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Executive Director Hasnayn Ebrahim’s 5 Rules For Strategic Growth In Your Business

Management consultant Hasnayn Ebrahim shares his secrets for high-level growth.

Nadine Todd




Vital Stats

  • Player: Hasnayn Ebrahim
  • Position: Executive Director
  • Company: Africa International Advisors (AIA) and Strategi.exe
  • About: An advisory practice that focuses on end-to-end strategy in the multinational, public sector and mid to large corporate space. AIA’s offering is integrated with its human capital and training offerings, and a new software division, Strategi.exe
  • Visit:;

“When you really start to scale, you often experience 100% year-on-year growth. Your turnover is doubling, your staff complement is doubling or even tripling — if you don’t have systems in place to manage this growth, you will stumble and fall.”

As start-ups, most SMEs run instinctively, rather than strategically. It’s a critical element of their success. The ability of founders and their teams to see opportunities and pursue them gives SMEs the agility to take shape and grow. But this also means that the business is responding to stimuli in the economy and through networks, rather than shaping its own strategy.

Every successful SME reaches a point where a more systematised approach to business must be implemented, or the company will stumble at the growth phase. In other words, the ability to scale requires a strategy. This is hardly a ground-breaking revelation. Where many businesses fail however, is in the execution of that strategy.

“Strategy is only as good as a management team’s capacity to execute it,” confirms Hasnayn Ebrahim, Executive Director at Africa International Advisors (AIA), and an ex-consultant at a top-tier international firm. “Strategy alone is fantasy. You need to capacitate your organisation to be able to implement and achieve your strategy. Unless you do that, you will always be a victim of circumstance, instead of riding the wave of opportunity.

“Execution begins with your people, from employees right through to management and your executive level. Businesses succeed and fail with their people.”

Related: The Mindset Strategy From The “Rock Star” Coach Can Turn Your Beliefs Into Results

Here are the five rules of strategic growth, based on Hasnayn’s years of experience in management consulting, and building AIA and its subsidiaries.

1. Understand yourself and your core competencies


What sets you apart from the competition? How will you compete in the market? How big is the market? Unless there are clearly defined opportunities to pursue in a highly competitive industry, what is your ability to scale?

“Not every business is geared to scale,” explains Hasnayn, “which is why you need to begin with these questions. In many cases, a business is actually better off not scaling, at least in its current form. Either the market won’t support them, or short-term contracts that require capacity can actually hurt the business in the long run, when the project is over and you’ve got more staff and higher overheads than your customer base can support.

“Growth must be rooted. You can’t lose sight of your present reality. That doesn’t mean your aim shouldn’t be to scale — it just means you need to be very strategic about where your opportunities lie, and how to pursue them.”

Have you critically and strategically evaluated your market? Is there room for growth in your present market? “It’s important to understand your core when you’re answering this question,” says Hasnayn. “Your core isn’t necessarily a product. It could be your customers. Who are they, and what else do they need, that you could deliver? What is adjacent to your core that you can pivot to?

“As AIA, we developed a consulting solution for clients in the public sector, and then realised they lacked the capacity to deliver our solutions. This led to a training division for us. Between 2006 and 2011, 5 000 mid- to senior-level managers went through our five-day training and consulting programmes.

“Our software division began in the same way. We realised our clients were trying to execute sophisticated strategies with outdated performance management solutions, and so we developed a product to help them. It’s created annuity income for us, and it delivers on a need for our clients.

“The subsequent acquisition of a training company has also allowed us to integrate our system with a learning platform, extending our solutions even further, but still within our core competencies and market.”

So, where do you begin? “If there is a market, you need to determine how you can compete,” says Hasnayn. “What are the specific market opportunities, and what is your unique value proposition and competitive advantage?

“We all want to play in a space where there’s no competition. That might take three different ideas, and bringing them together is what gives you your advantage. You need to understand the market, your competitors and the best way to compete based on the resources available to you — what do you have? Where are your gaps? What do you need to do to fill, close and enhance those gaps?”

2. Be prepared to grow

As the founder of your organisation, you need to be the first person to grow. The first gap to fill is yours. This could be through business and executive courses, through a coach, a mentor or joining an entrepreneurial organisation — whatever it takes to grow and develop yourself for the good of your organisation.

“Founders have such a vital role to play in the success of organisations,” says Hasnayn. “The best performing companies globally are founder-led. Just consider Amazon, Facebook, Google and Tesla, or locally, Discovery. In each case the founder plays a critical role. But an organisation is also not a single individual. It’s a group of people who have banded together. Sustainable growth is achieved when all parties are nurtured and grow.

“You have to ensure you get the right people for the right jobs, keep them by your side and capacitate them — and then as their leader you need to grow, evolve, change and adapt as well — if you don’t, you’ll miss opportunities too. Your most important role is to cultivate a willingness to change, which will allow you to see opportunities as they arise, and to be able to make the hard decisions that will be required to change your organisation and align it for growth.”

3. Evaluate and capacitate your people


What do you need to do to achieve your vision? What resources do you need, and how should they be deployed? These are key questions to ask, but understand that you cannot execute even the best strategy without your people. They are the drivers of your organisation. Success comes down to the right staff, in the right positions, adding the right value.

“Is your early staff right for growth? You need to look at this objectively from the view of the organisation. Know yourself — critically understand the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your staff,” says Hasnayn.

“Where are the opportunities to close gaps through training and capacity building? Not all gaps can be resolved, but many can be. If you’re completely transparent about the process, your team will trust you, and everyone will work towards the same goal: The growth of the organisation.

“It’s important to evaluate and understand who is the best fit for each role though. For example, engineers are excellent product developers, but that doesn’t mean they can take what they’ve built to market, or manage teams. If you have an upfront conversation about what the organisation needs, individuals can determine whether they’d like to work at closing specific gaps or not. You can’t have those conversations if you don’t understand your skills base and competencies though.”

Related: Motivation-Boosting Tips From 8 Of The Greatest Entrepreneurs

In Hasnayn’s experience, transparency throughout the process of scaling an organisation is key. “If you don’t understand what you need, or you’re unwilling to communicate effectively with your staff, whatever change you’re aiming for is more than likely going to fail,” he warns.

“Be as transparent as possible, and give internal staff the opportunity to develop — but understand that marketing and sales is a fundamentally different skill set to tech consulting. If the inclination and willingness is there to adapt and grow, support it. New skills can be learnt, as long as a particular threshold is passed in terms of natural ability. But if an employee is resistant to change, or doesn’t believe the changes are right for them, respect that as well. It is possible to part ways on good terms if the right conversations have been held at the right times. It starts with clear and transparent communication though, and a willingness to invest in your employees.

“Remember, the DNA and culture of your organisation are a key factor of your success. As you scale and need to add employees, your culture is effectively under threat. Upskilling people who are part of the fabric of your SME is a good way to ensure the longevity of your culture, rather than simply replacing everyone with more experienced or skilled staff, who don’t necessarily suit the culture you’ve created.”

4. Put the right processes and structures in place

“When you really start to scale, you often experience 100% year-on-year growth. Your turnover is doubling, your staff complement is doubling or even tripling — if you don’t have systems in place to manage this growth, you will stumble and fall,” says Hasnayn.

“You cannot not have structures in an organisation expecting to scale. You need to recognise this and invest in it. There are a number of tools that can assist you to be more organised and structured, and most importantly, to assist you in managing the new complexities that are being added to your organisation on a daily basis.

“Our central view is that you have to ensure you transition from a purely instinctive entity to a more holistic organisation that has a degree of structure. Too much structure is also bad — both can prevent you from growing — but you do need a foundation of structure and processes to handle the changing nature of your business.

“The problem is that there is always significant resistance to change at first, which is why it’s so important to communicate the reasons why you are doing something. If you don’t, you’ll quickly create a disconnect between your executives and the rest of your staff. You need to manage and bridge those gaps or destroy value.”

5. Gather momentum

The success of your strategy lies in one key area: Your ability to deliver on it. If your organisation can’t gather momentum in this regard, you’re doomed to fail.

“Remember, you formulated your strategy for a specific reason,” says Hasnayn. “Either you wanted to grow, or your market was under threat. You considered all your options and formulated a strategy. The problem is in the follow-through. We’ve seen it on numerous occasions — an organisation formulates a plan, and the moment something happens, they’re forced back into their comfort zone and the strategy is forgotten. Maintaining momentum is therefore critical.

“There’s often a lot of talk around strategy — ‘this is what we’re going to do, this is how and this is why.’ If you don’t translate that strategy into tangible measures though, and put a mechanism in place to track them, it remains just talk. This creates an expectation within your organisation that you’re good at talking, but not following through on real change, and you lose the key executors of your strategy — your staff.

“To counter this, you need a performance management framework that is aligned to your strategy. You should have a monthly process that tracks how you’re doing against it. Have you developed your new product? Have you entered your new market? You need to align your strategy and action, and then communicate these results regularly. That’s how you close the strategy execution gap.

“The beauty of it is that once people are part of the momentum they will keep it up. There will always be initial resistance to change — that’s why it’s so important to track and measure what you’re doing. Tangible results engage employees. They become a part of the process and the wins — and then they become your strategy’s champions. And that’s when real success and scale is achieved.”


Play in a space where there’s no competition                        

All business owners want to be in space where there’s no competition. Sometimes, the way to achieve this is to take three different ideas or capabilities, and bring them together in a unique way that benefits your customers.

Be willing to change                           

As the founder of your organisation, your role remains critical in the growth phase of your business. But in order to continue to lead effectively, you need to be willing to change. This is how you’ll still be able to spot opportunities as they arrive, and make the hard decisions required to align your organisation to growth.

Could you handle 100% year on year growth?                       

It sounds like a dream, but what would you do if your workload and turnover suddenly doubled? Would your customers still receive the service levels they are accustomed to? Would you be able to deliver on all those additional orders? Scale is impossible without the right structures and processes in place.

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

Lessons Learnt

SA Entrepreneur Takes First-Of-Its Kind Business To An International Level

Jo Farah shares some insights on his entrepreneurial journey as Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) gets underway.





South African-born entrepreneur and creator of the world’s first environmentally friendly sneaker care product – Jo Farah says entrepreneurship has always been part of his DNA, and making a valuable contribution to society his ultimate goal.

The founder of Sneaker LAB – an innovative business that’s managed to create a first-of-its-kind, biodegradable sneaker care product, delivered his sentiments on entrepreneurship and his entrepreneurial journey as Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) kicked-off in 170 countries around the world this week.

Farah, who’s been mentored and groomed by his entrepreneur father, says developing a successful business has always been part of his life’s plan. And while he managed to establish a few start-ups during his entrepreneurial journey, which includes founding a guerrilla marketing agency in South Africa, and producing ads for the likes of Adidas, New Balance and Puma it still wasn’t enough.

After returning from the United States in 2008 with just one thing on his mind – to help cure South Africa’s conundrum by creating jobs for the unemployed, and in-turn fostering economic growth, Jo invented a one-of-a-kind sneaker care product, and put shoulder to the wheel to establish his business in 2013.

Related: How Lorenzo Escobal Bootstrapped His Way To Competing With Titans And Attracting Top-Tier Clients

sneaker-lab-founder-jo-farahStarting a sneaker care product range was a natural choice, especially considering Jo’s passion for sneakers, street wear and urban culture. He also wanted to create a complimentary product to accompany the list of sneaker brands that has inspired him over time. Jo’s work behind the scenes commenced in earnest and in no time he conducted enough research to support his theory – there was a gap in the market for branded sneaker care products. He knew that he was on a good wicket.

“There already was a range of non-branded products on the market, but my research revealed there was a healthy appetite for branded, environmentally friendly sneaker care products. That spoke directly to my business model,” he says.

Today, Sneaker LAB has placed Cape Town on the map with its premium global status – it’s the only sneaker care product range in the world to be Green TAG certified, environmentally friendly and biotech driven. Its products are water-based, readily biodegradable, and the packaging is suitable for recycling. The business also operates internationally, in 50 countries across Africa, with an experiential brand store in Braamfontein Johannesburg; as well as downtown Los Angeles in the USA; Asia and Europe.  The business is growing by the day, with a store in Tokyo set to open soon.

As an entrepreneur he’s grown in leaps and bounds, and despite many changes along the way, his sentiments on entrepreneurship remain.

“Inspiring potential entrepreneurs to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and embark on an entrepreneurial journey is one way of solving some of the world’s most critical problems, and freeing the economically marginalised,” Jo says.

Related: Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

He urges young aspiring entrepreneurs with an entrepreneurial mindset to take the plunge and to channel time and energy into developing their business ideas into something tangible and workable that could generate good long-term financial returns.

“People will tell you that it can’t be done, but believe me, it can. All you have to do is to believe in your idea and to work hard and smart and you’ll reap the benefits,” Jo says.



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Lessons Learnt

9 Ways Successful Entrepreneurs Spend Their Weekends

All work and no play makes for a very dull entrepreneur.




Successful entrepreneurs have a passion for what they do, so working hard is part of their DNA. But anyone who is successful also recognises that life and work are a marathon, not a sprint. Even they need downtime on the weekend to ensure they’re up to the task of being creative problem solvers and innovators Monday through Friday.

Sure, they may spend some time catching up on administrative work. They may spend time on a big project that needs special attention. And they should definitely spend time thinking about the future and considering the big picture.

But what successful entrepreneurs don’t do is spend the entire weekend buried under work. We all need a break, and entrepreneurs are no less immune to burnout than anyone else. Their weekends are spent restoring their bodies and minds, and getting prepared to function optimally come Monday.

Here are nine things successful entrepreneurs do over the weekend to unwind and re-energise for the week ahead.


1. Wake up at about the same time

Successful entrepreneurs understand that staying on track for the week ahead means keeping the same sleeping patterns, even on weekends. That means going to bed and getting up at about the same time all week. This is because your circadian rhythm will stay consistent, so your body will naturally know when it’s time to sleep and wake up.

As tempting as it might be to sleep in, doing so can throw off your sleep/wake cycle, disrupting sleep patterns and giving you a poor night’s rest. Make sure you aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night to avoid a sleep deficit. Also, getting up early means you’ll be ready for whatever the day brings and you’ll have time to accomplish all the things you hope to do.

Related: 20 South African Side-Hustles You Can Start This Weekend

2. Spend quality time with loved ones

It’s no surprise that weekdays can be hectic and filled with obligations. There’s a good chance you spent more time in front of your computer (and with co-workers and colleagues) than with the most important people in your life. Make sure you’re tending to the quality relationships in your life by making them a priority on the weekends.

Have a date night with a partner. Go for a long walk or enjoy a leisurely lunch with a friend. Make sure you’re building and maintaining those relationships by really listening to them. And then share what’s on your mind and how you’re feeling. The support and connection you feel with others will give you resiliency and can support you in stressful times.

3. Pursue a passion

Is there some hobby or activity you’ve been wanting to try but have never made time for? Dedicate some weekend time to pursuing a passion that’s outside of work and beyond your normal day-to-day obligations. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to paint, take up photography or write a novel.

Whether it’s a long-lost hobby or a labor of love you’ve dreamed of embarking on, stop telling yourself that you’ll get around to it “someday.” Set aside a quiet weekend morning or afternoon to work on it. Pursuing your interests beyond work improves your mental health and reduce stress levels. Plus, focusing on activities outside of work will improve your creativity and give you a chance to look at life from a new perspective.

Related: How To Work Less And Still Get More Done

camping trip

4. Find time for a mini-adventure

Weekends give you a chance to unplug from life, put aside your daily responsibilities and go have some fun! Let loose and break out of your rut by taking yourself on a mini-adventure. Get out of the house and find a change of scenery.

A mini-adventure means sticking close to home, so hiking the Grand Canyon may be a bit much, but an overnight camping trip or a day hike is totally doable. Spend an afternoon at the beach or take your bike out for a long ride. The point is to get out and make a memory that will give you a smile for the rest of the week.

5. Fuel their creative mind

Successful entrepreneurs make sure they take time to feed their creative minds by finding ways to connect with the arts. You don’t need a degree in art appreciation or music theory to enjoy the benefits of engaging with the arts. Simply visiting a local museum or spending time listening to music will suffice.

Viewing art can be like a mini-vacation for your brain. It activates areas of the brain that are involved in processing emotion and engaging your pleasure and reward systems. Listening to music can have an even more dramatic effect. In fact, music has been found to stimulate more parts of the brain than any other human function.

6. Relax, reflect and renew

Savvy entrepreneurs have learned that they must give themselves the space and time to decompress and mull over the events, issues or dilemmas they face. Giving yourself time for self-reflection allows you to link and construct meaning from your experiences. Reflection is one of the main ways we gain insight and foster complex learning and personal growth.

In our busy world, we are often dealing with packed schedules and juggling multiple issues. Make sure you find time on the weekend to disengage from your hectic schedule and just chill. Try journaling, going for a walk, taking in the beauty of a sunset or even just focusing on the present moment and being aware of all the sensations you’re experiencing.

Related: Get Your Weekend Started


7. Get outside and exercise

Whether it’s getting out for a walk through the neighbourhood, shooting some hoops or taking a run through the park, high-achieving entrepreneurs get outside on the weekend to stretch their legs and soak up some vitamin D. There are some great benefits to an outdoor rather than indoor workout (although the most important thing is getting exercise, however it works best for you).

Getting some natural sunlight may be a welcome reprieve from artificial lighting if you spend most of the week in an office. Studies have found that adults tend to exercise for longer when they’re outside. You also tend to burn more calories and work slightly different muscles because of the wind resistance and changes in terrain. Perhaps most important, you’ll have a chance to admire nature and the outside world, which is good for your mental health and well-being.

8. Socialise and network

Successful entrepreneurs realise that any event or gathering is a chance to get to know other people and learn something new from someone you haven’t met. Set aside time to socialise with friends and family or get to know colleagues and workmates. If everyone else is busy this weekend, look for other opportunities to socialise and do something fun and interesting.

Check out a local community event. It could be a great chance to learn more about where you live and network and make connections with others. You could also look for a volunteer opportunity with a charity or nonprofit you’d like to support, such as a local animal shelter, senior centre or food bank. If you enjoy active sports, join a local team or club. If you’re into less strenuous activities, consider a joining a bowling or bocce ball team.

9. Catch up on rest

It’s been a busy week, and you’re feeling sleep deprived and run down. While sleeping in isn’t a good idea, successful entrepreneurs know when they need to catch up on some much-needed rest. A 10- to 20-minute power nap may be just the thing to help you feel refreshed and alert – a short snooze is actually much more effective than a cup of coffee in providing an energy boost.

It’s best to keep naps short: 30 Minutes or less. Longer naps are more likely to leave you feeling groggy and can interfere with your nighttime sleep quality. So when that wave of post-lunch sleepiness hits, go ahead: Indulge in an mid-afternoon nap and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

How Lorenzo Escobal Bootstrapped His Way To Competing With Titans And Attracting Top-Tier Clients

Inception Automotive Detailing was founded in 2011 by Lorenzo Escobal. He was only 18 at the time, and the business started small, but Lorenzo has grown it significantly over the last few years and aligned it with top brands. His secret to success? Being proactive and not being afraid to ask for what he wants.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: Lorenzo Escobal
  • Company: Inception Automotive Detailing
  • Location: Toronto, Canada
  • Established: 2011
  • Visit:

As is often the case in the world of entrepreneurship, Lorenzo Escobal launched his own business purely out of necessity. Attending university in 2010, he realised that finding a job shortly after North America had experienced a financial meltdown wouldn’t be easy. If he wanted to be sure of an income, he would need to create it for himself. So, having detailed cars for friends and family since he was 15, he decided to launch his own operation called Inception Automotive Detailing.

He bootstrapped the business — launching with just $1 200 — and grew it slowly. Today, the company boasts clients like Google and Tesla. Here are Lorenzo’s tips for bootstrapping a small business capable of competing against much bigger players and attracting top-tier clients.

1. Build a great website and market online

The fact of the matter is, your company is judged largely by the quality of its website and online presence these days, especially if you’re taking your product/service to the client. Even if you don’t have fancy premises, you can create a professional appearance by investing in a great website.

Most people are going to find you through your website, so make sure it instantly impresses. Also, invest time and money in creating effective online marketing campaigns on Google and Facebook. Funnily enough, Google approached us about detailing work by finding us on Google.

A good website and good online reviews got us a foot in the door. From there, we could prove ourselves through our work.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

2. Learn to network

Attracting clients online is important, but real-world networking shouldn’t be neglected either. There is immense value in joining professional organisations and attending conferences. It’s a great (and affordable) way to market, and you never know how the connections you make may pay off down the line. Networking and being in the public eye also builds credibility for your business. I’ve put a lot of time into getting my name and brand out there, but it’s been worth it.

3. Remember that no one is truly ‘self-made’

Every entrepreneur benefits from the wisdom and hard work of others. I’ve had great mentors who have helped me immeasurably in growing my business. I’ve also had the privilege of working with a great team who has helped me make the business what it is today. I do my best never to forget this, and I view myself not as a boss, but as a part of a team. Sure, I attend a lot of conferences and events, but I also jump in and help when there’s a lot of work to do.

As an entrepreneur, you need to be willing to get your hands dirty and do whatever’s needed — even if that means grabbing a mop and cleaning a dirty floor.

4. Make things happen

As an entrepreneur, you need to create opportunities, not wait for them to fall into your lap. I managed to get work from Tesla, for example, simply by asking for it. I filled out the contact form on the Tesla website and got a reply three days later.

Many entrepreneurs think that it’s pointless to approach large organisations because they’ll never want to do business with a small operation. Never simply assume that. Just ask, and see what happens. Sure, you’ll have to deal with a lot of rejection along the way, but that comes with the territory. Great entrepreneurs are never afraid to put themselves out there.

Related: How Matthew Piper And Karidas Tshintsholo Launched Their First Business From Their UCT Dorm Rooms

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