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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton

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14. VA Virtual Assistant

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Vital Stats:

  • Industry: Online
  • Founders: Bradley Peters and Carmen Peters
  • Est: 2014
  • Website: V-a.co.za

Here’s what they do

VA Virtual Assistant provides professional virtual services to entrepreneurs and small-to-medium businesses internationally. They provide anything from basic admin, developing websites and running marketing campaigns.

“We realised many people needed extra hours or an extra set of hands, but couldn’t afford an additional employee — either because of the costs involved, or because there wasn’t enough work for a full-time position. I did some research and found that virtual assistants are popular internationally, but there wasn’t a big offering locally. I recognised the gap and VA was born,” says Carmen Peters.

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

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Nicole Crampton is an online writer for Entrepreneur Magazine. She has studied a BA Journalism at Monash South Africa. Nicole has also completed several courses in writing and online marketing.

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How 28-Year Old Entrepreneur Adam Fine Is Leveraging The Global Phenomenon Of Five-A-Side Football

Adam Fine of Fives Futbol discusses how he leverage a global phenomenon and the value of strategic partnerships in business.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

Nothing about Adam Fine is by-the-book. The 28-year-old entrepreneur describes himself as a slightly big child. He’s the CEO of one of the most exciting start-ups in South Africa, having leveraged the global phenomenon of five-a-side football to start a business that has grown almost as fast as the game itself. Not bad for a venture that was launched with the princely sum of R85 000 — Fine’s life savings at the time.

He started it in 2011, with a strong focus on corporate social investment and making a positive social impact. It was by forming strategic partnerships that Adam really managed to grow Fives Futbol. He’s opened pitches in prime locations that serve both the school and corporate markets, while still being accessible for social impact interventions in local communities.

Related: 3 Local Entrepreneurs Share Their Business Challenges And How They Overcame Them

Pivoting at the right time is key to growth

The challenge:

In the last 18 months, Fives Futbol has trebled in size, and achieved some amazing milestones — it now employs 50 full-time staff, and 80 part-timers. It’s one of the factors that drives Adam, as many of his employees support up to eight family members. It’s now also represented in four provinces and 15 locations around the country. By September, there will be 18.

Quick growth means you have to be able to pivot quickly when things do not go according to plan, and mostly they don’t, Adam says. “If things are not working you should be able to ‘pivot’, to shift your focus. And do it fast. It’s not a sign that things have gone wrong by any means, on the contrary, it means you have the insight to recognise that there is a problem with the assumptions on which you have built your business model. The decision to pivot is a big one, and not something to be taken lightly. It requires you to take a hard look at your reallocation of resources, and to do it with an open mind.”

The solution:

In Adam’s case, construction delays, councils taking their time to approve, or having to put money into rolling out sites as opposed to marketing, means the promotion of a new site will slow down, for example, because the business does not yet have a large marketing budget.

“When we run behind on the construction of a new site, R40 000 can suddenly become R100 000 — but here’s the thing: If a deal comes along that will probably harm your business in the short-term but enable significant long-term growth, sometimes you have to juggle what you have so you can make it work.”

The Lesson: Choose your investors carefully

Fine says he’s lucky to have a solid group of investors that he has cultivated over six years. “Their input is invaluable. They’ll say, ‘slow down’ or ‘have you thought of this?’, ‘have you factored in that?’ The ability to develop a good relationship with our investors has had a significant impact on the success of the company. Over and above money, they provide wisdom, guidance and connections.”

His relationship with his investors is key. While many entrepreneurs make it just about the money, Adam understood something else — he has a pretty cool brand with a great cause behind it. So, while investors are asked for money all the time, he was able to offer something more than just a business idea — alignment. He generated enthusiasm for the ‘why,’ behind the business. Like most of us, it makes investors happy to know that they are helping to make a positive difference.

And while it’s easy to bandy about the word ‘partnership’, Adam has worked hard to make that a reality. He set out to find like-minded people who are passionate about the business and the cause, which is why they are able to serve as great resources for advice and insight.

Related: Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

“The best way to ensure that you and your investors have a valuable and lengthy partnership is to make sure that everyone is aligned on the vision.”

This includes Adam’s team. The internal culture of an organisation is vital to its strength and growth. “Without our team we don’t have a business for investors to support — our people are critical to our success. They’re the executors of the vision at the end of the day.”


The Lesson:  The value of strategic partnerships

Much of the growth of Fives Futbol has been fuelled by finding the right sponsorship partners in key industries. To overcome the challenge of a limited marketing budget, Adam has secured sponsorships with big brands like Adidas, Total Sports, Debonairs, and Klipdrift, allowing Fives Futbol to use their access to communities as a marketing platform to derive income as well as scale. And it works both ways.

“Because we have a national footprint and a team of people, we run activations for our partners, which also provides us with an ancillary revenue stream,” he says. “Knowing how to join forces with other businesses has been a key factor in making the business successful. Our strategic partners have enabled the business to leverage their brand to give us more exposure. When it works well, a strategic partnership can be just what you need to speed up the growth of your business.”

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Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

The advent and advancement of the online marketplace has led these entrepreneurs to successfully build and grow their ecommerce empires.

Diana Albertyn

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South Africa’s ecommerce market is worth R10 billion per year. By 2021, the number of online shoppers is expected to have reached 24.79 million.

“Our recent research on SA shows people are browsing three hours or more on their mobile phones and 25% shop online. They trust local brands,” says Geraldine Mitchley, Visa senior director for digital solutions in sub-Sahara Africa.

These entrepreneurs have cashed in on ecommerce and launched successful online stores that have either established their dominance in the market, or are taking the e-tailing world by storm.

Here’s how these 15 ecommerce capitalists are making money using the Internet:

  1. Aisha Pandor
  2. Andrew Higgins
  3. Kerryn Tremearne
  4. David Davies
  5. Andrew Smith, Paul Galatsis and Shane Dryden
  6. Trevor Gosling
  7. Nicholas Haralambous
  8. Justin Drennan
  9. Neo Lekgabo
  10. Ryan Bacher
  11. Tracy Kruger
  12. Luke Jedeikin
  13. Tarryn Abrahams
  14. Sascha Breuss
  15. Antonio Bruni
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Luthuli Capital Co-Founder’s Advice On How To Start When You Can’t Get Finance

Mduduzi Luthuli of Luthuli Capital, is a young entrepreneur spurred on by passion, energy and grit, has confronted and overcome the challenges of growth and is continuing in the direction of success.

Monique Verduyn

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mduduzi-luthuli

Vital Stats

Mduduzi Luthuli and his wife Trudy, both of whom have a solid track record in financial services, launched wealth management company Luthuli Capital in 2016. He left a great job because he wanted to do something he was truly passionate about. Having funded Luthuli Capital with their personal savings, it’s now self-sustaining and turning a modest profit — in less than two years. Mdu says he started the business because, after years in wealth management, he could not find his ideal job, so he decided to create it.

What to do when your start-up can’t get finance

The Challenge:

Wealth management companies look after their clients’ money. That alone makes this space supremely difficult for a start-up. How do you find customers and investors willing to bet on you when the business does not have a track record?

The Solution:

For Mduduzi Luthuli, the solution was to build a niche business. But he admits he was fortunate to have developed a strong personal brand over time. “When you are investing offshore for your clients, their primary concern (other than growing their capital) is the person they trust to manage their money. While I was still employed, I let my clients know that I would be starting my own business. Because of the emphasis I had always placed on personalised service — and I am talking about going above and beyond — many of them wanted to move with me. That taught me how powerful a personal brand can be.”

Related: Author Of The Little Book of Inspiration Gives Great Advice On Having Direction And Courage

Nonetheless, he says, Luthuli Capital still has a way to go to build its own brand. That’s why Mdu has formed strategic partnerships. “A large part of our investment book sits on Allan Gray’s platform. Because it’s the largest privately-owned investment management company in South Africa, that association is key. We are leveraging off a strong brand while creating and developing our own.”

Finding equity partners

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Mdu says that finding the right equity partners has been one of the greatest challenges he has yet had to face. “We found that most venture capitalists and private equity funders simply do not have the appetite for the long-term. It’s extremely difficult to find patient capital — they either want a return on investment in 18 months, or they say they will give you money only if they can take a majority stake in your business. But that would be like working for a boss again, which is what I don’t want,” he says.

It’s for this reason that Luthuli Capital has grown slowly and organically, with profits being pumped right back into the business. At the end of year one, when the business had gone as far as it could with limited resources, one of the top insurance houses offered to provide capital, but there were strings attached — they wanted a majority shareholding. Just as Mdu was about to sign the deal, one of his wealthiest clients agreed to put up the capital required. “She told me she loved what we were doing, and she wanted us to remain independent,” he says.

Mdu has also learnt to stop apologising for being new. “The top performing investment managers did not get to where they are today in 24 months. I cannot magically make the business a decade old. What I can do is use our expertise to build it. I know we are making an impression in the market because lately we have had several offers to buy us out. Clearly, we are heading down the right path.”

It’s for this reason that he advises other entrepreneurs to stay the distance and maintain their independence. “There is no doubt that you will pay for your independence, but when people see that you have made it through the start-up phase, that’s what keeps them coming back. In the beginning, potential funders were laying down their terms; now they are ready to negotiate and take our requirements into account too.” 

Read next: 6 Of The Most Profitable Small Businesses In South Africa

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