- Player: Felicia Mabuza-Suttle
- Company: Leadership Success International; Pamodzi
- Visit: feliciainc.com; www.pamodzi.co.za
Loved and hated in equal amounts, nineties television personality Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, is best known for The Felicia Show which aired from 1992 to 2004, and helped to get millions of South Africans talking through the transition from apartheid to democracy.
Today, however, the woman who was told to drop out of high school and rather become a beauty queen is also an international award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, author, and philanthropist.
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Entrepreneur caught up with her on a recent visit to South Africa to find out more about her new book, Live Your Dream, an inspirational read that aims to help propel people to success.
How did you develop a success mind-set?
It’s said that there are four kinds of people in this world: Those who make things happen, those who wait for things to happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. From an early age, I wanted to be someone who makes things happen. To do that means being goal-minded and driven from within.
The most successful people I know visualise where they want to be. When I was a child growing up on the streets of Soweto, my father took us on Sunday drives through Johannesburg.
I was fascinated by the huge mansions in Northcliff and I told my brother and sister I would live there one day. They laughed at me, reminding me that it was impossible for black people to own homes like that in South Africa. But I was determined, and as long as you are able to imagine, you are in the game.
Why is it important to get close to people you admire?
It’s about a kind of ‘knowledge through osmosis’. I developed confidence by getting close to other big dreamers who make things happen, talking to them, and learning what drives them.
The best education is through experience of and exposure to the thoughts and ideas of great people. Talk to them, read their books, listen to what they say.
The opposite applies to cynics, sceptics and critics. Stay away from them, because they will drag you down to their level. They are good at telling you how it can’t be done, and that your dreams are impossible to achieve.
Just do what you want, the way you want to do it. I encountered many ‘negaholics’ when I started my pioneering talk show, but I didn’t allow anything to deter me, and instead I paved the way for many other talk show hosts to continue the dialogue with South Africans.
What advice do you have on setting goals?
Be bold, but be realistic. My goals were to attain an education, study in the US, work for a major corporation and lecture at a respected university — I wanted to live the ‘American Dream’ as it was presented in books and films. I got to do it all because I started by making sure I was educated. My grandfather always reminded us that we could rebound from any adversity with a good education.
After school, I started a youth cultural centre and worked as a reporter at the same time. A grant from Anglo American helped me go to the US to study youth programmes. That was where I met my future husband, who paid the fees for my first semester at Marquette University in Wisconsin.
Next I won a scholarship and completed a postgraduate degree. That opened the doors of the corporate world for me and I worked at many leading American and South African companies. I also became an adjunct lecturer at my alma mater. My goals were big, but I started small and worked my way down the list. Every milestone led to the next, bigger success.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Don’t blame your past. No matter where you come from, nothing should stop you from realising your dream. Success is about discovering your passion and pursuing it with determination.
More importantly, success is about turning passion into purpose, which inevitably touches the lives of others. Most of us are afraid to leave our comfort zone to explore our true potential.
We dream small, when in fact we were born to dream big, regardless of age.
From Local To Global: Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA) Shares Top Tips On Being A Successful Entrepreneur
Managing Director of W.Consulting, Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA), has done exactly that and shares his top tips.
How do you grow your own SME into a global consultancy? Managing Director of W.Consulting, Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA), has done exactly that and shares his top tips.
“I started W.Consulting with the aim of providing an independent, high-quality alternative for corporates and audit firms looking for advice on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The business has grown substantially to more than 40 people working globally, providing advisory services on IFRS, audit risk and corporate finance, training and IT product development.” These are Bruce’s five top tips for achieving growth.
1. Take the risk as soon as possible
It was a nerve-wracking decision to go on my own, as CAs(SA) are taught to be risk-averse. It’s very tough to throw away a CV, but rather than spend a life regretting not taking a chance, if you have thoughts of running your own business, do so sooner rather than later, as the decision only gets tougher with each passing year.
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2. Work hard and persevere
One point seldom emphasised enough when talking of entrepreneurs is that it is very hard work and requires a great deal of energy and perseverance. I attribute my success in large measure to high energy levels. You need that.
It’s exhausting — long days, early flights to London to deliver training, and sometimes back again the same day. So, yes, you need a surplus of energy.
3. Know how to sell yourself and your business
You also need a predisposition towards selling, as any business requires sales in order to expand. Selling is something that’s in my DNA.
Especially when selling advice, it requires persistence because I know that a potential client will at some point need services like ours, so I make sure W.Consulting is top of mind when that day comes. I achieve this by keeping up the relationship, sending new ideas with no sales angle connected, mailing interesting books, and checking on how things are with the client. It’s a matter of having genuine interest.
4. Hire trustworthy people who share your passion
There are many risks in establishing your own business and one of the first challenges stems from the need to expand beyond a one-man operation. There’s a certain comfort in doing all the work and seeing all the cash in the business as yours, but it puts a fairly low ceiling on the business’s prospects and potential income.
The decision to expand and hire your first employee is both a big decision in itself and important as to the individual you select. It’s the biggest single decision most entrepreneurs have to make — and one that most don’t make early enough. You need to scale up a business to release resources at the top. That process never really ends — whatever you’re currently doing, you have to continually ask yourself: “Could this be done down the line?”
In an SME, each hire, but especially your first, has to be somebody you can trust, someone with the same objectives as you. Instead of having 9 to 5 people, rather employ someone who will do whatever is necessary, regardless of what time of day it is.
My philosophy is to hire people with passion and who preferably know what they’re doing, and then pay well to get them.
5. Continue to innovate
Most businesses fail not for want of an entrepreneurial idea, but because of management and accounting basics like cash flow. CAs(SA) already understand these basics and so arguably can concentrate on the actual operations of the business. However, because CAs(SA) can earn good money in the corporate world, most opt for the easy route in the corporate environment.
The future and success of any business is to keep on doing what it’s doing well. Bruce attributes the success of the business to its culture of continuous innovation: “It’s easier to sell something new,” he concludes.
How Khonology Founder Finds The Best Candidates And Trains Them For Best Results
Khonology has shown that South Africa might have a skills shortage, but that’s not because of a lack of ability. Give the right people the right opportunities, and they’ll flourish. Moreover, empowering people can make good business sense.
- Player: Michael Roberts
- Position: Founder and CEO
- Company: Khonology
- Established: 2013
- About: Khonology is an African technology services company that aims to transform and empower Africa’s people and businesses. Rather than importing skills and experience from overseas, the company trains promising local talent to fulfill challenging roles. Khonology was named the Job Creator of the Year at the 2016 South African Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
Almost by accident, Khonology CEO Michael Roberts built a successful career for himself in London. He travelled to the United Kingdom in 1997, not really planning to move there permanently, but ended up spending 13 years there, working for prestigious blue-chip companies like Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank.
“The aim was always to return to South Africa,” says Roberts. “I always knew that I hadn’t immigrated permanently. I wanted to go home and start a company there.”
But there were challenges to launching a technology services company in Africa, specifically the lack of skills and qualifications.
“There’s an assumption that we have a lack of skills locally, which is why many companies import knowledge from overseas, and that ends up costing the client an absolute fortune,” says Michael.
“While there was a lack of skilled professionals locally, I didn’t feel as if this was an insurmountable problem. We had a lack of experience, but not a lack of ability. I felt confident that if we got our hands on the right people, we could teach them to do what expensive international consultants were doing.”
So, Khonology started recruiting promising STEM graduates and training them. Michael’s hunch proved correct. Over the last few years, the company has successfully upskilled dozens of young people. In 2016, Khonology was even named the Job Creator of the Year at the South African Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
Entrepreneur spoke to Michael about the process of finding promising candidates and training them on the job.
Why the focus on STEM graduates?
People who have studied in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics have the sort of logical approach to things that’s needed within a technology services company. It’s not as much about what they studied as it is about the mindset they bring to the work. Because of this, assessment tools like analytical puzzles are useful for us when it comes to recruiting. We’re not that concerned about the answer they give to a puzzle; it’s all about the way they approach the problem.
So tests and assessments are something you would recommend?
Absolutely. It’s crucial. What’s great is that you can leverage technology these days. A lot of the time, effort and complexity that comes with these tests can be reduced through technology and automation. You can use technology to build capacity.
Hiring someone is always a risk. You can never be completely certain that you’re making the right decision, so you need to find ways in which you can de-risk the process. A reliable test or assessment can be a useful tool in this regard.
Is it all about logic, or do you care about attitude too?
We care a lot about attitude, which is why we use attitude assessment tools as well. In fact, attitude is probably the most important thing for us. You can only train people who are eager and willing to learn, so we look for people who want to learn, and who are also willing to give back and pass knowledge along to someone else.
We try to create a collaborative environment where people have a passion for learning.
And how do you create that sort of environment?
It starts with you. You really set the tone as the founder, so if you want people to be excited about learning, you need to exude that. You need to create a culture that prioritises learning. It’s something that you actively need to champion. In a busy company, training and learning can quickly fall by the wayside, but the results are worth the effort, so it is something that should be protected.
We also make use of daily scrums or stand-up meetings. These tend to be cancelled when people are busy, so we believe it’s important to set them in stone. We find them invaluable, since they keep everyone connected and on the same page.
How do you create these kinds of systems and processes in a quickly-scaling start-up?
It’s difficult to be sure. You have to accept that your systems will break as you grow. What works for ten people will not work for 20, and what works for 100 people will sometimes not work for 105. So, developing systems and processes is an ongoing activity. You’re never truly ‘done’. Also, you need to be honest with yourself when something isn’t working. Don’t just keep doing the same old thing. Stay agile and reassess things as you go.
You mentioned earlier that hiring someone is never risk-free. Have you had some bad hires?
Of course. Every company has. My advice is to admit when something is wrong and deal with the situation immediately. Don’t put it off. The issue will not ‘resolve itself’, it will only get worse. Letting someone go is never easy, but you have to take the emotion out of it. Culture is important, and a bad hire can poison the environment, so you have to prioritise the health of the business.
How important is the ‘raw material’ or potential of an individual when it comes to hiring? What can be taught, and what needs to be present from the start?
The simple answer is: You should only hire A-players. Skills can be taught, but you want people with tremendous drive and intelligence. You want to find those gold nuggets. If you hire B- and C-players, you will spend too much time and effort improving their performance.
A young company can’t afford to do that. You want to hire the people who will quickly be offered a job by someone else if you don’t make an immediate offer. For this reason, you also need to draw a firm line in the sand. You can’t let a potential employee make too many demands, as that will create issues later on.
Overpaying an employee will result in a management debt that’ll cause future problems.
The value of entering business competitions
As winner of the Job Creator of the Year at the 2016 South African Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, Khonology founder, Michael Roberts, believes in the benefits of entering awards programmes.
“We relish the opportunity to compete in competitions, as this allows us an opportunity to sharpen our offering and strengthen the pitch. The effort and work that goes into competing actually pays off, as we have to deep dive on our business and understand the fundamentals, test our value proposition and our belief for starting the business. This is an amazing validation tool for us. Secondly, and most importantly, it helps build our proverbial ‘soap box’, making our voice louder and providing amazing marketing and exposure for a fast growing company that is super ambitious to make a difference in the world of technology.”
Levergy Founders Tell You How To Scale Quickly – And Intelligently
Founders Clint Paterson and Struan Campbell explain how they’ve managed to take on strong competition, build a solid business, and even attract the attention of major international firm M&C Saatchi.
- Company: Levergy
- Players: Clint Paterson, Kieren Jacobsen and Struan Campbell
- Founded: 2012
- Turnover: R60 million
- Visit: www.levergy.co.za
Major international firm M&C Saatchi acquired a majority stake in Levergy in June 2017. Levergy now operates under M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment. The company also won the Agency of the Year award at the prestigious 2017 Discovery Sport Industry Awards.
Levergy’s growth has been quite amazing. The company was founded in 2012 by Clint Paterson and Struan Campbell. Although they managed to raise a modest amount of money from a handful of backers, this was not an operation that could afford to burn through funds at a rapid pace. And although the company did enjoy some early successes, the money wasn’t exactly pouring in. Revenue in its first year of operation was under R500 000.
Today, Levergy boasts a majority stakeholder in the form of M&C Saatchi, a list of impressive clients (including Audi, SuperSport, DStv, BBC Africa and New Balance), and an annual turnover of more than R60 million. How did the founders manage this sort of growth and success? Here’s their advice for not only scaling quickly, but intelligently as well.
Sometimes, launching in a bad economy is an advantage
When we launched Levergy in 2012, the economy wasn’t looking great. Now, it might seem like a bad idea to launch a start-up in a shaky economy, and there are certainly some young businesses that can’t survive a depressed economy, but we viewed it as an advantage.
The fact of the matter is that launching in a bad economy forces you to be careful with your money, and, if you can survive those difficult early years, the business rests on a strong foundation. When things are booming, you can get a warped view of reality, and you can find business suddenly drying up.
A bad economy also often means that there’s less competition and companies are spending less on things like marketing. That’s good news for a start-up that can’t spend a fortune on marketing.
Don’t throw money at every problem
Although we managed to raise some early funds, we didn’t have much of a runway. So, right from the beginning, we focused on being cash flow-positive. We managed to break even in our first year of operation. Even though there’s more money now, we’ve tried to maintain the same approach that we had early on. We don’t spend money just because it’s there. Growth isn’t just about making more money, it’s also about restricting spending. Young companies often spend too much too early on things like fancy offices. Take pressure off yourself by saving money.
Some things are worth spending on
We were always careful with our money, but we believed that some things were worth spending on. For instance, we didn’t spend a lot of money on fancy offices and furniture early on, but we did spend on staff. We believed that finding and attracting the right people was important, so we invested in this area of the business.
We also attended some major international conferences, and even went to the 2012 Olympics just after we had launched. Travelling overseas might have seemed like an unnecessary expense, but we believed that it was worth it, since it would allow us to see what the best companies in the world were doing. It’s important to spend money on the things that you think will really boost your business, and save on those that won’t.
Be willing to take ad hoc work
Retained clients are fantastic, since they give you room and confidence to grow. With a retained client, you’re guaranteed a certain amount of income. However, don’t expect it to be easy to sign clients. It takes time and patience. One of the best ways to secure long-term clients is to start off with ad hoc work.
Don’t push for a retainer right out of the gate. Instead, take on a few small projects and show what you can do. First build up a track record.
Selling a majority stake in your business is never easy
You need to think very carefully about what you hope to achieve. If it’s just about the money, the experience can be painful and frustrating. The last thing you want is to work in a company you no longer truly own, just because of some earn-out deal. For us, it was never just about the money.
We liked the access to international best practices and overseas clients that an operation like M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment could offer, but we still wanted Levergy to feel like ‘our’ company. We didn’t want to take the money and run. We wanted freedom and autonomy, which M&C Saatchi was happy to give us.
You need to have this conversation early on in any negotiation. Everyone needs to be on the same page. If your goals and expectations aren’t aligned, it won’t work. We only sold once we felt confident that we could have a great working relationship with the folks at M&C Saatchi.
You need to invest in growth, from knowing where to focus your time, to approaching the right clients, to spending on the best assets.
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