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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

Entrepreneur

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Look bigger than you are

Justin-Stanford

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

Mimecast

Mimecast

“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

creative-counsel

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

Stretch-Experiential-Marketing-Mike-Silver

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

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-

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

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

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

Balkan-Burger

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.

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Lessons Learnt

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt

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You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:

Leadership

The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.

Infrastructure

The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.

People

It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.

Strategy

It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.

Finance

Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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Lessons Learnt

That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room

Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.

Gene Marks

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When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.

You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.

Like that time back in 1995.

That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.

The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.

“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”

The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”

“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.

So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.

It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

How Sureswipe Built Its Identity By Building A Strong Company Culture

Culture is unique to a business, it’s the reason why companies win or lose.

Nadine Todd

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A company’s culture is its identity and personality. Since this is closely linked to its brand and how it wants to be viewed by its employees, customers, competitors and the outside world, culture is critical. The challenge is understanding that culture contains unwritten rules and that certain behaviours that align to the culture the company is nurturing should be valued and cherished more than others.

At Sureswipe, the core of our culture is that we value people and what they are capable of. We particularly value people who are engaged, get on with the job, take initiative, are happy to get stuck in beyond their formal job descriptions, and who sometimes have to suck up a bit of pain to get through a challenge.

We include culture in everything we do, so it’s a fundamental element in our recruitment process. In addition to a skills and experience interview, each candidate undergoes a culture fit in the form of a values interview. We look for top performers who echo our core values (collaboration, courage, taking initiative, fairness and personal responsibility) and have real conviction about making a difference in the lives of independent retailers. If we don’t believe a candidate will be a culture fit, we won’t hire them.

If we make a mistake in the recruitment process, we won’t retain culture killers, even if they are top performers. This is such a tough lesson to learn, but it liberates a company and often improves overall company performance.

Culture should be cultivated, constantly communicated and used when making decisions. At Sureswipe, we often talk about what it takes to win and have simplified winning into three key elements: A simple, yet inspirational vision; the right culture; and a clear and focused strategy. The first and third elements can be copied from organisation to organisation. Culture on the other hand is unique to every business and can be a great influencer in its success.

Catch phrases on the wall are not the definition of culture

A strong culture is purposeful and evolving. It’s what makes a company great, but also exposes its weakness. No company is perfect and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. Without it, we cannot ensure that we are protecting and building on the good and reducing or eradicating the bad.

Mistakes happen. That’s okay. But we are very purposeful about how mistakes are handled. Culturally we’re allergic to things being covered up or deflected and have had great learning moments as individuals and as an organisation when bad news travels fast. It’s liberating to ‘tell it like it is’ and almost always, with a few more minds on the problem at hand, things can be rectified with minimal impact.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

Culture should be built on values that resonate with you and that you want to excel at. In our case, some are lived daily and others are aspirational in that we’re still striving for them. In each case we genuinely believe in them and encourage each other to keep living them. This increases the level of trust within the team, as there is consistency in how people are treated and how we get things done.

We are always inspired when, after sitting in our reception area, nine out of ten visitors will comment on the friendliness of staff. We hear their remarks about how friendly the Sureswipe team is or a potential candidate will talk about the high level of energy and positivity they experience throughout the interview process.

These are indicators that our culture is alive and well. It’s these components of our culture — friendliness, helpfulness and positivity — that cascade into how we do business and how we treat our customers and people in general. Being able to describe your culture and support it with real life examples is a great way to communicate and promote the type of behaviour that is important and recognised within the organisation.

Culture doesn’t just happen

We are fortunate that culture has always been important to us, even if it wasn’t clearly defined in our early days. As we grew it became important to be more purposeful in the evolution of our culture. About four years ago, the senior leadership team and nominated cultural or values icons were mandated to relook all things cultural.

A facilitator said to us, “You really love it when people take the initiative, and get very frustrated when they don’t.” That accurate insight became core to our values. We love to see people proactively solve problems, take responsibility for their own growth, initiate spontaneous events, change their tactics or implement new ideas. It energises us and aligns to the way we do business.

We celebrate growth and love to see our staff getting promoted due to their hard work and perseverance. We recently had one of our earliest technicians get promoted to the Regional Manager of Limpopo. It was one of the best moments of 2018.

Be purposeful with culture, describe it, communicate it and use it in all aspects of business. Culture should change. Don’t allow phrases like ‘this is not how we do things,’ or, ‘the culture here is changing,’ to stifle the growth and development of your culture. When done correctly change is a good thing. Culture is driven from the top but at the end of the day it’s a company-wide initiative. Design it together with team members from different parts of the organisation to get the most from it. And then make sure everyone lives and breathes it.

Cost Cutting

The best ROI is achieved when you stop wasting money.

Peter Drucker once said that businesses have two main functions — marketing and innovation — that produce results. “All the rest are costs.”

If you agree, that means that the average business has a lot of fat to trim. Obviously you can go overboard trying to cut costs too. My philosophy has been to look at some of the general areas where you can add some efficiency but not at the expense of impairing your most valuable resource — your focus.

The following cost-cutting measures will do that. Think of these as adding value to your company, whether it’s time, creativity or a closer connection to your consumers.

Related: Wise Words From wiGroup On Building A “Wow” Company Culture

Uncover inefficiencies in your process

This is where I begin. In fact, it was analysing the inefficiencies of legal communication and knowledge sharing that led me to create Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for lawyers. I noticed that attorneys in our clients’ legal departments were drafting new documents from scratch when they could pool their knowledge and save time by using language that a trusted colleague had employed in a similar document. Business is all about process. When you create a new process, or enhance an existing process, you will drive cost efficiency.

Refine your process, then automate

If existing processes are lacking, it is time to create process. If you have processes, but they are not driving efficiency, it’s time to redefine your process. Either way, a key second step is refining processes that are needed in your business. Only then can you go to automation, since automating without a process will result in chaos — and won’t save time or money. Similarly, automating a poor process is not going to give you the cost-saving results you are looking for.

Thanks to the Cloud, there are very accessible means of automating manual processes. For instance, you can automate bookkeeping functions with FreshBooks and use chatbots to interface with clients — for very basic information. If you’re a retailer, a chatbot on your site can explain your return policy or address other frequently asked questions. Automating such processes allows you to spend more time focusing on clients and customers. Technology alone isn’t a panacea for all business functions, but if you find something you’re doing manually that can be automated, take a look and consider how much time and process definition automation would save you.

Rethink your outreach

Marketing and outreach are usually big and important challenges for an organisation. In my experience, there are two main components to successful marketing — knowing your customers and using the most effective media to spread your message. For the first part, I recommend polling. There are various online survey services that offer an instant read on what your customers are thinking. You may think business is humming along, but a survey could reveal that while consumers like your product, a few tweaks would make it even better.

For the second part — marketing messaging — once you have a firm idea of your marketing messaging, Facebook is a great vehicle for outreach. The ability to granularly target customers and create Lookalike audiences (from around 1 000 consumers) can help grow your business.

Related: Take Responsibility For Your Company’s Culture To Boost Productivity

Scrutinise your spend history

There are tools that can help you assess spend history and find cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you might be able to take advantage of rewards or loyalty programmes to reduce common business expenses, like travel, or consolidate vendors for a similar function. If you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor, negotiate better pricing.

The most important elements to keep in mind are resources that make your company special. Your company may be built on one person’s reputation and expertise. Guard against tarnishing that reputation with inappropriate messaging in advertising or social media. If your company’s special sauce is intellectual property, protect that too. But everything else — ranging from physical property to salary and benefits — are costs and should be considered negotiable. — Monica Zent

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