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Paycorp’s R1.2 Billion Success Story

At 25, Steven Kark read an article about entrepreneurs in the US who were making a huge success installing ATMs in retail centres. He quit his job, cashed in his savings and jumped on a plane. This is how he took an idea everyone said was crazy, and turned it into a R1,2 billion business. By Nadine Todd

Nadine Todd

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Steven-Kark

Vital Stats

  • Player: Steven Kark
  • Company: Paycorp
  • Launched: 1999
  • Turnover: R1,2 billion, processes R50 billion annually
  • What they do: Paycorp provides and operates a range of payment solutions, including ATMs, card issuing, card acceptance and prepaid services. The group comprises a number of companies, including ATM Solutions, DrawCard, Tutuka, EFTPOS, and Kazang Prepaid.
  • Visit: paycorp.co.za

Don’t Sweat It

How one entrepreneur kept pursuing his dreams — no matter how many times he was told his idea just wouldn’t work.

Many highly successful businesses can be bootstrapped. ATM Solutions wasn’t one of them. The business model required ATMs to be imported from the US, and the agreement Kark had struck with the manufacturers was that he could have sole distribution rights in South Africa, but he had to purchase one full container of 23 machines, worth R2 million. 25 years old at the time, Kark did not have that kind of money.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Watershed Frontman on Why Talent Will Only Get You So Far

His savings had been spent in the US, developing the idea, getting to know the payments industry and making connections. With banks viewing the idea with scepticism and funders uninterested in the business model, it left only one avenue: The 3Fs — friends, family and fools. But there were no fools in the equation. Each of those early investors would enjoy handsome pay-outs when they chose to exit a few years later.

Over the years, and based on his experiences of running a start-up, securing private equity funding, merging with another company, listing the business, running a large corporate, and finally ring-fencing the original business, implementing a management buy-out and going back to their roots, Kark has learnt a number of key lessons.

1. Keep Your Equity

The lesson: If you have a great business and a great idea, and faith in your abilities and market opportunities, keep your equity.

“Too many entrepreneurs give up too much, too early,” says Kark. “Partners add complexity. I’ve had good experiences with partners, but we were lucky that no one wanted to invest in the business at the beginning, and once we’d been operating for a few years, we were strategic about when we brought partners on, and who we brought on. Early-stage equity deals can be stressful in the long-term.

“When we were two years old we brought on a strategic partner, Horizon Equity, which not only brought capital into the business, but also mentoring and guidance. It was an important boost. We wanted to build out our own transaction processing capability, to avoid being dependant on our banking partner’s tech and so that we could build our payments ecosystem. That cost money, but was a vital part of our business model. Horizon also helped us implement better corporate governance in the business, which would also be incredibly important as we scaled it — and we were scaling fast. We could have stumbled and crashed. Our systems helped us keep up with our own growth.”

2. Be Cautious Around Funding

paycorp-atms

The lesson: When someone offers you funding, it’s tough to say no. However, you have to question whether the money will be worth the added complications additional investors often bring.

When considering investment, valuation is key. “I’ve heard horror stories of early-stage deals not working out,” says Kark, “partly because of investors wanting to come in and take over, and partly because of incredibly low valuations. When you’re starting out and desperate for money, you’ll accept a low valuation. If we’d concluded a few of those initial funding deals, it would have been a disaster for us, as the valuations were terrible. We’d have sold so cheap it would have been embarrassing. We also would have seriously complicated our lives.

“We had no track record. We hadn’t proven anything. Two years later we were in a very different situation. We had 650 ATMs running across the country, a partnership with Saambou Bank, and a business model that was working — there was a need for the product in the retail environment. We were on a massive growth curve. It meant a very different valuation, and a much fairer buy-in from Horizon.

“We’ve learnt that if you decide to seek funding, be cautious who you let through the door. Once they’re in, they’re in.”

Four years later Kark did a second equity deal with Ethos Private Equity. This was also a highly strategic decision.

“By then we were cooking. We were a really professional organisation and this gave us a strong profile. We sold 30% of our holding. Some of the initial investors were able to cash out, and as a founder I was able to monetise some of my equity. Taking money off the table led to more expansive thinking. I no longer had all my eggs in one basket — I invested some money in a managed portfolio, and we used the rest of the equity for growth.”

3. Don’t Focus on the Exit

Lesson: This is double edged. You don’t want to build a business that is completely tied to you and that you can never sell, but you also don’t want to make expedient short-term decisions because all you’re thinking about is the exit.

As a start-up or growing business, what conversation are you having? “So many owners are fixated on the capital valuation of their exit — even from start-up. This affects your medium-term decisions,” says Kark.

“Medium-term, sub-standard investment decisions include people-related and employment decisions. Who are you investing in? Are you thinking long-term, or are you making short-term tactical decisions? Business owners in this frame of mind make decisions that look profitable in the short-term, but do long-term harm. They’re so focused on finding a buyer that they forget to build a sustainable business. Instead, they’re just building a house of cards.

“The irony is that great businesses sell for a lot… simple as that. Business owners who focus on the foundations of their business and build sustainable organisations will find investors and eventually be able to exit, but usually because they’ve been thinking long-term, and their decisions reflect it. Get customers. Build revenue. Make profit. Stop fixating on the exit.”

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Gil Oved’s Lessons Learnt: Be The Grandmaster of Your Game

4. Low Margin, High Volume

Lesson: I prefer selling a R1 product to a million customers to a R1 million product to one customer.

“We call it the 1 to 1 000 model: Can you sell something for R1 to 1 000 people? Or are you trying to sell something worth R1 000 to one person? The first model is far more scalable, drives down costs, and offers a bigger market — this is what we looked at when we formed ATM Solutions, and it’s continued to drive our decisions as Paycorp. We wanted to find pools of opportunity, and offer something they need.

“The payments business really fits this model. Hundreds of millions of people have used our products and services and continue to do so. There’s a high need for payment solutions, from ATMs at retail outlets, to card programmes and prepaid vending. Each time we facilitate a transaction we make a few rand, but we have millions of customers.”

Today Paycorp operates over 5 000 ATMs in four countries with twelve banks, 22 000 terminals in eight countries and over 400 card programmes in six countries. “Our turnover is R1,2 billion and we process over R50 billion annually. Imagine trying to get that from a few clients?”

5. Avoid Dependency on Gatekeepers

Lesson: Develop multiple relationships across sectors and geographies to ensure your business is not reliant on any one supplier.

“We’ve always focused on reducing the power of gatekeepers. If you have one core technical provider, one key supplier and one primary customer, it’s highly likely you’ll come unstuck because you’re overly reliant on others. A single bank, a single cash-in-transit company — these are all gatekeepers; a lesson we learnt the hard way.

“We knew from the beginning that we didn’t want to be beholden to anybody else’s technical infrastructure, which is why we developed our own transaction processing capability with Horizon’s investment. However, even though our ATMs operated on our own system, they were all connected to one bank: Saambou. The only thing that saved us when Saambou crashed was that the technology was ours, and it was a simpler process to reconnect the entire infrastructure to different banks.”

Kark and his team were also acutely aware that they were playing in the world of big banks, so it was important to hold their own, whilst collaborating with them. This didn’t only mean investing in proprietary technology, but developing core operational competencies so that they weren’t beholden to outside expertise.

“This doesn’t happen overnight, but because it was so important to us, we’ve steadily built up our skills. Today we have a limited concentration of risk with anyone. We work with multiple service providers and suppliers, we always seek to have alternatives, and we’re becoming experts in our fields of operation.”

6. Value Character More Than Abilities

electronic-debit-card-payment

Lesson: The decision on who to hire should be more about EQ than IQ.

“A middle manager must have the technical and intellectual capabilities required for the position, but when it comes down to choosing the right person for the job, character is the most important deciding factor. We’re not IQ driven, we’re character driven.

“We have two full-time people (the best in the business) responsible for human capital and leadership development, on-boarding and retention. We understand how important our people are to our success.

“Even with all of these systems and expertise, we still sometimes get it wrong. Always remember that while sub-par performance can be worked around, and worked on, negative attitudes affect everyone on the team. There’s always collateral damage. We have 538 employees, and they’re all important. We’ve learnt how destructive one person can be to a harmonious work environment. Bear that in mind, first when you’re hiring, and then if a hire doesn’t work out. Always try and find an amicable conclusion — after all, both parties are generally unhappy if there’s a culture gap — but never ignore the problem.”

7. Disruptive Thinking

Lesson: If you want to make a mark in an established industry, you have to be willing to disrupt the market — and fail a few times in the process.

According to Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, a disruptive innovation creates a new market and value network that will eventually disrupt an already existing market and replace an existing product.

Kark calls it ‘changing the game’, referring to incumbents who aren’t adequately prepared to service the new market that innovative disruptors create. Because they can’t adapt their business models quickly enough, the new guys on the block move up, and compete in the existing market share and create new ones as they go.

The problem is that disruptive innovators who do their jobs properly end up becoming incumbents themselves — which just opens them up to becoming casualties of disruptive innovation in turn.

So, how do you become a disruptive innovator in the first place, and then hold onto your market once you’ve grown it, and continuously find new markets? 

“This is such an important point for sustainable businesses today — first, how to get there, and then, how to stay there,” says Kark. “We’re a non-traditional company in a traditional banking environment. We built a business by being disruptors. But you need to be careful, because you don’t want a new disruptor to catch you.

“A lot of businesses run into problems because they can’t scale. For example, running one fish and chip shop is very different to running ten. With ten there’s ten times the complexity. But 1 000 stores isn’t 100 times as complex as running ten. It’s a million times more complicated. Scale and complexities are exponential. You need to invest in people and the right technology to deal with this.

“Part of building and maintaining a sustainable business is having the right infrastructure to do so. And then of course you need to stay flexible and keep a close eye on the market. If anything changes, you need to be able to respond quickly.

“This takes people. Great people. The problem is that while you’re on your growth path, you can’t necessarily afford the best and most experienced in the market, so the trick becomes hiring people who you can see will grow with the position — you’re not hiring for now, you’re hiring for where you want to be.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: 7 Essentials for Making R10 Million From Scratch

 

“We’ve learnt to always hire well above what the position requires at the time. This has meant that we’ve had to have faith in our own growth abilities. We were always running. Our boots were too big for us, always believing that we’d catch up and fill them. We were constantly scaling to do the deals we were doing. We said yes and then figured out how to do it later.

“The trick is not to let early failures get you down. We fell into every pothole, but we kept going. We picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, learnt from the mistakes and pushed on. Disruptors have to be willing to fail as well, as long as lessons are learnt, and the same mistakes aren’t made twice.”

8. Don’t Get Distracted

Lesson: A lot of opportunities look great; just remember that every time you say yes to something, you have to say no to something else.

One example of this in the early days of ATM Solutions was DVD vending machines. “They seemed like a great idea at the time,” says Kark.

“The payments component was simple for us, our existing client base of convenience retailers and forecourts seemed like a perfect fit for the product, and our sales and technical teams were already on-site servicing ATMs.”

As a result, the team quickly took the decision to begin importing expensive vending machines from Italy and placed them with a number of their existing clients. Unfortunately, a few key issues quickly became apparent.

“The vending tech was clunky, unreliable and time-consuming, the retailers didn’t really like the valuable retail space it took up in-store and most importantly, we’d actually misread the market, which was already changing.

“The demand we’d envisioned just wasn’t there. On top of everything else, we had to spend a lot of time making sure the latest DVDs were in the vending machines, and we had to deal with damaged and lost DVDs. This was a complete distraction for a side product that was neither our core, nor very lucrative — the economics just didn’t make sense. We still have a few of those vending machines stored at the back of our warehouse.”

For Kark, the lesson has been an enduring one. “There’s a cost to every decision, so you need to weigh up the pros and cons.

For example, are you paying too much attention to a customer that brings in R2 million, but costs you R25 million because of the distraction? When you’re saying yes to something, your ‘yes’s’ should be for core activities and capabilities. Everything else should be a clear no.”

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

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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jason-english-of-prommac

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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Entrepreneur Profiles

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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billy-selekane

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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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Vital stats

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

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

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

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

Related: 6 Great Tips For A Successful Shark Tank Pitch

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

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

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

Vusani Ravele of Native Decor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Take note

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

Watch the Shark Tank investment episode here:

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