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Running A Business Like ClockWork – The Founders Weigh In On Launch Success

If you want your start-up to blow the lights out, you need to become a student of your own company. There is nothing more valuable to success than actionable data.

Nadine Todd

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ClockWork

Vital Stats

When you launch a business, research is key. Unless you have a deep understanding of the challenges you’re solving, chances are you’re creating a product or solution that might interest people, but isn’t enough to get them to open their wallets.

An idea is all fine and well, but unless you have hard data, it’s very difficult to execute that idea in a meaningful way.

Related: 7 Lessons Elevator Learnt When Partnering With Their Competitor For Next Level Growth

Jamie Rood and Jonathan Kingwill learnt this lesson the hard way. They had an idea, and they spent months working on it. They then attended a bootcamp run by Ignitor through the Standard Bank Business Incubator, and they were told that they had nothing.

“The foundation of the lean start-up method (which is the basis of Ignitor’s bootcamps) is that you get out there and do your research, which requires approaching individuals and companies,” says Jamie.

“Initially we felt completely unbalanced by the suggestion that we didn’t have a business. We’d spent seven months devising this idea, and now we were being told that unless we got out there to prove the concept, it had all been a waste of time. It was a very frustrating process. Had we wasted our time, or were we wasting it now?”

Jonathan Kingwill and Jamie Rood

The situation Jamie and Jonathan found themselves in isn’t unusual for start-ups. Entrepreneurs can become so focused on their idea and the problems that they’re solving that they end up working in a bubble.

The problem is that real, useful market research is tough — it’s time-consuming and requires an inordinate amount of perseverance. The number of ‘nos’ you get can be incredibly demoralising.

“You have to play the percentages,” says Jonathan. “You need to make 200 phone calls to get 14 people to agree to a survey. Of our sample, one third sat down with us, and the rest requested tele interviews, emails, Google Forms — we had to find a number of different ways to connect with people.”

But the data that they collected proved to be invaluable, and even precipitated a shift in their business model.

“When you’re told that you’ve been operating in a bubble, and you have to go out and prove a concept that you already believe is the right solution, it’s easy to decide you’re right and they’re wrong, and I think a lot of entrepreneurs do just that.

You can easily get lost in an ego-centric attitude when you’re founding a company. Luckily, Ignitor wasn’t the first time we’d been exposed to the foundations of lean start-up methodology,” says Jamie.

“As soon as we realised we wanted to start a business — and what our product would be — we set out to learn as much as we could about starting a business.

We researched the business model canvas, Y-Combinator, watched Start Up School videos on YouTube — we were so busy learning about start-ups that we didn’t do enough research on the actual product, which was what Ignitor highlighted for us.”

“The bootcamp wasn’t isolated,” agrees Jonathan. “It was a reminder that we hadn’t made a point of getting into the field and researching our target audience.”

The experience taught them a valuable lesson: “If you draw on knowledge and advice from people more experienced than yourself, you’ll go far further than people who switch off,” says Jamie.

Related: (Infographic) The Early Failures Of The Most Successful Billionaires

“You need to keep an open mind throughout your journey. You can never think you know more than someone else. Draw on every new data point you come across. Take a pinch of salt from everyone you meet.”

The research sample gave Jamie and Jonathan new insights into their business and the problems they were trying to solve.

“We wanted to create an instant recruitment platform for the unskilled, intensive labour market,” explains Jonathan.

“We want to make a difference to unemployment rates in South Africa by creating a product that helps labourers find work, and gives them a vetted, online identity that takes the place of a CV. That was the initial idea. We knew there was a need, and we believed that this was the solution.”

Getting out into the market revealed that there was a much bigger market problem however, one the founders hadn’t fully explored.

“We started out trying to figure out what quantifies good performance amongst labour intensive employees. We thought we’d use this information to create better CVs and to ‘score’ people on the app.

jonathan-kingwill-and-jamie-rood-entrepreneurship

“But the process of collecting the data revealed something else — we were taking a deep dive into the inner-workings of a company, and the link between employee productivity and the bottom line. And what we realised is that even though this link is strong, companies don’t measure efficiency, punctuality and productivity.

This in turn led us to the realisation that an app that helps companies track these vital components will assist employers to boost their bottom lines, and employees to become more efficient and effective at their jobs — which then feeds into our original idea of creating a labour marketplace that’s monetised by the companies whose bottom lines we are boosting.”

Related: Stuart Weaving’s Unexpected Journey To Becoming A Serial Entrepreneur

Getting the app developed is another challenge, but Jamie and Jonathan have partnered with a company that holds equity in ClockWork and is developing the platform for them.

“There’s a process that builds up to your final goal. We have a product in the market that solves a need, and is gathering data that will help us create a more sophisticated product that will work towards solving the manual labour and unemployment need in South Africa,” says Jamie.

“Building a business is done in stages — you can’t jump straight to your end product. You need to get something out into the market that will help you prove your concept, build a reputation and generate cash flow.

This can then fund the next stage of your development and even attract investors. It’s a continuous process, and we’ve learnt that data is at the core of building a strong, sustainable start-up.”


TOP TIP

If you aren’t willing to knock on doors and pound the pavement, you’ll never have a deep understanding of the biggest challenges your customers are facing — and how your solution can solve them.  


Related: Rudolf Goosen’s New Book Will Help You To Embrace A Success Mindset

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

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#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

brendan-kennedy

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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