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Lessons Learnt

Why Rapper-Turned-Entrepreneur T.I. Says A Hustler Needs To Be Patient

The Atlanta rap star is now into everything from TV to real estate – and learning important lessons along the way.

Joe Keohane

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T.I. is hiring. On July 19, the Grammy-winning rapper behind gargantuan hits like “Live Your Life” and “Whatever You Like” is launching a BET reality show, The Grand Hustle, to find the next executive for his company. It’s the latest in his effort to expand the Atlanta-based business he started in 2003, which is also called Grand Hustle. Along with being a co-owner of the streaming music service Tidal, T.I.’s company is cultivating the next generation of young artists, producing TV and film and investing in everything from technology to fashion to real estate.

All the while, T.I. (real name Tip Harris), who at the very peak of his rap career a decade ago had frequent and well-publicised troubles with the law, is coming into his own as a philanthropist, an actor, a manager and an executive with his hands in a dizzying number of pots. We talked to him about making the transition from solo artist to corporate boss, what he looks for in an employee and why hip-hop has always been such a hotbed of entrepreneurship.

Earlier in your career, your product was just your art. How do you think of your brand, Grand Hustle, now?

First and foremost, it’s an institution of culture. Culture is our commodity. All extensions of culture – music, film, fashion, scripted and unscripted television, technology, real estate, touring, consulting, marketing. All forms of culture.

Being a solo artist is all about self-motivation. Now you run a company, which is all about motivating others. I imagine your management style had to evolve.

Well, I’ve become a lot more patient. I’ve become a lot more attentive. A lot more aware. Everybody’s different. Everybody has different motivations. You have to find out what a person responds to and attack that.

Related: 13 Characteristics Of Successful Hustlers

What else has changed?

Before – at the height of my career as an artist – there was so much money coming in that it didn’t really matter if people were doing what they were supposed to be doing. We were just getting money and having fun. And also, respectfully speaking, it wasn’t coming out of my pocket. [It was coming from the label.] But now, I’m actually putting the money up for these budgets that are being submitted. I’m actually paying vendors. So now, I treat it much differently, and I’ve learned so much more because of it.

That’ll focus you for sure

t-i-rapper-entrepreneur

I have kids, too. Private school, man, will focus the shit out of you.

Has it been challenging for you to get your staff to recognise you as Tip the boss, and not T.I. the celebrity?

I don’t even know what those titles mean. It’s just Tip. I am who I am. And the way I pre­sent myself is the way I will be received. I’m going to present myself as the boss, so you have no choice but to receive me as one.

Still, people are weird around celebrity. Do staffers ever get hung up, like, “Oh my God, the guy who did ‘Live Your Life’ is telling me to fix the coffee machine”?

Well, see, I think I understand the sentiment of your question. It’s basically, can people separate how they deal with me? But I don’t see it as a boss-versus-a-celebrity thing. I think it’s that we’re like a family. We spend so much time together that sometimes we have to separate that friendship when we’re actually at work and we have to meet deliverables.

You were in and out of trouble a fair amount in your younger days. Did that give you any useful insights that you still pull from today?

Yeah. To make it out of the extremes of the environment we came from, with nothing but a dream and a work ethic – to get here from there – requires an immense amount of perseverance. All the things I’ve gone through, my transgressions and felonious activities, laid the pavement and directed me toward a path of positivity.

The smart people find a way to use everything

That’s it. We all have our own set of experiences, resources, skills and relationships. Those are like tools in a tool belt. Opportunities come if you’ve prepared by recognising that you have a tool that can help you make the best of it. Over time, that’s gonna make you a very successful person.

Related: DJ Sbu Opens Academy To Develop Hustlers

Hip-hop has a really rich tradition of entrepreneurship. Why do you think that is?

Queen Latifah

Because we have the greatest, most celebrated examples of how entrepreneurship, when it’s done right, can turn out. Russell Simmons, Jay-Z, Puffy, Queen Latifah, [Murder Inc. Records co-founder] Irv Gotti, [Cash Money Records founders] Baby and Slim – there are countless examples who have come from nothing and invested themselves into the art and learned the business along the way, and they have changed their families’ living standards forever. When you have so many examples, people go follow the blueprint.

You’ve had access to a lot of mentors since you got into the business side. But did anyone give you great advice when you were a kid that really stayed with you?

Sure. My father said, “Always be mindful of what you do with your money.” Because what you do with a dollar is exactly what you will do with a million dollars. If you get a dollar and you go and blow it all on candy, well, if you get a million dollars, you’re going to do the very same thing. But if you get a dollar, and you only have this dollar, and you say, “OK, I’m gonna put 50 cents in my pocket, and I’m going to take this other 50 cents and put it up in case I need it later,” then that’s what you’ll do when you get more money. Think of it like practice.

Why did you decide to launch a TV show to find an executive for your company?

I thought it would be interesting to weed our way through the not-so-good to get to the good. Even on shows like Shark Tank, it’s great when the deal is perfect, but the entertaining part is weeding through all the things that are insufficient to get there.

So what are you looking for in this executive?

There’s a special set of skills required for this particular position. The brand, it’s multi­faceted. The first thing is: You have to maintain a level of professionalism at all times. That is a skill that is not easily attained. Especially in one’s youth.

Related: (Slideshow) Nataniël: SA’s Singer/Songwriter & Kaalkop Entertainer

So how do you find out if someone has it?

Well, you create scenarios. And you monitor people’s responses, and see how they adjust to these certain scenarios.

Did you draw these scenarios from your own career?

ti

They’re all drawn from different aspects of my career and my business. For instance, part of what we do is shape and mold and cultivate the careers of other artists. So in one of the scenarios, they had to create an album release performance. Those who performed the best were rewarded, and those who performed the worst were introduced to the door.

In what other ways are you torturing these people to see what they’re made of?

Well, I won’t call it torture. What we’re doing is we’re conditioning them. But there was one gentleman who just couldn’t take it. He said he had to leave. Literally. He had a panic attack.

Can you tell me what caused the panic attack?

I can’t get into the details of that. Tune in to the show. But look: Pressure’s either gonna bust pipes or cut diamonds. If you got it in you, and all it takes is the right amount of pressure to pull it out and show how much you can shine, we’re gonna make sure you get there.

What else are you looking for?

You have to know what you know. Nobody’s gonna know everything, but what makes the smart person even smarter is that he can identify what he doesn’t know and say, “OK, I need to go to my partner across the street who knows.”

Related: Victoria Beckham: Posh Is The Name Of The Game

Plus, when you pretend to know all the answers, it becomes a giant pain, because then you actually have to know all the answers.

Absolutely. And there’s a certain amount of ego in someone who always thinks they have the answers. It’s not about knowing the answer; it’s about you putting your ego before the needs of the brand. That’s the worst quality.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Lessons Learnt

Taking It To The Malaysian Market – Karl van Zyl Of Antipodean Café

Karl van Zyl approach has always been logical and simplified and he highlights three principles that he believes to be critical in the food and beverage industry.

Dirk Coetsee

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Karl van Zyl has a 17 year history in the food and beverage industry in South-Africa and now applies his skills and knowledge in the extremely vibrant and competitive Malaysian market. I had a very interesting conversation with him to explore both similarities and differences of both markets and to share his accumulative learning of this industry to those entrepreneurs considering to open a restaurant or café.

He has a history working for the Mikes’ kitchen and Fishmonger groups in South-Africa fulfilling a range of roles from being a General Manager to Operational Manager. Currently he both manages an well-known Café called Antipodean and facilitates the opening of new cafes’ in Klang Valley, Malaysia.

Karl shared that his approach has always been logical and that applying sound basics has always served him well. Would you eat the food served at your restaurant and really enjoy it? Posing questions such as the aforementioned to yourself as a restaurant owner or manager helps you to be aware of the quality of your operation and to always keep the customer in mind when making decisions.

One of the key learnings that he shared was to get a very good and experienced team of waiters together that has previous restaurant or hospitality industry experience. He strongly advises quality over quantity when it comes to waiters and fondly remembers one of the waiters that he managed whom could take orders from a group of twenty people and remember each order from the top of his head.

It is not only about quality of service to the customer but also when there is a small but quality team of waiters operating then their earnings are much higher and they will feel valued and happy as opposed to a large group of waiters competing for relatively small rewards.

Related: What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew

Karls’ approach has always been logical and simplified and he highlights three principles that he believes to be critical in the food and beverage industry:

  1. Quality of food
  2. Quality of service
  3. Pricing.

He adds that in addition to the above principles your location should of course be in area with very good ‘foot traffic’.

When the entrepreneur venturing into the food and beverage market considers the right suppliers it is a critical factor to go and visit their facilities, thoroughly check their quality and enquire which other quality brands they are supplying in addition to buying at good prices.

In his view comparing the Malaysian food and beverage market to the South African market there are a lot more Malaysians eating at restaurants than in South Africa. One of the reasons for this is that there are a lot of ‘street café/restaurant’ options with quality food at a very low price due to the restaurant not being air-conditioned and making use of for example plastic chairs and tables.

Personally the author has found much more twenty four hour food options and countless varieties of food compared to the South African market. If you are awake and hungry at 3 am in the morning in Kuala Lumpur, no problem! You also will not be limited to only 24 hour fast food options, almost any type of food that you desire will be available that is if you know where to go off-course.

Related: Don’t Be ‘Outside Standing’ On Your Own Exponential Growth Says Serial Investor, Jimmy Phoon

As a matter of interest Karl regards the prices of restaurants in general in Kuala Lumpur to be better than in South Africa and holds the service levels in KL in higher esteem due to it being more ‘personal’ and customer orientated. He believes that South African food matches the quality of Malaysian food but that there is however much more variety of food available in Malaysia.

Karl pointed out that it is possible to have people from all five continents represented in one night at a restaurant as the food culture in Malaysia is very diverse and so is the cultural phenomenon in general in Kuala Lumpur.

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Lessons Learnt

What Comfort Zones? Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable Says Co-Founder Of Curlec: Zac Liew

Zac Liew was offered to be CEO and Co-founder of Curlec at the age of twenty six and took up the offer knowing that he would be engaged in a steep learning curve. Curlec is a FinTech company that is redefining the customer experience for Direct Debit.

Dirk Coetsee

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Botanica Deli, Bangsar South, Malaysia a vibrant environment where a number of entrepreneurs and office workers go to meet and have great food and coffee. I walked into the Deli to meet a man that might just possess the ‘entrepreneurial gene’ if indeed that gene exists.

Zac Liew always wanted to venture onto the exciting yet challenging playing field of entrepreneurial ventures having his dad and mother as examples. His father a lawyer, whom ventured into property development and his mother whom started the first chain of liquor stores in Malaysia.

His parents’ ventures interested him from a very young age and helped to ignite the entrepreneurial fire in this very young CEO and co-founder of Curlec. Zac is a qualified lawyer whom also did a stint in the banking industry but at all times he had a burning desire to do something entrepreneurial and always had an interest in tech.

To him tech was always logical and simply made sense within this ever changing business environment within which we as entrepreneurs launch our start-up ventures. He also enjoys the challenging demands that the tech environment places upon his problem solving skills.

Related: Brian Tan Of FutureLab.my – Bridging The Knowledge Gap Through Social Learning

The Creation of Curlec

curlec-malaysia-mobile-appZac Liew was offered to be CEO and Co-founder of Curlec at the age of twenty six and took up the offer knowing that he would be engaged in a steep learning curve. Curlec is a FinTech company that is redefining the customer experience for Direct Debit. They are the first Malaysian software company to enable online Direct Debit payments in Malaysia. One of the core principles that Curlec was founded upon is to Build great tech that solves a basic need.

Zac together with his co-founders Steve Kucia and Raj Lorenz found a simplified and effective solution to collecting money on a recurring basis. Normally recurring billing and collections is a big issue for SMEs’ and other options were exceptionally costly and timeous.

Zac pointed out that the size of the issue of recurring collections exceeded all expectations and that is one of the reasons that their start-up phase has been successful and gained very good traction in the market.

Curlec has a razor sharp focus on only two products which enables them to focus on giving a great service and customer experience. Curlec cuts through the normal levels of bureaucracy of big companies and has a laser focus on their customers.

How does this apply to start-up entrepreneurs?

Create a product or a system that is simplified, very user friendly, cost and time effective, and more importantly that solves a very challenging issue within the market place that adds great value to customers. Underpin this by being customer centric.

I asked Zac to enlighten me on the key learnings of his journey thus far and also share success principles that has served him well in business and in his life in general. He pointed out that he believes that every entrepreneur should get comfortable with being uncomfortable and venture outside the boundaries of their own comfort zones.

‘Be comfortable with making mistakes’ he says. Get feedback learn from it and integrate the useful feedback in your thinking and in practically applying solutions.’

As business and life has a natural and general ebb and flow to it persistence is a key factor to your success. Accept challenges as they occur and realise that the mind of the entrepreneur should always have a problem solving focus. As a fan of combat sports, Zac shared the following quotes that resonates with him:

“The more you seek the uncomfortable the more you will become comfortable” – Conor McGregor

And

“I have been training under the dark lights so that I can shine in the bright lights’ – Anthony Joshua

Related:  Zac Liew Channeling The Fire Of Authenticity: Asia’s’ Top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh

As a writer I have always been fascinated by the wisdom imparted by philosophers and masters of their respective fields. I am even more excited and hopeful for our future when I hear wisdom ‘rolling of the tongue’ of a twenty six year old entrepreneur:

‘Be idealistic in your ideas but be pragmatic in actualising them. If things are not working out do not be stuck in that. Take what you can learn from your experiences and move on.’

Tech has the inherent power to reach the far ends of the world seamlessly and when we have more and more tech entrepreneurs solving big consumer issues and thereby making this world a better place we can be more and more hopeful of a better future.

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Lessons Learnt

Don’t Be ‘Outside Standing’ On Your Own Exponential Growth Says Serial Investor, Jimmy Phoon

Serial investor Jimmy Phoon is proud of his and his team at Alps Global holdings in achieving a $300 million valuation.

Dirk Coetsee

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It was a usually warm and humid afternoon in Malaysia as I walked into the foodbar at Fashion library in Kota Damansara, to meet a man who has a deep understanding of leveraging capital mechanisms in order to achieve exponential business growth.

Serial investor Jimmy Phoon is proud of his and his team at Alps Global holdings in achieving a $300 million valuation. He doesn’t speak to the ‘wrongs and rights’ of investments as he believes there are many ways in approaching an investment opportunity. He does however, firmly believe in the MOC (Miracles of Capital) organisations’ (of which he is a senior alumni member) approach to exponentially grow a company and having a clear exit strategy such as selling at a desired price or publically listing the company.

Jimmy enthusiastically highlighted the difference between them, as he names it a ‘feasible’ and a ‘bankable’ business investment. In offering a simple differentiation between the two terms he explained that ‘feasibility’ simply means that the business is making money, whilst ‘bankable’ means that the business is not only making money but that there is a clear succession plan and exit strategy in place.

As an experienced international entrepreneur and investor he recognises that a vast number of entrepreneurs are very well versed in the market mechanisms of their respective industries yet not equally adept at the capital mechanisms that underpins the exponential growth of companies. He points out that when a company has very good management in place, has a clear and attractive dividend policy to its shareholders, and in addition a well-defined and practical exit strategy it will increase the appetite of investors in general.

Related: Business Leadership – Learn How To Embrace Change

He describes the MOC to be an international platform to teach the mechanisms of Capital to entrepreneurs and investors. The MOC is the trifecta of business incubation, acceleration, and investment. One of the core principles of business investment that the MOC teaches and which Jimmy firmly believes in is collaboration between companies and entrepreneurs.

This means the willingness and openness to merge your unique skills as an entrepreneur, the unique offering of your company, profit and loss, with the skills, products and offerings of other companies with the end goal of exponential growth of a newly formed company. This approach can create a big win for all involved.

But what is ‘Outside Standing’?

The aforementioned discussion led to Jimmy sharing one of his favourite sayings:

“Be outstanding or outside standing” – a tongue in the cheek way of saying that by truly understanding and applying both the mechanisms of the market and capital you can experience the exponential growth of your company or alternatively by not fully applying both mechanisms it is then highly likely that you will be a witness from the ‘outside’ to the exponential growth of other companies and unfortunately not your own.

Jimmy’s’ accumulated learnings allows him to assist his team in building an ‘IPO’ compliant company that is formed with a collaborative approach towards a planned and well executed exit. That is part of his mind-set which is to do ‘big things’ and keep a distance from ‘small things’ for as an investor this man is always after exponential growth. He fosters a creation mind-set which is to create a bigger picture through leveraging and combining market and capital mechanisms.

One of the key ‘take always’ for me as an entrepreneur is to be much more open to collaboration in order to add value to others and in turn receive value such as exponential growth. Understanding the market mechanisms within your industry is not enough to multiply business performance, taking a keen interest in the capital mechanisms at play will take major strides towards actualising your bigger picture.

Read next: Entrepreneurship: How To Develop Your ‘Great Idea’

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