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How Balkan Burger Filled a Niche… and a Lot of Stomachs

Bojan and Lidija Ivanovic, founders of Balkan Burger, started their business for less than R5 000. Thanks to exposure at markets, they’re now busy every day of the week, and have become successful niche caterers.

Tracy Lee Nicol




Vital Stats

  • Company: Balkan Burger
  • Players: Bojan and Lidija Ivanovic
  • Launched: 2012

A Food Adventure

I was a corporate innovation engineer, my sister, a lawyer. We agreed to meet our best friends at Neighbourgoods Market in Joburg, but got our times mixed up. We missed our friends and by 12:30 most of the food was gone and what was left was expensive. We paid R200 for a cheese platter and two beers because we were that hungry and it was a simple supply-and-demand equation.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: 8 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Proudly South African Businesses

My sister and I are entrepreneurs by nature and spotted an opportunity to bring Serbian and Eastern European food to the market. We contacted the managers of Neighbourgoods, pitched our idea and they invited us to present our food. We roped our mother in to make a feast of Serbian food. She slaved for hours and the market managers were blown away.

Leftovers for Weeks

Our first few Saturdays were really tough. We over-estimated how much we’d sell and had this huge spread of food that we’d eat ourselves and give to charity. We took an iterative approach and started paying attention to what was selling and what wasn’t, quickly axing the non-sellers. Our burgers were a winner.

I believe in specialisation of labour, so we focused on redefining the burger experience by listing all the things we hated about classical burgers, and that’s how we ended up with a flat, folded patty, a non-traditional bun, and no tomato sauce or mustard. It took us two and a half years to perfect our Balkan Burger. Even now with our shop in Greenside, we have six subtle topping variations.

The Start-up Days


Our start-up capital was minimal; I bought a braai for R4 700, and we paid for ingredients and other business expenses with salaries from our full-time jobs.

We put about six pay cheques into the business and only really started seeing profit after a year. Our mom and dad helped us, and our friendly family banter became entertainment to our customers, who also learnt about a different culture through food and interaction.

At that time we were focused more on building the brand and getting our name out there than making money. After a year we decided to expand to Fourways Farmers’ Market on a Sunday. We were working seven days a week, but by August 2013 Lidija was working full-time in the business and I joined her. I made no contingency plans and that motivated our success.

Creating Exclusivity

Waste is expensive, so we always set goals for ourselves of, say 100 servings, and work towards that. That has created exclusivity and demand because people who arrive late at Neighbourgoods are disappointed to miss their shot at a Balkan Burger, so we tell them to get to Fourways early the next day as we’ll be there.

By September 2013 we’d created a loyal following and a demand for the brand. We were also able to buy and launch our Balkan Burger bus which is a retro-fitted 1967 short body school bus, so we could be mobile.

A Bus in the Way


We were effectively food truck pioneers in Joburg and had no one to guide us. We took our bus to Arts on Main in Maboneng and parked it at the entrance but that didn’t work out: People walked past to other restaurants. It was bad for sales but good for marketing and brand building.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Rich Mulholland on Carving Your Own Niche


We started getting calls from people asking us to cater for their events, parties, weddings, corporate functions, and that catering has become the bread and butter of the business Monday to Friday between markets.

Big Concerts, Big Crowds

Over time we’d become part of the close-knit artisan community and we’d share news and leads with each other. As a result we landed a spot at one of the In The City concerts thanks to our friends at Braamfontein restaurant, Great Dane. Through that exposure and constantly being visible at markets and events, other concert and event organisers have contacted us.

Event organisers look for caterers who can bring experience as much as food to their events – and that’s what we did.

Big Challenges and Lessons

  • We never planned to go into the food business so we’ve gone with the flow, and learnt quickly from our mistakes and pivoted
  • We still haven’t figured out stock because everything is fresh and we don’t want waste. When we run out, we leverage that into a kind of exclusivity and FOMO. Sometimes, less is more.
  • We’ve kept things lean and simple – patties, burger buns, packaging and toppings, and that lets us focus on delivering the best product every time.
  • As we’ve grown we’ve learnt big lessons in shop fitting. We spent a lot of money on the truck, the container at The Sheds and in Greenside. They’re beautiful but we could’ve pulled it off with
    less money.
  • You don’t need a lot of money to get started. But you do need to invest time and energy.
  • Use the market to validate your product ideas and get exposure.
  • When picking markets, research them, find the busiest and do your utmost to get in.
  • If you’re doing something different and amazing, you’re more likely to get into high traffic markets as it gives them the edge.
  • Brand ambassadors are an important marketing tool. We don’t have business cards, just social media and a website.

Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.


Watch List: 11 Teen Entrepreneurs Who Have Launched Successful Businesses

These teens are proving that you don’t need a driver’s licence – or the ability to vote – to create and execute a successful start-up.

Diana Albertyn



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In South Africa youth entrepreneurship is encouraged as the best way to build the economy. Teens are no longer relying on tertiary education to jumpstart their careers, as many high school students become budding entrepreneurs. From make-up to confectionary and tech-centred ventures, youth entrepreneurship is taking the business world by storm.

“It’s easier than ever to become an entrepreneur, and technology has a lot to do with it. You’re a tech-savvy millennial, and Internet and mobile technologies make it easier to connect and identify with people, based on shared values and ideals,” says Michael Freestone, founder of the MJF Group. “All entrepreneurs wonder if their companies will succeed, but you don’t really know until you try. So, do it while you’re young and have little or nothing to lose.”

And that’s exactly what teenagers across the country are doing. While being a teenager is stressful enough, without worrying about marketing and your bottom line – these young entrepreneurs thrive on success, which must be their secret sauce to their winning business ideas.

  1. Rabia Ghoor
  2. Cory Nieves
  3. Nathan Woodrow
  4. Isabella Rose Taylor
  5. Mikaila Ulmer
  6. Moziah Bridges
  7. Tony McPherson
  8. Anthony Veck and Malvin Musanhi
  9. Reabetswe Nkonyane, Phumla Mvila, and Thandokazi Mtshakazana
  10. Omphile Sekwele and Didintle Nkambule
  11. Fisokuhle Lushaba and Wendy Nkosi
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10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

The future of entrepreneurship has never looked so bright…these young entrepreneurs share their wisdom around building a successful business.

Nicole Crampton



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Natural Talent Can Become Your Success


Thabo Khumalo

Thabo Khumalo – ToVch

“I learnt to design and sew while assisting my mother who was a seamstress, and that is when I realised that I had a talent to create,” Thabo Khumalo explains. “But I never knew I was an entrepreneur.” Thabo Khumalo started his company ToVch in 2010 and has since appeared in South African Fashion Week, Soweto Fashion Week and Mpumalanga Fashion Week.

Khumalo has a small but engaged audience, who he communicates directly with. “The brand has a dedicated audience, and the social media presence also allows me to continuously scan the fashion environment to keep up with external forces.”

The Lesson

One of the most challenging aspects of launching his businesses was marketing the brand with limited funds. He used social media and word-of-mouth to market. “On social media, people share your brand with others simply because they want to,” says Khumalo. “It’s a powerful platform, and it does not cost anything.” Khumalo built up his company using support from a strong online network, which became his marketing strategy.

Read more on How Fashion Start-Up ToVch Built A Brand Presence With Only A Little Budget.

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For Founder Of National Tekkie Tax Day Having A Higher (Business) Purpose Keeps Her Driving Forward

The NGO space isn’t easy. It’s a constant uphill battle to connect scarce resources with the vulnerable. Annelise de Jager has persevered in this space because she’s tapped into her personal purpose and values.

Nadine Todd




Vital Stats

  • Player: Annelise de Jager
  • Initiative: National Tekkie Tax Day
  • Launched: 2013
  • Visit:

Use your purpose to drive you forward

Connect your purpose with what you do, and you’ll find untapped reserves of perseverance and the discipline needed to achieve your goals.

Purpose before profit is not a new concept in business. In fact, it underlines the motivations behind some of the most successful entrepreneurs. It’s also not reserved for social enterprises alone.

However, it is in the social entrepreneurship and charitable spaces that living one’s purpose first found a foothold, mostly because without a strong purpose, the work would just be too hard, and many would give up.

Annelise de Jager, founder of National Tekkie Tax Day, unpacks how she’s used living her purpose to drive her forward, even when she’s faced almost insurmountable challenges and disappointments.

Make ‘living a life that matters’ intrinsic to everything you do.

“I was lucky in that I didn’t ever need to sit down and say, ‘I want my life to matter, so I need to do x, y, z’,” says Annelise. “It was intrinsic for me. However, in the past five years I’ve become acutely aware of it, and I’ve seen how important the ability to look beyond oneself is when you’re facing disappointment and challenges.

“It helps you look beyond the now, find a solution and keep pushing on, because there is a bigger goal at stake. The biggest revelation for me has been that anyone can figure this out and use it as a tool to achieve their dreams and purpose — you just need to trigger your intrinsic motivators.

Related: ReWare Did One Crucial Thing That Most Entrepreneurs Are Too Afraid To Do

“Figure out what’s really important to you, and then align this with what you’re doing, in both your business and personal journeys. Robin Bank’s Mind Power and Shaping your Destiny courses are a great place to start.”

Don’t be afraid to ask what’s next

Critical to Annelise’s journey has been the realisation that when goals are met, we need to ask ourselves: What’s next? “Too many people achieve their goals and then feel adrift. You should meet your goals. Your ultimate vision should change. That’s growth, and it’s critical if you want to keep moving forward.

“Our experiences inform our knowledge base and world views, and so as you live and run your business, that view should be changing, bringing with it new challenges and perceptions. Don’t be scared of it; embrace it.”

Annelise went to Potchefstroom University to study social work where she joined the university’s musical revue group, the Alabama Student Company. “Alabama was given the opportunity to tour Taiwan, but I was about to graduate. Travel is high on my personal values list, so I started a second degree in communications to stay in university — and — in Alabama.”

New experiences can be the source of great ideas and strength

Studying communications opened Annelise to a new discipline that she loved. “Marketing and communications are so filled with energy — an energy social work didn’t possess. I loved both, and I wanted to find a way to meld them together. This would ultimately shape my business, The Marketing Team, after I’d been a social worker for a few years. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plans based on new experiences; they can be the source of our greatest ideas and strengths.”

Related: Reel Gardening Warns That Innovation Is Never Easy

No experience is ever wasted

“We spend too much time trying to plan exactly what we should be doing, where and when, instead of following our hearts and instincts,” says Annelise. “No experience is ever wasted. Once I discovered my love for communications, I questioned whether I’d wasted four years studying social work. I hadn’t.

“Both disciplines became the bedrock of how I would assist the charitable space in South Africa. Experiences open our eyes, our hearts, and our understanding. They give us empathy and patience. They allow us to view things from other perspectives. If you want to really make a difference in other peoples’ lives, these traits are invaluable.”

Be open to finding answers in unexpected places

“By 2004 I felt rudderless,” says Annelise. “I’d been running my own business, handling communications and marketing for NGOs, developing campaigns and even assisting NGOs to run more as businesses than under-funded organisations, but it didn’t feel like I was doing enough.

“Part of the problem was that you can only give people the tools to work with, you can’t make them use them. Another problem was under-funding. Corporates spend billions each year on CSI projects but they don’t like to fund salaries and basic operational expenses.

“It’s frustrating because volunteers can’t do what needs to be done — most households need two breadwinners, which limits the availability of volunteers to assist.

“I was looking for a way to add more value. Should I start my own NGO? Where could I make the biggest impact? I’d been offered an excellent coaching position, which would allow me to walk away from the problems this sector deals with daily. It was tempting, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

“At that time I attended the Global Day of Prayer in Argentina on behalf of a client. It was at that conference that I had an almost supernatural experience. I left knowing exactly what my purpose was.

“How these realisations come to you is less important than the fact that you’re open to them. Deep down I knew what I wanted and needed — I just needed the courage and fortitude to follow my path. My experience in Argentina gave that to me because I allowed it to.”

Always find the strength to persevere.

Nothing worth doing is ever easy. In the NGO space, this is particularly true. “I developed the idea for National Tekkie Tax Day because NGOs constantly asked me to help them develop funding campaigns. I developed this fundraising model when I launched Casual Day and ran the project successfully for 18 years.

“But I also believe the NGO space can benefit from a more unified mindset to overcome donor confusion and fatigue. This is my new focus, but it’s difficult to get organisations to shift their mindsets. National Tekkie Tax Day is a step in this direction.

“It encompasses 12 national NGOs and 1 000 regional organisations across five categories — but there’s one product and one national marketing drive. Donors can choose a category to support.

Related: How Fintech Zoona Is Solving Customers’ Real Problems

“I’ve needed to persevere to help NGOs see the benefits in working collaboratively, and corporates to see the benefits of supporting the operational costs of NGOs.

“I don’t have a high profile job at a top company. People don’t call you back in my world. And yet you need to keep pushing forward against incredible headwinds.

“I wake up each morning and repeat the mantra that my success helps everybody; my failure helps nobody. There won’t always be easy wins, but with the right purpose you can persevere. You can make a difference.”

Support National Tekkie Tax Day on 26 May 2017

12 national charities | 1 000 local charities | 5 sectors to support

Animals, Bring Hope, Children, Disability, Education

Available at Toys R Us, Clicks and Babies R Us or online at

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