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

7 Pieces Of Wise Advice For Start-Up Entrepreneurs From Successful Business Owners

Launching a business is tough, but with perseverance, a willingness to learn from mistakes and a focus on the future, you can turn your dream into a reality. Seven top South Africa entrepreneurs share their hard-won start-up lessons.

Nadine Todd




“What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you.” 

So you want to start a business? Seven successful entrepreneurs share their words of wisdom for start-up entrepreneurs

1. Offer advice and share your expertise freely

The more your clients are educated, the more empowered they will feel, and the more they will view you as a trusted advisor. I gave my clients material to help them develop the best labour policies and procedures. It didn’t make my service redundant — it built trust between us. — Arnoux Mare, Innovative Solutions Group, turnover R780 million

2. Stop planning and start doing

We all tend to complicate business with planning and processes. These shouldn’t be ignored, but you need to also just start — start your business, start that project, start walking the path you want to be on. — Gareth Leck, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

3. Play your heart out and the money will follow

I learnt this valuable lesson when I was a student and busked at Greenmarket Square. You don’t stand with your hat, waiting for cash and then play — you play your heart out and the bills pile up in your hat. It’s the same in business. You can’t look at the bottom line first; it’s the other way around. — Pepe Marais, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

4. Love learning lessons

What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you. I wasn’t paying attention to my partner or my books in our early days, and I didn’t realise the debt he was putting us into. We ended up owing R1 million. In hindsight, it was a cheap lesson to learn. Imagine if that happened today? The fallout would be much greater. We have 19 stores and nearly 100 staff members. It would hurt everyone, not just me. — Rodney Norman, founder, Chrome Supplements, turnover R100 million

5. Landing an investor starts with your story

A great story and data are the two golden rules of attracting an investor. You need both if you really want to access growth funding that will take your business to the next level. — Grant Rushmere, founder, Bos Ice Tea

Related: Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

6. Offer solutions

If you’re not solving a problem and creating value, don’t ship it — throw it away. That’s cheaper than selling a bad product. — Nadir Khamissa, co-founder, Hello Group

7. Small, clever decisions lead to big profits

One of the most important lessons any business owner can learn is that success on profit is nothing more than the accumulative sum of rand decisions. Lots of small, clever money decisions lead to big profits, and without the disciplines of frugality, money gets lost. It’s that simple. Question every single line item on a quote. Do we need it? Can we get it cheaper? This is what it’s about. — Vusi Thembekwayo, founder, Watermark

Continue Reading

Lessons Learnt

Here’s How Bosses From Hell Helped 6 Entrepreneurs Grow

From control freaks to being unco-operative, founders share what they learned from their worst boss.





In business, sometimes the most valuable lessons come from the worst teachers. We asked six entrepreneurs: What’s the greatest thing you learned from a bad boss?

1. Bring everyone in

“A former boss was very hierarchical and discouraged collaboration. Everyone reported directly to her, and interdepartmental meetings were practically prohibited. It meant that only our boss had the full picture – we missed a lot of opportunity for alignment and cooperation. Today at our company, it’s a priority to hold regular team meetings and foster a strong culture of collaboration. It’s crucial that our team members weave collective sharing into the fabric of their day-to-day interactions.” – Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder and CEO, Indagare

2. Be vulnerable

“Don’t be afraid to show your emotions! I worked for a partner at McKinsey who was an incredible person but an awful manager because he kept his feelings bottled up. After a client presentation went awry, our team didn’t know where we stood with our manager. It was tense, awkward and demotivating. Showing vulnerability and letting others know when you’re genuinely upset can help everyone externalise their emotions, build trust and reassure employees that they aren’t alone. It sends a clearer message than stone-faced silence.” – Leo Wang, founder and CEO, Buffy

Related: 5 Factors That Make A Great Boss

3. Lend a hand

“I worked for someone who would never help out the junior staff with their work, even if he was finished with his own – he’d simply pack up and leave early. I now make an extra effort to ask my staff if they can use a hand when my own workload is light. It’s created a culture that feels more like a tight-knit team and less like a hierarchy.” – Adam Tichauer, founder and CEO, Camp No Counselors

4. Move as a group

“When I was a nurse manager, I had a boss with no experience in healthcare. She wanted to change our process for keeping patients from getting blood clots. I knew it was a mistake, but she insisted. Ultimately, the change failed. It taught me the importance of empowering staff to speak up. At Extend Fertility, we collect feedback from customers via surveys. Results are shared with our staff, and together we develop action plans to address negative experiences. It’s the employees who interact with patients on a daily basis who have the best solutions.” – Ilaina Edison, CEO, Extend Fertility

5. Trust your team

“I once worked for a woman who joined our team after I had been working there for a while. Every time I stood up, she’d ask me where I was going, whether it was to the bathroom or to the printer. She had a fear of not having control over my time and work. As a young adult, this behaviour really demoralised me, especially since I had excelled at the job for years prior. My leadership style is less neurotic. Once my team members have my trust, I’m pretty hands-off.” – Denise Lee, founder and CEO, Alala

Related: 5 Leadership Questions Every Boss Should Ask

6. Respect others’ time

“Early in my career, I had a project manager who’d wait until the very last minute to review work, then convey lots of new information and requests. This happened at the end of the day or, worse, after hours, when I was home. It was demoralising, inefficient and disrespectful. In my career, I’m conscious about reviewing work in a timely and complete way so my team can successfully incorporate my feedback without generating a last-minute crisis – or lingering resentment.” – Kirsten R. Murray, principal architect and owner, Olson Kundig 

This article was originally posted here on

Continue Reading

Lessons Learnt

11 Things Very Successful People Do That 99% Of People Don’t

Consistency is a big part of succeeding. The top 1% of performers in the world know this is the secret to their success.

John Rampton



Prev1 of 12


Becoming wealthy and leaving an impact on the world is not an easy feat. If it were, everyone would go around doing it. At that point, it would not be much of an accomplishment at all.

Rather, being extremely successful requires an extreme amount of work. Especially when there is nobody looking. The best people have developed habits that help them reach their goals. These routines are not necessarily challenging to form, but they take consistent effort over extended periods of time. Creating these tendencies in your own life will propel your success.

Here are 11 things, that 99% of people (myself included) do not do, but really should.

Prev1 of 12

Continue Reading



Recent Posts

Follow Us

We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.