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

The only thing that falls from the sky is rain, say the founders of construction and property development company, Majozi Bros. For everything else, you’ve got to work hard, never take no for an answer, and create your own opportunities.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Simphiwe Majozi and Sihle Ndlela
  • Company: Majozi Bros Construction
  • Est: 2012
  • Visit: majozibros.co.za

Simphiwe Majozi and Sihle Ndlela have one aim: To be the biggest property group in Africa. They’re dead serious about this big, hairy, audacious goal, but they’re willing to do it slowly and sustainably. “We understand the importance of the right foundations,” they say. “We have eight failed businesses between us, so we’ve learnt a lot of lessons, particularly around the dangers of trying to grow too quickly.”

They’ve put those lessons to good use while building Majozi Bros, and their patience is already paying off. Here are their top seven lessons for start-ups with big dreams and the perseverance to make them happen.

1. Turn challenges into opportunities

One of Sihle Ndlela’s favourite sayings is ‘the only thing that falls from the sky is rain’, which neatly encapsulates the entrepreneurial pair’s response to challenges. Nothing is going to fall in your lap. Success is what you make it.

“Sihle and I started working together because we realised we had a lot in common, particularly the fact that we were the same age, felt the same way about business and shared the same values,” says Majozi. Their youth drew them together, but it also worked against them.

“It was tough to convince potential clients — especially established, older generation clients — that we can deliver. We realised that we could allow this problem to hinder our growth, or we could find a way to use it as
an advantage.”

And so the pair made it rain. They created a brand around their youth. “We highlighted the fact that we’re two young guys in construction. In every interaction we had, particularly with media, we painted a positive picture of our youth and aspirations. We didn’t hide from it, we shouted it. We’re proud of it,” says Sihle.

“We just needed to get a foot in the door so that our record could start speaking for itself, and the hype we created did that for us.”

Related: Funding And Resources For Young SA Entrepreneurs

2. A brand is much more than a logo

Long lasting brands stand for something. They consistently provide the same experience. It’s not about a logo; it’s about the ability to deliver on promises. A recognisable and sustainable brand can’t be built overnight because you need a track record to back up your claims.

This means two things. One, aim high, but be realistic about what you can do. Rather under-promise and over-deliver than over-promise and under-deliver. As you grow your ability to deliver more, it will scale accordingly, but get your foundations right first.

3. You’re your own best client

Majozi-Bros-Construction

“We launched in the middle of a boom market,” says Majozi. “And then suddenly the housing and construction market started taking strain. The jobs dried up. We realised we could wait around and hope things would get better, or we could go out there and create our own opportunities.”

This is exactly what they did. They did some research, and selected an up-and-coming semi-township area where property prices were cheaper than in the suburbs, but there was real buyers’ interest.

“Buy a plot, develop it, sell it. That was our plan. We wouldn’t just be the builders. We’d be the developers. We’d give ourselves work,” says Sihle. It was a small scale experiment that paid off, and they were able to use the profits to buy their next property.

4. Keep things lean

“Our approach to business was the reason we had the cash to buy our first plot,” says Sihle. “From day one we’d paid ourselves a minimum salary. All the money we made went back into the business. Our investment mentality is that if you take care of the business, your business will take care of you.”

“Successful businesses are all about positive cash flow,” agrees Majozi. “Once we chose this path of expansion, we were careful to only ever buy one property at a time and to never exhaust our cash flow. Each time we used the profits from one sale to build the next property. Slowly we built up our base, our profits and our reputation.

“Over-extending yourself leads to really bad business practices. Before you know it, you’re using one client’s cash to fund another client’s project. Soon you’re in debt and cutting corners. This is how businesses in our industry go under and ruin their reputations, not to mention the irreparable harm to their clients’ finances,” he adds.

Related: Making a Profit in Construction

5. Get creative to finance your growth

Once Majozi and Sihle had proven they had a successful prototype, they started looking for outside funders to scale their projects. Traditional finance options weren’t available, and so once again they looked to themselves to find a solution.

“We decided to tap into our community for investors,” says Majozi. “We kept things small. We’re working with five civil servants, amongst them a teacher, a policeman and a nurse, and together we’re growing their savings. Because we didn’t need huge amounts of capital, and we’ve spread the risk, we were able to find interested parties. We’re sticking to our project-by-project model, with profits reinvested into the next property.”

“We’ve learnt that a little can go a long way,” adds Sihle. “A group of people can split the costs as well as share the rewards, which has been much more attainable for us than one big loan from a bank.”

Of course, they’ve had to put trust and integrity at the forefront of every decision they’ve made, given that they’re working with their investors’ life savings.

6. Don’t take no for an answer

Once they’d proven their model, the partners set their sights on gated communities. “Gated estates use accredited builders. We were young and new, and they just said no to us,” says Sihle.

“We would physically stand outside the estates trying to get someone’s attention. When a site manager approached us, we would ask the same question: How can we build here? The response was that we needed to be accredited, and that clearly wasn’t happening. We needed a plan.”

They returned to what had worked for them, buying a plot and appointing themselves the construction company. “There were still a few hurdles getting the developer to say yes, but eventually they did. I think we wore them down. Plus now we were also technically a client.”

“Once we had our foot in the door, we could start building a track record,” says Majozi, and this is exactly what they’ve done. Today Majozi Bros has properties in Hillcrest, Cotswold Downs and Izinga Ridge in Kwa-Zulu Natal, and they’ve set their sights on the prestigious Waterfall Estates in Gauteng.

7. Never stop learning

“We believe that information and industry experience is power,” says Sihle. “We make a point of learning as much as we can from other industry players, clients, suppliers — anyone who is willing to share advice or who we can observe. You can never know too much.”

Related: Construction a Good Investment?

The business has also been accepted into WBHO’s enterprise development programme, which ensures the entrepreneurs will be fine-tuning their business and industry skills. “We’re excited to be exposed to the systems that an industry giant uses, and apply them in our own business,” says Majozi.

“We want to compete with the best, and that means continuous learning.”

Remember this

Successful start-ups create their own opportunities. Don’t wait for something great to happen to you. Go out and make it happen.

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Lessons Learnt

Can Being Deceptive Help You Build Your Business? It Worked For These 5 Entrepreneurs

We’ve all told little white lies. But what about the big ones? What if telling them would bring your business success?

Jayson Demers

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elon-musk

We all commit little acts of deception, like saying we got stuck in traffic when we were really late to the meeting because we wanted to watch the last five minutes of a favourite TV show. Little white lies? I’ve told them. You’ve told them.

But what about big lies, the kind truly lacking in integrity – like misrepresenting your sales to a prospective investor?

Obviously, there are often severe consequences to lying. Depending on the context, you could lose the trust of a peer, break a professional relationship or even face legal action. Yet, despite these consequences, lying is more common in the entrepreneurial world than you might think.

Just take as an example these five entrepreneurs, who might not be as well known or successful as they are if it weren’t for some clever acts of deception:

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Lessons Learnt

Three Habits That Underpin Entrepreneurial Success

Here are three powerful habits that will help you stay focused, define your entrepreneurial attitude and take your business from zero to hero.

Nicholas Bell

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business-man-success

Successful people and businesses don’t all share the same traits and commitments. Yes they all have managed to break barriers and achieve impressive goals. They’re the leaders, the movers, the shakers and the industry creators. However, not all entrepreneurs are created equal and their recipes for success can differ wildly.

Some swear by a three-hour run every morning followed by a nice salad and the bustle of busy work life. Others need an incredibly early start so they can spend time with their emails and focus on their business. Every entrepreneur has their  own secret tricks that keep them on the straight and successful narrow, but most share a few simple habits that are guaranteed to make a difference.

Here are three habits that will help you become better at business and at leading others towards long-term success:

1. Always be ready to change your assumptions

Many people are unable to change the assumptions they have about their business and its future as it evolves. No business model should be locked in cement and rigidly upheld, it will need to adapt and adjust as it grows and customer needs change. As an entrepreneur you need to understand this concept and be prepared to evolve and change in new directions and markets.

Related: Business Plan Format Guide

This also ties into failure. Do you understand why you failed at something? Are you aware that perhaps your business model is changing? Can you learn from these experiences? Can you adjust your business model, get better research, refine your ideas? If you are ready to take positive value out of these moments and experiences, then you are an agile and inspired entrepreneur.

2. There’s no off switch

Passion and commitment are absolutely key to the success of your business and your own personal growth. You can’t switch off or walk away or just take a sick day because you feel like it, not if you want to stand as an example to your employees or if you want to build a brilliant business.

It may sound trite and tired, but a work ethic is the single most important habit to have as an entrepreneur. You need to always hold yourself to the highest standards, commit to ethical practice and work harder than anyone else.

3. Take it personally

This doesn’t mean gentle sobs in your office when Susan from accounts ridicules your maths skills. If you take your business personally, then you are wrapping the skills learned in points 1 and 2 above into one cohesive whole – you are embedding your passion into every crevice of your company. Care about what you do, be passionate about what it stands for, and be prepared to fight for its life. The route from zero to billion-dollar business isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.

Remember, the idea is only 1%. Sweat, work, commitment and focus are the other 99% of the success equation.

Related: 22 Defining Entrepreneur Characteristics

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Head Of Audi South Africa Shares His Top Lessons On Weathering The Storm In Turbulent Times

When the economy isn’t playing ball, it’s time to roll up your sleeves, face your challenges head-on, and get to work, says Head of Audi SA, Trevor Hill.

Nadine Todd

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trevor-hill-quote

Vital Stats

  • Player: Trevor Hill
  • Position: Head of Audi South Africa
  • Visit: www.audi.co.za 

“In everything we do, across the organisation, we ask this question: Is it the best? That’s our value proposition. Without it, we don’t have a clear direction for everyone to follow.”

Some of the biggest brands in the world are well-known for keeping things lean. Amazon is a prime example, where even Amazon-branded employee backpacks are reused. Many bloated organisations learnt the hard way in 2008 that if you aren’t efficient and focused on the bottom-line, you’ll struggle to survive in competitive and volatile environments. On the other hand, businesses that were already lean and flexible not only survived the recession — many of them actually thrived, mainly because they were far better equipped to handle new economic realities than their competitors.

According to research conducted by Bain & Co’s authors of The Founder’s Mentality, Chris Zook and James Lane Allen, 85% of the biggest growth challenges large-scale organisations face are internal. This doesn’t mean the economy and competitors don’t matter. But the way leaders and managers of those organisations react to economic and external stimuli does.

Trevor Hill, Head of Audi South Africa, is well-versed on the impact external stimuli can have on a brand — even an established premium brand like Audi South Africa. Economic and political conditions in South Africa have impacted consumer confidence, and the premium vehicle market has experienced year-on-year double digit declines over the past three years. “The premium market is almost half the size it was three years ago in South Africa,” he explains. “Consumer confidence, the high pricing of premium cars, and a general buying down trend have really impacted our market. Three years ago, we were selling close to 20 000 vehicles per year. Today we sell around 10 000 vehicles. You can’t ignore market conditions. You need to face them head on, and do what’s best for your employees, the brand and your consumers.”

Related: 10 Ways To Develop A Success-Oriented Mindset

Here are Trevor’s five lessons for weathering the storm so that your business and brand are well positioned when market recovery begins.

1. Have a clear value proposition that everyone understands and embraces

“We will never be the biggest in the South African market,” says Trevor. “Mercedes-Benz and BMW produce in South Africa and have an advantage over us in terms of export credits. If we can’t be the biggest though, we can focus on being the best. That is entirely within our control.

“Our ‘Best’ strategy says that we want to be the best organisation, have the best product, the best brand and the best customer service. Everything we do must be looked at through this lens – is it the best? If we host an event, have we chosen the best venue, event organisers and caterers? Does the look and feel match our standards? If we can’t be the best — we don’t do it.

“In everything we do, across the organisation, we ask this question: Is it the best? That’s our value proposition. Without it, we don’t have a clear direction for everyone to follow.”

2. Understand what’s in your control and then roll up your sleeves and get it done

The rate cut at the end of 2017 really helped the premium market towards the end of the year. The problem is that there are things you can control — such as running a lean organisation — and things you can’t control, such as whether or not there will be another rate cut. So how do you ensure a proactive culture rather than a defeatist mentality when times are tough?

“The spirit of Audi has always been to challenge boundaries, roll up our sleeves and forge our own future,” says Trevor. “It’s in our ‘Vorsprung’ DNA. This has never been more applicable than when we’re weathering a storm, but it has to be fostered when the waters are calm.”

The theory is straightforward. If an organisation isn’t used to challenging boundaries and being in control of its own destiny, it’s difficult to find those characteristics when they’re really needed. When something is woven into a brand’s DNA, it’s because it’s always there, and the organisation’s entire culture supports it.

Trevor can point to examples everywhere. For example, in the 1980s, Audi was the first car manufacturer to put a five-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive on a rally car, and cleaned up two years in a row as a result.

“The Audi spirit is that you can improve anything. You just need to be willing to put in the work.”

Faced with extremely tough local conditions, the South African team is now doing just that: Rolling up its sleeves and finding solutions.

“This is how we handle the business as a whole. We’ve been completely upfront with head office and our investors about current market conditions, but we aren’t complaining — we’re putting the facts on the table, showing them what we can control, and unpacking how we’re going to see the business rolling forward. Because of that attitude and transparency, we have everyone’s full support.”

3. Never throw money at a problem; smart solutions aren’t necessarily the most expensive

trevor-hill

“Spending a fortune on brand campaigns isn’t going to change the reality of the current market conditions,” says Trevor. “It’s easy to throw money at a problem, but then what? We’ve taken a different approach. We’ve selected a number of brand ambassadors whose values really align with our own. These include TBO Touch, Cameron van der Burgh, Wayde van Niekerk and Nomzamo Mbatha. Their followers know what they stand for, and associate Audi with those same values. It’s a much more targeted and niche way to gain awareness for our brand.”

For Trevor, not throwing money at a problem is a value that should be ingrained in an organisation. “We approached 2018 with this value top of mind. At the end of 2017 our management team went away for a strategy session. We collectively took a look at the entire business and asked what we needed to do to drive this business through the stormy waters of 2018.

“Each manager then got a target for their division that was aligned with the other divisions and organisation as a whole. They then conducted individual strategy sessions with their teams. The whole thing was a problem-solving mission: This is the budget we have, this is where our focus needs to be, now how do we go out and deliver the best? What’s our plan?

“These plans were then aligned with each other to ensure everyone was going in the same direction, and we measure everything. My KPIs filter down to the management team, and theirs filter down to their teams. It’s a very inclusive system; everyone can workshop the problem, and in that way we don’t only gather some out-the-box ideas, but we get everyone’s buy-in as well.”

Related: You Need This One Trait To Succeed In Reaching Your Goals

4. Encourage your team to try new things and communicate collaboratively

Very often, individual divisions communicate well together, but the message and camaraderie is lost across divisions, particularly between sales and marketing. “We’ve found two ways to encourage participation and camaraderie across the business,” says Trevor. “The first is that we always encourage new ideas. If something is tried and tested and doing well, especially in marketing, try to own that property. But if something isn’t giving you what you want, change it. We’re often too scared to change things that aren’t working or to try something new. We encourage participation and thinking differently. The bigger your pool of ideas, the more you have to work with.”

The company also has a number of monthly meetings that bring different divisions into the same room for workshop sessions. “We have a lot of field staff who aren’t often in the office. We need to keep communicating with them to pull them into the fold,” explains Trevor. “For example, once a month we have marketing and product meetings. The marketing, product and sales teams all attend. It gives everyone an opportunity to know what’s happening and hash out any questions or issues then and there. The communication between divisions — particularly marketing and sales — is much better as a result.”

5. Keep your core motivated

Like many industries, there’s a lot of employee movement in the consumer and premium brands segment. “People move. That’s the reality of job markets around the world,” says Trevor. But stability is important, and at Audi SA, that means identifying your core employees and keeping them happy.

“We have a very strong core. Within the organisation we’ve identified a core group of employees whom we absolutely need if we’re going to continue to run this business efficiently and successfully. Once you’ve identified your core, you need to keep them happy, and that’s about a lot more than their paycheque.

“Different people want different things — advancement, developing their careers, an opportunity to work abroad or perhaps spend more time with their families at home.”

The lesson? Figure out what’s important to each member of your core and try your best to give it to them. Success is a team sport — you need to keep that core team in your corner.


MAKING A SUCCESS OF NEW TERRITORIES

Trevor Hill began his career with Audi as an area manager in 1989. In 1997 he left South Africa to join Audi’s head office in Germany. Since then he has headed up divisions in Germany, Japan, China, Dubai and South Korea. One of the biggest lessons he’s learnt through his travels is that while there are certain business fundamentals that hold true everywhere, each culture has its own way of doing business, and you need to understand what that is on the ground if you’re going to make an impact and be successful.

“One of the biggest things I’ve had to communicate back to head office is that each territory operates slightly differently,” explains Trevor. “For example, in Germany, you have 100 days in any new job to prove yourself. If you don’t make something happen in those 100 days, you’re not seen to be successful. This is impossible in Asia, where business is all about relationships. You have to develop a relationship based on trust and honesty, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Until you have that trust though, your employees and customers won’t work with you. When you enter a new territory, take your time. The first year is all about understanding the lay of the land. In the second year you can implement your strategy, and in the third year you can start reaping rewards.”

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