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Founder of Five-Star Wes Boshoff Weighs In On Becoming An Entrepreneur

Here are Wes Boshoff’s seven lessons in building a brand that matters, offering your clients something of worth, and always following your passions.

Nadine Todd

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A lot of starting a business is just winging it. Call it the hustle, faking it ‘till you make it or biting off more than you can chew (and then chewing like hell), the reality is the same: Doing what you can, when you can to get yourself and your business out there so that you can build a brand with longevity.

As a start-up, does your vision push the boundaries? Are you putting everything you have into achieving something great? Here are seven lessons to help you (and your business) reach full potential.

1. Seize the day

Wes began his career in the people development industry. He was involved in high-impact training and developmental coaching, and entrepreneurship couldn’t have been further from his mind. “I had no appetite for going solo,” he recalls.

Related: Failure Is Not An Option – Or Is It? Your How To On How To

“I was employed but doing some part-time coaching on the side, and while this may have seemed like a springboard into entrepreneurship, I’ve always viewed start-ups as requiring three key things: Timing, opportunity and experience. Experience in particular was a stumbling block for me. I was young. I didn’t feel like I’d earned real credibility or had enough life experience to offer real value to others. Who would listen to me? I was just Wes.”

And then an opportunity presented itself and Wes decided to take the plunge anyway. “After becoming an expert in behaviour and personality profiling, I was asked to join a project management company. About a year into joining them they shut down.”

Facing unemployment, Wes decided to take the plunge and never work for a boss again. Instead, he seized the opportunity to launch his own business and brand.

And so, Five-Star was born, a brand that sought to help businesses improve their customer service by first focusing on their employees. Wes decided to cut his teeth in the hospitality arena, where customer service is the life-blood of the industry.

The lesson: There is no perfect time to start a business. There will always be excuses to put it off. You will never be 100% ready. And yet, until you’ve taken that first step, you can’t start testing your model in the market, tweaking and adjusting your offering to suit your audience. If your dream is to become an entrepreneur, don’t look for all the reasons why you shouldn’t take the plunge, but focus on the one reason why you should.

2. Don’t wait for business to find you

When Wes launched Five-Star, he had no savings to invest in the business and no assets. He had himself and his experiences. “I didn’t spend time on a business plan or money on getting a website up and running — that would all come later. I spent what I could afford on business cards, and hit the streets. I believed I could tell my story better than a website could, and so I focused on getting myself in front of the people I needed to sell my services to.”

Wes’ first call was to the GM of one of the fastest growing hotel groups in the country. “I introduced myself as Wes from Five-Star, told him I’d heard a lot about how good his hotel was, and that I’d love to take him out for coffee to discuss what would take them to a ten. I didn’t sell anything over the phone — I wanted a face-to-face meeting, and the opportunity to share real value. I wanted him to see why we should work together, rather than make a hard sell.”

Wes is an expert in hospitality, training and customer service. But he was also winging it. During the coffee meeting he was asked to do a mystery guest assessment, to uncover which areas could be improved upon. “I asked him if he’d like me to use their report or mine, and thank goodness he said theirs, since I didn’t have one.” Nine years later, that hotel group is Wes’ longest-standing client.

This is the tactic Wes has used to build his business and brand ever since: He focuses on face-to-face meetings, sharing his story, who he is and what he’s learnt, and really listening to his clients’ challenges so that he can offer advice and add value — even if they don’t end up doing business together.

The lesson: Entrepreneurs make things happen for themselves. Wes personally does not like cold calls, and so he’s found a sales strategy that works for him. How you sell isn’t as important as the fact that you are out there, selling yourself, your business and the solutions you can offer. If you aren’t out there selling, you’ll never build a sustainable start-up.

3. Make the most of tools

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The report that the hotel gave Wes for his first mystery guest assessment became the template for a report he built for himself. Over the years he has developed numerous tools, building on his experience with Discus and other methodologies to create frameworks for his motivational talks, training and coaching programmes.

“In the early days I couldn’t afford to purchase tools, so I had to really listen to my clients and develop what they needed. There are so many resources available to us today. You just need to do your research, know your industry and be constantly tweaking your offering based on what works best.”

In Wes’ own words, he’s not a book smarts guy, but a street smarts guy. “It’s why a business plan didn’t work for me — I needed to be out there, testing my model and my theories, and tweaking and adjusting my offering. I paid my school fees, and used those learnings to develop the tools I needed to deliver results.

Related: The Journey Of Entrepreneurship: How The Tough Get Going

“I love developing models. Applied knowledge is power. But don’t overcomplicate things. There’s a simple process to learning and development: The stages of knowledge start with a revelation, new knowledge, followed by realisation — making it real — and finally a revolution, which leads to purpose and progress. That’s what I help people to do — create perspectives, interrogate the perspective, and then affect real change in their lives and businesses.”

The lesson: The more open you are to learning and adjusting your solutions, the more you’ll be able to offer to your clients. Any tools you can develop to add to the overall experience are value-adds that benefit yourself and your clients.

4. Add value before you add an invoice

Wes is a born networker. He loves meeting new people, sharing his story, and finding out more about the people he’s networking with. He’s also very good at uncovering the challenges they face and offering solutions, even if those solutions aren’t one of the products he offers.

“When you increase your network, you increase your net worth. I believe in being the go-to guy for my clients. I want them to feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking my advice on anything. I believe great businesses and brands are built when you add value before you add an invoice.”

This has been Wes’ motto throughout his career, long before he launched his own business. “I’ve always put my hand up when a new challenge or task has presented itself. I don’t believe in constantly looking for what’s wrong in what’s right. Face the reality, and determine the best way to get the opportunity out of the obstacle. You need to choose to be opportunistic. I’m a realist, but that doesn’t mean I want to live in a negative environment.

“I’ve brought this attitude to everything I do, including how I view my clients’ businesses. It’s not about what I can get from them, but what I can add to them. Some of this I can charge for, but valuable advice should be freely given. I believe in cultivating an opportunistic mindset; and I want to help my clients and their employees to do the same.”

The lesson: As an entrepreneur, you need to walk the talk. If you truly care about your customers, add real value without always expecting something in return. You’ll build long-term relationships built on trust and mutual respect.

5. Don’t lose Focus

It’s a common problem amongst start-up entrepreneurs. Early wins leave you feeling overly confident and eager for more. It’s at this stage that many business owners start looking for new challenges, and where else they can divest their energy for new and exciting wins.

For Wes, this diversion was cars. “I’d been accepted into the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship, but instead of focusing on Five-Star, I was looking for a way to combine my passion for cars with business.”

Related: 8 Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Advice For When The Going Gets Tough

What Wes found was Plastic Dip, a US-based product used to wrap cars. “I stopped focusing on Five-Star and launched Plastispray,” he recalls. “I had this massive vision, with not much support. I forgot the cardinal rule that I’d learnt in Samuel Chand’s book, Who’s Holding Your Ladder, and that’s the importance of support. We might be the sole founders of our businesses, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need support systems. Who is holding your ladder? Who won’t get bored and walk away?

“I ended up in a situation where my focus was completely scattered, I wasn’t managing my personal life, and the business I was trying to build just didn’t have legs. I even landed this incredible project, building a Mini Cooper for the launch of Virgin Mobile. We turned it into a photo-booth and broke a world record for the most people squeezed into a Mini — which was 25.

“I thought, that’s it, after this project, the business will just take off. And nothing happened. It opened no doors.”

It was a hard lesson to learn, and one that took its toll on Wes emotionally. “2013 was the lowest year of my life,” he says. “I started seeing a psychologist, and spent 2014 rebuilding myself. I realised I needed to work on my attitude, my fears and my business. I also needed to learn how to focus again. We can’t achieve anything in life if we aren’t focused.

“I failed hard, but it also gave me perspective. When you learn you win — which means that failure isn’t actually losing. It’s important to understand that, and it’s what pushed me through the tough times. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

Once Wes regrouped and renewed his focus on Five-Star, the business started taking off. “People outside of the hospitality industry started asking me for help. I was invited to speak at international leadership conferences, and work with businesses on turnaround strategies. From there the business has just grown from strength to strength.”

The lesson: Focus is essential. It’s easy to get distracted and chase the next trend or hot idea, but real success takes time to build, and sticking to anything long-term takes focus. The more focused you are, the higher your chances of success.

6. Understand your brand

For nine years Wes has operated the business under the Five-Star name. The longer he’s been in the industry however, the clearer it’s become that his brand isn’t the business, it’s himself, and his ideas.

“I’m always, unapologetically, ‘just Wes’,” he says. “You’ll never be everything to everyone. The best thing you can be is authentic. Some people will love you, others won’t. That’s okay. Just be true to yourself. I’m not a suits guy. I arrive how I am, share my story, my lessons, and give the best advice I can. I share tools and tips to become the best version of you. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t completely myself when I work with my clients.”

It’s for this reason that Wes has recently rebranded the business to ‘Wes’, with the tagline, Imagine Thinking. It’s an ideal closely linked with his talks, his philosophy, and his name in the market. “I’m becoming a thought leader, and that comes with risks,” he says. “When you put yourself out there, you need to have enough confidence for people to disagree with you, because that’s hard. Not everyone will like what you’re saying or agree with you on a particular issue. You put yourself out there in the public domain and if you aren’t sure of who you are and what you stand for, insecurities can come to haunt you.

“I tell everyone I speak to, ‘disagree with everything I say…’ I can’t change the way people think, or what they think — I just want to challenge them to think for a change. I want you to consider your opinions and question them. Imagine thinking. Thinking is a verb. You have to do something — you need to disagree to set your own thoughts in motion. Be brave; share your thoughts so that we all benefit together.

“I used to take myself seriously; I don’t anymore. I don’t want to offend, but I’m okay if you don’t agree with me.”

The lesson: Your personal and business brands tell a story. They let your customers know who you are, what you stand for, and what your values are. People do business with people, not companies, so don’t be afraid to authentically share your story.

Related: How To Start A Business With (Almost) No Money

7. Have a vision that scares you

For Wes, too many organisations have a vision that’s external and designed for clients. But he believes vision is an internal thing. “As an entrepreneur, your vision should be for you and your employees. It should be your guiding light. It’s your future, and it should consistently grow.

“If you don’t achieve your vision, it’s because you don’t have an appetite for the mission. If you’re only looking two to five years into the future, that’s a goal, not a vision. Your vision should scare you. It should wake you up and keep you up. It should drive you.”

“The mission is how you achieve the vision. You need to know what it will take to get there, and this usually includes a lot of hard work, stress, fear, and living on the edge. But that’s okay, because we’re designed to stretch ourselves. That’s when we discover our full potential.”

The lesson: Don’t ever be too scared to think big. Thinking small isn’t what entrepreneurs are built for. Big hairy audacious goals (or BHAGs) are the foundation of successful, game changing businesses — and successful, fulfilled entrepreneurs.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

Lessons Learnt

Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Have a plan in place for your money, no matter how much you earn.

Christopher Tracy

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Seven-figure pay cheques are enough to buy a lifetime of financial security, right? Well, not exactly. Despite making millions, seemingly wealthy celebrities often have a tough time keeping their heads above the financial waters.

Johnny Depp spending $3 million to fire Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes out of a cannon, or Nicholas Cage shelling out $150,000 for a pet octopus, are both prime examples of how lavish lifestyles can quickly lead to debt. The two A-listers are part of a long list of actors, musicians, athletes, etc. – including Floyd Mayweather, 50 Cent and Curt Schilling – who have all experienced financial troubles.

While there’s nothing wrong with celebrities enjoying their earnings, a little budgeting can go a long way. Just take a look at Tori Spelling. After failing to pay a balance of more than $35,000, the actress was taken to court by American Express. Another example is 80s movie star Corey Haim. He became so desperate for cash after filing for bankruptcy he tried to sell his own tooth on eBay for $150, which didn’t get any buyers.

Avoid falling into any of these situations by keeping a close eye on your spending. Regardless of how much you make, the following few budgeting tips promise to help you practice safe and responsible money management.

Put a plan in place

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Nearly everyone lose sleep over their finances. Get a good night’s rest by figuring out where your money should be going long before it’s in your bank account. Spending without a plan, even if it’s only splurging on a one-time event, can have unintended consequences.

Related: 6 Money Management Tips For First-Time Entrepreneurs

One example of this is former NFL star Vince Young – after dropping $300,000 on his own birthday party he was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Another example is Mike Tyson, who went into debt after overspending on Bengal tigers, 110 cars and a $2-million bathtub.

That doesn’t mean you can never treat yourself, but make sure you’re not spending money faster than you can earn it. Set up a series of “fun funds” each month to splurge on nonessentials. Depending on what else you have going on that month, each fund should be adjusted accordingly.

If, for example, you’re heading out to a friend’s wedding, there may be a little less left over for eating out. Stay up to date on your spending by downloading a budgeting app. The easier it is to see where you are for that month, the better chance you have of staying under budget.

Carry around some cash

Credit cards are becoming the most common payment method among consumers. The average American currently carries around three credit cards at any given time. While they may be more convenient, credit cards can easily lure consumers into a false sense of security.

After all, a simple swipe or tap is often all it takes to complete a purchase. However, it’s important to take time to research any costly items thoroughly and ensure you won’t regret them like Nicholas Cage. He learned this lesson the hard way when he blew $276,000 on a dinosaur skull that he was forced to return after it was discovered to be an illegal import.

Curb some of your impulse spending during a night out by bringing enough cash for the occasion. In addition to avoiding spending money you don’t have, you’ll also sidestep costly ATM fees at establishments that only accept cash.

Whether it means stopping by your bank on the first of every month or getting cash back at the grocery store, do whatever it takes to have a little bit of cash on hand. As you cut back on credit card purchases, your chances of falling into debt should begin to dwindle.

Lean on an expert

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When it comes to your finances, take a lesson from the likes of OprahTyga and Hugh Jackman, who invest in financial and life coaches. Many celebrities, including Oprah, attribute their success to their coaches helping put them on the right path. Even celebrities are human and can find it difficult to stick to budgeting goals.

Personalised features of a comprehensive coaching programme, such as daily check-in texts and bi-weekly budget reviews, promise to provide you with the encouragement needed to remain accountable even as the going gets tough.

Better yet, a financial coach can take your individual goals into account. Say you decide to start a family or need to make a cross-country move. Instead of wondering what that might mean for your budget, you can work with a financial coach to modify your spending habits and investments long before a change comes to fruition.

Related: 15 Wise Money Quotes From Millionaires And Billionaires

Budgeting goes beyond class. No matter how much you make, responsible money management has shown itself to be a necessity. Avoid following in the footsteps of celebrities who face serious financial trouble by keeping a close eye on where your money is going.

As we’ve seen all too often, failing to do so can mean losing millions. Simple steps – including creating a spending plan, occasionally relying on cash and reaching out to an expert – can help you achieve financial security sooner rather than later.

And if you plan carefully enough, you might just end up with the funds you need for that pet octopus.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Related: 6 Habits Long-Time Millionaires Rely On To Stay Rich

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Lessons Learnt

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

The most successful people on the planet are also the people likeliest to devote an hour a day to reading and learning.

John Rampton

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You just walked in the door from an exhausting day at work. You’re hungry and spent, just wanting to catch your breath for a minute. You grab something to eat and then veg out in front of the TV. Next thing you know, you’ve just binge-watched five episodes of “Jessica Jones.”

While that’s OK occasionally – we all need ways to decompress and shut down – this isn’t a healthy habit. That’s why the most successful people in the world spend their free time learning.

It’s not exactly breaking news. During his five-year study of more than 200 self-made millionaires, Thomas Corley found that they don’t watch TV. Instead, an impressive 86 percent claimed they read – but not just for fun. What’s more, 63 percent indicated they listened to audiobooks during their morning commute.

Productivity expert Choncé Maddox writes, “It’s no secret that successful people read. The average millionaire is said to read two or more books per month.”

As such, she suggests everyone “read blogs, news sites, fiction and non-fiction during downtime so you can soak in more knowledge.” If you’re frequently on the go, listen to audiobooks or podcasts.

Related: 6 Leadership Lessons From Bill Gates On His 60th Birthday

Maybe you’re thinking: Who has the time to sit down and actually read? Between work and family, it’s almost impossible to find free time. As an entrepreneur and a father, I can relate – but only to an extent. After all, if Barack Obama could fit in time to read while in the White House, what excuse do you have? He even credits books to surviving his presidency.

President Obama is far from the only leader to credit his success to reading. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, Mark Cuban and Jack Ma are all voracious readers. As Gates told The New York Times, reading “is one of the chief ways that I learn, and has been since I was a kid.”

Breaking down the five-hour rule

The five-hour rule was coined by Michael Simmons, founder of Empact. The concept is wonderfully simple: No matter how busy successful people are, they always “set aside at least an hour a day (or five hours a week) over their entire career for activities that can be classified as deliberate practice or learning.”

Simmons traces this phenomenon back to Ben Franklin. “Throughout Ben Franklin’s adult life, he consistently invested roughly an hour a day in deliberate learning. I call this Franklin’s five-hour rule: One hour a day on every weekday,” Simmons wrote.

For Franklin, his learning time consisted of waking up early to read and write. He established personal goals and tracked his results. In the spirit of today’s book clubs, he created a club for “like-minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.” He also experimented with his new information and asked reflective questions every morning and evening.

The three buckets of the five-hour rule

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Today’s successful leaders have embraced Franklin’s five-hour rule by breaking the rule into three buckets.

1. Read: 

Self-made millionaires including Mark Cuban and Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, read between one and three hours daily. Elon Musk learned how to build rockets, which lead to SpaceX, by reading.

Besides expanding your knowledge, Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, says that “reading can give you a good head start; this is often what your peers cannot obtain. Compared to others, readers are more likely to know other industries’ strategies and tactics.”

Related: 20 Crazy Things We’ve Learned About Alibaba Billionaire Jack Ma

Even if you can’t commit to an hour or more of reading every day, start with 20 to 30 minutes. I always have a book with me so when I’m waiting for a meeting to start or in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, I can read instead of waste time on my smartphone. You could also try audiobooks during your daily commute or when exercising.

So how do they find the time to read daily? They adhere to the five-hour rule.

2. Reflect: 

Other times, the five-hour rule includes reflecting and thinking. This could be just staring at the wall or jotting down your thoughts. Jack Dorsey and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner are well-known thinkers, while entrepreneur Sara Blakely is a longtime journaler.

Focusing on the past gives you a chance to learn from mistakes you’ve made, as well as assess what you did correctly. As a result, you’ll be better suited to achieve your goals and improve your life. The University of Texas also found that mental rest and reflection improves learning.

Need help getting started? Schedule reflection time in your planner. I’ve found blocking out 15 to 20 minutes after lunch is ideal because I’m coming out of that post-lunch slump. But start small: Allocate five or 10 minutes per day, and then work your way up so you’re not overwhelmed.

Know the questions you want to ask. Stick with just two or three questions focused on that specific day. For example, if you attended a conference, ask, “What were the key takeaways?” and “How can I apply this to my business?”

3. Experiment: 

The third and final bucket is rapid experimentation. Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison became leading inventors and thinkers because of their experiments. We have Gmail because Google allowed employees to experiment with new ideas.

The reason experiments are so useful is because you have facts, not assumptions. Experiments show you what’s working. You can learn from your mistakes and obtain feedback from others. Best of all, experimentation isn’t that time-consuming. Most of the time, you’re testing through the same activities you’d perform without testing.

Jack Ma even recommends applying the knowledge you’ve learned to a real-life scenario. For example, after reading a book about collaboration and teamwork, you could take on new volunteer work to put that knowledge to use.

When you make learning a habit, you’ll be more successful and productive in life. By investing in a reading habit, you can ensure you’re growing yourself – and your company – every day.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Read next: What Elon Musk Can Teach You About Getting Funding for Your Start-up

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Lessons Learnt

How Matthew Piper And Karidas Tshintsholo Launched Their First Business From Their UCT Dorm Rooms

Matthew Piper and Karidas Tshintsholo launched their first business in their first year at varsity. They found a niche, but they also realised it wasn’t as sustainable as they’d like, or solving a big enough problem. Their next start-up, KHULA, is through its proof of concept phase and proving that two young entrepreneurs can find big solutions for even bigger problems.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Matthew Piper and Karidas Tshintsholo
  • Company: KHULA
  • Launched: 2016
  • Visit: www.khula.co.za 

You don’t always hit your game-changing idea on your first take. In fact, most start-ups look very different after a few pivots and course corrections.

If you have a real sense of purpose however, and know that ultimately you want to build your own company and hopefully change lives in the process, each of those adjustments will bring you closer to a sustainable business.

Matthew Piper and Karidas Tshintsholo (both 24), have learnt these lessons first hand. The business they launched together while studying finance at the University of Cape Town is very different from the business they’re running today, but it’s the lessons they’ve learnt over the past five years that have helped them to bootstrap an 18-month pilot project proving their business model, and find a solution to a systemic problem that will hopefully change hundreds — and eventually thousands and even hundreds of thousands — of lives.

Related: Watch List: 20 SA Tech Entrepreneurs Making It Big In The Industry

University start-ups

Matthew and Karidas launched their first business, Money Tree, from their UCT dorm rooms. “We recognised the realities of South Africa and that financial inclusion is one of the biggest barriers to any kind of growth facing our country,” says Matthew. The business partners met through the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, for which they had both been selected.

They wanted to start a business that would solve a real, endemic problem. As finance students, financial literacy seemed the best fit.

“We were both studying finance and interested in investing, and the business actually started out as a hobby,” says Karidas. “We wanted to share what we were learning in class and through our own research with anyone who was interested. We started a website and posted videos and content and shared it with other students.”

Once they had the platform up and running, the budding entrepreneurs strategised how they could take it to other universities and high schools. “We wanted to monetise what we were doing instead of just sharing insights,” says Matthew.

“So, we got our friends together and created a group of about 20 students from all over South Africa. Everyone went home for the December holidays, but universities go back a full month after schools. This gave us four weeks to go on a national roadshow, visiting 50 schools, sharing financial literacy lessons with their students and adding them to our network.”

Next, the young entrepreneurs met with a printing house, and convinced them to print a magazine without an upfront payment. “Our plan was to approach financial institutions who would sponsor the magazine, which was aimed at financial literacy for students,” says Karidas.

But, the magazines arrived before the funding came through, and Matthew recalls writing his first exam and returning to boxes of magazines at his door. “We started getting calls from lawyers and people wanting their money, but we didn’t have any funding,” says.

“We needed to go all out,” says Karidas. “We were calling everyone we knew and going to as many events as possible. At one of those events — hosted at the Reserve Bank — we met someone interested in investing in us. He put up our initial capital, which was how we were subsequently able to do more roadshows and build a network of universities and high schools. We ended up with an incredible network of ambassadors and a quarterly magazine, which ran for two years.”

Lessons learnt and changes made

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It wasn’t smooth sailing though. The magazine’s margins were low, and the young entrepreneurs were aware that the concept was a hard sell: Students didn’t have money and the corporates that were able to pay did so from CSI budgets. “CSI initiatives tend to be project-based, and we didn’t want to base our whole business model on them. We knew it wasn’t sustainable,” says Karidas.

Money Tree had also done some business with Government. “We waited 14 months to be paid.”

By that stage, the business partners had moved from Cape Town to Joburg and had dropped out of UCT. They wanted to focus on their business full-time, but they knew the model needed some serious work and adjustments. Although they would start studying part-time again to finish their degrees, they first gave their business their full attention to pivot it.

So, freewheeling everywhere because they couldn’t afford fuel — or food or rent — Matthew and Karidas took their business to pieces and examined it from every angle.

“The first decision we made was that we weren’t going to pursue any more Government projects,” says Matthew. “We wanted to remove the bad stuff from the business and keep the good stuff, and we needed to be brutal about which was which.”

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

The magazine had to go — it was a lot of work for low margins with no clear revenue model. The ambassador network that Money Tree had built up on the other hand had a lot of value. “We had two ambassadors at almost every university campus across South Africa, including SRC presidents and the heads of societies — all influential people on campus,” says Karidas. “We packaged that network and started approaching banks. Banks were always on campuses trying to speak to students, but they didn’t have our network. We built a relationship with the Banking Association of South Africa with their start saver programme and closed a deal with Old Mutual. We currently run the biggest funding show and education programme across South African universities.”

The deal wasn’t the ultimate game plan, but it brought money into the business, helped the entrepreneurs pay rent and salaries, and gave them the breathing room to start seriously thinking about what they wanted to achieve.

“We started thinking about our long-term play. Financial education is good, but we were still relying on the budgets and current strategies of banks,” says Matthew. “Instead, we started focusing on what had always been our core, and that’s financial inclusion. This is our highest value, and we wanted a business that solves this challenge for South Africans.”

While they were mulling over this problem, Matthew and Karidas secured a spot on an Ennovate programme to Israel. It was on that trip that they were exposed to the fact that Africa has 60% of the world’s arable land, and yet still spends billions importing food.

“There are many inefficiencies in agriculture,” says Matthew, “and yet half of Africa’s population is dependent on small-scale subsistence farming.”

Determined to learn as much as they could, the partners approached Due Crisp to conduct a project in Pretoria. “We’re just finance guys,” says Karidas. “We needed to understand how agriculture works — and we were shocked. When you actually take the time to look at it, the problems are glaring. There are so many emerging farmers in South Africa, and yet they’re excluded from the market. They can’t fill big orders, and so they have no access to market.”

Suddenly, Karidas and Matthew had a problem they could solve — and they knew the solution would be found through technology.

Creating a proof of concept

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“If we’ve learnt one thing about agriculture, it’s that it’s impossible to solve one specific problem — everything is interlinked,” says Matthew. “Our main aim is to give farmers access to market, and we’ve developed a platform and app to help them do just that, but we can’t work in isolation.”

As a result, the entrepreneurs have partnered with the University of Johannesburg and the City Of Joburg and will continue to look for other partners who are as interested in solving this systemic problem as they are.

In the meantime however, they have launched their new business, KHULA, and self-funded and bootstrapped their pilot programme, proving their concept and solution.

“The farmers’ app can be downloaded on any phone that has whatsapp capabilities,” explains Karidas. “Most phones that can be bought for R100 or R200 work, and in our initial research we realised that farmers are pretty tech savvy.”

Related: Student Investor Built Their Business By Burning Their Ships

Farmers go to the app store, download the app and sign up. They then need to provide all their details: Who they are, where they are geolocated, what they grow, and when they expect to harvest different produce. Matthew and Karidas then do a site visit to verify

them and accept them onto the platform.

“Our pilot has been mainly focused on Gauteng and the North West, but we’ve driven 17 hours to Jozini,” says Matthew. “Some of these farms are incredible,” adds Karidas. “One of our farmers in Magaliesburg has this incredible farm in the middle of a dump site. You can’t even believe it’s there. No one knows about them though — which is exactly what we’re trying to solve.”

Through their partnerships, the system has been tweaked and honed throughout the proof of concept phase. “UJ has a farmers’ school that meets every two weeks, and they became our focus group for the app’s beta version,” says Matthew. “We had a focus group of 300 helping us fine-tune the look, feel and usability of the platform.”

The business has also partnered with government. “Government needs data on emerging farmers, but they collect it through extension offices, and it’s often old and irrelevant by the time it’s collated — our data is real-time, so this could make a huge impact to them.”

Key to the success of the platform is the ability to link farmers with customers, which is where KHULA’s key focus has been.

“We have 104 farmers on the platform, and 26 customers, including Rocomama’s, Munching Mongoose and the Michaelangelo,” says Karidas.

The solution is simple: Farmers can click on product and show exactly what they currently have available and what they will be harvesting and when. Customers can then either browse the produce, follow their favourite farmers, or put in orders that farmers can then elect to fill. In some cases, multiple farmers might fill a large order, which is one of the key solutions the aggregated platform offers, giving small-scale farmers access to large customers. In addition, KHULA has one of the biggest organic offerings available, and the platform offers complete transparency.

“Our customers love knowing exactly where their produce is coming from, and the fact that they are supporting small-scale local farmers,” says Matthew. “The entire system is geolocated, so you can put clear parameters in place. If your carbon footprint is important, you can select farmers within a 10km radius for example.”

The platform has also revealed how much high-end produce is locally available. “Elderflowers are niche and typically imported, and yet there are quite a few farmers in Joburg who grow them,” says Karidas. “Through KHULA, there is now supply and demand for this product.”

The market incentivises farmers to update their data weekly because they see orders coming in. “If they don’t update their data they aren’t able to contribute,” says Matthew.

Related: Khula SME Fund

Creating systemic change

During the pilot phase Matthew and Karidas handled packaging and collections and deliveries — going so far as to don jerseys and jackets and turn their Polo into a refrigerator with the aircon cranked up to ensure fresh deliveries.

Today they have partnered with a delivery and logistics service company on an uber-type basis. “Mospa Logistics has 30 trucks, but at any given time, ten are in the parking lot,” says Matthew. “We’ve created an app that triggers a pick-up when needed. The whole system is designed for a just-in-time service for both the farmers and our clients.”

In fact, the entire business is focused on finding solutions — for their clients, farmers, and in streamlining their solutions. “We need to mitigate the risk of non-delivery to ensure our clients are satisfied with the platform. We have had instances where a farmer has disappeared on us and we had to deliver, so we went out onto the network and another farmer in the area could fill the order. It’s important to have a large network to ensure this is possible.”

The solution is also based on a win-win-win model. Farmers, clients and KHULA all need to benefit from the platform. “From our side, we need to provide value. This means giving the farmers access to market, but also providing real value to our clients,” says Matthew.

“We have different types of clients and farmers, and it’s important to classify the produce they offer and are looking for. For example, Rocomamas chops up their jalapenos, so how they taste is far more important than how they look. The Michaelangelo on the other hand requires tomatoes that look perfect, while Spaza Sun is concerned with edible produce that is available at wholesale prices. These gradings and classifications give an added — and valuable — dimension to the platform.”

The pilot project has performed so well that in 2017 a large telco offered to purchase the platform for R5 million, but the entrepreneurs turned them down. “This is our business, and we want to see how far we can take it, and how many lives we can change,” they say.

In fact, the more time they spend in the market, the more solutions they are finding to endemic problems. “Emerging farmers often aren’t bankable because they don’t have track records,” explains Karidas. “Our system tracks everything; we send out invoices, collect payments and make payments to our farmers, which means they have banking records and a guaranteed market. This, in turn, makes them bankable.”

“Our system tracks everything; we send out invoices, collect payments and make payments to our farmers, which means they have banking records and a guaranteed market. This, in turn, makes them bankable.”


Top Tips

  1. There is nothing more important to a start-up’s success than word-of-mouth. Build your network — the more people who know about you and what you’re doing, the more people will share your story. This is particularly true if you’re solving a need. We would also suggest only relying on word-of-mouth at the beginning and not marketing — this will tell you if you’re on the right path. If no one is talking about you, you might need to adjust your business model.
  2. Partnerships lead to more partnerships. Most communities are small; the more you’re doing, the more people will hear about you. Every one of our partnerships grew from a previous partnership.
  3. Start by solving a problem. We didn’t start with an app — we started with an idea. We used paper to record everything and called farmers directly to get them onto our books. We had already traded close to R50 000 before we built the app, and by then we had some experience and knew what the app needed to include.

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