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Hello Group’s Initial Product Failed The Night Before Launch. Today They Are An Industry Disruptor

Hello Group is disrupting international calling, telecom distribution and low cost banking, but it took them a while to get it right. Co-founders Nadir Khamissa and Shaazim Khamissa share their invaluable lessons into the importance of creating a MVP and why you have to kill your own business to succeed.

Nadine Todd

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Vital stats

  • Players: Nadir Khamissa and Shaazim Khamissa
  • Company: Hello Group (includes Hello Mobile, Hello Distribution and Hello Paisa)
  • Est: 2005
  • Seed capital: R6 million quickly turned into R30 000
  • Growth: Hello Mobile: 718% turnover growth from 2010 to 2015 ; Hello Paisa: 1100% from March to October 2015
  • Visit: hellogroup.co.za

Creative destruction. That’s the cornerstone of everything Hello Group’s founders, brothers Nadir Khamissa and Shaazim Khamissa do. It’s how they’ve disrupted international calling, telecom distribution, money transfer and low cost banking across Africa and Asia.

It hasn’t been easy. R6 million in seed capital quickly turned into R30 000 after some early – and very costly – mistakes. But they persevered, and today Hello Group is changing lives at the base of the income pyramid, and the founders are having the time of their lives doing it.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” We were all asked this at some point, and no doubt most of us have asked a child the same question. But the world is changing, and today, we ask: “What problem do you want to solve?”

That’s how Nadir Khamissa and his brother Shaazim Khamissa have approached entrepreneurship. It took them a while to get it right. Nadir has lost his life savings twice, but that hasn’t slowed him down.

Related: Meet The 40 Richest Self-Made Entrepreneurs On Earth

In 2015 the brothers were named Innovator of the Year and the Medium Business Entrepreneur of the Year at the Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. Next they nabbed the coveted EY Southern Africa World Entrepreneur Award 2015 in the Exceptional Category.

Hello Group is clearly doing something right, and it’s happening at the base of the income pyramid, that elusive market that so many businesses try — and fail — to access. So how are the Khamissa brothers doing it? The base of the pyramid is a huge potential market, but the economics of tapping into it are tricky. You need a price point that’s accessible for low income earners, but still turns a profit for the business. It’s all about low margins and high volumes.

The solution wasn’t immediate. It took time, a lot of hard work, and some tough lessons. Emblazoned on a wall at Hello Group’s offices is the Eric Reis quote:

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” And that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Lesson 1: Never buy something you can’t afford

Nadir Khamissa loves numbers and the adrenalin associated with risk – high-risk deals, tackling new challenges head-on, being first movers in untapped, untried and untested markets. Shaazim is a coder; the tech backbone of the business. It’s why the brothers work so well together. Nadir is willing to dream big. Shaazim lays the tech foundations to make those dreams a reality.

Dreaming big is a major prerequisite for entrepreneurial success — especially for the business scope that Nadir and Shaazim have envisioned. But it can also land you in hot water, as Nadir discovered when he was 19 years old. “I was studying actuarial science when I discovered trading,” he says. It was 1998, markets were booming, and young Nadir had one goal: To buy a brand-new BMW M3.

“I borrowed R10 000 from my dad and started trading. I thought I was too smart to make a mistake.” For a while he was right. Everything he bought kept going up. He stopped going to university, read everything on trading that he could get his hands on, and in six months turned that initial R10 000 into R250 000. Forget the BMW; his new goal was a Porsche 911. His broker thought he was a prodigy and gave him a big credit line.

“The problem was that I had confused brains with a bull market. It had nothing to do with me.” There was an even bigger problem though. Nadir traded on leverage, which meant he had a line of credit with which to purchase stocks, and he only had to pay for them within seven days. For months everything he bought went up, so he’d already made a profit by the time he had to pay for the initial stocks. And then he made a costly mistake.

“I had read that Parmalat was going to buy Premier Foods. The announcement was imminent, and stocks were projected to rise by 30% to 40%. I bet the house on the deal: R1,5 million on leverage. Then Parmalat pulled out, stocks plummeted and I went from flush with cash, to R16 000 in debt. I was devastated.

“My dad paid the debt, but only after he made sure I’d learnt the most valuable lesson of my life: Never buy something you can’t afford.” This lesson still drives Hello Group’s financial strategy.

“We’ve learnt to focus on cash flow first. A positive cash flow stream means you’re never over-invested in a new idea or business division and it’s an excellent indicator of whether you’re adding value to your target market. If people are willing to pay for your product, you’re on the right track. Cash in the bank should always be your goal. If that’s not happening, something is wrong with your value chain.”

Related: The Rise And Rise Of Skinny Sbu Socks

Lesson 2: Always start with a MVP

Ten years ago a revolutionary new technology hit the market: VoIP meant that you could convert an analogue phone signal into a digital signal, provided you had a switch to do so. Digital is much cheaper than analogue, which meant international phone calls across a VoIP line were a game-changer.

At the time, Nadir was working as a derivatives trader at Deutsche Bank in London, and Shaazim was finishing an accounting degree in South Africa. They were both searching for an entrepreneurial opportunity. For Nadir, this was it.

“I saw so many people constantly queuing at payphones in South Africa. The user experience of public phones is awful, but there was a bigger opportunity: Most of those calls were low-income workers phoning family in other countries. It was expensive, and we thought that we could offer a cheaper alternative.”

With his savings, Nadir purchased a switch and set it up in London, where regulations governing telcos were more amenable for new market entrants. He also reached out to a lawyer at local law firm, Safiyya Petel at Sonnenbergs, to assist him pro bono in securing a South African telco licence.

The business idea was relatively simple: The user would buy a call card, put it into a payphone, and dial a South African number. An automated response would ask the caller to hang up. The switch in London would then phone the caller back, ask them to enter a pin code and the destination number and connect the call.

On paper, it was perfect. But, there were problems. Nadir and Shaazim had tied themselves to a payphone by basing the entire business idea around a payphone calling card and it didn’t work.

“On the night we launched, we did a final test. We stopped at a payphone at a garage in Johannesburg and dialled the number. The automated response answered and asked us to hang up. Then the phone rang. It worked! We entered our pin and the number we wanted to connect to…. And then nothing. No connecting call, no additional prompts, just… nothing. It didn’t work.”

What the brothers were not aware of was that while they were getting their business off the ground, perfecting the tech and printing thousands of fliers, Telkom had changed the way public payphones operated, and this destroyed their business model in one swoop.

“We thought we were going to be millionaires. Instead, our very expensive switch became a large paperweight in a matter of minutes, and I lost 90% of my savings.”

It was a hard blow, but Nadir says it was also the best thing that ever happened to them in business.

“We learnt the value of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) then and there. Today our balance sheet is very different, but we still don’t invest in any new ideas unless we’ve tested them. Create an MVP and make sure your hypothesis is correct. If it’s not, tweak it until it is. MVPs allow you to keep refining an idea without betting the farm on whether your first idea is right — because it seldom is.”

The failure also helped the brothers to distil what it was they wanted to do. “We’d been so excited about the tech and its possibilities that we’d missed a crucial step: Who were we? What did we want the business to be? What problem were we going to solve? And what kind of business could we create based on those answers?”

Lesson 3: Create a partnership where everyone benefits

Hellogroup-house

So what do you do when your first business idea is a failure and you’ve lost all of your money? Go back to the drawing board.

“We needed to make sure we created value, differentiated ourselves and knew why people would buy our product,” says Shaazim. “This meant challenging all of our own ideas and making sure that only the best survived. It’s a process we still follow today and is part of our DNA.”

It’s not an easy process. You need to be able to critically evaluate your own ideas, admit when they’re flawed, listen to other people’s opinions and move on quickly when something isn’t quite right.

When Nadir and Shaazim started from scratch, the user experience of a payphone was poor, and the call back didn’t work. A solution was combining VoIP with GSM or cellular networks. An added bonus to using a WASP (Wireless Application Service Provider) was that you received a rebate every time the number was called. This meant a double revenue stream, and allowed the brothers to keep the call fee as cheap as possible for the user.

While Shaazim worked on the tech, Nadir focused on getting infrastructure in place. He sold his car for working capital, and started looking for a partner with functioning servers and links. A small business owner in Port Shepstone was identified and persuaded to allow them to use his infrastructure on a per minute fee with no fixed opex or capex.

“The idea was to test the product and generate cash quickly to start carrying the costs, so we looked for the low hanging fruit — a target market that we could tap into quickly to prove the tech and generate cash flow,” says Nadir.

What they found was the China Mall. “We had to be there at dawn, handing out fliers,” he recalls. “Our market was illegal immigrants who arrived early and were gone before the cops arrived. We knew they’d want to call home, but money was tight.”

They were right — growth was explosive. And then the cellular network decided to cut them off. “The WASP was the intermediary between us and the mobile network, and he told us he’d been instructed by the network to switch us off. It was massively anti-competitive, but South African telco regulation was in its infancy and could not prevent this from happening.”

Nadir and Shaazim scrambled for a solution. While Shaazim started switching the tech to a different network, Nadir convinced the WASP to give them the weekend before pulling the plug. They used the time well. “We recorded an automated message asking customers to dial a new access number,” says Nadir.

“All prompts on the new number were recorded in Mandarin Chinese,” laughs Nadir. “Because no-one at the network could speak Mandarin, they didn’t immediately realise what we were up to, which gave us the time to approach Cell C and negotiate a partnership.”

Nadir’s pitch was simple and straightforward: Cell C would benefit from their exposure to new markets at the base of the pyramid if they let the brothers plug into their network and collected a small fee on a very large volume of calls. Cell C agreed. “It was a game changer for us. There was no more subterfuge or worrying. We had a fixed Cell C access number with longevity, and we could focus on real growth.”

Related: How To Build Your Business Like A Boss

Lesson 4: Creative destruction, the cornerstone of growth

Hello-Group-awards

“I believe in creative destruction,” says Nadir. “An entrepreneur needs to constantly think of ways to kill their own business, because if they don’t someone else will. There is always something — a new product, service or innovation — that could destroy your current model. The trick is to be the first to spot it, and then to implement the change that would have been your downfall if you weren’t the one doing it.”

“In our case, the answer was one stage dialling,” agrees Shaazim. “At that stage, customers had to dial twice, our number and then the number they wanted to connect to. We always put the user experience top of mind: What’s the simplest, most affordable solution out there? That’s what people care about: cost and ease of use.”

The business needed a single-dialling solution, and so Nadir went back to Cell C with a new proposal: A single Hello Mobile branded SIM card that operated exclusively on the Cell C network. Local calls would be routed through Cell C, and international calls digitally through Hello Mobile’s system. While the background was tech-heavy and complicated, for the user it couldn’t have been simpler. In 2010 Hello Mobile SIM cards started hitting the market, with growth skyrocketing due to the single dial solution.

Lesson 5: Find solutions that suit your target market

Hello Mobile quickly grew to the point where the business needed a distributor. But when you’re targeting the base of the pyramid, price is always an issue. “We weren’t distributors so our first solution was to start negotiating with a large distributor that already had a distribution network. But the price point was unviable. We couldn’t pay them their asking price and still keep the product affordable for our consumer base,” says Nadir. The only solution was to do their own distribution, but they had to get it right.

“Adding value had become our mantra,” says Shaazim. “We weren’t going to launch Hello Distribution unless we could use the new division to actively add value to our market.”

What did that mean? “We had to ask ourselves what we wanted to achieve, and what our barriers were to getting it done. We had to evaluate the end consumer, but also who they would be buying from. Where should vendors be located? What hours were most convenient for our buyers? And where were they most comfortable?

“As we answered these questions, a pattern emerged. Vendors needed to be based in rural villages, townships and informal settlements and CBDs. They needed to trade before and after normal working hours, giving people enough time to buy Hello Mobile’s products, and be situated where typical base of the pyramid buyers were comfortable.” In other words, Nadir and Shaazim needed to form partnerships with Spaza shop owners and street vendors.

“The next question was: How could we add value to the vendors?” If we cared about adding real value for customers, we should do the same for vendors who would become our distribution channel.”

The answer was simple. Recruit people from within the targeted communities to become the sales people and account managers for vendors. “Our vision and philosophy is to maximise revenue for merchants. We needed to find a way to help them convert their time into money.”

Hello Distribution offers a business in a box which functions as Hello Mobile’s starter pack, including branding and simple accounting and payment solutions. “If you step into an informal settlement, you see us, Dstv and Coca-Cola; we’re the dominant brands,” says Nadir.

Creating and fostering strong relationships on the ground makes it easy for vendors to sell Hello Mobile goods for a profit, and for end users to access the products easily at times and in areas that suit them. Hello Distribution’s army of street vendors currently earn R30 million per annum in commissions.

“Our top seller went from unemployed to making R30 000 a month,” says Nadir. “That’s what we’re trying to achieve — a way to service our market by creating additional value along the entire supply chain.”

Lesson 6: Always ask ‘what else can we do for you?’

Hello-Group-call-centre

A widespread distribution channel to informal markets created a new challenge: How to pay commissions? “Business boomed, but we’d spend hours each week counting cash into hundreds of envelopes that then needed to be hand delivered,” says Nadir.

So Shaazim got to work building a mobile wallet for Hello Distribution’s vendors. “This sparked an idea, and we went back to the market and asked our customers what other problems we could solve,” says Nadir.

“Once you’re a trusted brand that delivers on its promises, your consumers are more comfortable sharing their challenges with you — particularly those they will pay you to solve.”

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

As it turned out, transferring money home was almost impossible. “Southern Africa is the most expensive money transfer jurisdiction in the world,” says Nadir. “This dramatically affects the poorest of the poor. We spent two years talking to the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), World Bank and other global organisations, which wanted to see costs declining and low value money transfers being regulated.”

The solution, Hello Paisa, has been a collaborative effort by the SARB, which has designed a strategy to facilitate low value remittances, and the Hello Group, which secured a Financial Services Board licence and created a high-tech solution to bridge technological innovation with rural and informal markets. It’s a game changer.

“This is the solution we’re most excited about,” says Nadir. “If we hadn’t built Hello Mobile and Hello Distribution, we wouldn’t have the capital, on-the-ground know-how and tech platforms to design a solution that’s going to change lives on a global scale.”

Today, Hello Paisa can facilitate an international money transaction from a spaza shop in rural Eastern Cape to a rural village in Ethiopia in 2,8 seconds. “Of the $550 billion annual transfers, $40 billion occur in Africa, at an average transaction fee of 12%. Our aim was to reduce that price by a factor of three and still be profitable. At the base of the pyramid it’s a numbers game; low margins and many small transactions, so scale is important.”

Nadir and Shaazim Khamissa recognise that Africa is not the only continent that needs this type of solution. Millions of migrant workers and immigrants around the world work in one country and send money home to another. They created a global solution for a global problem, and are disrupting a 200-year-old business model in the process. Watch this space.

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

Lessons Learnt

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt

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You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:

Leadership

The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.

Infrastructure

The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.

People

It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.

Strategy

It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.

Finance

Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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Lessons Learnt

That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room

Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.

Gene Marks

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When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.

You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.

Like that time back in 1995.

That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.

The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.

“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”

The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”

“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.

So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.

It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

How Sureswipe Built Its Identity By Building A Strong Company Culture

Culture is unique to a business, it’s the reason why companies win or lose.

Nadine Todd

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A company’s culture is its identity and personality. Since this is closely linked to its brand and how it wants to be viewed by its employees, customers, competitors and the outside world, culture is critical. The challenge is understanding that culture contains unwritten rules and that certain behaviours that align to the culture the company is nurturing should be valued and cherished more than others.

At Sureswipe, the core of our culture is that we value people and what they are capable of. We particularly value people who are engaged, get on with the job, take initiative, are happy to get stuck in beyond their formal job descriptions, and who sometimes have to suck up a bit of pain to get through a challenge.

We include culture in everything we do, so it’s a fundamental element in our recruitment process. In addition to a skills and experience interview, each candidate undergoes a culture fit in the form of a values interview. We look for top performers who echo our core values (collaboration, courage, taking initiative, fairness and personal responsibility) and have real conviction about making a difference in the lives of independent retailers. If we don’t believe a candidate will be a culture fit, we won’t hire them.

If we make a mistake in the recruitment process, we won’t retain culture killers, even if they are top performers. This is such a tough lesson to learn, but it liberates a company and often improves overall company performance.

Culture should be cultivated, constantly communicated and used when making decisions. At Sureswipe, we often talk about what it takes to win and have simplified winning into three key elements: A simple, yet inspirational vision; the right culture; and a clear and focused strategy. The first and third elements can be copied from organisation to organisation. Culture on the other hand is unique to every business and can be a great influencer in its success.

Catch phrases on the wall are not the definition of culture

A strong culture is purposeful and evolving. It’s what makes a company great, but also exposes its weakness. No company is perfect and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. Without it, we cannot ensure that we are protecting and building on the good and reducing or eradicating the bad.

Mistakes happen. That’s okay. But we are very purposeful about how mistakes are handled. Culturally we’re allergic to things being covered up or deflected and have had great learning moments as individuals and as an organisation when bad news travels fast. It’s liberating to ‘tell it like it is’ and almost always, with a few more minds on the problem at hand, things can be rectified with minimal impact.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

Culture should be built on values that resonate with you and that you want to excel at. In our case, some are lived daily and others are aspirational in that we’re still striving for them. In each case we genuinely believe in them and encourage each other to keep living them. This increases the level of trust within the team, as there is consistency in how people are treated and how we get things done.

We are always inspired when, after sitting in our reception area, nine out of ten visitors will comment on the friendliness of staff. We hear their remarks about how friendly the Sureswipe team is or a potential candidate will talk about the high level of energy and positivity they experience throughout the interview process.

These are indicators that our culture is alive and well. It’s these components of our culture — friendliness, helpfulness and positivity — that cascade into how we do business and how we treat our customers and people in general. Being able to describe your culture and support it with real life examples is a great way to communicate and promote the type of behaviour that is important and recognised within the organisation.

Culture doesn’t just happen

We are fortunate that culture has always been important to us, even if it wasn’t clearly defined in our early days. As we grew it became important to be more purposeful in the evolution of our culture. About four years ago, the senior leadership team and nominated cultural or values icons were mandated to relook all things cultural.

A facilitator said to us, “You really love it when people take the initiative, and get very frustrated when they don’t.” That accurate insight became core to our values. We love to see people proactively solve problems, take responsibility for their own growth, initiate spontaneous events, change their tactics or implement new ideas. It energises us and aligns to the way we do business.

We celebrate growth and love to see our staff getting promoted due to their hard work and perseverance. We recently had one of our earliest technicians get promoted to the Regional Manager of Limpopo. It was one of the best moments of 2018.

Be purposeful with culture, describe it, communicate it and use it in all aspects of business. Culture should change. Don’t allow phrases like ‘this is not how we do things,’ or, ‘the culture here is changing,’ to stifle the growth and development of your culture. When done correctly change is a good thing. Culture is driven from the top but at the end of the day it’s a company-wide initiative. Design it together with team members from different parts of the organisation to get the most from it. And then make sure everyone lives and breathes it.

Cost Cutting

The best ROI is achieved when you stop wasting money.

Peter Drucker once said that businesses have two main functions — marketing and innovation — that produce results. “All the rest are costs.”

If you agree, that means that the average business has a lot of fat to trim. Obviously you can go overboard trying to cut costs too. My philosophy has been to look at some of the general areas where you can add some efficiency but not at the expense of impairing your most valuable resource — your focus.

The following cost-cutting measures will do that. Think of these as adding value to your company, whether it’s time, creativity or a closer connection to your consumers.

Related: Wise Words From wiGroup On Building A “Wow” Company Culture

Uncover inefficiencies in your process

This is where I begin. In fact, it was analysing the inefficiencies of legal communication and knowledge sharing that led me to create Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for lawyers. I noticed that attorneys in our clients’ legal departments were drafting new documents from scratch when they could pool their knowledge and save time by using language that a trusted colleague had employed in a similar document. Business is all about process. When you create a new process, or enhance an existing process, you will drive cost efficiency.

Refine your process, then automate

If existing processes are lacking, it is time to create process. If you have processes, but they are not driving efficiency, it’s time to redefine your process. Either way, a key second step is refining processes that are needed in your business. Only then can you go to automation, since automating without a process will result in chaos — and won’t save time or money. Similarly, automating a poor process is not going to give you the cost-saving results you are looking for.

Thanks to the Cloud, there are very accessible means of automating manual processes. For instance, you can automate bookkeeping functions with FreshBooks and use chatbots to interface with clients — for very basic information. If you’re a retailer, a chatbot on your site can explain your return policy or address other frequently asked questions. Automating such processes allows you to spend more time focusing on clients and customers. Technology alone isn’t a panacea for all business functions, but if you find something you’re doing manually that can be automated, take a look and consider how much time and process definition automation would save you.

Rethink your outreach

Marketing and outreach are usually big and important challenges for an organisation. In my experience, there are two main components to successful marketing — knowing your customers and using the most effective media to spread your message. For the first part, I recommend polling. There are various online survey services that offer an instant read on what your customers are thinking. You may think business is humming along, but a survey could reveal that while consumers like your product, a few tweaks would make it even better.

For the second part — marketing messaging — once you have a firm idea of your marketing messaging, Facebook is a great vehicle for outreach. The ability to granularly target customers and create Lookalike audiences (from around 1 000 consumers) can help grow your business.

Related: Take Responsibility For Your Company’s Culture To Boost Productivity

Scrutinise your spend history

There are tools that can help you assess spend history and find cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you might be able to take advantage of rewards or loyalty programmes to reduce common business expenses, like travel, or consolidate vendors for a similar function. If you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor, negotiate better pricing.

The most important elements to keep in mind are resources that make your company special. Your company may be built on one person’s reputation and expertise. Guard against tarnishing that reputation with inappropriate messaging in advertising or social media. If your company’s special sauce is intellectual property, protect that too. But everything else — ranging from physical property to salary and benefits — are costs and should be considered negotiable. — Monica Zent

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