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OpenTenders And The Art Of The Pivot

How OpenTenders learned the art of the pivot and lean start-up basics, all while building their business-to-business social network and tender portal.

Nadine Todd

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OpenTenders-South-Africa

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  • Players: Mnive Nhlabathi, Sivu Maqungo and Madoda Khuzwayo
  • Company: OpenTenders
  • Est: 2013

How did the idea for OPENTENDERS come about?

Like most business ideas, it was the product of our own frustrations. Joburg is very competitive, especially for hosting companies and branding; you’re competing against major players and agencies.

We wanted to find markets where we would be the only company pursuing the business; areas where resources were scarce. The problem is that you never know what tenders are available. They get posted on notice boards at municipalities, so there’s a lot of driving involved. In 2006 we put 120 000kms on Madoda’s car, which completely messed up the motor plan. That’s how much we drove.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Paycorp Saw an Opportunity… and Took It

The whole time we kept thinking that there had to be a better way to access tender notifications, and that there were probably a lot of companies that would love access to those lists. And the idea for OPENTENDERS began to take shape.

What was the big idea?

National departments have to tender any jobs that are worth more than R500 000, municipalities R200 000, and state-owned entities like Transnet generally tender jobs above the R2 million mark.

Anything less than that and it’s a simple quotation system. That was the bulk of our business – smaller quotes, but more of them. You’d know within seven days if you got the job, and all of your eggs weren’t in one big job. The problem was finding out about the work.

We knew there had to be a better way. After years of driving around the country, we knew how the system worked, we’d built up great contacts across the country, we knew how to build websites and we understood branding and marketing. What did that amount to? There are 660 entities in South Africa all doing their own thing. What if they were all in one place, on one website? And that’s how OPENTENDERS started.

Did the idea immediately gain traction?

It took eight months to build the first platform, and as soon as it was live we realised that some of the key assumptions we’d made were wrong. Our first idea was to create the website, get all calls for tenders and quotes onto it, and charge SMEs R500 per month to access it. It didn’t work. Entrepreneurs don’t like spending money. It’s that simple.

So what was your response?

We needed to learn from our market and adjust our product accordingly. We pivoted, and our second iteration was a subscription model of R99 per month. Now we had a new problem – you wouldn’t believe how many debit orders bounced – and that cost us money.

We went back to the drawing board and evaluated what we had. There were SMEs on the site, and we knew from our own experiences that we looked for smaller opportunities as well as bigger ones. SMEs are other SMEs’ best opportunities. What about a business-to-business social network?

A place where smaller businesses could market to each other? Madoda created a social network platform where business owners could set up a profile, explain what they did, ‘friend’ each other, and potentially do business.

The site now has two layers: A tender portal and procurement opportunities, and a business social network. It’s also a freemium model. As a business owner you can sign up for free.

How do you make money?

We realised that the real value in the site was how many people we could get signed up and creating profiles. We’d learnt that the only way to build a large community was to make access to the site free. However, as it grows, it becomes an incredibly valuable database, and so our revenue model now focuses on advertising.

To create a profile you need to fill in exactly what you do and the industry you’re in. Our algorithms are targeted. So, for example, an insurance company can target construction companies only, if they so wish.

We also send out notices every time a tender comes up, and those have an advert on them as well – push notifications that are tailored to your industry sector. It’s targeted, niche and automated. We’ve also made the rates affordable enough for SMEs, and because they are so targeted, you can choose exactly who you spend your 1 000 or 10 000 impressions on.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: How Innovo Networks is Landing Big Corporates

How have these pivots helped the business?

We’ve had between 80 and 100 new members per day since we switched to the freemium model. It’s been an incredible lesson in the lean start-up methodology. In start-ups it’s all about what works and what doesn’t work, and often you’ll only know the answers to those questions once you’re out in the market, testing your product.

You learn and unlearn things at pace in a start-up. You need to be shifting and pivoting all the time, learning from and responding to the market.

How else has the business offering grown?

We now have four key channels to the business. The first is our original core offering – a place to access all tender information; the second is funding – Sivu is involved in an investment house that funds between R70 000 and R2,5 million on a per-project basis.

The third is a B2B social network, and the fourth is training. We’ve developed a six-month online course that SME owners can complete in their own time. We noticed a big gap for many SMEs was a lack of business skills. We’ve created a ‘business in a box’, with training and all the templates SMEs need.

A meeting of minds

Madoda Khuzwayo was always good at maths. So good that it landed him an Eskom bursary to study electrical engineering.

“I was a rural boy, and so the first time I ever touched a computer was my first semester at varsity. It changed my world.”

From that moment he wanted to switch degrees, but Eskom didn’t need IT professionals, and Khuzwayo needed the bursary. As soon as he finished his degree, he packed his bags and headed for London. His plan was to work and save enough to study IT.

“I arrived willing to do anything, from picking potatoes to working at Tescos. I eventually found my way to Oxford, where I got a job as a dishwasher. This was the worst job I’d ever had, but my English wasn’t good enough to be a waiter, and I couldn’t understand British accents. It was me and a Serbian guy in the kitchens.”

And then he saw a sign for engineers wanted at the local BMW/Mini plant. “My engineering degree got my foot in the door to study IT. It’s funny how these things work out.” For the next few years, Khuzwayo worked weekends at the plant and studied during the week.

“By 2003 I had my IT degree and I was ready to come home. We’d won the bid for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and I thought there’d be some great business opportunities around the event.”

Khuzwayo’s idea was simple: Tourists would need accommodation, and locals had rooms to rent. He designed a website that matched prospective rentors with rentees. “The idea won me the Gauteng SAB Kickstarter title, but by then FIFA had changed the rules, and all accommodation had to be accredited.”

Undeterred, Khuzwayo looked for a way to pivot his idea. “I’d been working on a free mail plugin for the site, and realised this was a business in itself. I called the business MyNextMail and began focusing exclusively on that.”

Mnive Nhlabathi has been an entrepreneur since age 22. “I’ve only worked for someone else for three years of my life,” he says. “My background is IT and brand development, and in 2006 I also entered the Kickstarter competition with my branding agency.”

That was to be the year Khuzwayo won, and although Nhlabathi didn’t walk away with the prize money, he’d made a new friend. “We worked from coffee shops together, and gradually the idea grew that we should be working together.”

Yet another pivot

Khuzwayo was working on MyNextMail — a hosted email solution — but he was hitting brick walls trying to secure funding. “We both believed that in the future, IT would move from the work place into the cloud, but MyNextMail was competing with Yahoo and Gmail.” Gradually, the idea developed that together they could offer website and hosting solutions, as well as branding solutions.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Yolanda Sing from Chloé Consultants on Leading by Example

Joining forces, they targeted municipalities — not in main centres, but off the beaten track.

Sivu Maqungo joined the team immediately upon being approached by Khuzwayo with his idea for OPENTENDERS. A lawyer who had closed his practice to join the Department of International Relations, Maqungo had wanted to travel the world from a young age. When the opportunity to do so presented itself, he grabbed it with both hands. By the time Khuzwayo and Nhlabathi met him, he was back in South Africa running the East Africa desk, which consisted of 14 ambassadors.

“There’s a high level of appreciation for South African products and talent across Africa. Few companies realise this, so I started running seminars. I’d invite ambassadors from various countries, and they would pitch to local companies about the opportunities available in their countries.”

Khuzwayo attended one such event, introduced himself to Maqungo and explained OPENTENDERS. Maqungo was the third partner they’d been looking for: He was involved in an investment company that funded SMEs, he had contacts across Africa, and he understood training and SME needs. For Maqungo, here was an opportunity to re-enter the entrepreneurial world. With his desire to travel sated, he was ready for the next chapter.

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

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Lessons Learnt

10 Gary Vaynerchuk-Approved Success Strategies

The VaynerMedia founder gets real about drive and ambition.

Nina Zipkin

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Gary Vaynerchuk

Perhaps the best way to describe Gary Vaynerchuk is “nonstop.” The founder of VaynerMedia, VaynerSports and Vayner/RSE is also an author, host and vlogger who records just about everything he does.

He is known for being relentless in his pursuit of the hustle and has a loyal audience of millions (2.4 million on Instagram, 1.58 million on Twitter and 2.3 million on Facebook) who take his advice to heart.

We took a deep dive into his blog archive to find some of his best tips and advice for making it as an entrepreneur.

1. On why failure shouldn’t scare you

“It’s the lack of fear of failing that has allowed me to make decisions so quick. People don’t make decisions because they are scared to lose. I make decisions because I want to know what’s going to happen, and then I use that information to help advise what I do next,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“The one thing I know for sure, is the outcome of what happens if you don’t decide. If you never make a decision, or deliberate for too long, all the upside or potential opportunity could be lost.”

Related: 5 Vital Keys To Success From The Likes Of Tony Robbins And Gary Vaynerchuk

2. On the value of patience

“The game is LONG. There’s so much opportunity. Optimism is the secret to capitalizing on this opportunity and that’s where you need to live. You need to figure out how good it really is and how much opportunity you have,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“Patience is practical. I push patience because I know life is long. Everybody around here is running around like it’s not. 24 year-olds running around like it ends tomorrow. Like they need it now. What’s wrong with being 26 or 41 or 73?”

3. On why age has nothing to do with ability

gary-vaynerchuk-entrepreneur

“The youth are the future of everything. They are the future of business, of society, of law and of government. We better pay attention, and empower them to be the best that they can be,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“My hope is that we lose the sentiment of age makes a difference in skill. There are plenty of 22 and 24 and 26 year olds in my office right now that work harder and smarter than some of the 50 year olds I know. It’s just the truth and we are going to continue to see this trend adopted in the marketplace. You can’t deny results.”

4. On how to build a lasting legacy

“I think my actions map to my ambitions. Because my ambition is to have legacy. I treat it that way. I treat everybody I interact with, with kindness and respect. These days, as my notoriety has grown, I still treat people just the same. I look them dead in the face and I’m just in it with them for that one minute or two or three or 10, and really care about they have to say! Because I am very appreciative and humbled for their attention. I will never get over it. I will never get over the fact that people actually care.”

Related: 8 Pieces Of Sage Advice From Ernest Corbett of Tintswalo Safari Lodges

5. On the importance of an open door policy

“I don’t think one can win in business without having the proper teammates and empowering them to play their role. Ideas can come from anywhere but the fact of the matter is you need an offensive line, you need a receiver, you need a quarterback, you need them all and I think any leader that doesn’t recognise that will ultimately not succeed in the long term. Obviously you can have a company that runs for six months and you sell it but over a 10, 20, 40 year period, there is no other strategy that will actually work.”

6. On why you need to prioritise your own happiness

“To truly be selfless, you have to give without expectation. It’s the mindset of giving with expectation, which kills everything. It just doesn’t work at all. Being selfish is the gateway to selflessness, because you learn to take care of your own personal needs first in order to use that as collateral later so that you can really, truly help.”

7. On why you shouldn’t think about how things “should be”

gary-vaynerchuk-entrepreneur-quote

“Navigating our society and our lives with the hope of how it ‘should be’ versus the way it actually is, is the quickest and least practical way to create success. This is something I say to myself every single day,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“I am in control of my destiny. Nobody else. I get to decide how I react and how I respond, and the greatest motivator to inspire perspective is the simple statement ‘What’s the alternative?’”

8. On why you must value the perspective you bring to the table

“Why are you taking somebody else’s opinion about yourself greater than your opinion about yourself? It’s the single greatest mistake that will keep you from finding happiness and confidence in who you are,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“And it’s not that their opinions don’t matter. You have to have an equal amount of respect for yourself as for others. It’s a democratic society and everyone gets a vote. So beyond the thought leaders, and politicians and school systems you have to have respect for yourself. You need to put yourself on your own pedestal and then start weighing the opinions of others proportionately to how you actually feel about yourself.”

9. On why the competition doesn’t matter

“I am and always have been consumer focused. The reason I don’t pay attention to my ‘competition’ is not because I’m brash or cool. It’s because it doesn’t matter when you’re obsessed with the end consumer,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“Because it starts and it ends with the end consumer and where the attention actually is. I will always do actions that bring you the most value because then I get value in return.”

10. On why your goal should be to keep working

“I didn’t need to get mine at 25. Heck, I don’t even need to ‘get mine’ at 41. This is the long, long game. I’m driven by the climb. It could be because I’m an immigrant and I just have this chip on my shoulder. Or maybe it’s in my DNA. I don’t like winning. I like losing. I like the struggle. I like people telling me that I can’t,” Vaynerchuk writes. “I don’t give a shit if my payday comes tomorrow. I want the game. The game is my life. There will never be a moment to quit. There’s no dollar amount. Nothing you can do to make me stop.”

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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7 Motivational Habits That Drive Millionaires

Habits seem to rule us. They can hold you back, or you can adapt the right habits and prosper.

John Rampton

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wealthy-people

Have you ever been awed by the motivation of a successful entrepreneur, leader or athlete? I have. It’s not jealousy, either. Far from it. It’s respect for how motivated they are. Even though I consider myself fairly motivated, their examples encourage me to become even more focused and driven.

The good news is that by adopting the following seven habits, anyone can become more motivated:

1. Find your why

“Highly motivated people start with their WHY. WHY do you do what you do?” asks J.D. Meier in an article for Time.

“If you climb a mountain simply because it’s there, that’s probably not enough to keep you going when the going gets tough. If you know WHY you do what you do, and it matters deeply to you, then you will find your strength in any situation,” adds Meier.

Why do you want to start a workout regiment? Because it was suggested by your doctor? Did your spouse mutter a comment? Are you tired of feeling lethargic? Once you find your why, you can use that to motivate you to follow through with exercising.

2. Get your morning started on the right foot

sleeping-habits

One of the easiest and most powerful habits that drive motivation is kicking off your day correctly by having a morning routine. Think about it. Getting your day started on the right foot makes it a lot easier to stay motivated throughout the entire day.

To ensure that you wake up on the right side of the bed, try these tips:

  • Have a reason to get out of bed. It could be anything from walking your dog, making sure your kids are off to school, or squeezing in a workout before work.
  • Stretch and breathe deep. This gets the blood and oxygen flowing to your brain, and helps you get up.
  • Do something simple to start the day. I make my bed immediately once I’m up. It’s not because I want the bedroom to look presentable. It’s because it’s an easy task that makes me feel like I’ve already accomplished something — even though I’ve only been awake for a couple of minutes!
  • Create rote tasks. As explained by Due’s Miranda Marquit, “Look for ways you can make mornings easier by creating rote tasks that are easy to accomplish. We don’t like to face a day that starts hard. Do what you can to make it easier. Once you’re up and moving, you’ll feel better and eventually be awake enough to tackle the
    hard stuff.”
  • Set goals for the day. This doesn’t have to be lengthy. Just list your top priorities for the day.

Related: 20 Things Millionaires Aren’t Sharing With You

3. Change it up

There’s an old saying: Variety is the spice of life. Variety keeps you motivated to meet goals when you haven’t yet made much progress and risk falling into a rut.

Changing things up is like your workout routine. You can’t just work on your legs. Other parts of your body need some loving too. Keep doing the same exercises and you’ll soon plateau.

The same is true for any aspect of your life. Changing things up gives you a chance to break up the monotony, try out new skills, and have new experiences that can lead to new ideas or develop a new passion.

4. Chart your progress

This is a simple way for you to see how far you’ve come along. Sounds simple, but think about when you set a reading goal. Maybe you want to read more books. Your initial goal is to read for just five minutes a day, but once you start you’re reading for ten minutes and then 30 minutes and soon you’re flying through books.

If you can do 30 minutes, then why not bump up to 40? Just imagine all the books you’ll be able to read. Mark this on your calendar each and every day.

5. Create environmental anchors

working-environment

This is simply writing your goals or inspiring quotes on a Post-it or 3×5 card and placing it on the wall of your office, the inside of your car, bathroom mirror or calendar. A daily reminder of your goal will push you to accomplish it.

6. Develop gratitude

Just by identifying the one thing every day that you’re grateful for is powerful enough in helping you achieve both mini-goals and your big goals, since it develops the ability to look for a daily opportunity that you can grow from.

For example, if you’re grateful that you just landed a new client today, use that feeling and experience to secure two new clients tomorrow.

Related: The One Habit of Self-Made Millionaires

7. Discover your passion

Obsession can be an extremely powerful motivator since it creates its own motivational might. In fact, the most successful individuals are those who chased their passion and are doing what they love to do.

When you become passionate, whether it’s at work, exercising, or volunteering, it no longer becomes laborious. It becomes something that you enjoy, look forward to, and want to get better at.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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From Local To Global: Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA) Shares Top Tips On Being A Successful Entrepreneur

Managing Director of W.Consulting, Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA), has done exactly that and shares his top tips.

SAICA

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How do you grow your own SME into a global consultancy? Managing Director of W.Consulting, Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA), has done exactly that and shares his top tips.

“I started W.Consulting with the aim of providing an independent, high-quality alternative for corporates and audit firms looking for advice on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The business has grown substantially to more than 40 people working globally, providing advisory services on IFRS, audit risk and corporate finance, training and IT product development.” These are Bruce’s five top tips for achieving growth.

1. Take the risk as soon as possible

It was a nerve-wracking decision to go on my own, as CAs(SA) are taught to be risk-averse. It’s very tough to throw away a CV, but rather than spend a life regretting not taking a chance, if you have thoughts of running your own business, do so sooner rather than later, as the decision only gets tougher with each passing year.

Related: Better Thinking For A Better World

flights-to-london-long-day2. Work hard and persevere

One point seldom emphasised enough when talking of entrepreneurs is that it is very hard work and requires a great deal of energy and perseverance. I attribute my success in large measure to high energy levels. You need that.

It’s exhausting — long days, early flights to London to deliver training, and sometimes back again the same day. So, yes, you need a surplus of energy.

3. Know how to sell yourself and your business

You also need a predisposition towards selling, as any business requires sales in order to expand. Selling is something that’s in my DNA.

Especially when selling advice, it requires persistence because I know that a potential client will at some point need services like ours, so I make sure W.Consulting is top of mind when that day comes. I achieve this by keeping up the relationship, sending new ideas with no sales angle connected, mailing interesting books, and checking on how things are with the client. It’s a matter of having genuine interest. 

4. Hire trustworthy people who share your passion

There are many risks in establishing your own business and one of the first challenges stems from the need to expand beyond a one-man operation. There’s a certain comfort in doing all the work and seeing all the cash in the business as yours, but it puts a fairly low ceiling on the business’s prospects and potential income.

The decision to expand and hire your first employee is both a big decision in itself and important as to the individual you select. It’s the biggest single decision most entrepreneurs have to make — and one that most don’t make early enough. You need to scale up a business to release resources at the top. That process never really ends — whatever you’re currently doing, you have to continually ask yourself: “Could this be done down the line?”

In an SME, each hire, but especially your first, has to be somebody you can trust, someone with the same objectives as you. Instead of having 9 to 5 people, rather employ someone who will do whatever is necessary, regardless of what time of day it is.

My philosophy is to hire people with passion and who preferably know what they’re doing, and then pay well to get them.

Related: 10 Things Successful People Tell Themselves Every Day

5. Continue to innovate

Most businesses fail not for want of an entrepreneurial idea, but because of management and accounting basics like cash flow. CAs(SA) already understand these basics and so arguably can concentrate on the actual operations of the business. However, because CAs(SA) can earn good money in the corporate world, most opt for the easy route in the corporate environment.

The future and success of any business is to keep on doing what it’s doing well. Bruce attributes the success of the business to its culture of continuous innovation: “It’s easier to sell something new,”  he concludes.

Visit www.saica.co.za

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