- 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
“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.”
“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.”
How Kevin Hart Went From Being A Comedian To The Guy Who Owns Comedy
He’s one of America’s most famous funnymen, but here’s what most people don’t see: Kevin Hart is often in his office, running a far more ambitious comedy machine.
Considering how proud Kevin Hart is of the headquarters of his company, you’d think the place would be downright palatial. But it’s not. It’s simple, almost austere. It’s a series of small offices, a reception area and a conference room, and it takes up a floor of a nondescript building in downtown Encino, Calif., on Ventura Boulevard, across from a Korean BBQ joint.
The rooms are sparsely furnished. There are a lot of photos and posters of Hart, of course, but otherwise there is no expensive art, no designer tchotchkes on the credenzas, no tasteful floor coverings that could fund a motion picture production.
No, the thing about this office that fills Kevin Hart with such pride isn’t its appearance. It’s the fact that it’s still his.
Back in 2009, when he took out a two-year lease on just a small portion of the space to house his startup, HartBeat Productions, Hart was worried he wasn’t going to be able to afford it. This was before his comedy specials became some of the highest-grossing of all time. Before his social media profile grew to near record-setting proportions. Before Kevin Hart Day was declared in Philadelphia. Before he became one of the biggest stars on Earth.
“When I first got here,” he says, “and this is before the money was where it is now, this was the dream. Every day I get to see this and I get to go, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to do it, man? Shit. I done took out the two-year goddamn lease on this place!’ ’”
But he loved the “aspirational” view from what is still his personal office, and he had a plan, drawn from a hard-earned epiphany. Historically, comedians and actors, even very successful ones, are simply cogs in a very large machine.
For all the fame, and the money and the glamour, they are essentially powerless against the whims of that machine. They are the product. They do their best, work their hardest, earn what they can and at the end of the day, they’re left with fading fame and whatever money they were able to bank along the way.
Hart saw this state of affairs early in his stand-up comedy career and decided to try something different. Something risky. The idea was this: Create something lasting. Something that will go on when you’re done. Don’t just show up, do your best and then go away.
Don’t make money mostly for other people. Own what you do. Perfect your craft, of course, but in so doing, create a sustainable, revenue-generating enterprise that can run profitably long after the world has had enough of seeing your face and hearing your jokes.
In short, the idea Kevin Hart had, as he stood nervously in that office in 2009, was this: Don’t be the cog. Be the machine.
And so he is.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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