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The Courier Guy: Steven Gleisner

Steven Gleisner went from planning a trip to Mozambique with R2 000 in his pocket, and almost accidently bootstrapping a business, to launching a successful franchise that supports franchisees who, like him, could not normally have afforded to buy into a franchise.

Nadine Todd

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Steven Gleisner

Over the past few years, bakkies emblazoned with The Courier Guy logo have become a common fixture on the roads of Johannesburg. More recently, the brand has expanded to Durban and Cape Town, and the franchise has its sights set on gaining a strong national footing.

Based on a unique franchising model, it’s a simple concept built on always maintaining personalised service to ensure repeat customers, working together, and providing franchisees the chance to be their own bosses, even without large start-up capital. From the moment he began developing the franchise model, founder and franchise owner Steven Gleisner knew he wanted to provide his franchisees with the opportunities he himself hadn’t had.

Road to Nowhere

By the time Gleisner was in his late 30s, he had dedicated 15 years to the food franchise industry in various managerial roles. And he didn’t have much to show for it. He had worked his way up through the managerial ranks of first Pleasure Foods and later McDonald’s – including being trained in Chicago in order to work in South Africa’s head office, training prospective franchisees and staff – but he had no real plans for the future. “The experience at McDonald’s was great,” he says, adding that training in Chicago was particularly gratifying, but always the same problem presented itself: where was he headed?

“I was an area manager, I knew the McDonald’s system like the back of my hand – I even trained new franchisees – but I couldn’t get the finance to open my own store.” Without surety, the dream of owning his own franchise was a pipe dream at best. The thought of working for someone else for the rest of his life soon turned to disillusionment, and by the mid-1990s, knowing nothing but the restaurant business, Gleisner decided to sell everything, buy a motorcycle and head for Mozambique. “I had R2 000 in my pocket and no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But I was determined to figure it out.” Gleisner’s plan was to head for the beaches of our more tropical neighbour, regroup, and take things from there. “In all honesty, I had no real plan,” he admits. “I just knew that I was in my late 30s, I had no real prospects where I was, and I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.”

A Man and His Bike

And then fate intervened. Having already quit his job, sold everything and bought a bike, Gleisner was waiting for his visa to come through and killing time. Knowing this, his cousin asked him for a favour. “My cousin’s business was corporate gifts. She phoned me and asked me to drop off a sample at the printers because her courier service had let her down. I said no problem and hopped on my bike.”

When he arrived, the printer asked him, “Are you the courier guy?” Gleisner decided it was easier to simply say yes than explain the whole story. “It turned out that the printer needed a favour too. He had a parcel that he needed to get to Sandton, and he asked me how much I charged. I had no idea what the going rate was. I had a bike, so petrol was cheaper than if I was driving a car and I had time on my hands. So I said R20, which was enough to cover the costs of delivering his package. Turns out R20 was pretty cheap.”

Gleisner also gave his cellphone number to the printer, in case the woman who he was delivering the package to wanted to track her parcel. “The very next day my phone rang. The printer had recommended me to a company in Doornfontein. When I answered the phone the guy on the other end of the line asked me if I was the courier guy. He had heard I delivered packages for R20.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Gleisner never made it to Mozambique: he started a courier company instead.

Getting Started

“At the beginning, all I had was my bike and the R2 000 I had saved for Mozambique. My first clients were my cousin and her clients, and anyone who heard of me through word-of-mouth.”

Gleisner soon found out just how important word-of-mouth marketing was. “I experienced the most phenomenal organic growth. I didn’t officially have a business or a name, but ‘the courier guy’ had stuck, I was affordable, and I gave great, personalised service. My clients recommended me to their friends and other businesses, and soon I was so busy I actually needed to trade in the bike for a bakkie.”

This all happened within four months. And business got busier still. “I had learnt the value of excellent service and the personal touch during my days in fast food franchises. Yes, people – and businesses in particular – appreciate speed, but service isn’t only in how fast you deliver. It’s also in understanding your clients and their needs. I put a face to the courier business that my clients hadn’t experienced before.”

Things were going well, but there were hard lessons ahead. Growth meant that soon Gleisner couldn’t do the job alone anymore. He bought a second vehicle and hired another driver. This grew into a third and fourth vehicle, and more drivers. And suddenly the business started losing the personal touch that Gleisner had brought when it was just him and his bike.

“My clients started complaining. The communication and level of commitment that we had offered them was changing. We had lost the personal touch.” Gleisner realised that he needed to get back to his roots. “I needed guys in the van who weren’t only employees, but had a vested interest in the business, as I had, and understood business, marketing and above all customer service.”

By this stage Gleisner had been operating for almost three years. The millennium was on the horizon, and he was trying to figure out a way that he could take the model he had developed as the original ‘courier guy’, and turn it into a large, successful business, without losing the core of why he had been successful in the first place. And then inspiration struck. His background was in franchising. Why not franchise the concept?

Vested Interests

“I realised that the way to grow ‘the courier guy’ concept was to create a business where each driver had a vested interest in the growth of the business. A franchise provides that, because each franchisee takes responsibility for their area.” So Gleisner set about creating a franchise system. His experience in developing systems, operations manuals and training programmes stood him in good stead. His only real challenge was creating a system that worked for the courier industry.

“A friend of mine ran a local removals company, Able Removals, and he had a warehouse. He let me park the bakkies there, and I operated from the maids quarters connected to the warehouse. I had an office, and a ‘central depot’. I also approached Franchising Plus to help me fine-tune the concept and the operations manual. I then found new premises in Northriding, north of Johannesburg. If I wanted to eventually sell franchises, I couldn’t be operating from maids quarters.”

Gleisner tested his new concept with three franchisees. “I had five vehicles at this point, which was the only part of my business that was financed. I had grown the business organically from the R2 000 I started with, and by this stage the only credit line I had was a R20 000 overdraft facility, and the financed vehicles. I had a very good relationship with my banker though. He understood what I was trying to achieve. His support and advice were invaluable.”

With three new franchisees, all of whom were associates of associates who had heard about the concept and were interested in seeing if they could make it work, Gleisner launched

The Courier Guy as a franchise

The concept is simple. Based on the idea of ‘the man in the van’, franchisees are owner/operators who pick up packages, make deliveries and maintain personal contact with their clients. “I wanted to offer our clients a personalised logistics service. This meant they didn’t need a driver, and they could send packages throughout the country.”

The fact that drivers are owner/operators means they bring the same level of personalised service to the business that Gleisner had when he started the company on his own, and the franchise concept with a consolidated head office allows The Courier Guy to send packages throughout South Africa. “The three franchisees proved the system worked. Through word-of-mouth I started getting more people interested in joining the group, and only later did I start advertising.” Today, the Courier Guy has 52 areas, with 41 franchisees operating in those areas, and although the bulk of these are situated in Gauteng, there are franchisees in Durban and Cape Town, and Gleisner’s goal is to establish a nationwide footprint.

The Franchise

Having long since outgrown the original warehouse where he started the franchise, Gleisner has built a head office and central depot in Kya Sands, near the N14 in Joburg. From the depot, franchisees have access to most main centres without accessing the SANRAL toll routes, a significant cost saving for both franchisees and clients.

The Courier Guy franchisees buy areas. Aside from Johannesburg, there are also central depots in Cape Town and Durban, and the franchisees operate from these depots. This means that their offices are their vehicles. Why? Because The Courier Guy’s brand is based on personal service. Franchisees are expected to visit each of their clients personally, so they are on the road, fetching and delivering packages daily. There is also room for growth. Franchisees who prove themselves are given the opportunity to buy additional areas and employ drivers. But, the level of personal service must always be maintained.

“I needed franchisees to take a chance on me at the beginning, but the ultimate goal was also to help people who wouldn’t have normally been able to afford going out on their own to own their own businesses, and work for themselves. I couldn’t buy my own franchise when I was still in the food sector, and I’ve never forgotten that feeling. I wanted to be my own boss, and I couldn’t get the financing to realise my dream.”

Today, Gleisner has built a company from scratch, but The Courier Guy’s model allows franchisees to join his vision without large upfront expenses. A once-off fee purchases exclusive rights to an area. This upfront fee is determined by the size and location of the area. Franchisees do not pay marketing fees or franchise fees, but they are expected to generate ten qualified leads per month. Leads mean business for everyone.

The franchisee makes their money from packages picked up or delivered. The franchisor invoices clients and takes care of the administrative side of the business. The franchisee is then paid a fixed fee per package.

This means there is no competition between franchisees. All packages are delivered to the central depot, sorted, and distributed to the franchisees operating in the destination areas. So packages collected in Sandton by one franchisee are delivered in Claremont in Cape Town by another. If packages need to travel to another province, head office arranges transport to the franchisee in that province, or through an independent operator. Head office also holds a few areas itself.

“My aim is to grow the footprint so that we no longer need to rely on independent operators at all. I even want a few line haul trucks in our fleet for the long-distance deliveries.”

Franchisees need to be able to purchase a new vehicle – the image of The Courier Guy is important, and Gleisner insists that no vehicles over five years old or in disrepair make deliveries. There are incentives for growth. Over and above waybill payments, franchisees are offered incentives in the form of commission. Brackets of business to the value of R100 000, between R100 000 and R150 000 and over R150 000 qualify the franchisee for a certain percentage of commission.

The idea is that the added income helps franchisees grow their own business, as well as concentrate on service delivery to generate repeat business and referrals.

“This business started because I had a bike, time and I understood the value of customer service. Today I’m realising my own dream of owning a business, but I’m also helping others to do the same,” concludes Gleisner.

The franchise model

As a freight consolidator, The Courier Guy provides its franchisees with the following:

  • A central depot where packages can be brought to be delivered by other franchisees in their areas, giving franchisees access to a nationwide-courier system.
  • Line haul and airfreight to deliver packages in other parts of the country.
  • The franchisor invoices all clients directly, and pays franchisees per waybill. This means the franchisees do not carry any of the risks of clients who cannot pay.
  • The franchisor owns the depot and provides operations staff, including admin staff, a call centre, area managers, track and trace services and debtors.
  • Franchisees manage their own areas, including staff, and are expected to own their own vehicles, which must be under five years old.

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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Who’s Leading Your Business Billy Selekane Asks – You Or The Monkey On Your Back?

You’re either a change-maker, or someone who is influenced by the shifting conditions around you. The truly successful know how to determine their own destinies. Here’s how they do it.

Nadine Todd

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  • Player: Billy Selekane
  • Company: Billy Selekane and Associates
  • About: Billy Selekane is an author, internationally acclaimed inspirational keynote speaker, and a personal, team and organisational effectiveness specialist.
  • Visit: billyselekanespeaks.com

We live in a world of disruption. We live in a world where Airbnb’s valuation is $31 billion, but the Hilton’s market cap is $30 billion. Airbnb doesn’t own one square kilometre, and yet they’re worth more than the world’s biggest hotel chains with enormous assets. We live in a world where things have been turned upside down.

In this brave new world, you can either thrive, or fight to survive. As a leader in your organisation, the choices you make, the mental mind-space you occupy and how you engage with those around you, will determine your personal success, as well as that of your entire organisation.

“The business of business is people. You can’t just pay lip service to the idea that they are your most important asset. You need to live it. Leaders must be intelligent and honest. You can’t just push people to meet the numbers,” says Billy Selekane, personal and business mastery expert and international speaker.

The problem is that great leaders need to first find balance within, before they can successfully lead their organisations.

“Things can no longer be done the same way,” says Billy. “Success today is defined by people who are driven, are inspired by their own lives and goals, and have the power and capability to inspire others.” But before you can achieve any of this, you need to rid yourself of the monkey on your back.

Related: Billy Selekane

The monkey on your back

“If I continue doing what I’m doing, and thinking what I’m thinking, I’ll continue to have what I have,” says Billy. “That’s the definition of insanity. Are you doing things by default or design?”

Billy’s analogy is a simple one. It’s something we can all relate to, and it’s the single biggest thing stopping us from clearing our minds, focusing on the positive and achieving success. He calls it the monkey on our backs.

“Every one of us is born with an invisible monkey on their shoulder,” says Billy. “Your monkey is always with you. Sometimes they’re the one speaking, and you need to be careful of that.” What you need to be even more aware of than your own monkey though, is everyone else’s monkeys.

“Every interaction we have is an opportunity for what I call a monkey download. You have an argument with your spouse before work, and you end up getting into your car with not only your monkey, but theirs as well. Your irritation level has doubled thanks to the extra monkey. Now you get irritated with a pointsman, another driver or a taxi on your way to work. You’ve just added three monkeys.

“By the time you walk into the office, you’re bringing an entire village of monkeys with you. They’re clamouring, clattering, arguing with each other, and the noise is deafening. Not only does everyone get out of your way, but you can’t hear yourself think. And the more your mood drops, the more monkeys you download from the people around you. This is not the path to focus, achieving your goals or being happy. It’s certainly not the path to great leadership.

“Great leaders know how to keep all those monkeys out. They know how to control their moods, and regulate their own positivity. They understand that they are the architects of their own success.”

Getting out of the monkey business

To be a great leader — and personally successful and happy — you need to start by getting out of your own way, and as Billy calls it, ‘getting out of the monkey business.’ You need to not only shake your own monkey, but everyone else’s as well.

According to Billy, there are four simple areas you can begin focusing on today that will help you become the person (and leader) you want to be.

First, honesty is the foundation of everything else you should be doing. “Be clear and straight. Speak to people simply and honestly, but with respect. Connect with them, not through the head, but with the heart. Don’t play tricks.”

Related: 5 Top Lessons From LAWTrust To Prepare For Super-Charged Growth

Next, be authentic. All great leaders are authentic, and recognised as such. Aligned with this is integrity. “This is sadly out of stock, not only in South Africa, but the world,” says Billy.

“There is nothing as disturbing as a leader without integrity, and on a personal level, you won’t achieve emotional stability if you aren’t a person of integrity.”

Finally, you need to embrace love. “Wish your employees well. Wish your family, friends and connections well. When we are given love, and trusted to perform, we take that and pay it forward. In the case of business, this means your employees are giving the same love to customers, but if everyone showed a little more love, the world would be a better place. When people feel cared for, they show up with their hearts and wallets, and they pay it forward.

“Great leaders understand this. They don’t only focus on making themselves better, but adding to everyone around them. Remember this: In every business, there are no bad employees, just bad leaders. Employees are a reflection of that.”

If you want to build a better future, business or life, you need to start with yourself.


Do this

Stop letting negative thoughts and minor irritations derail you. You are the master of your moods and thoughts, so take personal responsibility for them.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Shark Tank Funded Start-up Native Decor’s Founder on Investment, Mentorship And Dreaming Big

Vusani Ravele secured offers from every single Shark in the first episode of Shark Tank South Africa, eventually settling on an offer from Gil Oved from The Creative Counsel. Entrepreneur asked to him how this investment has changed his business.

GG van Rooyen

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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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