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Grant Rushmere Is Going Bos With Iced Tea

Grant Rushmere had big plans for Bos. He was aiming for only one thing: The all-in, both feet in the water, jumping-out-of-an-aeroplane-without-a-parachute-and-planning-to-learn-how-to-fly-on-the-way-down kind of growth. In other words, a story that’s the stuff of legend.

Nadine Todd

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Grant-Rushmere

Vital Stats

  • Player: Grant Rushmere
  • Brand: Bos Brands
  • Established: 2009
  • Visit: bosicetea.com

When Grant Rushmere first envisioned Bos Ice Tea, he did it through the lens of creating a global brand. This wasn’t going to be a small local brand that would grow organically, and maybe enter international markets in the distant future.

No. This was a brand engineered for stratospheric growth, which required a ballsy optimism and willingness to go big or go home.

Of course, that just means a harder and longer fall if things don’t work out, but Rushmere and his founding partner, Richard Bowsher, weren’t thinking about that. They had their eyes squarely focused on the one year mark.

“That’s how much runway we had,” says Rushmere. “We could see the date when we were going to run out of money, and we were hurtling towards it.”

Related: Bos: Grant Rushmere

But they had a plan, and they were going all-in to pull it off.

“From the beginning we jumped in with both feet. We approached retailers and secured contracts that we knew we wouldn’t be able to sustain down the line if we didn’t get funders on board, but it was a calculated risk that we were willing to take.”

The strategising went like this: Both Bowsher and Rushmere had seed capital, Bowsher from the sale in 2000 of his Silicon Valley-based streaming media company, Streaming Media Inc, and Rushmere from the sale of his business, Afro Café, to Red Bull (yes, that Red Bull) founder, Dietrich Mateschitz. But although they could get the business off the ground, they knew they’d need a lot more money to finance high-level growth and launch internationally.

Bos-ice-tea-can

Organic growth curve

Rushmere and Bowsher saw three options. One was a lower, more organic growth curve, made possible because Bowsher’s rooibos farm would supply the base product.

“Richard moved back to South Africa from San Francisco. He settled in Cape Town and then bought an incredible piece of mountain land in the Cederberg as a getaway,” says Rushmere. The land bordered a rooibos farm, and Bowsher was soon spending time with the farmer, discovering a love for rooibos and how it’s grown and fermented.

By the time Bowsher and Rushmere were introduced by a mutual friend, he had bought the rooibos farm from the farmer. Klipopmekaar Farm was the ideal supplier of the base product for Bos Ice Tea.

“I had developed the idea, brand and product, but I didn’t want to be a lone ranger,” says Rushmere. “I was looking for a partner who would co-invest in the business and bring skills to the company. Richard was ideal. He loved rooibos and actually produced it, and he is excellent with contracts and HR matters. Where I think a handshake will suffice, he puts a contract in place that protects everyone’s interests. Together we had the skills this business needed.”

Joining forces meant that they had everything they needed to launch a niche brand, including the funds for slow, contained growth.

Bootstrap or invest

Option two was to put more money in themselves, or find other seed funders. “We didn’t like this option. Equity is cheap early on, and expensive later. We wanted something of value to offer investors, not just an idea. This also wouldn’t let us scale at the rate we wanted to.”

Related: 6 Tips For Bootstrapping

Building an attractive business

Which leads us to option three: Building a business that is highly attractive to investors, already has market share and is a proven concept — but at the risk of losing everything if those investors don’t come on board.

“We knew we had real potential and market enthusiasm, and we gambled everything on it,” says Rushmere.

“We also had support from all the major retailers, including Woolworths. They liked that we were a local South African product. We were growing fast, and we had successfully differentiated ourselves from our competitors. We weren’t overlapping Lipton and Nestea. We had different messaging and a different taste.”

This all played into the ultimate plan of securing an investor. “We exuded confidence. This is what ultimately secured us the Woolworths contract. We knew the contract would be attractive to investors, but we needed an investor on board to actually be able to deliver to Woolworths. Timing was everything.”

The risk paid off. In 2010, three major investors came on board. Up to this point, Rushmere and Bowsher were the sole owners, with a 60/40 equity split. They now made the strategic decision to dilute that equity and hold a smaller percentage in a much bigger business.

“We believed that the greater potential of the right investors could impact massive growth. We’re in the FMCG market — we couldn’t do this without big growth — so we made the decision to take the potential we had created and run with it.”

Bos-brand-logo-and-giraffe

Bringing investors on board

First, Invenfin, the venture capital arm of the Remgro Group, came on board. The alignment was perfect. Rushmere’s plan had been to generate market traction before approaching investors. Invenfin’s priority sectors are technology and food and beverage, with a preference for businesses that have achieved meaningful market traction, are on-trend globally and are poised for rapid growth. Bos Brands ticked all their boxes.

Next, former Manchester United FC coach Sir Alex Ferguson invested in the business as an angel investor. “This was a personal connection,” says Rushmere, who is a friend of Ferguson’s son and daughter-in-law. The business model sufficiently piqued Ferguson’s interest to get him involved, and he remains a shareholder to this day.

Finally, Vovo Telo founder Dave Evans not only invested in Bos Brands, but became a member of its management team as well.

“Vovo Telo was a client. Our early strategy was to focus on delis and speciality stores, introducing the brand to the public and developing a niche consumer base. In his stores, Bos was outselling Coca-Cola. Dave was intrigued – he had an SAB background and an MBA, which gave him incredible training and insights into the consumer beverage market, and he’d sold a 51% stake in his business to Famous Brands. He was ready for a new challenge, and we were it.”

The right investors don’t only bring money to the table, but expertise as well. Dave Evans joined the business as its CEO. “I’m an ideas guy. I love products and marketing. Richard has a great talent for HR and building the structure of a business, and of course has the rooibos farm. Dave is an operations guy.

He could build this out better than any of us, and his addition to our team was invaluable in our overall growth plan.

“Alex is an internationally recognised personality. Don’t ever discount the lift a product — particularly a consumer product — can receive from being associated with a famous personality. Alex also has a wealth of connections and associations that have proved invaluable as we’ve moved into international markets.

“And of course, Invenfin came with incredible links and networks, as well as the know-how associated with building successful companies. Over the years the influence and guidance Invenfin’s team has given us over and above the capital investment has been invaluable.”

Related: 6 Things Your Investors Are Thinking While Seeing Your Pitch

Bos-Brand-bus

The power of marketing

Gutsy moves and calculated risks aside, the success of Bos Brands is a lesson in the power of marketing. In their first year, Rushmere and Bowsher spent as much on marketing as their turnover.

As their revenue has increased, they haven’t pulled back on marketing spend — they’ve grown it. Rushmere is a firm believer that you get what you pay for, and what he’s been aiming for since the inception of the brand is no-holds-barred growth.

“I’ve always been someone who loves creating products, building a brand and then aggressively marketing it,” says Rushmere. “My first business, Afro Café, attracted the attention of Red Bull’s head of advertising and the man who came up with the line, ‘Red Bull gives you wings’, Johann Kastner. He then introduced me to Dietrich Mateschitz, who became first a partner, and later bought the whole business, and this association gave me unfettered access to the Red Bull engine room.”

Since Red Bull is arguably one of the most successfully marketed brands in the world, this access came with lessons that Rushmere has put to good use, first in launching Bos Ice Tea, and later in growing the business, both locally and internationally.

“You have to do your research,” says Rushmere. This sounds so obvious, and yet not all start-ups spend enough time on this incredibly important first step.

“Roger Hamilton [a New Zealand entrepreneur and founder of Wealth Dynamics] has this incredible analogy. He tells a story about how he and his 11-year-old sister were drawing stick figures in summer art class. They weren’t looking anything like real people. And then the teacher taught them a trick. She told them to turn the piece of paper upside down, and draw the space around the figure. Once you turn the paper the right way up, you have a perfect figure. That’s what business is like. You need to take a step back, look around, really see your competitors and what they’re doing, and then find the gaps. This is the only way you can define your own space.

Rushmere’s next piece of advice is to never stop digging. “This was a big awakening for me. I’d present researched ideas to Dietrich and he would say, ‘nope, not there yet. Keep searching.’ I had to work at it and keep distilling my idea. I had to find a way to get to the simplest form to convey my message.

“The more complex you get, the less likely it is that people will take on your message and embrace your brand. You need to create a Trojan horse. As a consumer, if you can see the idea of the brand and it’s simple enough, you will assimilate it into your personal narrative. As a brand, once you’ve got that right, you can add depth. Adding layers to your narrative takes time. It can’t be rushed.”

According to Rushmere, there is a set process to brand creation. First, make the early interaction with your brand simple. “Think about human nature,” says Rushmere.

“If we had a full CV of every person we met, before we knew them, we’d form opinions, make assumptions and be overwhelmed. But, if you meet them, find them friendly, open and engaging, then you want to learn more — and you’ll keep learning more. Finding a brand that you like and identify with is the same.”

Once you’ve set this foundation, you follow up with your brand story. “Brands need to be humble. Think about the most successful brands in the world. Their messages are incredibly simple. Red Bull gives you wings. Coca Cola: Open happiness. Nike’s iconic, ‘just do it’. These are all simple messages that have been repeated a lot. These brands have sold a simple idea that has layers and layers of complexity behind the simplicity — but none of that was created in a day. Most importantly, all successful brands are easy to recognise, remember and relate to.”

Bos’s tagline is ‘Not just an ice tea’, highlighting how one simple sentence can have layers of complexity: Rooibos is an alchemical transformation, and the brand’s portrayal of itself has always kept this front and centre.

“Rooibos is a green plant that has no flavour,” says Rushmere. “You need to break the cell structure and ferment it in the sun to reach the flavour. We use this alchemical ‘twist’ through all of our communications. From a wagon that serves drinks topped with an umbrella that looks like a palm, to giraffes on bicycles selling ice tea, but looking like ice-cream bikes. Everything we do is about a sense of transformation — what you expect to what we actually are. Everything had to have a trick in the box. If it didn’t, we didn’t do it. This built an expectation around the brand, without us giving long discourses about who we were and what we stood for.”

Related: 7 Creative Strategies For Marketing Your Start-up On A Tight Budget

So how do you get there? “It’s a process of distillation. We have a tendency to want to squeeze more and more in. You have to fight that urge. Anything that’s not necessary must go. Simple, beautiful packaging is an important first step. For us, this meant a really cool can that was bold, colourful and recognisable. The fact that the product is organic and contains less sugar than other ice teas and soft drinks comes later. In your first view we’re not telling you any of this. Our sole aim is to grab your attention with a memorable name and cool packaging.

“Part of the success of beverages in particular is that they need to be entertaining. They transport you emotionally to a happy, entertaining place. This means the brand needs to trigger the subconscious, not just through taste, but emotions and ideas.

“If you try to sell too much upfront you’ll lose that impact. Insecure brands do this and you achieve the reverse of a simple, powerful statement.”

What does this mean for Bos Ice Tea? “We knew we were tapping into a huge global market on the high end of the consumer scale, and that iced tea speaks to a health trend, but this didn’t mean we should scream health from the front of our packaging, and in our marketing messages. If you do that, you lose all sense of fun. You want your consumers to feel a little naughty; like they’re having fun. Long-term, that’s how you build brand equity. It might sound counter-intuitive, but from a brand’s perspective, an emotional hook is much easier to defend than a functional hook. By tapping into emotions — what the brand stands for and how it makes you feel — you give the brand a voice; you’re not just selling features and benefits. If you take a functional approach to marketing, you’re basing everything on the fact that you contain less sugar than other soft drinks. What happens when someone comes along with even less sugar? You’re suddenly dead in the water.”

Fun, quirky, Afrochic — Bos Ice Tea has cemented its place in the hearts of South African and European consumers. And the brand’s journey is still just beginning.

bos-tea-bicycle

The 360˚ secret to brand building

As the Bos brand has matured, its message has become more sophisticated, and its interaction with consumers more refined, but its essence was shaped from the beginning.

“Most brands want to say as much as possible in their early stages,” says Bos Ice Tea founder Grant Rushmere. “You need to fight this urge. Let your customers consume your product without too much noise.

“My Dad used to give a speech at our 21st birthdays. He said that there are three cycles of seven to get to 21 years old. The first seven years are physical. The next seven years are emotional, and the final seven years are mental. Once all three stages have been completed, you’re an adult — but it can’t be rushed.

“Brands are the same, although thankfully it doesn’t take 21 years to grow a brand. Instead, you need to have been around for three years before you can develop a 360˚ brand. During that time you’ll have been developing a story and a narrative, and consumers will be getting to know your product, but you won’t have been delving into the complexities of your values. This has a long tail. If you try to do your whole 360˚ in six months, it won’t work. It’s too much all at once and becomes overwhelming for your target market.”

The three stages of a 360˚ brand

  1. Create a physical product.
  2. Tap into emotions. “In our case this meant building up the fun before talking about the health benefits of our product, but for other brands it’s about highlighting your relevance. No matter what you do, if you bear your soul a little bit and really show your consumers who you are, you’re helping them to make the decision to buy. This can polarise your market, but that’s okay. If you stand for something, those who feel the same way will be drawn to you. The secret is to be authentic and resonate with your market.”
  3. Go serious. Once the brand and market are mature, it’s then time for the more serious message (in Bos’ case, the fact that the product is organic, contains less sugar than other soft drinks and has health benefits.)

“The most important thing to remember is that it’s all a process,” says Rushmere.

“This can’t be rushed. As brand owners our intent doesn’t always manifest either, and that’s okay. Let your consumers decide who you are. Don’t shove your message down their throat; let them form an opinion, and then create a dialogue with them. If you align your messaging, you will create a space where your consumers can share experiences with you, and that’s more powerful than any message you can try to force on them.”

Of course, Rushmere is the first to admit that this takes confidence. “You can’t please everyone. Try and you might lose your soul. Instead, start with one simple idea: What is important to me? If you know why you are doing this, and you can find your purpose, then the rest will follow naturally.”

One final word of advice: Be consistent above all else. “Don’t be afraid to be repetitive with your message,” he says. “It’s important to not jump around, and that means sometimes you will be repetitive. Think things through carefully, and then don’t change them — it’s expensive, it confuses the market and people won’t know who you are.”

Related: The Importance Of Brand

Grant-Rushmere-Bos-Brand

Bos Brands’ global strategy

South Africa’s market is small compared to the US and Europe. Local ice tea consumption is 800ml per person, while the US and EU have 18 litres and 8 litres respectively. Switzerland on the other hand consumes 26 litres of ice tea per person per year.

Given South Africa’s tiny market, Rushmere and his team have used their local launch as a building block to develop the brand and its story, but ultimately they have always been focused on the international market.

Currently Bos Brands’ market is 50% international and 50% local.

“Half of our business is in Europe. We entered Holland and Belgium first. We chose the Benelux countries because this is a premium product, and so we needed to look at markets that have the potential for premium performance. China is huge, but price points are low. We were looking at premium pricing, and markets with more than 10 litres per person consumption. The Benelux market is huge; it’s sitting at €1 billion.”

In addition to a love for ice tea, the Benelux countries already know and love Rooibos tea. “Fruit flavoured Rooibos tea is extremely popular in Holland and Belgium in particular, so even though we were a very South African product, we weren’t completely unknown.

“We also understood that our ability to influence the market is good because the countries are geographically close to each other, but at the same time each market is slightly different, allowing us to learn valuable lessons before spreading ourselves out.”

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

mike-tyson-tigers

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

hugh-jackman

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

south-african-produce

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

khula-food-funds

“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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