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Lessons Learnt

Mike Stopforth Success Secrets For Creating The Company You Want -Not The One You Have

Entrepreneurs are always being told that starting a business is risky – that success is unlikely. But what happens if you actually succeed? Are you ready for it?

GG van Rooyen

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Mike Stopforth

Vital stats

  • Player: Mike Stopforth
  • Position: CEO
  • Company: Cerebra
  • Established: 2006
  • Visit: www.cerebra.co.za

The key to long-term success

Long-term success comes from planning. Be sure to implement the necessary systems and processes before they are actually needed. Prep for the company you want, not the one you have.

Businesses fail. They fail all the time. It’s a reality that entrepreneurs are forced to live with. The problem, however, is that focusing on the (admittedly real) possibility of failure can keep you from preparing for success.

“What happens if your business doesn’t fail?” asks Cerebra CEO Mike Stopforth. “When your business is still growing, it can feel arrogant and over-optimistic to think about what your company will look like down the line, but you have to do it. Otherwise, you’ll wake up one day with a large organisation that you don’t know how to run.”

What is my role?

Being a start-up founder and being a CEO is not the same thing. So, when your business is growing quickly and becoming an established business, you need to take a step back and try to figure out what your role in it is.

“Not everyone is Mark Zuckerberg; not everyone can keep successfully leading a business all the way from small university-based start-up to a massive international business. If you love the start-up environment, you very possibly won’t enjoy the nitty-gritty of managing a big company.

“So, you need to figure out what your role in the larger organisation should be. Perhaps you’re better off letting someone else handle the day-to-day running, and should instead devote your time to innovation or company culture,” says Mike.

Regardless of the position you opt for, but particularly if you want to be CEO, you need to figure out how you will spend the majority of your time. “You need to be able to identify and then focus on the best use of your time, and then spend the majority of your time in that high-priority area. It’s surprisingly tough to do,” says Mike.

But if you don’t make a conscious decision to focus on certain areas of the business, you will get sucked into the daily details, which means you never get to focus on long-term strategy.

Sweat the structure

cerebra-logo

“As a business grows, you tend to create roles for people who are already in the business. That’s the wrong way to go about it,” says Mike. “You can’t create a streamlined business by tweaking and retrofitting the company structure on a continual basis.”

Instead, Mike suggests that you create your ideal company structure first, and then slowly go about populating it. You obviously won’t be able to immediately fill all those roles, but it’s important to have a blueprint.

“You need to ask yourself what you ultimately want your company to look like. What are the must-have roles? What are the horizontals and verticals? You need to create that roadmap early on,” says Mike.

This can be hard, since it sometimes means not automatically promoting someone who’s been with the company for a while, but you need to focus on the business you want, not the business you have.

“Defining your structure up-front reduces the emotional nature of hiring, firing and promoting staff. The blueprint makes the decisions, not a spur- of-the-moment feeling.”

Middle management

“It’s important to realise that the best expert in a department is not automatically the best manager,” says Mike. “Just because someone is a great developer doesn’t mean that he or she will necessarily be a great manager of developers. So, as mentioned, you need to be willing to sometimes hire from outside.”

It’s important to put the right people in place, since great managers become crucial once your business reaches a certain size. “The CEO and top executives should set the vision for the organisation and set an example that others can follow. In short, it’s their job to provide leadership,” says Mike.

“Managers, meanwhile, are there to manage. They need to deal with the day-to-day running. Therefore, it’s the job of the company leaders to put competent managers in place, and then empower them to get the job done. Systems and processes should be there to remove barriers and make it easier to manage, not harder.”

An outside perspective

With growth comes complexity, which is why it’s easy to sometimes lose perspective. Because of this, Mike recommends having someone from outside the company who can act as an advisor.

“Some of the most effective and rewarding strategy sessions we’ve had at Cerebra have been with a stranger in the room. A business coach, or some other professional consultant, can provide a tremendous amount of value because they offer objectivity. As the founder or CEO, you are so close to the business, that you can’t see the wood for the trees,” says Mike.

Importantly, this external sounding board need not necessarily be a business coach. “A good idea is obviously to have a board populated with knowledgeable outsiders, but if you don’t feel as if your company is ready for that, you can try and identify a friend who can provide some objective input.

“Another idea is to join some form of entrepreneurial network or organisation. You’ll notice that a lot of businesses deal with the same issues.”

What’s your USP?

Just as it’s crucial to decide your own position within the business, you need to figure out how the company will be positioned within the market.

“As you grow, the temptation exists to diversify, since it’s the easiest way to scale. At Cerebra, however, we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to focus on our niche and own it — to become the go-to experts in the social media field,” says Mike.

“You need to position the company carefully. Will you be competing on price, or offering a premium service? Will you be an expert or a generalist? You need to consider the long-term strategy of the organisation and ask yourself how you want it to be perceived in the market. The bigger the company becomes, the harder it is to change direction.”

Lessons Learnt

3 Lessons I’ve Learned In Krav Maga That Have Changed My Approach To Business

This fighting style packs a big punch on and off the mat.

Kristina Libby

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I started taking Krav Maga lessons this year at the recommendation of both my personal trainer and my therapist. I was physically assaulted years before in a nice neighbourhood in Washington, D.C. at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Not a time or place one would expect to be attacked, and it has had long-lasting impacts on my mental and physical health. My trainer and my therapist, for different reasons, thought that learning a fighting skill would help me address the assault and move forward. It turned out to do much more than that.

Krav Maga is a military fighting system developed for the Israel Defense Forces. It is derived from a number of other fighting systems like boxing, wrestling, judo, etc. Those fighting forms were combined together to create a system for effective self-defense that is not based on bulk, height or gender. It is based on winning.

My first day at Krav Maga was scary. I did not feel like I was winning. I pushed back tears as my instructor Mike took me through different fighting stances and beginner moves. As I was learning to balance on my feet, he looked over at me. I was scared.

The terror and fear of the attack I had experienced years ago came flooding back. I kept flinching away and cowering as he came closer toward me. He looked me in the face and very slowly spoke to me: “The moment you get attacked, you are not the victim. You become the attacker.”

The moment you get attacked, you are not the victim. You become the attacker

This is a fundamental phrase in Krav Maga. It’s the idea that you don’t allow yourself to become the victim. If you are attacked, you attack back – stronger and more aggressively – because your job is to protect yourself.

In business, you are always at some point or another going to be the victim of an attack. This could be small, such as someone who leaves a negative product review, or big, such as a company slandering you or trying to take over your accounts.

The question is: How do you respond? Prior to Krav Maga, I would have been a little bit more “nice.” I would have shrugged my shoulders, known I would rebound in the end, or receded into a position of victimhood.

Not anymore.

My job is to protect myself and my company. It’s to protect my employees and my customers. And, Krav Maga has taught me to do that not from a position of victimhood but from a position of preparation. The only way to ensure you can attack an attacker is to have the skills to fight. In business this means:

  • Aligning your A-team: Ensuring you have a lawyer, an accountant and a good PR firm at the ready.
  • Preparing yourself: Ensuring you understand where threats can arise, what those threats may be and developing a plan to respond to them.
  • Preparing your team: Ensuring your team knows that you don’t play the role of the victim and that when attacked you address the situation head-on from a position of educated authority. This is about mindset for both leaders and employees.

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

You will get punched in the face. Understand what that feels like

krav-maga-fighting

In my Krav Maga training, Mike will punch me in the stomach for a few minutes at varying levels of force. The intent is that I will get used to getting punched in the stomach.

He has me stand with my arms to my side, stomach muscles tightened and solar plexus alert. I can’t punch back. I can only wait and anticipate the blows, tighten my muscles and understand that practice punches in the stomach are the only way to prepare me for punches to my stomach (or anywhere) in a fight.

The first time he did this, I was terrified.

Now, I understand that the momentary pain makes me stronger, less afraid of the intentional punch or kick someone years down the road might throw at me. In business, this lesson is incredibly useful and has changed the way I think about planning and development.

Sometimes you need someone to punch you in the stomach.

The role of an advisor or a consultant for your business is the same role as Mike is playing when he punches me in the stomach. He knows what it’s like to get hit and he wants to ensure that if I do get hit, the shock of being hit won’t be debilitating.

Hopefully, those advising you are also seeing the future ways your business can get punched in the stomach. Their role is to help you avoid those punches by preparing you for the little bumps and bruises you’ll see along the way.

As a business owner, then, it is your role to:

  • Find advisors who have been punched in the stomach (metaphorically) and allow them to watch you along the way. They will know when you are careening too far in the direction of something dangerous and hopefully prepare you for the inevitable danger.
  • Allow the little punches to your stomach to be seen as training bumps. These small upsets should be dealt with as upsets, not massive failures. They are preparing you for bigger and more aggressive assaults down the road.

Related: Here’s What Jeff Bezos Prefers To Work-Life Balance And Why You Should Live By It

Even blindfolded, we can win

There is an exercise that Mike has me do, where I close my eyes and he attacks me. The intent is that I use the skills we have learned to ward off the attack. When I was attacked years ago, it was nighttime, and the attacker snuck up and surprised me. As such, Mike’s simulation is the hardest emotional thing I have to do all week. That is, until I actually do it.

Normally, I don’t do the counterattack move perfectly. I use an open-palm heel strike instead of a punch. Or, I use a knee rather than a kick because I know my knees to the groin are stronger. It doesn’t matter. I’m still able to disarm him (when he uses a knife), knock him away and clear enough space to get away. I still win.

I win not because I have perfect form, or a super-human strength but because I don’t give up. I don’t stop fighting until I win because I don’t have the luxury of losing. Losing means victimisation. I don’t want to be the victim.

When I was assaulted years ago, I didn’t give up either. I fought on the ground and then standing until the assailant ran away. I screamed and kicked and refused to let him win. I didn’t have any training then; I won only because I had grit and a desire to live through the attack.

Now, I have more training but at the end of the day, I won’t be an expert. Few of us ever will be. The thing that all of us can do though is refuse to give up. We can refuse to let the attack keep us down. We can refuse to let the attacker win.

This is the Krav Maga lesson that I think is the most impactful for women business leaders. We are going to get attacked – every day. Often, we will not see the attack coming. We will be blindfolded in some way by lack of time, lack of awareness or lack of funding, and the attack will come.

The only thing we can do, the thing we must do, is know that even blindfolded we can continue to fight. We can refuse to be the victim. We can continue to raise and punch back. Because if there is something I know about female entrepreneurs, is that we all have a lot of grit and a lot of heart.

In the end of the day, heart and grit win fights.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

Taking It To The Malaysian Market – Karl van Zyl Of Antipodean Café

Karl van Zyl approach has always been logical and simplified and he highlights three principles that he believes to be critical in the food and beverage industry.

Dirk Coetsee

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Karl van Zyl has a 17 year history in the food and beverage industry in South-Africa and now applies his skills and knowledge in the extremely vibrant and competitive Malaysian market. I had a very interesting conversation with him to explore both similarities and differences of both markets and to share his accumulative learning of this industry to those entrepreneurs considering to open a restaurant or café.

He has a history working for the Mikes’ kitchen and Fishmonger groups in South-Africa fulfilling a range of roles from being a General Manager to Operational Manager. Currently he both manages an well-known Café called Antipodean and facilitates the opening of new cafes’ in Klang Valley, Malaysia.

Karl shared that his approach has always been logical and that applying sound basics has always served him well. Would you eat the food served at your restaurant and really enjoy it? Posing questions such as the aforementioned to yourself as a restaurant owner or manager helps you to be aware of the quality of your operation and to always keep the customer in mind when making decisions.

One of the key learnings that he shared was to get a very good and experienced team of waiters together that has previous restaurant or hospitality industry experience. He strongly advises quality over quantity when it comes to waiters and fondly remembers one of the waiters that he managed whom could take orders from a group of twenty people and remember each order from the top of his head.

It is not only about quality of service to the customer but also when there is a small but quality team of waiters operating then their earnings are much higher and they will feel valued and happy as opposed to a large group of waiters competing for relatively small rewards.

Related: What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew

Karls’ approach has always been logical and simplified and he highlights three principles that he believes to be critical in the food and beverage industry:

  1. Quality of food
  2. Quality of service
  3. Pricing.

He adds that in addition to the above principles your location should of course be in area with very good ‘foot traffic’.

When the entrepreneur venturing into the food and beverage market considers the right suppliers it is a critical factor to go and visit their facilities, thoroughly check their quality and enquire which other quality brands they are supplying in addition to buying at good prices.

In his view comparing the Malaysian food and beverage market to the South African market there are a lot more Malaysians eating at restaurants than in South Africa. One of the reasons for this is that there are a lot of ‘street café/restaurant’ options with quality food at a very low price due to the restaurant not being air-conditioned and making use of for example plastic chairs and tables.

Personally the author has found much more twenty four hour food options and countless varieties of food compared to the South African market. If you are awake and hungry at 3 am in the morning in Kuala Lumpur, no problem! You also will not be limited to only 24 hour fast food options, almost any type of food that you desire will be available that is if you know where to go off-course.

Related: Don’t Be ‘Outside Standing’ On Your Own Exponential Growth Says Serial Investor, Jimmy Phoon

As a matter of interest Karl regards the prices of restaurants in general in Kuala Lumpur to be better than in South Africa and holds the service levels in KL in higher esteem due to it being more ‘personal’ and customer orientated. He believes that South African food matches the quality of Malaysian food but that there is however much more variety of food available in Malaysia.

Karl pointed out that it is possible to have people from all five continents represented in one night at a restaurant as the food culture in Malaysia is very diverse and so is the cultural phenomenon in general in Kuala Lumpur.

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Lessons Learnt

What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew

Zac Liew was offered to be CEO and Co-founder of Curlec at the age of twenty six and took up the offer knowing that he would be engaged in a steep learning curve. Curlec is a FinTech company that is redefining the customer experience for Direct Debit.

Dirk Coetsee

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zac-liew

Botanica Deli, Bangsar South, Malaysia a vibrant environment where a number of entrepreneurs and office workers go to meet and have great food and coffee. I walked into the Deli to meet a man that might just possess the ‘entrepreneurial gene’ if indeed that gene exists.

Zac Liew always wanted to venture onto the exciting yet challenging playing field of entrepreneurial ventures having his dad and mother as examples. His father a lawyer, whom ventured into property development and his mother whom started the first chain of liquor stores in Malaysia.

His parents’ ventures interested him from a very young age and helped to ignite the entrepreneurial fire in this very young CEO and co-founder of Curlec. Zac is a qualified lawyer whom also did a stint in the banking industry but at all times he had a burning desire to do something entrepreneurial and always had an interest in tech.

To him tech was always logical and simply made sense within this ever changing business environment within which we as entrepreneurs launch our start-up ventures. He also enjoys the challenging demands that the tech environment places upon his problem solving skills.

Related: Brian Tan Of FutureLab.my – Bridging The Knowledge Gap Through Social Learning

The Creation of Curlec

curlec-malaysia-mobile-appZac Liew was offered to be CEO and Co-founder of Curlec at the age of twenty six and took up the offer knowing that he would be engaged in a steep learning curve. Curlec is a FinTech company that is redefining the customer experience for Direct Debit. They are the first Malaysian software company to enable online Direct Debit payments in Malaysia. One of the core principles that Curlec was founded upon is to Build great tech that solves a basic need.

Zac together with his co-founders Steve Kucia and Raj Lorenz found a simplified and effective solution to collecting money on a recurring basis. Normally recurring billing and collections is a big issue for SMEs’ and other options were exceptionally costly and timeous.

Zac pointed out that the size of the issue of recurring collections exceeded all expectations and that is one of the reasons that their start-up phase has been successful and gained very good traction in the market.

Curlec has a razor sharp focus on only two products which enables them to focus on giving a great service and customer experience. Curlec cuts through the normal levels of bureaucracy of big companies and has a laser focus on their customers.

How does this apply to start-up entrepreneurs?

Create a product or a system that is simplified, very user friendly, cost and time effective, and more importantly that solves a very challenging issue within the market place that adds great value to customers. Underpin this by being customer centric.

I asked Zac to enlighten me on the key learnings of his journey thus far and also share success principles that has served him well in business and in his life in general. He pointed out that he believes that every entrepreneur should get comfortable with being uncomfortable and venture outside the boundaries of their own comfort zones.

‘Be comfortable with making mistakes’ he says. Get feedback learn from it and integrate the useful feedback in your thinking and in practically applying solutions.’

As business and life has a natural and general ebb and flow to it persistence is a key factor to your success. Accept challenges as they occur and realise that the mind of the entrepreneur should always have a problem solving focus. As a fan of combat sports, Zac shared the following quotes that resonates with him:

“The more you seek the uncomfortable the more you will become comfortable” – Conor McGregor

And

“I have been training under the dark lights so that I can shine in the bright lights’ – Anthony Joshua

Related:  Zac Liew Channeling The Fire Of Authenticity: Asia’s’ Top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh

As a writer I have always been fascinated by the wisdom imparted by philosophers and masters of their respective fields. I am even more excited and hopeful for our future when I hear wisdom ‘rolling of the tongue’ of a twenty six year old entrepreneur:

‘Be idealistic in your ideas but be pragmatic in actualising them. If things are not working out do not be stuck in that. Take what you can learn from your experiences and move on.’

Tech has the inherent power to reach the far ends of the world seamlessly and when we have more and more tech entrepreneurs solving big consumer issues and thereby making this world a better place we can be more and more hopeful of a better future.

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