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How Bataung Memorials’ Lebohang Khitsane Disrupted The Age-Old Tombstone Industry

Bataung Memorials is a company that has brought the latest technology to an industry that few people would associate with innovation. It shows that just about every field is ripe for disruption.

GG van Rooyen

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It’s hard to think of an industry that seems further removed from the modern tech world than tombstone services. It is an age-old industry that has largely remained unchanged, right? Well, no; not really.

The truth of the matter is, technology has become integral to every industry. No company can afford to ignore the latest advancements, including those involved in tombstone and memorial services.

Bataung Memorials is a great example of a company that has enjoyed tremendous success because it brought fresh ideas and new technologies into an industry that was ready for disruption.

Here’s how founder Lebohang Khitsane turned a small tombstone business into an industry leader:

1Find a neglected industry

Industries such as tombstone services don’t often spring to mind when thinking of business ideas. Everyone wants a cool tech company, but what about a business that creates tombstones and organises memorial services? That doesn’t sound as sexy and exciting.

But the fact of the matter is that it is often in these overlooked segments where great opportunities can be found. South Africa is a particularly good example of this, since it has a high mortality rate that creates huge demand for tombstone services.

By bringing business acumen and modern business tactics to an industry that is quite old-school and littered with many small-scale operations, you can quickly become a significant player.

Related: How To Start A Funeral Business

2Find a neglected market

Soon after starting up the business, Khitsane realised that the industry wasn’t really catering to the specific needs of Africans.

“A lot of the options available at the time were really just ideas imported from overseas,” he says.

“There were no Afrocentric designs available that were sensitive to the unique beliefs and culture of Africans. So, we started creating designs that were aimed specifically at Africans. Because of this, the business really took off. We were enjoying growth of around 300% year-on-year.”

Khitsane also realised that no one was catering to the blind, so Bataung Memorials started offering tombstones with braille. While this was a relatively small market, it was still significant, and cemented the company’s reputation as an industry leader.

3Create a superior product

Emmanuel Ngobese

Right from the start, Khitsane was determined to create a product that could compete on the global stage.

“I wanted to create products that were the best in the world, so we invested in a manufacturing set-up that could offer incredible tombstones. We set up an end-to-end facility that could handle the cutting, shaping and polishing of stones. Today we’re the biggest tombstone manufacturer in Africa,” says Khitsane.

Bataung also decided to improve the level of personalisation available. “A tombstone is obviously a very personal thing, yet so many of those available are very generic. We decided to offer a level of personalisation that wasn’t available. Bataung allows loved ones to have a unique tombstone designed and crafted that says something about the personality of the deceased.”

This personalisation option has become incredibly popular, and the company has created large and impressive tombstones for celebrities such as Gugu Zulu, John ‘Shoes’ Mosheou and Vuyo Mbuli.

Related: Want To Invest In A Billion Rand Industry? Then Look To the Funeral Business

4Embrace technology

Bataung Memorials hasn’t only embraced technology on the manufacturing side of things; it has also implemented technology cleverly in customer-service. For instance, it has started creating tombstones with QR codes that allow mourners to view info about the funeral and the deceased through a smartphone.

It has also incorporated GPS tracking into its tombstones, which allows mourners to find the correct funeral. “It seems like a somewhat absurd situation, but it’s a real problem,” says Khitsane.

“The large graveyards host so many funerals on a typical day that people can really struggle to locate the correct site. A GPS tracker solves this problem.”

5Leverage social media

Bataung Memorial makes use of traditional marketing campaigns in newspapers and magazines, but it also makes a lot of use of social media platforms to promote the business.

“Social media is very important to us. When we’ve created something that really says something about the person who has passed, people will share it on social media. The important thing, is to create a space where it can actually be shared. If you’re not on social media, you can’t benefit from people sharing your work,” says Khitsane.

Related: Want to Run a Funeral Business? Then You Must Know This

Take note

Every business can benefit from technology, even those that seem far removed from the tech industry.

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Lessons Learnt

#Wealthiest List: 8 Self-Made Millionaires On How They Built Their Wealth

These inspirational self-made millionaires built businesses with nothing less than hard work and sheer determination.

Catherine Bristow

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1. Nick D’Aloisio Wrote a Million Dollar App At Age 15

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At the age of 15, Nick D’Aloisio wrote an app while sitting in his parent’s bedroom in the UK. At the age of 17, D’Aloisio sold his app Summly – a mobile news summarisation app to Yahoo for a staggering USD 30 million.

As one of the youngest millionaires, D’Aloisio is also the world’s youngest entrepreneur to be backed by venture capitalists – having secured seed funding from Sir Li Ka-Shing, Hong Kong’s billionaire, as well as raising USD 1.23 million from celebrity investors, including Yoko Ono and Ashton Kutcher.

“The number one thing I did that I think was wise was to get, through some of my advisers, was a Chairman; basically someone who was a very experienced business person, an industry veteran — Bart Swanson, who had been at Amazon and then Badoo. Then, myself and Bart really started finding people and growing the team.”

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7 Cannabis Industry Millionaires Making It Big In The Marijuana Business

These entrepreneurs have capitalised on a new market set to continue to grow rapidly as more countries legalise marijuana across the world.

Catherine Bristow

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1. Brendan Kennedy

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Brendan Kennedy worked on job sites as a carpenter to pay his way through university, with his eyes set firmly on becoming an architect, until the allure of Silicon Valley changed the course of his direction. While working at technology start-ups Kennedy began thinking about the possibilities that medical marijuana provided.

“I was really sceptical of medical cannabis,” he says. “It took a year of having conversations with patients and physicians and hearing the same story, repackaged but essentially the same, over and over and over again, where my scepticism eroded and I became a believer.”

In 2013, Kennedy and his partners applied for a licence from Health Canada and launched Lafitte Ventures, which was later renamed Tilray. Today, the company is a global leader in medical cannabis research, cultivation, processing and distribution.

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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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