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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.

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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

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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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Lessons Learnt

That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room

Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.

Gene Marks

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When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.

You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.

Like that time back in 1995.

That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.

The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.

“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”

The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”

“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.

So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.

It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

How Sureswipe Built Its Identity By Building A Strong Company Culture

Culture is unique to a business, it’s the reason why companies win or lose.

Nadine Todd

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A company’s culture is its identity and personality. Since this is closely linked to its brand and how it wants to be viewed by its employees, customers, competitors and the outside world, culture is critical. The challenge is understanding that culture contains unwritten rules and that certain behaviours that align to the culture the company is nurturing should be valued and cherished more than others.

At Sureswipe, the core of our culture is that we value people and what they are capable of. We particularly value people who are engaged, get on with the job, take initiative, are happy to get stuck in beyond their formal job descriptions, and who sometimes have to suck up a bit of pain to get through a challenge.

We include culture in everything we do, so it’s a fundamental element in our recruitment process. In addition to a skills and experience interview, each candidate undergoes a culture fit in the form of a values interview. We look for top performers who echo our core values (collaboration, courage, taking initiative, fairness and personal responsibility) and have real conviction about making a difference in the lives of independent retailers. If we don’t believe a candidate will be a culture fit, we won’t hire them.

If we make a mistake in the recruitment process, we won’t retain culture killers, even if they are top performers. This is such a tough lesson to learn, but it liberates a company and often improves overall company performance.

Culture should be cultivated, constantly communicated and used when making decisions. At Sureswipe, we often talk about what it takes to win and have simplified winning into three key elements: A simple, yet inspirational vision; the right culture; and a clear and focused strategy. The first and third elements can be copied from organisation to organisation. Culture on the other hand is unique to every business and can be a great influencer in its success.

Catch phrases on the wall are not the definition of culture

A strong culture is purposeful and evolving. It’s what makes a company great, but also exposes its weakness. No company is perfect and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. Without it, we cannot ensure that we are protecting and building on the good and reducing or eradicating the bad.

Mistakes happen. That’s okay. But we are very purposeful about how mistakes are handled. Culturally we’re allergic to things being covered up or deflected and have had great learning moments as individuals and as an organisation when bad news travels fast. It’s liberating to ‘tell it like it is’ and almost always, with a few more minds on the problem at hand, things can be rectified with minimal impact.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

Culture should be built on values that resonate with you and that you want to excel at. In our case, some are lived daily and others are aspirational in that we’re still striving for them. In each case we genuinely believe in them and encourage each other to keep living them. This increases the level of trust within the team, as there is consistency in how people are treated and how we get things done.

We are always inspired when, after sitting in our reception area, nine out of ten visitors will comment on the friendliness of staff. We hear their remarks about how friendly the Sureswipe team is or a potential candidate will talk about the high level of energy and positivity they experience throughout the interview process.

These are indicators that our culture is alive and well. It’s these components of our culture — friendliness, helpfulness and positivity — that cascade into how we do business and how we treat our customers and people in general. Being able to describe your culture and support it with real life examples is a great way to communicate and promote the type of behaviour that is important and recognised within the organisation.

Culture doesn’t just happen

We are fortunate that culture has always been important to us, even if it wasn’t clearly defined in our early days. As we grew it became important to be more purposeful in the evolution of our culture. About four years ago, the senior leadership team and nominated cultural or values icons were mandated to relook all things cultural.

A facilitator said to us, “You really love it when people take the initiative, and get very frustrated when they don’t.” That accurate insight became core to our values. We love to see people proactively solve problems, take responsibility for their own growth, initiate spontaneous events, change their tactics or implement new ideas. It energises us and aligns to the way we do business.

We celebrate growth and love to see our staff getting promoted due to their hard work and perseverance. We recently had one of our earliest technicians get promoted to the Regional Manager of Limpopo. It was one of the best moments of 2018.

Be purposeful with culture, describe it, communicate it and use it in all aspects of business. Culture should change. Don’t allow phrases like ‘this is not how we do things,’ or, ‘the culture here is changing,’ to stifle the growth and development of your culture. When done correctly change is a good thing. Culture is driven from the top but at the end of the day it’s a company-wide initiative. Design it together with team members from different parts of the organisation to get the most from it. And then make sure everyone lives and breathes it.

Cost Cutting

The best ROI is achieved when you stop wasting money.

Peter Drucker once said that businesses have two main functions — marketing and innovation — that produce results. “All the rest are costs.”

If you agree, that means that the average business has a lot of fat to trim. Obviously you can go overboard trying to cut costs too. My philosophy has been to look at some of the general areas where you can add some efficiency but not at the expense of impairing your most valuable resource — your focus.

The following cost-cutting measures will do that. Think of these as adding value to your company, whether it’s time, creativity or a closer connection to your consumers.

Related: Wise Words From wiGroup On Building A “Wow” Company Culture

Uncover inefficiencies in your process

This is where I begin. In fact, it was analysing the inefficiencies of legal communication and knowledge sharing that led me to create Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for lawyers. I noticed that attorneys in our clients’ legal departments were drafting new documents from scratch when they could pool their knowledge and save time by using language that a trusted colleague had employed in a similar document. Business is all about process. When you create a new process, or enhance an existing process, you will drive cost efficiency.

Refine your process, then automate

If existing processes are lacking, it is time to create process. If you have processes, but they are not driving efficiency, it’s time to redefine your process. Either way, a key second step is refining processes that are needed in your business. Only then can you go to automation, since automating without a process will result in chaos — and won’t save time or money. Similarly, automating a poor process is not going to give you the cost-saving results you are looking for.

Thanks to the Cloud, there are very accessible means of automating manual processes. For instance, you can automate bookkeeping functions with FreshBooks and use chatbots to interface with clients — for very basic information. If you’re a retailer, a chatbot on your site can explain your return policy or address other frequently asked questions. Automating such processes allows you to spend more time focusing on clients and customers. Technology alone isn’t a panacea for all business functions, but if you find something you’re doing manually that can be automated, take a look and consider how much time and process definition automation would save you.

Rethink your outreach

Marketing and outreach are usually big and important challenges for an organisation. In my experience, there are two main components to successful marketing — knowing your customers and using the most effective media to spread your message. For the first part, I recommend polling. There are various online survey services that offer an instant read on what your customers are thinking. You may think business is humming along, but a survey could reveal that while consumers like your product, a few tweaks would make it even better.

For the second part — marketing messaging — once you have a firm idea of your marketing messaging, Facebook is a great vehicle for outreach. The ability to granularly target customers and create Lookalike audiences (from around 1 000 consumers) can help grow your business.

Related: Take Responsibility For Your Company’s Culture To Boost Productivity

Scrutinise your spend history

There are tools that can help you assess spend history and find cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you might be able to take advantage of rewards or loyalty programmes to reduce common business expenses, like travel, or consolidate vendors for a similar function. If you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor, negotiate better pricing.

The most important elements to keep in mind are resources that make your company special. Your company may be built on one person’s reputation and expertise. Guard against tarnishing that reputation with inappropriate messaging in advertising or social media. If your company’s special sauce is intellectual property, protect that too. But everything else — ranging from physical property to salary and benefits — are costs and should be considered negotiable. — Monica Zent

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