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Siya Mapoko Measures Success By 4 Simple (But Essential) Yardsticks

When Siya Mapoko’s first business was failing, he was desperate for advice. He turned to the JSE’s
top business titans to discover the secrets to success. What he learnt not only changed his business, but also influenced countless other SMEs over the years.

Nadine Todd



Siya Mapoko

Vital Stats

  • Player: Siya Mapoko
  • Company: Mapoko Research International (MRI)
  • Launched: 2012, although Conversations with JSE AltX Entrepreneurs was published in 2008
  • Visit:

The best advice that I ever got was from Mark Lamberti, CEO of Imperial Holdings, in 2009. There were two parts to it.

Define your standards

First, he told me that when you do things, whether it’s for business, your personal life or your career, you need to define your standards upfront, and then don’t settle for anything less. In a business context, this goes beyond you to your hires. You hold them to those same standards, and they should hold you to those standards as well. It keeps you honest and it lays the foundation for the right culture in your business.

You should be able to measure your success daily

The second was around the concept of success. I asked Mark what success meant to him. He pointed out that it shouldn’t be an arbitrary point in the future, but something you measure daily. Get up, live your goals and ensure you’re moving in the right direction.

This still influences everything I do. If you measure how successful each day is, you’ll reach your goals without being daunted by the scale of them. Seven successful days and you have a successful week. 52 of those and you have a successful year. It’s really that simple.

Related: Meet The 40 Richest Self-Made Entrepreneurs On Earth

I measure success by four yardsticks, and each evening I ask myself these questions:

  1. Did I learn? I make it a goal to consciously learn something new every day. I keep a journal to record these lessons.
  2. Did I love? If I’m doing what I love, the time flies past. It’s also important to have clients who you love, and to love the people with whom you work.
  3. Did I serve? Our customers are our boss. We need to serve them in a way they’ve never been served before. They’ll pay us a lot of money if they are well served. I even consider this when I send something as small as an email. Did I make someone’s day better?
  4. Did I earn? Getting paid is the whole point of business, so it’s important to be earning. If you aren’t, you need to relook your time and priorities

I measure these four things every day

If the answer to each is positive, I don’t need to worry about the week or the year — I’m moving in the right direction.

I left Investec at the age of 25 because I wanted to start my own business. It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be.

I reached a point where I was desperate for advice. Advice is a funny thing. Some of the best lessons that have stayed with me have been advice given to me by other people. There is so much value in learning from those who have walked the path, but advice also needs to come at the right time.

Entrepreneurs can be so sold on their own ideas that anyone who says anything that sounds vaguely negative is ignored and discounted. It’s such a pity, because once you learn to use advice, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

I was desperate for advice when I wrote Conversations, but who could I ask? To me, the JSE is full of successful business titans — I just needed to figure out how to access them. I sold the idea of a book to the JSE. I would get the advice I was looking for, a product that other entrepreneurs would be interested in, and the JSE would get positive exposure in the corporate and SME communities. They agreed and gave me access to their database.

Interestingly, the advice I received led to a whole new business, first because I realised that I wanted to build my business around things I’ll still want to do in 30 to 40 years from now, and that wasn’t digital signage, which was what I had been doing, and second because I suddenly had this incredible resource that would bring in revenue while I thought of my next move.

Related: Entrepreneurial Powerhouse TBO Touch On How Success Is Built From Small Acts

Create your own positioning tool

I closed down the digital signage business and found jobs for all of my employees except for one, Andrew Chavhunduka. Andrew and I went into business publishing the book. It was to be our positioning tool.

I wanted to inspire entrepreneurs, and big corporates wanted to partner with me, especially banks that wanted to access and support the SME market. We started a roadshow. Our banking sponsor could draw crowds with my talk and the book, and then pitch their products to a captive audience.

It was clear that advice wasn’t only desperately needed by the SME community, but welcomed; at least by those intent on growing their businesses.

This has been the foundation of everything we’ve done since. I’ve written two additional books, The Best Advice I Ever Got and Damn Good Advice, and each has been a mix of my own insatiable desire for great advice and building products for our business.

Successful people are successful because of how they think


I’ve spoken to more than 200 CEOs and we’ve collected an incredible amount of qualitative data. We’ve learnt how successful people think and make decisions. We’ve used this to build a consultancy and develop software to help organisations grow.

Through the roadshow we built an SME database, and we pitched our services to them. We’re selective about who we work with though. You need to be serious about growth. In each workshop we only have space for 20 SMEs, so we need to make sure that they will put in the work. We’re there to help them evaluate the areas that are stalling their growth. The next 90 days are spent implementing those strategies.

At the end of that period, if they’ve seen measurable improvements, they can join our annual programme. It’s a very specific model. On the one hand, keeping it exclusive increases its value to our clients. On the other, we have to do our job, because they need to see a measurable return to sign up for the full year programme. It all goes back to the value of powerful advice from successful people, and understanding how business leaders and customers think.

Advice is only as valuable as you make it

You need to teach yourself to be open to advice; you need to listen. But you also need to test it. Not every piece of advice will work for you. Take what works, implement it, measure it, and then be prepared to adjust your strategies and assumptions.

Related: From School Teacher to Mining Mogul: Tim Tebeila

The things you thought you knew for sure are often not what you thought at all. Everything is a learning curve, and as our businesses grow, what they need shifts. As your business changes, you need to change. You need to be able to ask: Is this true for me? And then realise you may need to revisit the same point later.

Do this

Be open to advice. Actively seek it, question what works for you, and then implement it in your business.

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

#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


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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Lessons Learnt

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 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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Lessons Learnt

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




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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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