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Seeing Opportunity Where Others See Risk: How Chris Wilkins Grew DVT

Chris Wilkins has built his company on two tenets – happy clients and ongoing profitability.

Monique Verduyn

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It took Chris Wilkins just over ten years to build his software company, DVT, into a R100 million business. Less than two years later, he has more than doubled that turnover, with R250 million in revenue expected in 2013. Entrepreneur chats to him about how he has focused on growth, increased his profits, and built an industry-leading business.

South African software company DVT, founded by conceptual thinker Chris Wilkins in 1999 and now one of the largest independent software specialists in the country, is set to exceed R250 million in revenues this year, for the first time in the company’s history.

With offices in Cape Town, Johannesburg and India, DVT’s range of medium and large clients have one thing in common — their demand for reliable and predictable delivery, an expectation that Wilkins’ team has met consistently.

Describe the climate when you started the business?

I was fed up with the arrogance of software developers and the prices they were charging. My business partner and I financed the launch of DVT by extending our bonds and making significant salary sacrifices.

For a number of years, we invested the small profits we made back into the business and started getting small returns. The business grew incrementally and today we are a top provider of software and services.

What was your strategy when you started DVT and how has that changed over time?

What we do has not changed but how we do it has. You have to grow a business for it to survive, and despite what MBA students might think, you have to make a lot of it up as you go along. It’s an ‘if needs must’ approach. The needs of a growing business change all the time, and you have to accommodate that growth by making adjustments as you go along.

The most important element for us has been hiring more people, and more senior people. As an entrepreneur, you have to know when it’s time to bring in employees who do what you used to do so that you can occupy your time with developing and evolving the business.

Have your customers changed?

Because we are in the business of professional skills, we do not focus on any particular market sector. We have a potential customer base of 2 500 institutional companies in South Africa, all of which have a fair amount of cash to invest in software and services development. That’s what has enabled us to become experts in a variety of domains, rather than in any vertical sector.

What impact has the economy had on DVT?

We have always managed to sidestep the negative effects of the economy. That is probably because of the serious lack of ICT skills in the country. There is a strong demand for the right level of talent in the software sector because the education system simply is not producing enough of what South Africa needs in this market. That is why finding the right people has always been such a key part of our business.

How has your business model evolved if at all?

There’s nothing magical about a business model. It’s simply the nuts and bolts of how a business plans to generate revenue and profits. It details your long-term strategy and day-to-day operations. DVT has essentially been doing the same thing we have always done — writing software for clients.

But how we do it is changing. There are more people involved. There is a big team of support staff, and an in-house recruitment team that knows how and where to find them. We are now employing around 100 people a year, which means we have to scour South Africa for the right talent.

The key point is that functions in the business have not changed, but the way we do things has changed dramatically. That, I believe, is the difference between an average business and a great business. Our growth is not about systems and process, but about the ability to scale what works.

How are you addressing the skills shortage in the ICT industry?

As part of the company’s long-term drive to grow ICT skills in the country, DVT has a well established internship programme through which interns are managed, mentored and exposed to the right variety of projects. We have made a substantial commitment to this programme because we believe that the return on investment will be significant, given the impact of ICT on the economy and the shortage of local skills in this sector.

DVT is currently providing internships to more than 60 graduates and entry-level professionals, and will continue to increase this number each year. The internship programme is focused on previously disadvantaged individuals and a large proportion of all DVT staff is also drawn from these communities.

We have a level 4 B-BBEE status, and our aggressive internal training and development programme rivals that of corporate organisations many times bigger than ours.

Read Next: Tim Tebeila is Taking the Gap

Describe your organisational structure?

When we started the business I looked after the profit and made sure clients were as happy as possible. Those are the two main elements of any successful company. I did that for the first five years of the company’s existence, after which we employed our first business unit head.

Over time, we have simply replicated that model. It’s completely scalable, allowing us to keep on hiring as the need arises and the business expands. Now we have a federal system where business unit managers head their own profit line. We have invested heavily in growing the number of business unit heads.

At this point, we are focusing on intensively building our account management to make sure that clients are taken care of.

Looking back, what would you do differently in the early days?

I would have been more cognisant of building an intelligent organisation. It’s not that we have not done that, but I would have placed more emphasis on it — of course, in the beginning, you are mainly fighting to survive.

As you move forward, from day to day and month to month, it’s critical to accumulate all the knowledge that contributes to a company’s intellectual property for the good of the business as a whole. In South Africa, we tend to be driven by the psychology of the individual — we can do better by focusing on collective effort that leverages all the knowledge in the business.

Today, we are becoming increasingly efficient because we are always learning from what others have done before. We are able to take advantage of all that collective knowledge. That saves time, money and resources because everyone becomes a little more productive.

That’s important for a business as it gets bigger, because more people are being more productive, increasing the linear benefit exponentially.

How do you continue to differentiate the company from other software developers?

There really is no silver bullet. We’ve basically highlighted the 20 activities that need to be executed to perfection and focused intensely on those. Each year, the company gets better at doing something, allowing us to shift our focus slightly onto the next ability that we have to excel at.

How do you ensure profits?

We break responsibility down into smaller parcels. We have 14 profit centres, each headed up by business unit heads. As the leader of the business, I can’t oversee 400 people, but delegating responsibility to other managers makes it easier for me to lead according to our vision. Each team leader manages their own team and focuses all efforts on generating a profit.

How has your management style contributed to DVT’s success?

I’m a big picture person. I see the world in terms of opportunities rather than risks. I will always hand over ownership and responsibility to those who are able to take the business forward, and make it worthwhile for people to give it their all.

I believe in giving people some leeway and always taking into account their personal circumstances because no one works in a vacuum. Having said that, strong leadership is vital. I’m open to change and hearing opinions, but you cannot spend years making decisions.

Our culture is one strongly driven by profit incentives. Each year, a percentage of profit goes back to the staff. The structure of the incentive programme is simple and easy to understand and there are no ambiguities. We never shift the goal posts, nor do we make it increasingly difficult for people to achieve their targets.

How have you exceeded the quarter of a billion mark?

We have experienced record growth for the past two years. Our focus on an ownership-based model, coupled with hiring the right staff has been instrumental in this success.

Margins have been under pressure in the industry as a whole, but we have slowly improved the circumstances within which we operate, negating some of the negative effects of these external market forces. Persistence and perseverance got us here. You have to believe that you can do what you say you do.

Vital stats

  • Name: Chris Wilkins
  • Company: DVT
  • Launched: 1999
  • Core business: Net, Java and Mendix constitute the core software development platforms at DVT. Agile development, business analysis, project management and quality assurance and testing complete the additional service offerings.

Read Next: How Stafford Masie is Changing the Game

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. 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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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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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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Company Posts

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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