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Kauai: John Berry and Carl and Brett Harwin

When Kauai first opened it was seen as an outlet for hippies and vegetarians. Today it’s the number one healthy fast food brand in South Africa and is taking on the major retail brands.

Chana Boucher

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John Berry

True to surfing culture, John Berry and brothers Carl and Brett Harwin – the founders of Kauai – came up with the idea while sitting under a papaya tree watching the ocean. The three Californian college friends were living on the island of Kauai and while enjoying the fresh fruit around them, they decided that one day they would share their tastier, healthier way of life with the world.

While in Kauai they started the Kauai Juice Bar with only one juicer and later supplied major hotels, restaurants and health food stores.

Their little business was slowly gaining momentum when they travelled to Cape Town for Carl Harwin’s wedding to a Capetonian, which was followed by a surfing holiday. They fell in love with the South African city and decided to stay. But they soon realised that when they wanted to “pop down the road” to buy some food, there were no healthy options available.

So in 1996 they moved their juice business from Kauai to South Africa and evolved it into an outlet in the Mother City that sold a range of healthy sandwiches. Celebrating its15th anniversary this year, Kauai is now the number one healthy fast food brand in South Africa with major expansion on the cards.

Healthy eating

“We believe healthy eating improves quality of life,” says Hendrik Coetsee, Kauai CEO. He explains that when Kauai first started, the South African public had misconceptions about the brand, thinking that it served food suited only to health fanatics. “Fifteen years ago when Kauai first started the landscape was totally different. McDonalds was not even around yet so people had a different understanding of fast food.”

Coetsee says there was a preconceived idea that healthy food comprised only of tomatoes and lettuce. “It took time for people to get to know that Kauai was not just catering for tomato and leaves guys,” he says, adding however that the wheatgrass in the outlets did encourage the view that it was fast food for ‘greenies’.

Broadening the market

Kauai has come a long way since it started, says Coetsee. It is now recognised by more people for serving everyday healthy, tasty food. Historically the brand has served the upper LSM market, but he says the clientele is fairly neutral in terms of gender and demographics. What started as a groundbreaker in a smaller niche market is now a major player. “Since South Africa is a relatively small market, we are looking at ways to touch a broader segment of the market,” explains Coetsee. He says Kauai has introduced a number of initiatives to do so, including the addition of a kids offering to avoid cutting out families.

Back in the “heyday” as Coetsee calls it, Kauai consisted of three outlets in Cape Town. Today there are 95 stores with a modern feel and

diverse menu. Of the three founders only John Berry is still involved in the company’s operations as the chief innovation officer.

At first the menu was made up of mainly sandwiches and smoothies, and now has a significant wrap offering. Coetsee says the back of house systems have become a lot more efficient and Kauai has secured a good relationship with a supplier who is able to supply around 80% of the goods to stores, as opposed to using 50 suppliers per store in the past. This has contributed to the consistency of the Kauai brand.

Kauai ‘in Motion’

A major catalyst in the growth of the brand was establishing a relationship with Virgin Active eight years ago. Kauai’s in Motion stores offer Virgin Active gym members healthy food on the go.

Coetsee believes that although this partnership helped put Kauai on the map, it’s a symbiotic relationship. Virgin Active needed a service provider who could offer a reliable and quality product. “Because Virgin Active is a global player that displays a lot of innovation, we are constantly learning through our dealings with them. We are being pushed to evolve, to challenge ourselves – so there have been positive spin-offs in terms of pushing the business forward,” says Coetsee.

Further, he explains that Kauai has adapted its menu at the in Motion outlets to fit in with the gym environment.

Kauai also launched Kauai@School stores at Reddam House Constantia and Green Point in 2007. This was part of the campaign to expel junk food from South African schools. The menu was adapted for schools to make it more affordable to learners. Kauai plans to extend Kauai@Schools to other schools in the Western Cape and Gauteng.

Building a brand

Coetsee says the Kauai brand is perceived differently by the customers and those who are part of the company. He says just over a year ago the » company went through the process of establishing a value system. “Before it was just whoever shouts the loudest,” he jokes. “We want to touch as many people over time as we can and not be part of the problem of junk food being greasy and unhealthy.”

Research done shows that customers think of three key words/phrases when they think about Kauai – healthy food, tasty food and smoothies.  The actual logo of the company has also evolved over the years. While it has always been a sun motif, the slogan has changed from ‘Juice and Smoothie Company’ to ‘Tasty Food, Healthy Life’. Coetsee says a brand bible has been created in an effort to standardise the look and feel, and the roll out plan is currently being finalised. He says one of the challenges has been to compete with the bigger fast food brands. “We want to touch more consumers than currently,” he adds, explaining that Kauai is focusing on increasing brand awareness.

It is doing so in three ways. First, it is expanding the product offering at current outlets to reach a wider audience. There are also “fairly ambitious” plans to open new stores and finally Kauai is embarking on marketing and advertising campaigns. The company is sponsoring the upcoming American Survivor series which will be broadcast in the next few months. “We want to be more out there and visible but also rely on word of mouth.”

Staying ahead

According to Coetsee, the consumer wants more healthy options, which is seeing the entrance of more and more healthy food brands. Globally the sector showing the most growth in the fast food industry is healthy food. “The consumer is shifting and there are more opportunities for players to be part of the movement.” However, Coetsee adds that offering healthy, fresh meals can be more difficult than the normal burger patty and bun. He explains that consumers expect fresh ingredients, which has significant cost implications.

As for the threat of new competitors entering the market, Coetsee says Kauai’s 15 year track record has gotten it to what it is today, and that all the costs have already been endured. “I foresee healthy food showing the biggest growth in South Africa, so we are definitely going to see more players.” He believes Kauai will continue to evolve in order to stay ahead and remain the country’s number one healthy fast food brand. “Innovation plays a big part for us as a brand, and it definitely is one thing we are pushing today.”

Time for reflection

The biggest challenge to date has been cash flow, says Coetsee. He explains that Kauai went on an expansion drive during 2007 and 2008, opening  23 stores, mainly corporate and joint venture stores. This put pressure on the cash resources, which meant that the company was not well positioned when the recession hit. Along with the recession, the fast food industry also saw food prices inflate. These two factors combined put Kauai’s margins under pressure, but Coetsee says the company managed to pull through and is now looking forward.

Four stores were closed last year, but Coetsee says these were stores that would never work and weren’t worth pouring more money into. He explains that in hindsight, they should not have been opened as they weren’t well positioned.

While this challenge was a chance to reflect on the viability of stores, Coetsee believes Kauai has come a long way since two or three years ago.

Franchising the business

Kauai outlets are a combination of being company-owned, joint venture or franchised. Coetsee says the decision to franchise the business was in line with the company’s growth model, and that franchising was one of the quickest ways of expanding. He also explains that there were already people in the system who wanted to be their own bosses, so this made it possible for them.

When Coetsee joined Kauai four years ago, there were only five franchise outlets, but he says his past experience proved to him how effective franchising is, which has strengthened his resolve to increase the number of franchised branches. Coetsee points out that 90% of the top 50 fast food brands in the US are franchises.

Because franchisees are responsible for their own success, Coetsee says they may run their outlets better than the company-owned outlets. They are closer to the customer base, and can determine how to serve their needs better. “Franchising also grows the system quicker to create a bigger brand. Initially the board was hesitant, but it has become the preferred route. For our new stores we will turn to franchising first, and only if we can’t find the right franchisees will we run them ourselves.” About a third of Kauai’s outlets are currently franchises.

On the growth path

Kauai has a target to double its business by February 2015 by growing its current and new store systems. Coetsee says there are plans to have more outlets in high streets as well as to grow the Kauai in Motion stores in line with Virgin Active’s expansion.

A new outlet opened at Somerset Mall at the beginning of April, and over the past four months four Kauai in Motion stores have opened in gyms.

Choosing the right location is important for the success of each outlet, and Coetsee says there have been some important learnings from the selection of locations. Over the past six years, Kauai has worked with Fernridge Consulting to indentify and analyse different locations spots. He says it takes more than demographics and income levels to identify a good location and that it is also important to understand the site and determine what drives people to that site. “It’s important to work with the information available and insights, rather than following your gut feel”. One example Coetsee cites is the outlet in Hout Bay.

While this area is an affluent neighbourhood and people living there fit the right profiles, most travel to Cape Town CBD during the day, which is when Kauai operates. Coetsee says this outlet was closed as the company realised it would never succeed, but the exercise was a vital lesson learnt.

Coetsee says the experience has also provided insight into looking for more realistic offers from landlords. There has been a flood of prospects and the plan is to open four to five more outlets in the next three months.

According to Coetsee, Kauai started looking at the possibility of expanding internationally in 2007, seeking alliances to do so. But these plans were paused when the financial crisis hit.

“It takes time, money, money and money to expand into other countries but we started conversations again last year and are currently talking to an international player,” he says. Coetsee says Kauai’s existing alliance with Virgin Active could also be a possibility for global growth, specifically in the UK and Europe.

“Many South African companies don’t have deep enough pockets to take on fast food globally so we have to be careful about how we go about it. We believe Kauai can play on the global stage, but we have to work out how we can do it properly,” adds Coetsee.

Words to live by

Kauai’s witty brand and unique healthy fast food concept can be seen in its ‘Words to live by’

1. It’s all fresh

Our servings are made right before your eyes, using only the freshest ingredients.

2. As nature intended

We keep our ingredients as close to their whole and natural state as possible so that we don’t lose any of their flavour or goodness.

3. Not a fat lot of good

Trans fats are neither good nor natural, that’s why you won’t find any in our products.

4. No fry zone

None of our products are fried and that means that the oiliest thing in our kitchen is an avocado.

5. If you haven’t got the MSG yet, you won’t get it here

You won’t find any MSG or tartrazine in any of our meals, just another way we’re looking out for your health.

6. 100% wheat-free or 100% gluten-free

Our rye bread is, well rye bread, which means it’s 100% wheat-free. Alternatively you can ask for 100% gluten-free wraps.

7. No dairy, no problem

All dairy smoothies can be made with GM free soya milk for the lactose intolerant. (excludes iced lattes and protein drinks)

8. Vegetarian friendly

Kauai mayo is reduced in fat and egg-free, perfect for vegetarians.

9. Protein power

Our protein smoothies are made with Muscle Works superior whey protein. This is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids, which also has the highest amount of branch chain amino acids of all proteins, to help prevent your muscles from breaking down.

10. It’s not only the flavour of freshly squeezed that’s so great

It’s also the fact that it’s packed with nutrients. It takes 1kg of carrots to make 500ml of freshly squeezed carrot juice. For all those vitamins, it’s worth it.

The Kauai Franchisee

According to Hendrik Coetsee, Kauai CEO, the ideal franchisee for the brand is entrepreneurial. He says it is someone who wants to be their own boss, but not necessarily worry about the complexity of running a business. “They don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he adds. “They should be able to work within boundaries, share knowledge and use the system provided. They should want to be hands on and love the industry as every game has its injuries.” Furthermore, Coetsee says a franchisee should know how to keep the customer happy and love working with people as there is a service element to the job.

While franchisees usually haven’t owned their own businesses before, the Kauai training programme gives them the skills to do so. “They are set up for success rather than failure, but should they make mistakes, they will have a support system to turn to. You can be your own boss with a safety net in place,” he says.

One more important requirement is that an individual should want to be part of a healthy food and lifestyle system, which Coetsee says makes for a ‘magical fit’.

Doing good

Community players

Kauai regularly invests and contributes to good causes. It supports the Children’s Hospital Trust, the fundraising arm of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, by catering for fundraising events as well as treating the children and dedicated hospital staff to Kauai treats.

Kauai also supported the Chaeli Campaign, which focuses on mobilising the minds and bodies of children with disabilities, through the sponsorship of one of the Chaeli Riders in the 2011 Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour.

Chana Boucher is a Freelance writer.

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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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  • 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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Entrepreneur Profiles

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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  • 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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