Connect with us

Lessons Learnt

Fake It ‘Til You Make It: How These 10 Entrepreneurs Did Just That

Let’s face it, starting out is hard and getting clients to take you seriously is a tough ask. But these mega entrepreneurs didn’t let this stop them from getting off the ground





Look bigger than you are


Justin Stanford

“Without mentioning that I was alone in a garage, I told them I was an Internet security firm in South Africa.”

Vital Stats:

Justin Stanford was in his early 20s, working alone out of his garage and hacking into client websites to find their security flaws, when he came across ESET, at the time a small Slovak Internet security software developer.

“I knew there was huge potential, and so I contacted them. Without mentioning that I was alone in a garage, I told them I was an Internet security firm in South Africa, and that I was really impressed with their tech. With some tweaks, I thought it could be a great fit for our market.

“They agreed to give Stanford sole distributor rights in southern Africa, but he still needed to look bigger and more serious to clients. He had one employee, an intern, Carey van Vlaanderen, and they shared a desk and a phone line.

“Because we did most things online, no one knew how young I was. When we got a call, we would put the person on hold, and put them through to the ‘department’ they wanted, which was really just me handing the phone to Carey.”

Read more: Justin Stanford: 4Di Group’s Risk-taking, Convention-bucking Lunatic

Tenacity creates opportunity



“If our sales rep called and was denied an appointment, he’d call back later with a different accent, which meant he could take a few shots at the same companies.”

Vital Stats:

  • Peter Bauer and Neil Murray launched Mimecast in 2003.
  • It is now an international business with R1 billion of annual turnover.

One of Peter Bauer and Neil Murray’s first hires when they were building Mimecast in the UK was a sales rep.

“He had massive self-confidence and an almost inexhaustible ability for cold calling. For the first four months he cold-called for nine hours a day, week after week. His rejection rate was 98%, but because of the volumes of his calls, that 2% built our business from 50 clients to several hundred. He also had a neat little trick with accents. If he called and was denied an appointment, he’d call back later with a different accent, which meant he could take a few shots at the same companies.

“We also used the fact that he was Canadian and had an American accent. It made us appear bigger than we were. A lot of companies assumed we were a US firm launching in the UK. Once they met us they realised the mistake, but by then we had our foot in the door and could show them what we could do.”

Read more: These Are the World’s Top 10 Young Billionaires

Never take no for an answer


Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved

“‘No’ is not the end of a negotiation. It’s the beginning of one.”

Vital Stats:

When Ran Neu-Ner and Gil Oved launched The Creative Counsel, they did so from a 15 m2 office decorated with garden furniture. All they had for leads was the Yellow Pages, and so they started cold calling.

“I hate cold calling. I don’t know if anyone enjoys it. It’s a terrible, awful thing to have to do,” says Oved.

“I kept a spreadsheet to record each call and interaction with the person. Most of the time I spoke to PAs. I learnt very quickly how to be warm and likeable over the phone in 20 seconds, and I’d try to find out anything I could about the person I was talking to, so when I next called them the call would be more personal. In the end, they’d feel sorry for me and schedule a meeting.

Neu-Ner adds: “Never, ever, ever give up. If someone tells you that they don’t meet with suppliers, call back. And call back again. And again after that. Break down their resistance until they’re dying for an opportunity to see you just so they can tell you to go away. Often, what separates people who succeed from those who fail is the willingness and ability to overcome whatever hurdle is placed in their way.”

Read more: It’s Brilliance or Nothing for The Creative Counsel Co-Founders

Learn to be lean


Mike Silver

“My solution was to find affordable talent. We found an international company that places volunteer interns in your business for a few months.”

Vital Stats:

When you’re starting out, you need to be as lean as possible. “Even though I had some money saved up, I quickly learnt that launching a business takes longer than you expect it will, so I had to find a few other tricks. We worked out of a cheap and tiny room with no windows… and we relied on interns. I found an international company that places volunteer interns in your business for a few months.

“They were here to discover South Africa and get some work experience, but because they were on holiday visas, they couldn’t be paid. So our only expense was to the agency they were sourced through. Although it was a mixed bag of talent, and a complete hit-and-miss exercise, we had about 30 students working with us over a five year period – some being incredible, others barely speaking English. Ultimately, though, it meant we had employees that could run the front end, while also keeping our expenses incredibly low.”

Read more: How Mike Silver Became The Next Best Brand And Marketing Guy

Everything you’ll ever need to achieve your wildest dreams, you’ve already got


Vusi Thembekwayo

“Entrepreneurs are crazy. Certifiable. If you’re not crazy enough to think wild things, and have the courage and will to pursue them, you’re not going to make it, because start-ups are tough.”

Vital Stats:

  • Vusi Thembekwayo is the founder of Motiv8 and the Watermark Afrika Fund.
  • He was also a ‘Dragon’ on Dragon’s Den SA.
  • At 24, Vusi Thembekwayo left the corporate world with a nice sum of money that he could use as seed capital.

“I’d taken my savings and signed the lease for an expensive office in Centurion, furnished it and hired an assistant, because I thought that’s what you do. I’d also heard somewhere that you should never answer your own phone. Turns out, none of those things actually helped me to land clients. I used all my savings on the business’s rent and salaries, which meant I couldn’t afford personal rent, pay my car off, or even buy food half of the time. The bank kept trying to repossess my car and I kept fending them off. I needed that car to drive around and drum up business. Plus, I was sleeping in it in my office park’s basement. It was the dead of winter, so I had to start the engine every few hours to warm myself up, but it was a place to put my head down. Then one day, I got back to the office after 6pm and my PA was still there. ‘You won’t believe it,’ she said. ‘Somebody just called. They’re going to book you.’”

Read more: Vusi Thembekwayo On Being Better Than Your Competition

To look bigger than you are, you’ve got to dress the part


Ephraim Mashisani

“I’ve always dressed in the best suits I could afford, and, as it was financially possible, I bought a Range Rover. Sometimes, landing big business is about impressing big decision-makers and giving the impression you’re bigger and more successful than you actually are.”

Vital Stats:

  • Ephraim Mashisani is the founder and CEO of Nyalu Communications.
  • Started as a part-time business in 2009, it’s grown to a R50 million company.

What Mashisani is alluding to, is that looking successful plays its own part in being successful.

Wearing a good suit brings an air of confidence and success, and when trying to land big corporate clients, they’ve got to perceive you as being established and successful before they bring you their business. But, before you go buying that Porsche or Range Rover, know Mashisani runs a very tight ship and knows his numbers.

The key point is that he did business with small businesses while he was small, and only bought a flashy car to impress the bigger businesses when he could afford it.

Read more: How Nyalu Communications Began as a Side Business but Grew to Success

Lessons from the boot of a car


Reg Lascaris

Reg Lascaris

“When John Hunt and I started the business, we didn’t have flashy offices to invite clients to, which is what most agencies had. So we turned the ‘impress your clients with your offices’ thing around and told clients we’d come to them, like we were doing them a big customer-service favour. Then we’d pack all our material into the boot of my car and head off to do our presentation.”

Vital stats:

  • Reg Lascaris is the co-founder of award-winning advertising agency Hunt Lascaris that teamed up with international giant TBWA.
  • He’s also the author of Lessons from the Boot of a Car.

In your early stages, while gaining traction, keeping overheads to an absolute minimum is essential for business success. Always look for ways to spin negatives into positives. Don’t have flashy offices? Visit your client or arrange to meet in a hotel lobby.

There are many established entrepreneurs out there who can appreciate the start-up stage you’re in and will cut you some slack for the lack of flash. If not, get creative in the smoke-and-mirrors department.

Read more: Reg Lascaris On Horse Sense and Winning Hearts

Think outside the phone box


Richard Branson

“I quickly discovered a useful trick: By calling the operator and claiming the machine had eaten my change but my call had been cut off, I was often able to get free calls. Plus, the operator was able to put me straight through without the tell-tale phone box ‘pip-pip’ sound. As an added advantage, the operator sounded like my secretary! ‘I have Mr Branson waiting for you.’”

Vital stats:

  • Richard Branson is the creator of the Virgin Group empire, a conglomerate of companies spanning a dozen industries and generator of ₤15 billion in revenue in 2013.
  • He’s also the author of several books, and record setter of daring stunts.

Let’s face it, start-up is hard and what little money you have is going to be spent on getting the business going. Richard Branson is the true embodiment of an entrepreneur: When faced with a problem, don’t just find a workable solution, leverage it for all its worth.

In this case, he learnt how to get calls reversed for free, and make himself sound more important than he was, thanks to the assumption that the call receiver would make in thinking he had a secretary.

Read more: Successful SA Entreps Share Their Most Valuable Business Advice Ever Received

Reduce, reuse, recycle


Anita Roddick

“In our first store we’d re-use bottles because we couldn’t afford to buy new ones, but it also happened to be a time that Europe was starting to go ‘green’ and people were drawn to this.”

Vital stats:

  • Anita Roddick was the founder of The Body Shop.
  • Starting in a tiny shop sandwiched between two mortuaries and a product range of 25 items, today it has over 2 500 stores in 61 countries.
  • The brand also pioneered cruelty-free cosmetics and ethical business practices.

There are many stories of brands being innovative and creative to try and cut costs or work with tiny budgets.

When starting out, look for ways you can develop inexpensive and eye-catching packaging, for example, that doesn’t compromise quality, value or brand-building efforts. And always keep scale in mind.

While re-using cosmetic bottles worked in the early days for The Body Shop, it wasn’t sustainable.

Read more: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

Sometimes it’s good to run out


Borjan and Lidija Ivanonic

“Waste is expensive, so we set ourselves goals of 100 servings, and work towards that. It inadvertently created exclusivity and demand because people who would arrive late at the market would be disappointed they’d missed their shot at a Balkan Burger.”

Vital stats:

  • Borjan and Lidija Ivanonic are the founders of Balkan Burger.
  • What started as an experiment at a farmer’s market has grown into a full-time, highly profitable and successful business.

Let’s face it, consumers are attracted to scarcity and exclusivity.

Balkan Burger cleverly leveraged their desire to reduce waste and spin it into FOMO – fear of missing out. Rather than market-goers passing by their stand to look around and then return for some food, the fear of missing out would see the sale happen immediately.

Late-comers were then told which market they’d be at the following day, and told to get there early!

Read more: 4 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Become Truly Great

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

Lessons Learnt

Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.



Prev1 of 5


If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

Prev1 of 5

Continue Reading

Lessons Learnt

How Reflexively Apologising For Everything All The Time Undermines Your Career

How can you inspire confidence if you are constantly saying you’re sorry for doing your job?




I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.

I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn’t really know what to expect.

Youth takes charge

I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.

I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled.

She then paused and said to me, very directly,”But you have to stop apologising. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job.”

Related: 8 Valuable And Inspirational Web Series You Should Check Out

I didn’t know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, “Umm, I’m sorry?” But instead I immediately decided to be more cognisant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologising. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.

In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue:

“To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”

Topic of debate

I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington PostTime, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologise; others criticise those who are criticising women who apologise. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I’m constantly telling the people I manage that by apologising they give up a lot of their power.

Related: Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologise for doing your job.

If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.

This article was originally posted here on

Continue Reading

Lessons Learnt

10 Quotes On Following Your Dreams, Having Passion And Showing Hard Work From Tech Guru Michael Dell

If you’re in need of a little motivation, check out these quotes from Dell’s CEO, founder and chairman.



Prev1 of 11


There’s much to learn from one of the computer industry’s longest tenured CEOs and founders, Michael Dell. As an integral part of the computer revolution in the 1980s, Dell launched Dell Computer Corporation from his dorm room at the University of Texas. And it didn’t take Dell long before he’d launched one of the most successful computer companies. Indeed, by 1992 Dell was the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Dell’s success had been long foreshadowed. When he was 15, Dell showed great interest in technology, purchasing an early version of an Apple computer, only so he could take it apart and see how it was built. And once he got to college, Dell noticed a gap in the market for computers: There were no companies that were selling directly to consumers. So, he decided to cut out the middleman and began building and selling computers directly to his classmates. Before long, he dropped out of school officially to pursue Dell.

Fast forward to today. Dell is not only a tech genius and businessman, but a bestselling author, investor and philanthropist, with a networth of $24.7 billion. He continues his role as the CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies, making him one of the longest tenured CEOs in the computer industry.

So if you’re in need of some motivation or inspiration, take it from Dell.

Prev1 of 11

Continue Reading



Recent Posts

Follow Us

We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.


FREE E-BOOK: How to Build an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Sign up now for Entrepreneur's Daily Newsletters to Download​​