to hit a turning point when the festivals started making enough for us to drop events completely and focus on where we wanted to be,” says Little.

“We didn’t rush it, and when the time came it was a big decision. We were walking away from money, secure long-term contracts and a solid track record for an industry that was still in its infancy in South Africa.”

Passion won out and the entrepreneurs took the plunge. “By 2010, we had the knowledge, the connections, and the brand sponsors to do activations at the festivals we created, but that were branded as our own. We focused exclusively on festivals.”

Part of this fresh start was a strong focus on the brand. “In this space, the brand is all important,” explains Little. “We focused on building Seed Experiences, our brand, as well as the festival brands.”

Going Global

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International acts didn’t perform under the artist’s brand, but a Seed Experiences brand.

“We built our IP, brand awareness and sponsorship relationships,” says Bright. It’s an important step towards creating a strong brand, and Bright and Little knew they needed to concentrate on creating a predictable consumer experience, particularly around what music they brought to South Africa, and the unique look and feel of the annual festivals they hosted.

It’s an established business principal: To deliver an amazing customer experience, the brand experience must be personal and meaningful, deliver consistency, be responsive to audience needs and reliable.

To achieve this, the team needed branded vehicles, each with their own distinct personality. Rocking the Daisies was already established.

Now two new festivals were added, Sowing the Seeds, which was Cape Town and Joburg based, and In the City, a unique platform for Joburg that runs concurrently with Rocking the Daisies.

“We’ve always done activations, but only at our events, under our brands,” says Little. “It’s a necessary revenue stream that’s integral to our strategy, but ultimately our first priority is to build our brands. Everything else is built on those.”

Leverage Your Brand

There are three key elements to the Seed Experiences business model. First, create a vehicle that you can use to upsell other products with much bigger margins.

Second, find amazing, passionate partners who want your product to succeed as much as you do. Third, create experiences that no one wants to miss. If you offer value, you’ll have clients.

“We knew from early on that we don’t own our festivals alone. Many passionate people make these brands possible — the artists, the suppliers, the sponsors and organisations like Greenpop, who assist the greening of Rocking the Daisies. It’s a collaborative effort. Without them, this business wouldn’t exist,” says Little.

“In a way, we’ve reached a point where we can have the best of both worlds,” says Bright.

“We’ve led the way in building a festival culture in South Africa, and we host music events. That’s what we’ve always wanted to do. But we’ve also found a way to take an industry with historically tight margins, and make money.”

“We’re building a big machine here; it needs the right foundations,” says Little.

“What are we good at? Where are our skills? What aligns? And what’s good versus sexy? It’s easy to get seduced by the sexy, but is it right for the business? Does it align with our strategy? A key learning for us has been when to say no. It’s often tempting to take on a project to prevent another promoter from doing it or to please a sponsor, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for the business.”

Keeping a Balance

A big part of that strategy is consolidation on the one hand, and then spin-off businesses on the other. It’s a fine balance, particularly as the founders don’t want to dilute their focus and offering, but enhance it.

“We’ve brought all marketing, digital and social media and PR in-house, and will be creating a new entity to service clients through digital campaigns and activations geared towards music lifestyle and youth culture — which are our niche and wheelhouse. We’re sticking to what we know,” says Little.

Another new business within the group is The Bandwagon. “For years we’ve booked international acts, created travel itineraries and experiences for them, and yet travel agents have benefited from the bookings. We’ve hired an industry expert with all the connections and package rates, and we’re now bringing this in-house,” says Bright, whose primary focus is this new enterprise.

“This also means we can sell festival packages to international travellers. Oversees, whole holidays are built around festivals. We bought The Vic Falls Carnival, and launched this new offering with 100 package deals for fans, where everything is planned and covered, including transport, accommodation, the festival and activities before and after the festival.

“Once again we’re doing what we do best — selling an experience. We sold out almost immediately, and now we’re rolling it out on a larger scale.”

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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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

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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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kid-entrepreneurs-who-have-already-built-successful-businesses-and-how-you-can-too

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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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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