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Plus 94 Research: Sifiso Falala

Drawing on industry experience to become a class leader.

Juliet Pitman

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Sifiso-Falala

The business

“Plus 94 is a market research company that provides clients with business insight and market information to help reduce uncertainty during decision-making,” says founder Sifiso Falala. With offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, the business has grown rapidly since Falala started it with partner, Tirhani Mabunda, 14 years ago.

It employs 65 full-time and 250 part-time employees and services a range of clients including parastatals, government departments and businesses operating in the private sector.

Going it alone

Since the outset, Falala’s vision was to build a large, reputable and respected market research company that could compete with the many big-name international research organisations that have a strong presence in the local market.

“At the time everything seemed to come to Africa from Europe – it was a north-to-south flow of information and expertise. I felt there was a gap for an African-orientated business to offer insights and value,” he says.

And while Plus 94 conducts research across all demographic groups, Falala knew that the African consumer market was an untapped and largely misunderstood market. “Our vision was a multicultural one. I wanted to conduct research that covered all aspects of the South African market. When the business was launched in 1998, very few companies were researching the South African market in its full scope,” he explains.

Falala had ten years’ industry experience behind him, having worked for one of the large multi-national research companies. “My work experience included global exposure and I think this was important in helping me to start on my own.

I had a big-picture vision of the global industry and its key drivers, and this gave me the insights I needed to start a business that had a unique differentiator,” he relates.

Overcoming early challenges

The market Falala entered with his new business was dominated by white-owned, established research companies.

“There was still the perception in some quarters that black minds were not capable of scientific investigation, and we needed to work hard to convince potential clients that ours was a legitimate business led by highly skilled and experienced researchers. The thing that attracted me to research in the first place was the fact that it was the ‘scientific’ side of business, so I focused on that.  I sold quality,” he says.

Falala worked the contacts he’d built up in his ten years working in the industry and kept knocking on doors until one opened. “Having a well-established personal reputation was critically important in helping me land my first clients and overcome the usual challenges faced with starting out on your own,” he adds.

Priced right

Knowing how to price himself was less of a challenge. Falala explains that pricing structures are very transparent across the industry and that the work of part-time field workers and researchers is a known and easily quantifiable input cost.

Again, he drew on his industry knowledge and experience to price his work. “We tried to operate within the industry pricing standards, not pricing ourselves above or below the industry norm,” he says.

Many new entrants price themselves below the market norm in order to attract work, but Falala believes this is a mistake. “We established the business as a premium, quality company that could compete both technically and operationally with the best.

In order to deliver the best to clients, we needed to use the best interviewers, the best analysts and the best statisticians. This is why we didn’t underprice ourselves. It had a lot to do with having a clear vision of what we wanted to be and what we wanted to achieve,” he adds.

Setting it apart

If the business wasn’t competing on price, it needed something else to set it apart in an extremely competitive industry.

“All the major international players are represented in South Africa so our strongest competitors were multi-national companies. We needed to provide something that they couldn’t, and our local knowledge was to prove critical in that respect,” says Falala.

He continues: “One of the weak points about large multi-nationals is that their international products don’t always fit the needs of the local market exactly. For example, the wealthy in South Africa can’t be assumed to be the same as the wealthy of Europe. We could custom-fit solutions so that they were most applicable to the local market.”

He adds that employing the best people was another important differentiator. “Sometimes large multinationals don’t employ the best of the best in their smaller branches. We employed only the top minds and talent we could find,” he adds.

Falala’s vision was to build a large company but he started off small. And he never considered himself a consultant. “I always thought and spoke about the business as a business. I knew that it had to extend beyond myself and my partner if it was to become the large entity that we dreamed of,” he says.

learning the hard way

Falala and Mabunda learnt two important lessons early on. The first related to tax.

“We were so cash-strapped initially that we couldn’t make tax payments and this got us into trouble with SARS. Fortunately we were able to speak to them and work out a payment plan, but it taught us how important it is to understand how the tax system works and do whatever it takes to be compliant.

If you’re not paying attention you can quickly end up with a tax liability that earns interest at a greater rate than your monthly profit. Tax compliance is also critical to getting new business. We missed a couple of early tenders because we didn’t have a tax clearance certificate,” he says.

They also learnt the importance of personal investment in the business. “Things really turned when we made a conscious decision that the business’s growth would be determined by what we put in, and not by how much external investment we could get,” he explains. It’s an important lesson to other entrepreneurs who see lack of investment as the biggest hurdle to success.

Lessons you can learn

  • Don’t rely on the banks to get you started. They only have retrospective mechanisms for deciding whether to invest in you so they can only help once you’ve proved yourself, which is usually when you no longer need the money!
  • Know what your competitive advantage is and sell it.
  • Understand what the word ‘merit’ means. Be willing to work hard and ride on the quality of what you deliver. You won’t get handouts.
  • Be unrelenting.
  • Be able to regenerate yourself every morning. Don’t give up.
  • Use your failure as a stepping stone. If you fail, try harder.
  • Think about what you can bring to the table to deliver the product in a way that is faster, cheaper or superior.
  • The difference between being a self-employed consultant versus a business creator is perspective. If you know that things are bigger than you, you’ll want to share your vision with other people and take them along with you. I wanted to achieve something that no one on his own could have achieved.
  • Invest in succession planning. From the day I started operating the business, I was looking for my replacement. A business is something that you can never own. For it to be successful it must be able to continue without you. It’s something that is owned collectively.

Vital stats

Player: Sifiso Falala

Business: Plus 94 Research

Launched: 1998

Contact: +27 (0)11 327 2020

www.plus94.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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Lesego Maphanga of Standard Bank

Lesego Maphanga is young (he only graduated in 2014 with an Industrial & Systems Engineering degree), yet he has already made a name for himself in multiple industries. His secret to success? Always doing more than is asked of him.

GG van Rooyen

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  • Player: Lesego Maphanga
  • Company: Standard Bank
  • Position: Manager: Card & Emerging Payments; Africa Regions
  • About: At only 27, the maths & science whizz works at Standard Bank as an Emerging Payments manager responsible for implementing remittances products across multiple African Regions. He also has his own radio show on CliffCentral called the Urban Culture Drive, and is founder of social entrepreneurship movement called Unplugged and in Charge.

I studied engineering knowing right from the start that I would never work as an engineer. I just couldn’t see myself working at a mine, or something like that, but I knew that engineering would give me a solid foundation and allow me to keep my options open. A STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) degree is a great base, as it shows that you have a mind for numbers and the analytic mindset needed to get things done. I don’t think you can go wrong with a degree in one of these fields, even if entrepreneurship is your ultimate aim.

Related: 20 Quotes On Coping With Change From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

How can I set myself apart?

You have to ask yourself this question. There’s a lot of competition out there. You might have a great academic history or work experience, but so do a lot of people, so you need to have a differentiator — something that makes you stand out. I entered Mr South Africa, for example, because I knew that it would increase my profile and add something interesting to my CV. I didn’t win, but I was a top-five finalist, which was good enough for me.

Find interesting things to add to your CV as well, since it’ll make it stand out in a massive pile of similar submissions.

Always go the extra mile

I had a lecturer who always said: “There are two kinds of bad engineers. There are those who don’t do what they’re told to do, and there are those who only do exactly what they’re told to do.” You need to add value and show that you are a crucial part of a team, so don’t just do what you’re told. Instead, look for ways in which you can go beyond the brief. Work hard and spend time coming up with your own ideas and projects. At the end of my studies, I interned at Standard Bank. I knew that I only had five weeks to make an impression, so I gave it my all. When you’re young, you don’t have many responsibilities apart from work, so that’s the time to put everything into your work.

Be audacious and make things happen

Seizing an opportunity that comes to you is great, but creating your own opportunities is even better. Don’t take no for an answer, and don’t wait for someone to give you a chance. A friend and I had an idea for a radio show and decided to put a proposal together. We had no experience and no contacts in the field, but we emailed our proposal to everyone we could think of. We spammed them, sending it out every single day. Eventually, CliffCentral got in contact 
with us.

Related: Design The Life Of Your Dreams Using These Simple Tips

I don’t want a ‘normal’ life

I want an extraordinary life, so I demand a lot of myself. I think Elon Musk is a great example of this. He’s doing things no one thought possible. Of course, it requires extreme levels of dedication and hard work. If you’re aiming for the top, I don’t think work/life balance is possible. You need work/life integration. You need to be pursuing your passion all the time. If you’re on a path you’re truly interested in, work doesn’t feel like sacrifice.

Exercise is important to me

I go to gym twice a day. It’s significant to me, as it allows me to relax and clear my mind. It also provides structure to my life. When I get up early and go to gym, I find that the rest of my day falls into place. It sets the tone. As long as I maintain focus in this part of my life, I find that things overall stay under control. Sometimes, though, I need to take a day off and just sit in front of the TV. Generally speaking, however, I find that routine helps maintain focus and momentum.

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Joel Stransky Shares His Insights On What Makes A Great Leader

Enter Joel Stransky just as friendly as the rest of the team, also casually dressed, also wearing a smile. As a founding director of the innovative Pivotal Group, he explained that their value proposition particularly in Pivotal Talent.

Dirk Coetsee

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Posters displayed on companies’ walls representing the business’ Vision and value system are a common occurrence. A general value that numerous companies share is to be client centred and to provide excellent service. Yet, unfortunately a proportion of companies do not live according to their values as tools to actualize their collective Vision.

An observant individual would take only a few seconds to notice that the Leadership group at Pivotal has gone to great lengths to establish a definitive and value driven culture as well as a motivating climate for their team members. As I waited in the reception area I was met with smiles from several people passing by and there was generally no way to assess what their position was as they were all casually dressed, friendly and approachable.

Related: 5 Things Businesses Can Learn From Rugby

Enters Joel Stransky just as friendly as the rest of the team, also casually dressed, also wearing a smile. As a founding director of the innovative Pivotal Group, he explained that their value proposition particularly in Pivotal Talent, is the use of Augmented Intelligence and data analytics within the “human capital space”.  The application of AI and data makes talent acquisition and career guidance much less of an enigma and challenge as opposed to the recent past where traditional talent acquisition and career guidance methods became less and less successful and more and more time consuming.

The “pivot” of the 1995 Victorious Springbok world cup team shared that he always starts off an employee-employer relationship with the assumption of mutual trust and respect. He believes that once you have put in the sincere effort to understand people better, bigger belief in them is a natural result.

“The greatest asset in business is people,” Joel passionately explained and added that it is possible for a brilliant product to fail in the long run when the wrong people are employed.

pivotal-group

“Hiring the right people that would not only help sustain the current culture but add more value to it is critical to any team or companies’ sustainable success,” Joel explained. The Millennial generation think differently and have different expectations from a working environment, therefore it is a critical factor for any manager and/or Leader to understand what drives the emerging generation and also how to manage the polarity of generational gaps.

Related: Servant Leadership – Will You Serve?

As a result of diversity and generational gaps Leadership and management has become a fascinating space to operate within South-Africa as not only cultural and language barriers might offer a challenging HR environment, the millennial generations unique behaviours amplify the need for useful adaptations within all spheres of work.

As a practical example, employee X is twenty-three years old. Some of the key questions that management needs to figure out, that is if they sincerely want the best for, and the best out of employee X, are:

  • Is X motivated by monetary rewards and/ or does she/he need a regular hug to feel part of and add to the company culture?
  • Does X need to interact with management socially for example be taken out do dinner?
  • What skills does X have or lack that impacts his/her performance?
  • It is impossible to motivate someone else. In what way can I create an environment for X wherein he/she can motivate himself/herself and excel?

How you satisfy Xs’ needs and manage all related factors to his or her needs has become critical success factors in how we as leader’s approach career development in general.

Reflecting on the development of his own sports and business career, as well as his family life Joel is adamant that whatever drives you in sport also drives you in business and within your family life. Whatever he has achieved within all aspects of his life came as a result of setting goals and making those goals a reality.

Both in sports and in the business world within South Africa there is a general tendency towards over structured management and coaching. Although a structure and daily management is an integral part of business and sports, a paradigm shift towards inspirational Leadership that empowers other leaders to succeed is key in terms of serving others and creating a motivating and sustainable environment within which all team members can thrive.

Reflecting on Joels’ observation: “Our countries’ value chain is broken” the moment has most certainly arrived within which more and more value driven and ethical Leaders, emerging from all generations must arise and collectively work towards an improved future.

Critical to the actualisation of a collective future vision is the development of Leadership skills therefore one of the keen interests of the author is to recognise and learn from other Leaders’ character traits. Joel’s’ highly effective communication skills underpinned by the core people skill of active listening quickly came to the fore as he could quote part of my question and comments in each of the very insightful answers that he provided. His keen willingness to innovate and to create inspiring working environments makes his enthusiasm and skill as a Leader tangible.

Let us all challenge ourselves to learn from prime Leadership examples offered by individuals such as  Joel Stransky and leave more and more Leaders behind for only in such a way can an inspiring future be built.

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Company Posts

Nhlanhla Dlamini Not Only Has Guts, But Grit – In Spades

An alumnus of WBS and Harvard Business School, Nhlanhla Dlamini did some soul searching when he was doing his MBA at Harvard, and knew that the corporate ladder, although tempting, was simply not going to be enough.

Wits Business School

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It takes guts to venture into entrepreneurship. And when you’re in a ‘cushy’ job with a top global auditing firm who are grooming you for partnership, it takes even more guts.

Nhlanhla Dlamini not only has guts, but grit – in spades.

An alumnus of WBS and Harvard Business School, Nhlanhla did some soul searching when he was doing his MBA at Harvard, and knew that the corporate ladder, although tempting, was simply not going to be enough.

“I started thinking, ‘what is the best thing I can do with my life?’”, recalls Nhlanhla. “I always felt a pressing need to get involved in lowering the unemployment rate in South Africa.  It’s a notoriously difficult space, but entrepreneurship is the real engine of job creation and I felt compelled to rise to the challenge.”

When he left his job at McKinsey in March 2015, Nhlanhla decided to explore the agricultural sector – having no idea what product or what part of the value chain he would end up in. He spent until December that year exploring the agri-food sector, gaining as much understanding as he could about the entire industry by talking to famers, co-ops, agricultural associations and various other stakeholders.

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

“I wanted to export products to the US and I looked at tree nuts, blueberries, dairy products or meat. Because of stringent FDA regulations, meat wasn’t an option – but a friend of mine from WBS days suggested meat in the form of pet food.”

And so Maneli Pets was born, and Nhlanhla moved his fledgling business into a factory, which he re-purposed for meat processing, in October 2016. By June 2017, he had started operations with 30 employees on board, and by September he had 50 employees.

Maneli Pets

What makes Maneli different from other US-bound pet food products in an already saturated market? The answer is high protein meat from animals that are unique to South Africa.

“I discovered a market for the off-cuts of meat  from specialist butcheries – so crocodile, warthog, ostrich etc,” Nhlanhla explains. “The result is a very high quality, high protein pet snack with a difference – and US pet owners are willing to pay for the best they can get.”

Under the brand name ‘Roam’, Maneli Pets products are exported to a pet food wholesaler in Boston, US, owned by the family of Nhlanhla’s former WBS classmate, who had planted the seed of the idea in the first place.  Nhlanhla is now preparing to launch the products under another brand name for distribution in South Africa and export to the EU.

But pet food is only the start. Maneli Pets is an offshoot of the Maneli Group, a diversified food company which is looking ooking to build further businesses in the green energy sector, while boosting black entrepreneurship.

According to a City Press report, South Africa has relatively few black-owned food production businesses, which is why government is actively promoting agro-processing and the manufacturing sector in general to spur economic growth.

Nhlanhla has worked tirelessly to secure government funding, and was thrilled to obtain R26 million from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Just last month, he received the news that Maneli Pets had been awarded grant funding of R12.5 million from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Black Industrialists Scheme (BIS).

Nhlanhla, who was also a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, considers his PDM at WBS a “superb” way of preparing a student for the real world of work. “The group dynamics was an essential learning experience in terms of delivering on a mandate with a group with entirely different skill sets.”

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

Describing himself as a “passionate and active WBS alumnus”, Nlhanhla still stays in regular contact with a core group from his PDM class, proving that one of the enduring benefits of a PDM (and an MBA) is the opportunity to connect and network with like-minded people and form life-long friendships.

Apart from what he learnt in the Entrepreneurship Management module of the PDM, such as the pillars of entrepreneurship, macro trend support and financing an idea, Nhlanhla considers the keys to success are threefold: Recognising the value of a social network, tenacity – and just a little luck!

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