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Form Follows Function With South African Interior Design Company, Form Design

In only its fourth year of operation, Form Design is on track to generate R25 million in revenue this year. What makes this particularly impressive, is that the company is able to do this while generating very few expenses. Founders Tashi Krost and Ricky Silberman don’t even have any employees.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Tashi Krost and Ricky Silberman
  • Company: Form Design
  • Established: 2012
  • Contact: formdesign.co.za

In 2012, Tashi Krost came up with the idea of creating a small interior design firm that could offer a bespoke service to clients who didn’t have the budget (or inclination) to make use of a large design firm. So, she started Form Design alongside her brother, Ricky Silberman, who came on as CFO.

With a solid background in design and a good eye, Tashi’s designs quickly garnered attention. The first year, the company managed about R1 million in revenue — by the third year, this had ballooned to R15 million.

Despite this phenomenal growth, the siblings have managed to keep things impressively lean. Form Design doesn’t even boast any permanent staff. How have they managed this? Here are their secrets to running a lean and lucrative operation.

1. Choose your partner wisely

As mentioned, Tashi Krost has a background in design. Her brother Ricky Silberman, meanwhile, completed a BCom in entrepreneurship, and has a real passion for numbers and problem-solving. This combination of Krost’s flair for design and Silberman’s head for numbers turned out to be crucial to the success of Form Design.

“If I had been on my own, the company would have failed in its second month,” laughs Krost.

“As a designer, my tendency is to try and make a space look as great as possible, which often means not paying attention to the bottom line. Ricky pays attention to the numbers and makes sure that every design solution makes good business sense.”

Lesson: As the adage goes: Great founders often come in pairs. Very few people have all the attributes needed to make a success of a business on their own, which is why it is important to find a partner who adds the knowledge and skills you lack. This is as true of hiring high-level managers as it is of selecting a co-founder.

Related: What The Concept Phase Really Means To Alex Van Tonder

2. Keep your overheads low

Form-design-interior-design

Most young companies struggle to resist the temptation of swanky offices who’ll impress clients and new employees that’ll help lighten the workload.

“From the beginning, we made the decision to keep things simple. Fancy offices and staff make some people feel like they are running ‘a proper company’. They also believe that if you don’t have a fancy office, people won’t want to use them. We always believed that if we provided people with beautiful items and great service, the word would get out and people would choose us because of our product, and not our office,” says Silberman.

“Form Design has evolved immensely in scope, but we have kept our size the same,” adds Krost. “We have managed to keep our overheads small, which has been critical in maintaining our value offering. Every cent we save can be passed on to our clients, which means we can price very competitively.”

Lesson: A company such as Form Design doesn’t really need a fancy office. The founders spend most of their time at clients or at suppliers, so there is little need for office space. You need to make sure that every expensive purchase or investment (whether that be a large office or an Italian espresso maker) is truly justified and not driven by vanity.

3. Work smart

“There is a quote by Bill Gates that I absolutely love,” says SIlberman. “He says: ‘I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. A lazy person will find an easy way to do it.’ I think it is important to work smart, especially if you want to operate without staff. Outsource whatever you can, manage your time very well and implement robust IT systems.”

Lesson: Innovative IT systems now allow companies to, for example, capture data or generate documents with ease. What used to take hours can now be done in minutes. By working smart, a lot of time-intensive labour can be eliminated. Make sure that you know what IT solutions are available that can save you time and money.

4. You’re only as good as your suppliers

“As a designer, you are really only as good as your suppliers,” says Krost.

“They play a massive role in delivering on the promise that you make to your clients. We have an amazing team of suppliers who we work closely with. They have enabled us to offer a full turnkey solution. In the beginning, we only provided furniture. This has expanded to include all appliances, cutlery, towels, and even linen. We can provide everything down to the final detail. This really helps clients who are looking for a one-stop shop.”

Lesson: Choose your suppliers very carefully. They will have a massive impact on the success of your business. Opting for the cheapest supplier is often a bad decision. Find suppliers that are as committed to getting the job done as you are, and who add real value to your offering.

Related: How Majozi Bros Construction Built Their Business, One Brick At A Time

5. Local is lekker

Local-South-African-interior-designers

All of the furniture offered by Form Design is manufactured locally. For the founders, making use of local manufacturers was the only option that made sense.

“If you’re having thousands of items manufactured, making use of a company in China, for example, might make sense. For us, however, there really isn’t a business case for having items manufactured overseas. It wouldn’t offer meaningful savings,” says Silberman. “We also typically can’t afford to wait three or four months for items to arrive from the East. Our clients want things done quickly.”

Another advantage of a local manufacturer is that you have more control over commissioned items. You can make sure that things are manufactured as specified, and it’s easier to have items replaced if something goes wrong.

Lesson: There is nothing worse than opening a container and discovering what you received from an overseas supplier is not at all what you ordered. For this reason, having a local supplier can be a great advantage. Moreover, the current exchange rate is making local manufacturing look more attractive than ever.

6. Find a scalable niche

Scaling a service-oriented business can be hard, especially when operating without a large number of employees. There are, after all, only so many hours in a given day.

Form Design has found a clever solution to this limitation by focusing on turnkey solutions for investors purchasing furnished apartments that can be rented out. The company does traditional residential and corporate designs, but its focus for the moment is on upscale apartment developments that require furnishing. This allows the company to roll out a particular solution across dozens of units.

“Allowing people to purchase full furniture packs enabled us to reach those clients who were furnishing properties as investment propositions. In these cases, the owner wanted a higher return on their rental units but didn’t have the time or the design acumen to start furnishing a small apartment,” says Krost.

Lesson: It is important, especially within a service operation, to find ways in which your offering can be packaged to make it scalable. Taking on time-consuming one-off commissions will never be scalable — at least, not without hiring loads of experienced (and expensive) employees. Ask yourself how your offering can be packaged and rolled out multiple times.

7. Be firm about your terms

“A key decision we made early on was to not start a job without getting a 60% deposit. Cash flow is very important in an SME. Getting a deposit reduces your risk, and also ensures that the customer is invested. We’re not afraid to lose business because of it — these are our terms,” says Silberman.

“The biggest mistake you could make is letting the client bully you into a deadline or price. Stick to your lead times so that your product is never compromised. We would rather walk away from a job if we can’t meet the deadline, as hard as that is. We hate having clients who are disappointed, so it is about being honest with yourself about whether the deadlines are deliverable,” says Krost.

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to walk away from work if your terms aren’t met. Trying to meet a client’s unrealistic time or cost demands will only result in a product or service you’re not proud of, which will harm your brand in the long run.

Related: Vinny Lingham’s Views On Focus, Changing The World And Why You Should Give Some Of Your Business Away

Do this

Make a list of all the expenses in your business that aren’t having a direct impact on the quality of your service or product. Why do they exist? How can you get rid of them?

Lessons Learnt

3 Lessons I’ve Learned In Krav Maga That Have Changed My Approach To Business

This fighting style packs a big punch on and off the mat.

Kristina Libby

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I started taking Krav Maga lessons this year at the recommendation of both my personal trainer and my therapist. I was physically assaulted years before in a nice neighbourhood in Washington, D.C. at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Not a time or place one would expect to be attacked, and it has had long-lasting impacts on my mental and physical health. My trainer and my therapist, for different reasons, thought that learning a fighting skill would help me address the assault and move forward. It turned out to do much more than that.

Krav Maga is a military fighting system developed for the Israel Defense Forces. It is derived from a number of other fighting systems like boxing, wrestling, judo, etc. Those fighting forms were combined together to create a system for effective self-defense that is not based on bulk, height or gender. It is based on winning.

My first day at Krav Maga was scary. I did not feel like I was winning. I pushed back tears as my instructor Mike took me through different fighting stances and beginner moves. As I was learning to balance on my feet, he looked over at me. I was scared.

The terror and fear of the attack I had experienced years ago came flooding back. I kept flinching away and cowering as he came closer toward me. He looked me in the face and very slowly spoke to me: “The moment you get attacked, you are not the victim. You become the attacker.”

The moment you get attacked, you are not the victim. You become the attacker

This is a fundamental phrase in Krav Maga. It’s the idea that you don’t allow yourself to become the victim. If you are attacked, you attack back – stronger and more aggressively – because your job is to protect yourself.

In business, you are always at some point or another going to be the victim of an attack. This could be small, such as someone who leaves a negative product review, or big, such as a company slandering you or trying to take over your accounts.

The question is: How do you respond? Prior to Krav Maga, I would have been a little bit more “nice.” I would have shrugged my shoulders, known I would rebound in the end, or receded into a position of victimhood.

Not anymore.

My job is to protect myself and my company. It’s to protect my employees and my customers. And, Krav Maga has taught me to do that not from a position of victimhood but from a position of preparation. The only way to ensure you can attack an attacker is to have the skills to fight. In business this means:

  • Aligning your A-team: Ensuring you have a lawyer, an accountant and a good PR firm at the ready.
  • Preparing yourself: Ensuring you understand where threats can arise, what those threats may be and developing a plan to respond to them.
  • Preparing your team: Ensuring your team knows that you don’t play the role of the victim and that when attacked you address the situation head-on from a position of educated authority. This is about mindset for both leaders and employees.

Related: The 5-Hour Rule Used By Bill Gates, Jack Ma And Elon Musk

You will get punched in the face. Understand what that feels like

krav-maga-fighting

In my Krav Maga training, Mike will punch me in the stomach for a few minutes at varying levels of force. The intent is that I will get used to getting punched in the stomach.

He has me stand with my arms to my side, stomach muscles tightened and solar plexus alert. I can’t punch back. I can only wait and anticipate the blows, tighten my muscles and understand that practice punches in the stomach are the only way to prepare me for punches to my stomach (or anywhere) in a fight.

The first time he did this, I was terrified.

Now, I understand that the momentary pain makes me stronger, less afraid of the intentional punch or kick someone years down the road might throw at me. In business, this lesson is incredibly useful and has changed the way I think about planning and development.

Sometimes you need someone to punch you in the stomach.

The role of an advisor or a consultant for your business is the same role as Mike is playing when he punches me in the stomach. He knows what it’s like to get hit and he wants to ensure that if I do get hit, the shock of being hit won’t be debilitating.

Hopefully, those advising you are also seeing the future ways your business can get punched in the stomach. Their role is to help you avoid those punches by preparing you for the little bumps and bruises you’ll see along the way.

As a business owner, then, it is your role to:

  • Find advisors who have been punched in the stomach (metaphorically) and allow them to watch you along the way. They will know when you are careening too far in the direction of something dangerous and hopefully prepare you for the inevitable danger.
  • Allow the little punches to your stomach to be seen as training bumps. These small upsets should be dealt with as upsets, not massive failures. They are preparing you for bigger and more aggressive assaults down the road.

Related: Here’s What Jeff Bezos Prefers To Work-Life Balance And Why You Should Live By It

Even blindfolded, we can win

There is an exercise that Mike has me do, where I close my eyes and he attacks me. The intent is that I use the skills we have learned to ward off the attack. When I was attacked years ago, it was nighttime, and the attacker snuck up and surprised me. As such, Mike’s simulation is the hardest emotional thing I have to do all week. That is, until I actually do it.

Normally, I don’t do the counterattack move perfectly. I use an open-palm heel strike instead of a punch. Or, I use a knee rather than a kick because I know my knees to the groin are stronger. It doesn’t matter. I’m still able to disarm him (when he uses a knife), knock him away and clear enough space to get away. I still win.

I win not because I have perfect form, or a super-human strength but because I don’t give up. I don’t stop fighting until I win because I don’t have the luxury of losing. Losing means victimisation. I don’t want to be the victim.

When I was assaulted years ago, I didn’t give up either. I fought on the ground and then standing until the assailant ran away. I screamed and kicked and refused to let him win. I didn’t have any training then; I won only because I had grit and a desire to live through the attack.

Now, I have more training but at the end of the day, I won’t be an expert. Few of us ever will be. The thing that all of us can do though is refuse to give up. We can refuse to let the attack keep us down. We can refuse to let the attacker win.

This is the Krav Maga lesson that I think is the most impactful for women business leaders. We are going to get attacked – every day. Often, we will not see the attack coming. We will be blindfolded in some way by lack of time, lack of awareness or lack of funding, and the attack will come.

The only thing we can do, the thing we must do, is know that even blindfolded we can continue to fight. We can refuse to be the victim. We can continue to raise and punch back. Because if there is something I know about female entrepreneurs, is that we all have a lot of grit and a lot of heart.

In the end of the day, heart and grit win fights.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

Taking It To The Malaysian Market – Karl van Zyl Of Antipodean Café

Karl van Zyl approach has always been logical and simplified and he highlights three principles that he believes to be critical in the food and beverage industry.

Dirk Coetsee

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Karl van Zyl has a 17 year history in the food and beverage industry in South-Africa and now applies his skills and knowledge in the extremely vibrant and competitive Malaysian market. I had a very interesting conversation with him to explore both similarities and differences of both markets and to share his accumulative learning of this industry to those entrepreneurs considering to open a restaurant or café.

He has a history working for the Mikes’ kitchen and Fishmonger groups in South-Africa fulfilling a range of roles from being a General Manager to Operational Manager. Currently he both manages an well-known Café called Antipodean and facilitates the opening of new cafes’ in Klang Valley, Malaysia.

Karl shared that his approach has always been logical and that applying sound basics has always served him well. Would you eat the food served at your restaurant and really enjoy it? Posing questions such as the aforementioned to yourself as a restaurant owner or manager helps you to be aware of the quality of your operation and to always keep the customer in mind when making decisions.

One of the key learnings that he shared was to get a very good and experienced team of waiters together that has previous restaurant or hospitality industry experience. He strongly advises quality over quantity when it comes to waiters and fondly remembers one of the waiters that he managed whom could take orders from a group of twenty people and remember each order from the top of his head.

It is not only about quality of service to the customer but also when there is a small but quality team of waiters operating then their earnings are much higher and they will feel valued and happy as opposed to a large group of waiters competing for relatively small rewards.

Related: What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew

Karls’ approach has always been logical and simplified and he highlights three principles that he believes to be critical in the food and beverage industry:

  1. Quality of food
  2. Quality of service
  3. Pricing.

He adds that in addition to the above principles your location should of course be in area with very good ‘foot traffic’.

When the entrepreneur venturing into the food and beverage market considers the right suppliers it is a critical factor to go and visit their facilities, thoroughly check their quality and enquire which other quality brands they are supplying in addition to buying at good prices.

In his view comparing the Malaysian food and beverage market to the South African market there are a lot more Malaysians eating at restaurants than in South Africa. One of the reasons for this is that there are a lot of ‘street café/restaurant’ options with quality food at a very low price due to the restaurant not being air-conditioned and making use of for example plastic chairs and tables.

Personally the author has found much more twenty four hour food options and countless varieties of food compared to the South African market. If you are awake and hungry at 3 am in the morning in Kuala Lumpur, no problem! You also will not be limited to only 24 hour fast food options, almost any type of food that you desire will be available that is if you know where to go off-course.

Related: Don’t Be ‘Outside Standing’ On Your Own Exponential Growth Says Serial Investor, Jimmy Phoon

As a matter of interest Karl regards the prices of restaurants in general in Kuala Lumpur to be better than in South Africa and holds the service levels in KL in higher esteem due to it being more ‘personal’ and customer orientated. He believes that South African food matches the quality of Malaysian food but that there is however much more variety of food available in Malaysia.

Karl pointed out that it is possible to have people from all five continents represented in one night at a restaurant as the food culture in Malaysia is very diverse and so is the cultural phenomenon in general in Kuala Lumpur.

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Lessons Learnt

What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew

Zac Liew was offered to be CEO and Co-founder of Curlec at the age of twenty six and took up the offer knowing that he would be engaged in a steep learning curve. Curlec is a FinTech company that is redefining the customer experience for Direct Debit.

Dirk Coetsee

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Botanica Deli, Bangsar South, Malaysia a vibrant environment where a number of entrepreneurs and office workers go to meet and have great food and coffee. I walked into the Deli to meet a man that might just possess the ‘entrepreneurial gene’ if indeed that gene exists.

Zac Liew always wanted to venture onto the exciting yet challenging playing field of entrepreneurial ventures having his dad and mother as examples. His father a lawyer, whom ventured into property development and his mother whom started the first chain of liquor stores in Malaysia.

His parents’ ventures interested him from a very young age and helped to ignite the entrepreneurial fire in this very young CEO and co-founder of Curlec. Zac is a qualified lawyer whom also did a stint in the banking industry but at all times he had a burning desire to do something entrepreneurial and always had an interest in tech.

To him tech was always logical and simply made sense within this ever changing business environment within which we as entrepreneurs launch our start-up ventures. He also enjoys the challenging demands that the tech environment places upon his problem solving skills.

Related: Brian Tan Of FutureLab.my – Bridging The Knowledge Gap Through Social Learning

The Creation of Curlec

curlec-malaysia-mobile-appZac Liew was offered to be CEO and Co-founder of Curlec at the age of twenty six and took up the offer knowing that he would be engaged in a steep learning curve. Curlec is a FinTech company that is redefining the customer experience for Direct Debit. They are the first Malaysian software company to enable online Direct Debit payments in Malaysia. One of the core principles that Curlec was founded upon is to Build great tech that solves a basic need.

Zac together with his co-founders Steve Kucia and Raj Lorenz found a simplified and effective solution to collecting money on a recurring basis. Normally recurring billing and collections is a big issue for SMEs’ and other options were exceptionally costly and timeous.

Zac pointed out that the size of the issue of recurring collections exceeded all expectations and that is one of the reasons that their start-up phase has been successful and gained very good traction in the market.

Curlec has a razor sharp focus on only two products which enables them to focus on giving a great service and customer experience. Curlec cuts through the normal levels of bureaucracy of big companies and has a laser focus on their customers.

How does this apply to start-up entrepreneurs?

Create a product or a system that is simplified, very user friendly, cost and time effective, and more importantly that solves a very challenging issue within the market place that adds great value to customers. Underpin this by being customer centric.

I asked Zac to enlighten me on the key learnings of his journey thus far and also share success principles that has served him well in business and in his life in general. He pointed out that he believes that every entrepreneur should get comfortable with being uncomfortable and venture outside the boundaries of their own comfort zones.

‘Be comfortable with making mistakes’ he says. Get feedback learn from it and integrate the useful feedback in your thinking and in practically applying solutions.’

As business and life has a natural and general ebb and flow to it persistence is a key factor to your success. Accept challenges as they occur and realise that the mind of the entrepreneur should always have a problem solving focus. As a fan of combat sports, Zac shared the following quotes that resonates with him:

“The more you seek the uncomfortable the more you will become comfortable” – Conor McGregor

And

“I have been training under the dark lights so that I can shine in the bright lights’ – Anthony Joshua

Related:  Zac Liew Channeling The Fire Of Authenticity: Asia’s’ Top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh

As a writer I have always been fascinated by the wisdom imparted by philosophers and masters of their respective fields. I am even more excited and hopeful for our future when I hear wisdom ‘rolling of the tongue’ of a twenty six year old entrepreneur:

‘Be idealistic in your ideas but be pragmatic in actualising them. If things are not working out do not be stuck in that. Take what you can learn from your experiences and move on.’

Tech has the inherent power to reach the far ends of the world seamlessly and when we have more and more tech entrepreneurs solving big consumer issues and thereby making this world a better place we can be more and more hopeful of a better future.

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