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Quinton van der Burgh on Changing the Game

From selling phones from the boot of his car in Pretoria, to making and losing millions, Quinton van der Burgh has had his fair share of highs and lows. This self-made billionaire has always remained a risk-taker, and even though those risks haven’t always paid off, he’s kept his eye on the prize.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • 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.

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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.

Entrepreneurial family

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

Quinton-van-der-Burgh-investments

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.

Leaving school

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.

Related: Amy Kleinhans-Curd on Lifelong Entrepreneurship

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.

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

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.

Related: How Mark Sham Earned His Suits & Sneakers

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.

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From 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.

Related: Lichaba Creations Founder Max Lichaba’s Inspiring Journey To Entrepreneurial Success

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
an option.

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.

Related: Watershed Frontman on Why Talent Will Only Get You So Far

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

Quinton-van-der-Burgh-successful-entrepreneurMy number one rule is to have integrity. Always honour what you say you’ll do. Think long-term. Where’s the next goal? What’s happening in ten years?

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.

Related: Self-Made Millionaire At 24 Marnus Broodryk On How To Build A R1 Billion Business

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.

Related: Afritorch Digital An Overnight Success That Was Years In The Making

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.

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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.

Innovate Africa

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.

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“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.

Clifton Shores

Clifton-shores-south-africaWe 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.

Doing Good

Generosity-waterThe non-profit Generosity was launched seven years ago by Jordan Wagner and his father.

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.

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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.


Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

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

Entrepreneur Profiles

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

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

Nadine Todd

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appanna-ganapathy

Vital Stats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Price and solution go hand-in-hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

appanna-ganapathy-art-technologies

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

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

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

4. Stay focused

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

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

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

Appanna chose his partners carefully with this goal in mind.

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

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

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

5. Reputation, network and experience count

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Start smart and start lean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Into Africa

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

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

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

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Entrepreneur Profiles

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

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

Diana Albertyn

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

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

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

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

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Entrepreneur Profiles

30 Top Influential SA Business Leaders

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

Nicole Crampton

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

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

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

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