- Player: Quinton van der Burgh
- Company: Quinton van der Burgh Investments
- Turnover: In the billions
- Launched: 2008
- Visit: quintonvanderburgh.com
Quinton van der Burgh Investments is the holding company that owns equity shares in 32 businesses. Eight of those businesses are mining concerns co-owned with his two brothers. The mining and prospecting business (Burgh Group) was launched in 2002.
Van der Burgh currently focuses the majority of his time on growing Innovatec Africa, a start-up he bought 85% of in 2013. Van der Burgh is also the creator of reality show Clifton Shores.
The entrepreneurial mindset
I was a terrible student at school.
I didn’t listen, I was ADHD, and I didn’t like to attend class. To be honest, I’m not even sure how I passed; I tend to think I was lucky. But school was a great place to sell things, because I had a captive market with lunch money to spend.
I almost got kicked out twice because of my little side businesses. As long as I was trading, I was alive.
My dad owned a number of supermarkets, and on weekends my two older brothers and I would work in the stores doing stock take, pricing goods and counting tills.
It gave us a strong feeling for figures, but it was also an opportunity to work and save, and to buy things like Ghostbuster stickers which I then sold at school.
My dad was successful, but he taught us to work for the things we wanted. It was also a great introduction to the basics of trade. And that’s what entrepreneurship is – trading. Money in and money out, buying and selling. Cash flow.
Heart of a trader
That’s what drives me. I love a challenge, and I want to be involved across the whole value chain.
My passion is business, and I love all aspects of the market – I enjoy learning about new sectors that I know nothing about. I want to look at new industries and touch it all.
I haven’t succeeded in everything, but that’s where the real learnings happen. All industries are different.
What succeeds in one doesn’t necessarily work in another, but it’s so rewarding figuring that out.
Follow your passion
Succeeding at something I’ve never done before is what drives me and gets me up in the morning.
I like guiding from the sidelines. I manage, run, strategise. I need to be a part of the success, not just invest money. But, you can only do so much.
I’ve built a team of experts to assist me, and I believe in hiring the best. When we invest in a business, we look for the loophole – that thing that we can take, tweak and triple the company’s valuation in a few short years.
It’s not about the money
I could retire right now. But it would bore me to death. And I wouldn’t be giving anything back. I don’t build businesses to have a good life. I build businesses because that’s what drives me, and what I live for.
I just didn’t want to be there anymore. By this stage the family business had grown, and included supermarkets, car dealerships and cellular stores.
I had a colleague at one of the car dealerships who had contacts at Eskom. He knew what their needs were, what they were purchasing and how they chose suppliers.
We decided to start a business selling filters to Eskom. This was the mid-1990s and I was 17 years old. I had R50 000 saved up, and used it to buy stock.
The money was saved up partly from working, and partly from buying, suping up and then selling cars. I had access to scrap yards, and was always on the lookout for parts.
I made a profit each time, which I saved, and also used to invest in my next car. I eventually saved enough to buy a BMW 318.
A complete disaster
We didn’t need R50 000. We needed a few hundred thousand. It was a great idea, but it couldn’t sustain itself. We couldn’t run without cash flow. It was a big lesson to learn.
I was 18 and my first business had failed. And so I went back to working for my dad, first as a salesman at an Autopage Cellular store he owned, then working my way up to becoming area manager.
And then my oldest brother and I had an idea for a side business. At the time, the big mobile companies in the UK had a policy that second-hand phones and 14-day returns were all stored in warehouses, and then packaged and sold in bulk to other markets.
We started importing these – 1 000 phones per package. We’d buy them, unlock them, package them and sell them. I’d go over to the UK to get them, and then we’d literally drive around Witbank and Pretoria selling them. I’d pack 500 phones into my BMW and head to Pretoria. We were a completely turnkey operation.
There were eventually five of us trying to sell 15 000 phones a month. Our little operation got my dad’s attention, who decided that we weren’t ready to be running a side business of the size it had grown to. He put a friend of his in charge.
Just like that, I’d been circumvented in my own start-up and I realised that if I ever wanted to build something that was really my own, I needed to leave and actually go out on my own.
I believed the only way to do that was to go to the UK. I made contact with the broker who sourced and sold the phones. I wanted a job in London.
He agreed, but said he’d pay me commission only, no basic salary. Meanwhile, my dad said that if I left, I was leaving with nothing. I did it anyway. This was my chance, and I had enough faith in myself to believe I’d make it work. I had no idea.
I shared a room with four guys. It was a whole new experience for me. I was used to people doing stuff for me. This was a whole new way of life. It was also unbelievably liberating.
I wanted to make a name and career for myself, and this was my chance. I’m never happy. I never will be. Things are just things; they come and go. I care about achievements. It was time to start shaping my future.
I began working immediately. I opened the office at 5am each morning (we traded internationally, so had to start early), and then I sold phones. My agreement was 10% of the gross profit on each phone, which was £1. The first month I sold 30 000 phones.
The next 60 000 and the third 80 000. In rand value, I’d made R3 million. Not that it mattered, because he never paid me. He was shocked and completely unprepared for how much I sold, and decided he wanted to review the agreement. Since I was earning on a commission basis, this meant I was earning nothing.
In month two my dad came to visit. I had to borrow cash from a housemate so that I could take him out to lunch. I didn’t want him to know I had no money. By month three things were getting desperate. By this stage my boss had a new partner who promised to sort things out. It never happened.
They gave me £100 pounds to tide me over, and that was the last cent I saw from them. I learnt a lot about taking people at their word, and how quickly someone will go back on their promises.
A new opportunity
And then a new opportunity presented itself. By this time, I’d built up real relationships with my clients. They knew me. They trusted me.
They knew I stuck to my commitments, even if that sometimes meant going head-to-head with my boss. They wanted to do business with me, but they didn’t want to do business with my boss.
They told me they would give me upfront cash, I could find the stock, and they’d deal directly with me. It was my first introduction to the power of OPM – using other people’s money to fund your business.
I did it. I was now working even harder than before. The money would get transferred into my bank account, and I’d wait at the bank for the funds to clear, and transfer them immediately to my suppliers.
With a money order in hand, I would then go and fetch the stock, and get it loaded by the end of the day. I worked from 5am to 10pm each night. Missing my targets and deadlines was not
And then I made my next big mistake. I found an amazing deal. A company in China was selling Nokia phones at 20% below market. I’d built up profits, and I had a South African client who I told about the deal. He sent me £300 000 (about R6 million at the time) and I put all my savings into the deal as well.
We were going to buy up stock and test the waters. I paid, and then the guys (whom I’d vetted) disconnected and disappeared with the money. Just like that. Everything I’d saved, gone, but even worse, my client’s money was gone too.
I knew my only option was to be completely upfront with him about what had happened, and to promise to pay him back within six months. I managed to pay him off — everything I made went to that debt. It was worth sticking to my word.
He’s still a client of mine today, almost 20 years later. Money comes and goes. Your reputation doesn’t.
I’ve lost a lot of money over the years
It wasn’t the first time I’d lost money, or the last. But through it all, I’ve built up an unshakable belief in relationships. They come first.
When markets shift (as they do, particularly in the import/export game), I take the hit. Over the years I’ve taken a lot on the chin. These principles are so important to me.
Too often I’ve seen markets dip, and people start panicking, which leads to cutting corners and doing shady deals. That’s how you burn bridges. It might be a short-term solution, but it’s not a long-term one, and I always look long-term.
Don’t rip people off and jump ship
In tough times people want to milk the system. It’s a short-sighted, big mistake.
I’d rather go broke, back to nothing and build myself up again than do that. Today’s failure could be a much bigger opportunity down the line.
After six years in London I started looking back to South Africa. I’ve maintained business interests overseas, but it was time to come home.
By this stage, my brothers had shifted into the industrial sector, focusing on belting, earthmoving and hydraulics. They were still involved in the family business though. They were also very interested in coal mining.
They’d been researching prospecting and development of coal assets in South Africa. It was a very risky play, and would involve all of our collective savings, but if it worked, the rewards would be huge.
Taking risks with big rewards
At 26, I was given the opportunity to buy my way back into the family business with a 25% equity stake. I decided to do it, and moved back home.
Their prospecting idea was incredibly risky – and incredibly exciting, which is what I live for. I’m the cowboy of the three brothers. I’m the gambler and highest risk-taker.
My middle brother, Stanley, is the most conservative. He’s a hard worker, likes things simple, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He’s built an earthmoving business from scratch, going from one machine to 300, and he’ll change a tyre himself if needed.
He’s a tradesman who always haggles for the best price. He’s grounded, not flashy, and all about family. My oldest brother, Wayne, is more like me. He’s a networker and a dealmaker. He’s willing to take risks, although not quite as aggressively as I am.
As a trio we work well together. Stanley covers earthmoving, I’m the numbers and strategy man, and Wayne focuses on operations. We support and complement each other. But we’re also very different – I always look a few years ahead. Wayne and Stanley like to focus on the now.
Boardroom meetings have been known to get heated, with three brothers who want to end up punching each other. We don’t back down. We’re all opinionated. And yet it works. This big risk we took has paid off – tenfold.
Becoming coal miners started with a big gamble. My brothers had found land in Mpumalanga to prospect. It was risky.
Mining for opportunity
Experts told us that while it could be a very lucrative seam, it might also not be what it appeared to be. It was a 50/50 risk, and it would take almost everything we had to find out.
If it worked, it would be like striking oil. If it didn’t, we’d all be back to square one. I was 26, but my brothers were older, with families to support. We decided to go for it.
It was two years of digging holes before we found the seam, and four years of making no money, while pouring money from our other ventures into prospecting and development. We all refused to take a loan. We’d rather do it slowly, and debt free, or not at all.
Every year we had the same discussion: Should we carry on doing this? Is it worth it? We’re not the majors. We’re not a big mining house. What the hell are we doing? But persistence pays off. We stuck to it.
Our reputations were on the line, and a stubborn streak was evident in all three of us. We wanted to prove we could do it, and that this wasn’t rocket science. We could make this work.
This is true of everything – you can do anything. And if you don’t have the knowledge or expertise, get stronger people than yourself into the right positions, and put your heads together and work – hard! And learn, learn, learn every day.
Today, that business’s turnover is in the billions, and it all started on a calculated gamble, and a desire to build a legacy.
Currently, van der Burgh spends most of his time on Innovatec Africa, a start-up he bought 85% of in 2013. “Real innovation is happening in the tech space, and I’m chasing the opportunity that will make me a global brand,” says van der Burgh.
“I want to be in the top ten futuristic tech companies in the world. That’s what I’m aiming for, and so I’ll never stop looking for the next big thing.”
Van der Burgh believes Innovatec Africa is the vehicle for that. “We have very talented teams here; lots of innovative development is taking place. We look for ideas that are in concept stage that we can run with.”
Innovation is expensive though, which is why van der Burgh is concentrating on building a sustainable brand that can support that innovation.
“There are 12 companies under Innovatec Africa; we’re aggressively acquiring companies and distribution rights for large brands. There’s a huge opportunity for us to develop these brands in markets they haven’t previously dominated, particularly in Africa.
“Through our acquisitions, which are all companies that excel in their fields, with excellent teams at the helm, there’s very little that we don’t do that corporates need, from software and hardware integration, to consumables, boardroom outfitters, landline and VoIP connectivity, integration of data solutions, cloud services, servers, and even training.
But at our core, while we’re building this big machine, we have an amazing innovation arm, which is sustainable because of all the other areas we focus on.”
The show Clifton Shores was the result of a bee in my bonnet. Two things were happening simultaneously. I wanted to be involved in TV, and I also wanted to give my personal brand some exposure. I’ve got big plans for who I want to be, and where I want to go.
Elon Musk, Mark Shuttleworth and Richard Branson all have something key in common – they’re been very savvy at building their brands. People know them, and as a result, they’re trusted, and entrepreneurs bring them ideas. They make a difference.
I saw a reality show as a way of both satisfying my desire to create a successful TV show that could be distributed in the US, and growing my personal brand. I have an eventing and marketing business, Quintessential, and this became the vehicle for the show.
We had four US girls and three South African girls, all based in a house on Clifton beach. The US element was important – US audiences love seeing other Americans and what they’re doing, even if it’s not in the US itself.
It was a ‘fish out of water’ idea. They ran my company for me and put together glitzy events, and we filmed their interaction, and dealing with daily challenges.
I was a secondary character. It was unscripted, but of course we had to add some drama, so we’d pair up people who we knew didn’t get along, or wouldn’t work well together.
The show cost more than we made, but the exposure was incredible. We really got the message out there that if you’ve got a business idea or contact, come to Quinton.
We’re currently getting ready to launch the second season, now rebranded as The Shores for the US market. I took two years to be ready to do it again.
It takes a lot out of the participants. This time we’re going online only. Each episode will be available free on Youtube.
This is where TV is headed anyway. I’ll make money on the clicks, but the idea is to really build up a subscriber base for future projects. I’m looking long-term here.
Right now it’s costing money, and I’m having a blast. In the future though, I’ll see real returns with a dedicated subscriber base. That’s the plan.
They’re very, very passionate about global access to water. I met Jordan on a movie project in the US two and a half years ago. I loved his story.
Our partnership works perfectly: He’s the NGO guy, I’m the business guy.
Generosity already had a lot of celebrity endorsements before I came on board. The big idea is to solve the water crisis, step by step.
The NGO has already built 570 wells globally, giving communities access to clean water.
But there’s always more to be done, and ultimately, in order for an organisation to be sustainable, it needs to produce its own income rather than relying on donations. This is where I came into the picture.
Generosity needed a ‘for-profit’ arm that would give the NGO an annuity income and create a business around a water brand.
We’ve spent two years developing the best technology for the healthiest drinking water possible, bottled in BPA free bottles. This is not spring water — we don’t want to take more resources from the ground in poor areas.
It’s government water, treated with reverse osmosis. The result is a level ten water that is not only extremely healthy for you, but tasty as well.
All bottles have a QR code, so the consumer knows which well that batch of water is funding, and where it’s being built. 20% of every bottle goes to the project. In the US, bottled water is a $10,8 billion industry.
We’d like to see some of that going towards solving the global water crisis. We’re also targeting the corporate market because they’ll get tax rebates, and high volumes mean we can lower the price, although this is a premium product, and it’s packaged and marketed as such.
We’ve already made plans to enter the Australian and New Zealand markets. The idea is to eventually have Generosity everywhere — you can launch your own company in your country — we’ll give you the product as a turn-key operation.
You do the marketing and sales to corporates and throw a big yearly event. We’re looking for well-connected JV partners who also want to give back.
Rich List: 2019 Richest People In The World
They’re worth billions, and their wealth continues to grow each year. Here’s the top 10 richest people globally in 2019.
10. Jeff Bezos
Net Worth: USD 139,5 billion
Jeff Bezos founded e-commerce giant Amazon in a garage in Seattle, USA in 1994. He also purchased The Washington Post for $250 million in 2013.
Bezos believes in always taking a long-term view and living in the present moment.
“I think this is something about which there’s a lot of controversy. A lot of people — and I’m just not one of them — believe that you should live for the now.
I think what you do is think about the great expanse of time ahead of you and try to make sure that you’re planning for that in a way that’s going to leave you ultimately satisfied. This is the way it works for me. There are a lot of paths to satisfaction and you need to find one that works for you.”
7 Self-Made Teenager Millionaire Entrepreneurs
These teenager entrepreneurs have already made their first million and more. How did they do it and what’s their secret to success?
1. Evan of YouTube
Evan and his father Jarod started a youtube channel ‘Evantube’ to review kids’ toys. The channel was a resounding success with other kids – so much so that today it boasts just over 6 million subscribers.
Evantube brings in more than USD1.4 million a year from ad revenue generated on the channel.
How did it start? With a father-son fun project making Angry Birds Stop Animation videos, and morphed into doing reviews on toys and video games. But Jarod’s dad is aware of the responsibility of Evan’s sudden fame and hopes to teach Evan about the importance of being a good role model for others.
“Most recently, we had the opportunity to work with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and were able to fulfill the wish of a young boy whose dream was to meet Evan and make a video with him at Legoland,” explains Jared. “It was a really incredible experience. YouTube has definitely opened many doors, and the kids have gotten to do some pretty amazing things.”
Expert Advice From Property Point On Taking Your Start-Up To The Next Level
Through Property Point, Shawn Theunissen and Desigan Chetty have worked with more than 170 businesses to help them scale. Here’s what your start-up should be focusing on, based on what they’ve learnt.
- Players: Shawn Theunissen and Desigan Chetty
- Company: Property Point
- What they do: Property Point is an enterprise development initiative created by Growthpoint Properties, and is dedicated to unlocking opportunities for SMEs operating in South Africa’s property sector.
- Launched: 2008
- Visit: propertypoint.org.za
Through Property Point, Shawn Theunissen and his team have spent ten years learning what makes entrepreneurs tick and what small business owners need to implement to become medium and large business owners. In that time, over 170 businesses have moved through the programme.
While Property Point is an enterprise development (ED) initiative, the lessons are universal. If you want to take your start-up to the next level, this is a good place to start.
Risk, reputation and relationships
“We believe that everything in business comes down to the 3Rs: Risk, Reputation and Relationships. If you understand these three factors and how they influence your business and its growth, your chances of success will increase exponentially,” says Shawn Theunissen, Executive Corporate Social Responsibility at Growthpoint Properties and founder of Property Point.
So, how do the 3Rs work, and what should business owners be doing based on them?
Risk: We can all agree that there will always be risks in business. It’s how you approach and mitigate those risks that counts, which means you first need to recognise and accept them.
“We always straddle the line between hardcore business fundamentals and the relational elements and people components of doing business,” says Shawn. “For example, one of the risks that everyone faces in South Africa is that we all make decisions based on unconscious biases. As a business owner, we need to recognise how this affects potential customers, employees, stakeholders and even ourselves as entrepreneurs.”
Reputation: Because Property Point is an ED initiative, its 170 alumni are black business owners, and so this is an area of bias that they focus on, but the rule holds true for all biases. “In the context of South Africa, small black businesses are seen as higher risk. To overcome this, black-owned businesses should focus on the reputational component of their companies. What’s the track record of the business?”
A business owner who approaches deals in this way can focus on building the value proposition of the business, outlining the capacity and capabilities of the business and its core team to deliver how the business is run, and specific service offerings.
“From a business development perspective, if you can provide a good track record, it diminishes the customer’s unconscious bias,” says Shawn. “Now the entrepreneur isn’t just being judged through one lens, but rather based on what they have done and delivered.”
Relationship: “We believe that fundamentally people do business with people,” says Shawn. “There needs to be culture match and fluency in terms of relations to make the job easier. As a general rule, the ease of doing business increases if there is a culture match.”
This relates to understanding what your client needs, how they want to do business, their user experience and customer experience. “We like to call it sharpening the pencil,” says Desigan Chetty, Property Point’s Head of Operations.
“In terms of value proposition, does your service offering focus on solving the client’s needs? Is there a culture match between you and your client? And if you realise there isn’t, can you walk away, or do you continue to focus time and energy on the wrong type of service offering to the wrong client? This isn’t learnt over- night. It takes time and small but constant adjustments to the direction you’re taking.”
In fact, Desigan advises walking away from the wrong business so that you can focus on your core competencies. “If you reach a space where you work well with a client and you’ve stuck to your core competencies, business is just going to be easier. It becomes easier for you to deliver. Sometimes entrepreneurs stretch themselves to try to provide a service to a client that’s not serving either of their needs. This strategy will never lead to growth — at least not sustainable growth.”
Instead, Desigan recommends choosing an entry point through a specific offering based on an explicit need. “Too often we see entrepreneurs whose offerings are so broad that they don’t focus,” he says. “Instead, understand what your client’s need is and address that need, even if it means that it’s only one out of your five offerings. Your likelihood of success if you go where the need is, is much higher.
“Once you get in, prove yourself through service delivery. It’s a lot easier to on-sell and cross sell once you have a foot in the door. You’re now building a relationship, learning the internal culture, how things work, what processes are followed and so on — the client’s landscape is easier to navigate. The challenge is to get in. Once you’re in, you can entrench yourself.”
Desigan and Shawn agree that this is one of the reasons why suppliers to large corporates become so entrenched. “Once you’re in, you can capitalise from other needs that may have emanated from your entry point and unlock opportunities,” says Shawn.
Building a sustainable start-up
While all start-ups are different, there are challenges most entrepreneurs share and key areas they should focus on.
Shawn and Desigan share the top five areas you should focus on.
1. Align and partner with the right people
This includes your staff, stakeholders, partners, suppliers and clients. Partnerships are the best thing to take you forward. The key is to collaborate and partner with the right people based on an alignment of objectives and culture. It’s when you don’t tick all the boxes that things don’t work out.
2. Make sure you get the basics right
Never neglect business fundamentals. Do you have the processes and systems in place to scale the business?
3. Understand your value proposition
Are you on a journey with your clients? Is your value proposition aligned to the need you’re trying to solve for your clients? Are you looking ahead of the curve — what’s the problem, what are your clients saying and are you being proactive in leveraging that relationship?
4. Unpack your value chain
If you want to diversify, understand your value chain. What is it, where are the opportunities both horizontally and vertically within your client base, and what other solutions can you offer based on your areas of expertise?
8. Don’t ignore technology
Be aware of what’s happening in the tech space and where you can use it to enable your business. Tech impacts everything, even more traditional industries. Businesses that embrace technology work smarter, faster and often at a lower cost base.
Ultimately, Desigan and Shawn believe that success often just comes down to attitude. “We have one entrepreneur in our programme who applied twice,” says Shawn. “When he was rejected, he listened to the feedback we gave him and instead of thinking we were wrong, went away, made changes and came back. He was willing to learn and open himself up to different ways of approaching things. That business has grown from R300 000 per annum to R20 million since joining us.
“Too many business owners aren’t willing to evaluate and adjust how they do things. It’s those who want to learn and embrace change and growth that excel.”
Networking, collaborating and mentoring
Property Point holds regular networking sessions called Entrepreneurship To The Point. They are open to the public and have two core aims. First, to provide entrepreneurs access to top speakers and entrepreneurs, and second, to give like-minded business owners an opportunity to network and possibly even collaborate.
“We believe in the power of collaboration and networking,” says Desigan.
“Most of our alumni become mentors themselves to new entrants to the programme. They want to share what they have learnt with other entrepreneurs, but they also know that they can learn from newer and younger entrepreneurs. The business landscape is always changing. Insights can come from anywhere and everywhere.”
The To The Point sessions are designed to help business owners widen their network, whether they are Property Point entrepreneurs or not.
To find out more, visit www.ettp.co.za
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