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11 Secrets Of South African Entrepreneurs On Making It To The Top

This comprehensive guide will help you learn valuable lessons from leading South African entrepreneurs on how to succeed in life – and in business.

Nicole Crampton

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Nicholas-Bell

Although it’s tough, you can succeed nonetheless

These 11 South African entrepreneurs have experienced their fair share of ups and downs. Some of them needed life changing events, and external criticism in order to pivot or launch their finally successful business or venture. But in the end, they persevered and today run some of the most thriving companies in the country.

It’s becoming clearer to many that the journey of an entrepreneur is difficult one. They start out in their garages, and some sleep in their cars to save capital. A few realise, after years of running their businesses, that it can’t scale and they’ll need to pivot. Life also happens, which means entrepreneurs also wade through life altering events that regularly drive them re-evaluate their life’s path.

Here are 11 of South Africa’s best and brightest businesspeople, sharing their stories and advice on how they overcame obstacles and struggles in order to achieve success:

Mphela & Associates on scaling their legal services enterprise

maditsi-mphela-associates

Maditsi Mphela

Vital Stats

  • Player: Maditsi Mphela
  • Company: Mphela & Associates
  • Established: 1986
  • Turnover: R100 million
  • Visit: mphela.co.za

As a lawyer, Maditsi Mphela didn’t really consider himself a businessman. But, when he started his own legal practice that is exactly what he became. Law firms are service-orientated businesses, which are notoriously difficult to scale. This is because lawyers are highly-skilled professionals and each case can take lengthy amounts of time.

As the owner, Mphela employed skilled and ‘expensive’ people who spent a lot of time on each case. There was a need to reposition in order to access a growing client base and to facilitate access to the High Court. His practice at the time was successful, earning him R10 000 in the first year and growing from 1 000 to 15 000 clients, but it started to stagnate and he needed to figure out how to scale it.

The Top Secret

Mphela found the answer by finding a specific focus for his business. Instead of being a general practice, Mphela and Associates would focus their energies on personal injury cases and cases against the state. He found that other cases were requiring more work and time, and offered relatively low incomes for his team. So, he re-engineered his firm to focus on areas that yielded huge returns.

Related: South African Entrepreneurs Blazing a Trail Overseas

Decision Inc. had to pivot to build a sustainable business

Nicholas Bell

Nicholas Bell

Vital Stats

  • Player: Nicholas Bell
  • Company: Decision Inc.
  • Established: 2008
  • Turnover: R116 million
  • Visit: decisioninc.co.za

Nicholas Bell launched his business that serviced big corporates and positioned it as a value partner. Five years after launching, his turnover was R21 million and he boasted clients like Simba, Harmony, SAB and Sibanye Gold. However, when meeting with an International Selection Panel to join Endeavour, they told him that they didn’t believe his business could scale, as the Intellectual Property wasn’t his, and that he was open to disruption.

“The feedback made me look at the business critically and evaluate our strengths and weaknesses,” he says. Bell realised that Decision Inc. was open to disruption if someone bought their single vendor. He also looked into who controlled his company’s licence to trade.

The Top Secret  

Once these weakness had been identified, Bell systematically solved each one. First, he partnered with other vendors to avoid future possible disruption from only having one vendor. Then, he turned his attention to IP: “We’re an intellectual business that relies on human capital. Our IP resides in a lot of people’s heads. We needed to get it out of [their] heads and into the business,” explains Bell.

His business had a high capacity, but more employees couldn’t do the work faster. He needed to change his business model, which is what he did. Bell’s business is now worth more than R100 million and in the next five years his business could be worth 10 times return on investment.

Get creative when the pay cheques stop coming

jerusha-govender

Jerusha Govender

Vital Stats

When Jerusha Govender went on maternity leave with her first child, her company decided to not renew her contract for economic reasons. Within weeks of the birth of her son, she had registered her business, Data Innovator. But, how would she get her idea to market? If you can’t get customers to pay for your service, you don’t have a business.

The Top Secret 

“I contacted everyone I knew. That’s a real plus point to working for a few years before you start your own business. The industry gets to know you, you build up a track record and develop necessary experience and expertise to be really innovative in your field,” she says.

However, Govender didn’t have a proven track record as a business owner, so she offered her services for free for a specific period of time to grow trust with her customers. This business model was risky, but in Govender’s case it paid off. She told her clients up front that after two free reports, she would need to be paid for her services, and they agreed. Now, her business is based entirely on referrals and clients have kept coming since she entered the market.

Related: 8 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Proudly South African Businesses

TBO Touch on fighting an uphill battle against your critics

TBO Touch

TBO Touch

Vital Stats

  • Player: TBO Touch
  • Company: Touch Central, serial entrepreneur
  • Established: 2016
  • Visit: touchcentral.fm

When TBO Touch started his career on Metro FM, critics were quick to predict that he wouldn’t be able to grow his primetime show into an asset. His goal, however, was to change the business of radio by converting three hours of radio into a ‘movement’. Throughout his entrepreneurial exploits, it’s argued that the ‘media’ is waiting for him to fail, as he’s already made headlines several times.

The Top Secret

“My mantra from the beginning of my career has been to under-promise and over-deliver.” This method allowed him to consistently keep his clients happy and coming back for more, despite what was happening in the press.

Another top secret that helped TBO Touch go from strength to strength is to continuously have a positive mindset.

“Everything looks big and daunting until you realise how easy it is when you reach the top. There is no such thing as impossible. There are minds and attitudes that create excuses not to attain goals, that’s all.”

Self-doubt or second guessing yourself can have a detrimental impact on your business, it’s better to rather be positive about your business and the direction you’re heading in.

Demographica learnt the hard lesson of adapt and grow or be left behind

Warren Moss

Warren Moss

Vital Stats

Demographica has been around for a decade already, and during this time the company has enjoyed tremendous growth. But, it had to pivot the business to maintain its growth curve.

Long-term companies can see massive disruption heading down the pipeline and that’s what happened with Demographica.

“Things like the Consumer Protection Act and the Protection of Personal Information Act were coming into being, so I realised that a database service like ours would come under threat. If we wanted to keep going we would have to change our business,” says Moss.

The Top Secret

“We weren’t simply sending out emails. We were constantly solving problems for clients. Our clients were asking us for help, and we started to build a reputation as a business that could provide advice and insight on a strategic level. We realised this was an area we could focus on, and so we started to turn into more of an agency, with a focus on direct marketing,” Moss explains.

Demographica not only pivoted, but also carved out a significant niche to operate in. “Since changing over, the company has grown by 200%.” So they completely changed their offering and overhauled the whole company in order to avoid being disrupted and to scale effectively.

Related: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs

Planet Fitness started with no credit record, no assets and no money

Manny Rivera

Manny Rivera

Vital Stats

  • Player: Manny Rivera
  • Company: Planet Fitness
  • Established: 1995
  • Turnover: R850 million
  • Company worth: Between R2 billion and R3 billion
  • Visit: planetfitness.co.za, www.justgym.co.za

“I started out with no backing, no cash, and no major corporate infrastructure behind me.” But, Manny Rivera was going to launch a major fitness brand to compete with the Health and Racquet Club no matter what.

“I had pure blind passion and only the end in mind. That’s what I focused on. I had a clear vision: I wanted to be the most profitable and successful health club in South Africa…and beyond,” says Rivera.

The first challenge was gaining skills, credibility and a share of the market: “The trick is to focus on what you do have and not what you don’t have.”

The Top Secret

Manny Rivera used the fact that he was starting smaller to his advantage. His competition wouldn’t be paying attention to him. “I knew they’d underestimate the little guy,” he says.

“I found a stand-alone club with nice, old-school equipment and started negotiating with the owner. I couldn’t get a loan to buy the business, so I had to make him an attractive offer that suited both our needs.” Rivera offered the gym owner R50 000 a month with a 10% escalation per year for the next ten years, after that the gym would be his, and that was his first stepping-stone to building a fitness empire.

Do what you know, especially if you can do it better than everyone else

busi-skenjana

Busi Skenjana

Vital Stats

  • Player: Busi Skenjana
  • Company: Brand Support Keys Marketing
  • Established: 2002
  • Visit: bskmarketing.co.za

Busi Skenjana wanted to become an entrepreneur, but she couldn’t figure out precisely what she should do. “I knew I needed a niche for myself,” says Skenjana. She understood that she had to comprehend her customers, their needs and their challenges and relate her message in a way that made them care about what she was telling them. Except, she just didn’t have an audience.

Skenjana has been a member of a stokvel her entire adult life, and it’s an industry that she knows intimately.

“I could see where brands were getting it wrong. Big companies were doing brand activations in black communities, but they were missing the mark,” says Skenjana.

The Top Secret

She suddenly realised this should be the industry she should focus on for her marketing business. Big business was missing the social path to their target marker, but Skenjana knew where they would be.

“Every Saturday there are thousands of stokvel meetings happening around the country. People are engaging with each other on a social level. It’s an engaged audience and far more focused than people at taxi ranks or in malls,” explains Skenjana.

Another top secret, Skenjana says: “If you put your market first and really focus on their needs, success will naturally follow, because you’ll be offering a service that adds real value to businesses and lives.”

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

Partner with your competitor to continue experiencing growth

Rent my ride

Rent my ride

Vital Stats

  • Player: Rudolf Vavruch and Peter Puren
  • Company: RentMyRide
  • Visit: rentmyride.co.za

Peer-to-peer car rental is an exciting business model in its own right within South Africa. There is, however, some debate around how much growth these sorts of businesses can achieve given the largely higher LSM’s and corporate entities that this model initially appealed to.

Being unable to scale would have eventually caused RentMyRide to become stagnant and the business would have slowly downsized, or faced disruption by a competitor.

 The Top Secret

Recognising this potentially limited growth, the founders of RentMyRide partnered with Uber in South Africa to provide easy and equitable solutions for both fleet partners. A separate business and platform, DriverSelect, connects these parties and enables the owners to still get great returns on their vehicles, but with far less involvement in the administration of their fleet.

Launching amidst a global economic crisis made Car Service City stronger

grant-brady-car-service-city

Grant Brady

Vital Stats

For a young company, launching and being hit by a global economic crisis is the worst scenario you can think of. Establishing and growing a business under normal circumstances is hard enough, but when the world’s economy contracts, it can be nearly impossible to succeed.

But, Car Service City didn’t close down like many other businesses did when the Global Financial Crisis of 2009 hit. They flourished. And, over the past decade the brand has expanded to over 60 franchise locations nationwide.

The Top Secret

“We believe our business is recession-proof because road transport is the main method of transport for South Africa. Because we use cars so much, we need to keep them in top condition. The maintenance of vehicles is therefore key to keep them in top conditions,” Brady says.

Car Service City also focuses their attention on one-man-show car service businesses. This allowed them to both convert the competition and create new experienced owner-managers.

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

Avoid assumptions that a great career will come with time and patience

Kate Moodley

Kate Moodley

Vital Stats

  • Player: Kate Moodley
  • Company: Discovery Consulting Services
  • Established: 2010
  • Visit: www.katemoodley.co.za

In her early 20s, Kate Moodley was told to have patience and build her career. Trying to beat this misconception can take many years for entrepreneurs to overcome. Listening to bad advice can be just as devastating as a disruptor or an economic crisis.

Thankfully Moodley was far too impatient to wait ten years for a promotion, which is how she became a GM at Momentum by 26.

The Top Secret

She achieved her promotion by upskilling herself while she looked for opportunities. “I went out and taught myself the skills I needed to fill that role. Typically, successful people are doing things that other people don’t want to do. Where you put in effort is where you’ll see the rewards.”

Moodley focuses religiously on her self-development and keeps herself disciplined enough to work on it continuously.

“Do it the right way. Don’t choose options that make it easier in the short term – think long-term; learn more, look longer and further into the future,” she says.

A man with ‘only matric’ on becoming a universally loved brand

brian-altriche-rocomamas-franchise-south-africa

Brian Altriche

Vital stats

  • Player: Brian Altriche
  • Company: RocoMamas
  • Launched: 2014
  • Visit: rocomammas.com

Brian Altriche started his work life airbrushing Harley Davidsons and leather jackets on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. During the late 80’s, early 90’s it was finally time to return to the new South Africa.

He moved to Yeoville and started painting signage for restaurants. Altriche had no tertiary qualifications, but he was creative, and a fast learner. He was paying attention to branding and marketing, and figuring out what customers responded to. And then his accident happened, he broke his arm and leg along with sustaining a head injury. He was stranded in hospital. During his time in hospital he re-evaluated his life path.

The Top Secret

He became obsessed with visualisation, the visualising of his life path, what a successful brand should look like, various options for how customers would experience a particular offering. Nothing would happen until he visualised it down to the tiniest detail, because once he saw it perfectly in his mind’s eye, he could aim for it and achieve it.

Twenty years later, this fanatical relationship with the power of visualisation would lead directly to the launch of RocoMamas, which is arguably one of the most successful new food chains in South Africa’s fast, casual dining sector.

Related: Funding And Resources For Young SA Entrepreneurs

Next Slideshow: 10 Inspirational African Entrepreneurs

abasiama-idaresit

Abasiama Idaresit

Nicole Crampton is an online writer for Entrepreneur Magazine. She has studied a BA Journalism at Monash South Africa. Nicole has also completed several courses in writing and online marketing.

Lessons Learnt

The Daily Schedules Of 10 Famous Business Billionaires

Get inspired by the daily schedules of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey and other seven-figure leaders.

Entrepreneur

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sara-blakely

What do some of the world’s most famous billionaire business leaders have in common? Clearly, they’re all intelligent, driven, hard-working and have lots of digits in their account balances, but the similarities mostly stop when you compare their daily routines.

If you want to know how long you should sleep, when you should wake up, how long and whether you should work out or other lifestyle choices, you won’t find a consensus among the business elite. What you will find is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of individuals who have more money than most of the people on Earth combined.

Click through the slides to read about the daily routines of billionaires including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey, as gleaned from clues they’ve dropped throughout the years in interviews and speeches.

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Lessons Learnt

Critical Lessons Dan Newman Took From CEOwise Interviews And Applied In His Own Business

When I reached the point in my business where I realised I needed to make a change if I wanted to achieve real scale, I turned to other successful entrepreneurs. What I learnt has changed my business, and helped me launch new companies with stronger foundations.

CEOwise

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ceowise

After running my agency, Druff Interactive for over 15 years, I came to the stark realisation that I should have been in a different position with my business. It should have been bigger, more successful. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a bad business — quite the opposite. But it could have been more.

Determined to become a better entrepreneur, I decided to start learning from the best. I figured the best way to access the knowledge, experience and lessons I was looking for was by interviewing successful entrepreneurs with the goal of implementing what I learnt in my own business. The result is CEOwise, a collection of interviews and videos that not only document my journey of learning, but lessons I can share with fellow entrepreneurs as well.

Living up to potential

I began my entrepreneurial journey in 2001 when I launched my web and design agency, Druff Interactive. From the very beginning I thought my business would grow organically. I believed my turnover would increase each year, as would my profits, and that I would keep moving forward, year on year, until I reached 40 and could retire comfortably. In this rosy future, I’d never have financial stress again. I couldn’t have been more off the mark.

Being an entrepreneur is like being a new parent. In the beginning, it’s all excitement and butterflies. But then you get home from the hospital and realise you’re living with much more responsibility on less sleep. Such is a new business, and the reality is that you just have to deal with it and make it work.

In our first eight years, Druff grew from just me working from a spare room in our townhouse to a staff complement of 11 by 2010. I was growing organically (as planned), but in a lot of ways, that was actually a risk, at least when it came to growth. Entrepreneurs who do experience organic growth often become complacent. Although Druff was a successful business, I wasn’t pushing it as much as I should have and we began to stagnate.

The very first entrepreneur I interviewed for CEOwise, Rich Mullholland, said that “Success is only important when measured on potential, and the company has not grown according to potential at all, therefore it’s a failure.” He was speaking about his own company, Missing Link, but the lesson really struck a chord with me. I too believed that Druff hadn’t lived up to its potential.

It was one of my biggest issues. When times were great I should have been innovating and pushing my business into different areas. Allon Raiz, founder of Raizcorp, says that he’s seen too many entrepreneurs take their foot off the pedal, become complacent and their success becomes the seed of their failure.

Related: How Dinesh Patel Pivoted OrderIn Into A Successful Food Delivery App

Focused on growth

These were lessons I only started articulating after I began CEOwise, but the truth of them was already becoming apparent to me before I launched the series. Between 2010 and 2016 we worked with great clients and built an awesome portfolio of work. I was proud of what we’d achieved. And yet I knew that after 15 years the business should have been in a different position.

In hindsight, another mistake I made was not having a proper sales force to bring in the clients. We relied mainly on word-of-mouth referrals and Google Adwords to bring in sales and grow organically. Adwords was great in the beginning and the cost per click (CPC) was cheap, but as more companies got on board, CPC became more costly and less effective. And yet I didn’t adjust my strategy. Allon also says that 10% of your team should be dedicated to sales full time. Mine was not.

By December 2016 I reached the decision to start making major changes in my business. I knew I needed to learn from the best of the best, which meant tapping into South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs. I also realised that if I was in this position, perhaps many other entrepreneurs were too. CEOwise documents my journey of learning, but it also allows me to share it. My vision is to help more people become CEO ‘wise’, so they can become wiser CEOs.

My idea was never to have a boring sit-down, boardroom interview. When I started, I wanted each interview to be centred around an activity. I contacted my first entrepreneur, Rich Mullholland, whom I’d known for many years, and asked him if he’d go SCAD free falling with me, while doing an interview on all the insights on entrepreneurship he’s learnt over the years. He was in! We ended up suspended inside one of the Soweto towers, dropping 50 metres into a net, discussing entrepreneurship. It was a complete win. At the time, Rich was just about to launch his own vlog called ‘The Get Rich Quick Show’, which I still follow to this day (and suggest you do too).

Related: Benji Coetzee Never Worked In Logistics, Find Out How She Launched Empty Trips A Successful Logistics Marketplace

Finding solutions

Since launching CEOwise in March 2017, I have interviewed over 30 entrepreneurs, each with their own story and advice. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is that there are many ways to solve a problem. This led to the creation of a segment called ‘CEOwise Advice’, in which I ask each entrepreneur to answer the same question. The variety of answers to the same question is fascinating, and proves that there are many ways to approach a situation. I’m now in the process of creating CEOwise Mentors, which asks five entrepreneurs the same question.

Over the past two years I’ve learnt even more than I hoped for. I’ve been inspired to make changes in Druff, and I’ve also started new businesses that I’ve brought my new-found knowledge into, with the goal to do things correctly from the beginning.

I’ve also fallen in love with learning, which is why I’ve read more books in the past year than I have in my entire life. I’m on a mission to become a raging success. I know I’m going to make mistakes along the way. That’s how we learn. But I’m also a better entrepreneur since I started this journey.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is not to be scared of competition, but to embrace competitors instead. When I met Gary Leicher, founder of Smudge, at a Suits & Sneakers networking event, I decided to put this particular lesson into action. Smudge had been a competitor of ours in the web design and development space for many years. Gary said he’d wanted to meet me for a while and I suggested we get together for a coffee the following week. We sat down for lunch and four hours later, after discussing the industry and processes we used, we swopped notes and left wiser than when we arrived. Don’t be scared of competition, embrace it. There is always something to learn from your fellow entrepreneurs. You just have to be open to the lessons.

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Lessons Learnt

Entrepreneur Erik Kruger On The Importance Of Clarity And Embracing Failure

Erik Kruger has walked his own personal development journey, and now he’s helping other entrepreneurs find their ‘best’.

Nadine Todd

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erik-kruger

Vital Stats

How does a physiotherapist who dreamed of touring the world with sports teams become a mental performance coach for high-impact entrepreneurs? Ask Erik Kruger and the term he’ll use is ‘accretion’, the process of growing and adding layers through experiences.

The point is key: No journey is ever a straight line from point A to point B. Most of us spend years figuring out what we want to do through a process of elimination. It’s by doing that we figure out what we like and don’t like; what ignites passion in us, and what we’re good at.

Erik’s journey began in physiotherapy. He graduated in 2007 and started his own private practice with a friend in 2009. He was quickly realising that his dream wasn’t aligning with reality though. “My goal was to be the physio who toured with the springboks. Instead, I was locuming at hospitals and travelling two hours a day to reach my private practice offices,” says Erik. “I couldn’t see my future in it.”

It’s an interesting lesson: Until you do something, you won’t always know if it aligns with your expectations and goals. But no experience is ever a waste. “Physiotherapy ended up allowing me to have a side hustle. I could pay the bills while I figured out my entrepreneurial journey, because I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started. I registered 45 domain names before I settled on Better Man, and Better Man led me to the Mental Performance Lab and my coaching business.”

Launches and lessons

While he was still in private practice, Erik met fellow entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor, Marnus Broodryk. “Marnus was still in his own start-up phase. We were at FTV and he was handing out business cards for his accounting business, The Beancounter, to everyone he met. I took one, but only ended up contacting him months later because I needed to set up a website, and I thought he’d be able to give me some guidance.”

The website was for the practice, and Marnus helped Erik via skype to set up his first WordPress site. In Erik’s own words, it was a terrible website, but the bug bit. From that moment onwards, Erik’s newfound love affair with the digital space began.

“I liked the idea that you could just create something and people would come,” he says. “I found out very quickly that’s not how it works at all, but by then I was playing around with as many website ideas as I could think of.”

Related: Erik Kruger Explains How You Can Become A BetterMan And What That Means For Your Business

Marnus and Erik played around with some ideas, and settled on directory sites. “The idea was that people would pay a monthly retainer to be on the website and that’s all you’d need to create annuity income. You also wouldn’t need advertising revenue, which requires ongoing sales.”

Because of his own area of expertise, Erik thought a directory for physiotherapists would work well — one of the regulating bodies disagreed. They viewed the monthly retainer as a kickback, which is illegal in the medical profession.

So, Erik moved on to his next idea. “I was doing everything over eLance and Odesk, from web development to graphic design. I started thinking that we needed a local freelance community that entrepreneurs could tap into. My brother agreed to invest in the idea and we hired developers from India to build the site. I directed them to a few sites I liked and briefed them on what we wanted.”

Six months and R70 000 later, Erik received a cease and desist call from one of the big players in the freelance space. “He was furious. It turned out that the developers we had hired had copied his website, section for section, header for header. I had been focused on client acquisition, not the development of the site — I hadn’t even checked what they were doing. I’d only focused on the feedback from beta testing. Faced with being sued for infringement, we took the site down immediately. I was trying different things and failing miserably, but I was also okay with that.”

Finding a niche

erik-kruger

Erik didn’t let his failures deter him. “I was trying to figure out how to make money from digital assets. I registered 45 domain names, and for every one of them I built a WordPress site and developed a marketing strategy. I’d go to work, get home and just do digital for the rest of the day.”

To upskill himself, Erik also took courses on digital marketing, Facebook, Google marketing, WordPress and DNS set-ups. “I created a fitness website for brides-to-be, a mentor site for models and websites for girlfriends to help them run their businesses. Each website would be up and running for a few weeks, and then I’d lose interest, close it and move on.”

And this is where the foundation of Erik’s journey really begins. The fact that he hadn’t yet found what he was looking for was a lesson in itself. “Clarity is a process; I can see it with my clients all the time,” he says. “I didn’t know it then, but I can see it now. Clarity only really comes from wanting to find clarity, trying to find clarity. We often talk about evolution in entrepreneurial circles, but the reality is that evolution can only happen when something already exists, which means you have to be out there trying new things to find your purpose, or big idea.

“When I started coaching, what I was doing with my clients back then versus now is vastly different. No matter how much I read about coaching, thought about what coaching should be like, or listened to different coaches and how they do it, I would never have reached the point I’m at now, if I hadn’t been doing it myself. That’s how we learn and evolve.”

For Erik, the 45 websites he created led him to Better Man, and that’s where his journey started to pivot. “Better Man was the idea I stuck with. Up until that point, I’d been looking for things to do and ways to monetise them, but they were all external and not what really came naturally to me. There’s no such thing as a lightning bolt idea that hits you and that’s it. Amazing, masterful ideas are the result of trial and error.

“People think clarity is a switch, illuminating everything. But it’s actually like striking a match, and that match keeps burning, and you strike another and another and another, and slowly the room fills with light. Even then, you have clarity for a moment, and then the matches burn out, and you have to start again.”

In the case of Better Man, Erik was tired of trying to find something that would work, and instead decided to create something for himself. “I’ve always been into self-development and the idea evolved from there. I decided to create a website based on interviews I’d do with successful South Africans — I’d learn from them, and share the interviews online.”

Erik’s first interview was with Maps Maponyane, followed by Tim Noakes. The site wasn’t getting a lot of traction, but Erik was having fun. “It was the first thing I’d done where I didn’t have any real plans to monetise the site. I was just doing something I enjoyed and figuring it out.”

Erik did want to grow a community though, and so he concentrated on Facebook and email marketing to build up a Better Man database.

“I wanted to experiment with different mediums of communication,” he explains. “The two things that really moved the needle were the group, which was 18 000-strong, and the daily emails I started, which quickly reached 16 500 people.”

Through the community he had built up, Erik then found a way to monetise the business through events. “I was sharing content and ideas that struck a chord with me, which meant they were valuable to other people. That’s how I built up a community, and from there I could offer access to that community to brands.”

For 18 months, there were regular Better Man events, all sponsored by top lifestyle brands. The business was doing well, but through the platform and the community, Erik discovered a new direction: Coaching.

“Once I’d built up the community, I played around with a few different ideas, looking for ways to monetise the platform over and above events. We launched a fitness eBook, an apparel line and partnered with brands for events, but the one thing the community kept asking for was coaching. The events worked as marketing platforms — the next morning I’d sign up clients — and even though I hadn’t known that this was where Better Man would lead, I discovered it was a direction I wanted to explore.”

Related: Fear As Foe And Friend: How To Master This Important Relationship

Focused direction

Up until that point, Erik had been trying a lot of different avenues to see what stuck. He also admits he had shiny object syndrome — even with Better Man. “I was too responsive to every question and query. You can’t just jump around and hope you’ll find success; you need focus and direction.”

Interestingly, even coaching didn’t offer that at first. Erik tried group coaching and Mastermind groups before realising he needed to really focus. It meant stopping the events and even pulling back from the community he’d built, although his daily emails continue, and all group members are the first to hear about workshops and seminars.

“Finding my path required me to sit down and take a long look at what was — and wasn’t — working for me personally. You can try and figure out what people want, and that’s important, but you also need to understand your personal drivers, or you’ll never stick with something long enough to make it a success.

“I was trying out mentor calls through the Better Man community, and I realised that they weren’t working for me. They felt superficial; like I wasn’t driving results. When I spoke to someone, I’d get off the call and I wouldn’t feel good. I’d feel like I’d just spent time telling someone what to do, but where were the results?”

Once Erik made the decision to be a coach though, his focus shifted to being the best coach in South Africa. It was that decision and direction that made all the difference. “I went out and bought every book I could find on coaching. Then I wrote all the models that spoke to me up on white boards and started creating my own coaching framework.”

From there, Erik, signed up for his Master’s Degree in Management, with a focus on business and executive coaching. By 2017 he was coaching full time.

“I had to build up my confidence, which is evident in my early pricing models, but my masters has been the biggest game-changer for me. It shifted a few fundamental things for me, from my coaching approach to developing better listening skills. Ultimately though, internal drive is the biggest differentiator. I want to be the best coach I can be, and that’s making all the difference.”

Because of that drive, Erik has also found his niche. “I want to have a big impact on the world, which means I need to help people who in turn impact the lives of others. CEOs and entrepreneurs are my focus area. My influence and impact are amplified when I’m coaching a CEO of 500 people.”

Since finding his niche, Erik has worked with a number of high-calibre clients, including some of South Africa’s top executives and entrepreneurs.

Action, not words

Better Man gave Erik the platform he needed to launch his coaching business. Although the journey has been organic, once he made the decision about what he wanted to focus on, each step forward has been far more intentional. “I believe in visualisation and intention. Intention is determining where you want to go and then breaking that down into goals. My intention is to become the most sought-after speaker and coach in South Africa. Everything I do works towards that goal.”

In line with this goal are Erik’s own experiences. “Everything we do and think is the culmination of our experiences. In my case, it’s personal experiences as well as what I learn from my clients. Coaching is a gift for me. I can spend time with the CEO of a multi-national and come up with solutions and insights that I can then share with the owner of a 30-man business. With an outsider’s perspective you can start seeing patterns. Coaching is practical, and it draws on the human experience, even in a business context.

“It’s easy to believe that you’re too busy for a morning routine for example. When I see someone who does have the time and still isn’t following a routine, I ask why. What is the deeper value or belief that they aren’t tapping into or living? What experiences of highly busy people who still find the time can I draw from and share? Every experience that is shared broadens our collective exposure.”

Personally, Erik follows many of these practices himself. “I learn about them and implement them. It makes me a better coach. We’re all human, but at the top of the business ladder, we need to perform optimally. There’s a metrics side to business, and a human side, and you can’t ignore either.

“Founding the Mental Performance Lab has been about developing a high-performance state of mind. It’s not just about smashing metrics, but functioning at an optimal level. You need to do the right thing at the right time, and to achieve that, mindfulness is key. You can function flat out, always racing ahead, stressed and busy, or you can function optimally. That’s my focus.” EM


acta-non-verba-book

Read This

Acta Non Verba: The Playbook For Creating, Achieving And Performing At Your Highest Level

Erik Kruger’s first book is a collection of 160 thoughtful reflections on what it takes to live a life of action and not words. Acta Non Verba’s purpose is to get people moving, creating, and generating an unstoppable drive in both their business and personal journeys.

This is not a book to read from cover to cover, in one sitting. Each day there is a new chapter waiting to be read. Put this book on your bedside table, and read a new chapter with your first cup of coffee every morning. Each message is short so you can read it quickly, in the moment, and then reflect and act on it for the entire day. It’s a book that demands action.

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