When freelance creatives Megan Willson,
Graham Hopkins and Elton Hesketh got together in 2005 to form 360 Degrees Production House, their intention was to grow. “We started the company because we realised that we were doing a lot of the big-picture strategic thinking for other companies, and it made sense to set up a company to do it for ourselves. But we never just wanted to be three people doing this – our vision was to build a sustainable business,” says Willson.
Five years down the line, that vision has been realised. From three staff and six events a month in the first year, 360 Degrees has grown to 22 permanent and 20 associate staff members and does on average over 400 events a month. It lists Absa, General Motors, Liberty Properties, Nedbank Capital and Anglo Platinum among its clients and has a string of awards to its name. The latest is the Topco 2010 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, which recognises the role Willson, as CEO, has played in leading 360 Degrees to success. The company manages large scale events, exhibitions, industrial theatre productions, branding solutions, promotions and design.
The power of partnerships
For every entrepreneurial company the growth path to such success is different, but the story of 360 Degrees features some winning elements from which other start-ups could learn.
When asked to list the company’s success factors, Willson’s first item is partnerships. “There are many horror stories of partnerships in business, and people will give you countless reasons why going into partnership with other people is a bad idea. But there can be no doubt that a great deal of our success is down to the equal partnership between our company’s founders,” she says.
One of the reasons the partnership works so well is that they invested a great deal of time at the outset clearly defining parameters and boundaries. “With a ten-year age gap between each of us and different skills sets, none of us replicated any of the other partners – while we all come from a creative background, we each bring something unique to the company,” says Willson.
Selecting the right relationships
The second success factor on her list is relationships. “We know we do our best work when we understand the client’s business, how important the project is to their business imperatives and what their anxieties and concerns are, all of which is facilitated by a close relationship with them,” says Willson.
For a business forging a growth path in the early stages, it’s very tempting to take on any work that comes along, but doing so is often a mistake. “There have been times when we have walked away from business because we felt there was no relationship or connection with the client, or because they didn’t demonstrate the willingness to engage in the process, something that’s so important to a project’s success,” she adds. “We don’t have thousands of accounts, but the ones we have are the ones we want and through them we are able to produce great work.”
In 2000, for example, the company won the General Motors’ Supplier Award, an award that, as Willson explains, typically goes to companies whose products and services are more specific to the core motor industry business.
Landing big-name clients
It’s notoriously difficult for SMEs to get their foot in the door of large corporates, but 360 Degrees has managed this admirably. Willson puts this down to perseverance and targeted pitches. “We kept our eyes open for opportunities and never gave up. Procurement processes take a long time, so if someone told us they were only looking to update their supplier list in six months, we’d ask for the vendor application forms and then make sure we called them back in six months’ time. If you persevere, the payback is big,” she says.
She and her team also made it their business to learn about corporate hierarchical structures and who it was best to target in each prospective company. “Research it, do your homework, find out who it’s best to speak to and bear in mind that this might not be the procurement department. Very often, the procurement department is there as gatekeeper and if you only try to go through them, you won’t get anywhere,” she advises.
In the years ahead, Willson wants to see the business consolidated before turning its attention to new geographical markets. “In time we want to take South African eventing to the rest of the world, but for now we’re focusing on doing what we do best and developing our signature style further,” she concludes.
360 Degrees Production House
Player: Megan Willson
Contact: + 27 11 782 1663
Third Prize Winner Of The Workspace/MiWay Competition Shares Top Lessons Learnt
Mpho Mpatane recently won third prize in The Workspace/MiWay Business Insurance Entrepreneur Competition. Her company supplies general and women-specific protective personal equipment and clothing in the mining and construction industries. This is her story.
Two months ago, I won third prize in an entrepreneur competition. It was one of the most intense experiences I have ever undergone, as it ran over a seven-month period. Minatlou was the only start-up in the top 10 finalists and mentally, I had to motivate myself daily to keep going, and to keep growing.
I’ll be honest: It wasn’t easy. I relied on family and friends to keep me motivated. There were times I doubted myself but then I would get a phone call from my dad asking me how business was going… and then I would snap out of my doubting space, get refreshed energy and get back into my competitive mentality space.
Lessons Learned On The Start-up Journey
In retrospect, the lessons I learned on this journey are invaluable. I learned that in business there are certain steps you cannot skip or try to cut corners in order to try and move ahead. As an entrepreneur, you constantly have to work on the business itself and also for the business. You must have your house in order before you invite other people to come and visit. I know now that one must be willing to learn and once you have learned, put those lessons into action.
Before The Workspace/MiWay Business Insurance, I was focused on setting up the business; I was not big about marketing or social media. So now I know that in order to have the right people know about my business, I must reach out to them and not rely on word of mouth only to create a sustainable client base.
Right now I am busy changing my company name, from Minatlou 251 to Phepha Solutions Group, and after that first step, I will create a social media presence, a brochure and an online presence such as a website. I’m also creating a small clothing line for corporates to see the calibre of our out of the box designs of corporate uniform and our standard of manufacturing.
Assistance From Winning The Competition
What’s amazing is that The Workspace has come forward to assist me where possible and as much as they can. The CEO, Mari Schourie, actually reached out to me while away on maternity leave to ask me personally what they can do to assist me in addition to what I won in the competition.
This made me feel motivated and it also demonstrated that what I am offering is of good value and that I am going to succeed, this business is going to grow and thrive.
I won a beautiful office for a period of three months, which comes with administration support from The Workspace in Selby, with undercover parking, boardrooms to use for meetings and so much more. I have also gained a family in the process.
I won sessions with a business strategist who is helping me develop a formal strategy to move my business forward and help it grow. I have also won consultation sessions with a marketing company to help me grow my business and help me have a proper marketing plan in place plus help me improve on my sales. I won services of a cash flow specialist to help me in that area. My prizes are priceless and what I love the most is the fact that they are helping me build and strengthen my business from within.
My Next Steps
In the short-term, I’m working hard to add at least six retainer clients to our books, gain entry into the highly competitive mining industry and manufacture for them as well. I want to boost sales and get more clients. Proper brand awareness and getting industry related accreditation is on the cards, as is renovating our factory.
In the longer term, I now have a five-year plan, with goals and steps along the way. The next five years will be about growth and scale if possible. I want to be able to do cross border transactions and also export our merchandise to Africa, starting in the Southern parts and expanding slowly.
So yes, I have had to work incredibly hard, but the most comforting fact is that I am not on my own. I have support at my back and mentors challenging me to grow and develop. This period of time has been the most brilliant period of learning and growing in my entrepreneurial journey so far.
Top Tips For Entrepreneurs
To all those entrepreneurs in South Africa working their tails off to succeed, these are the lessons I have taken to heart:
- Be bold. Take chances.
- Do research and always try to stay ahead of your competitors.
- Try to have fun, enjoy what you do.
- Have passion and be willing to work hard for what you do, people will believe in your vision.
- Be honest in your business dealings, if you can’t deliver on your promise for any reason inform the client and do your utmost to correct the challenge, don’t lie.
- Be willing to learn, invest in your own knowledge base. Expand your thinking, explore, and ask questions.
- Be willing to help other upcoming entrepreneurs. Share information with them, as they don’t have to struggle long and hard like you did. This will help with the development of sustainable businesses and a better quality of future entrepreneurs.
Note: To celebrate their first-of its-kind collaboration at Village Road, The Workspace and MiWay ran a competition for South Africa’s entrepreneurs that saw the winner/s given a major advantage to further grow their business. The Workspace and MiWay joined forces at The Workspace premises in Village Road, Selby where they have launched an entrepreneurial hub and business development programme.
5 Crucial Start-up Lessons From Sibongile Manganyi-Rath Founder Of Indigo Kulani Group
Sibongile Manganyi-Rath quit her corporate job at 26 and established infrastructure and real estate development company Indigo Kulani Group. Today her business has expanded to include IKG Start-up Capital, which is dedicated to creating world class entrepreneurs throughout the African continent.
- Player: Sibongile Manganyi-Rath
- Company: Indigo Kulani Group and IKG Start-Up Capital
- Established: 2006
- Turnover: Over R100 million
- Visit: indigo-group.co.za
Being born into an entrepreneurial family didn’t immediately lead Sibongile Manganyi-Rath down the self-employment path. “My father unwittingly set me on the path very early,” recalls Sibongile. “He had a small business in Soweto where he sold used bottles back to larger corporations such as Makro and various other glass bottle recycling agents. I often joke with people that my father was in the recycling business before it became fashionable.”
It was the early exposure of working in her late father’s small businesses that taught Sibongile the crucial principles and values that have helped her build the successful business that Indigo Kulani Group is today.
Here are her start-up lessons:
Lesson 1: Starting small doesn’t mean staying small
I consider myself very fortunate that I grew up in a family that was considered financially and materially poor. The fundamental principles my father taught me of running a small operation — such as financial discipline, hard work, sacrifice and persistence — were extremely valuable.
Related: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs
I learnt the importance of customer service when I was 12 years old and ran one of my father’s fresh produce stalls at Dube village train station. I had to observe why our sales were declining or increasing and each evening I had to report the daily revenue to my father. It was often in the region of R150 per day. I also had to make recommendations on improvements to ensure that we could offer better fruits and veggies than the other older ladies that were next to our stalls.
At the time I didn’t realise the value of the lessons I was learning from this process. It is these lessons that gave me the courage to quit my job in 2006 and start my own company.
Lesson 2: Passion for what you do is vital for a start-up, but it also carries you through the hard times
It is my belief that even in the era of digitisation, there are still fundamental principles about business that will not change. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand their market and the needs that they are addressing. You need to have a strategy that continues to evolve with the needs of your customers, particularly in our current digital era where needs of the customers change very rapidly through the options that they are presented with.
Passion gets you through the loss-making period, often referred as the ‘valley of death’. It’s during this time where your passion gives you courage to persist.
Financial literacy and discipline in working capital management is important because at this stage the business needs a lot of growth capital to generate more revenue before the start-up can reach a break-even stage and make profits.
Lesson 3: Collaboration and partnerships are vital
It’s my passion for what I do that gave me the courage to build a company that seeks to break the mould in a male-dominated industry. We make a positive contribution to our society through our various infrastructure projects, including delivery of more than 200 schools in South Africa’s rural areas.
We have also been involved in building and managing clinics, housing, and water and sanitation projects in many previously disadvantaged communities. The passion to extend this positive impact fuelled the growth of the company where my partners and teams come from very diverse backgrounds — ranging from investment banking, engineering, project management, healthcare and education — to ensure that our services to our clients offer a holistic approach.
However to succeed in this, entrepreneurs need to understand that collaboration and partnerships are important. Empires are not built by individuals but take a collective mindset with a single vision.
Lesson 4: Aim for profitable growth through bold inspirational leadership
- Our holistic approach to the sector in which we operate has not only been beneficial in offering our clients an integrated service, but being a multi-disciplinary services company also gives us access to diverse clients and revenue streams.
- Our company’s business model is ‘intrapreneurial’. A divisional organisational structure ensures quick decision-making and response to market.
- We have highly skilled individuals, and our overheads are cross-subsidised by complementary skills sets across projects. We remain profitable by managing our resources cost-effectively.
- Most importantly, we manage our resources weekly through EXCOM and reporting.
- Incentives are critical and linked to project performance and achievement of targeted revenue and profitability, managed through quarterly performance reviews and targets reviews.
- Inspirational leadership means leading by example. This inspires the collective that achieves its strategic objectives.
Lesson 5: There is always someone out there trying to beat you at your game and take away your customers
Knowledge about your customer is fundamental because without your customers you have no business. Integration of technology into your business enables you to understand how customers use your services and products, which offers key insight into your customers’ needs.
This building of digital customer relationships provides your business with an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage in the tough market we operate in today. I still embrace the physical human relationship where I stay close to my customers and ensure that I understand what is troubling them and how they can be better served.
Sibongile’s game-changing advice for budding entrepreneurs
Keep your vision, but let your strategy be flexible. Collaborate with other people, find advisors that don’t cost you money. Talk to venture capitalist and private equity guys, there is always someone willing to not only invest their money but their ideas, experience and networks. But, be open to give a little bit of equity; it has to be worth their while.
Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch
Don’t miss out on these 50 female trailblazers making an impact in the South African and international entrepreneurial space.
Here are the 50 top South African business women to watch in no particular order
- Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling
- Charlotte Aubin
- Rapelang Rabana
- Lynn Baker
- Dylan Kohlstädt
- Noli Mini
- Stacey Brewer
- Nonkuthalo Thithi
- Daniella Shapiro
- Xoliswa Daku
- Lorren Barham
- Allegro Dinkwanyane
- Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
- Karen Carr and Hanneke Schutte
- Michelle Royston
- Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
- Magda Wierzycka
- Jennifer Da Mata
- Thuli Magubane
- Tracy Kruger
- Monalisa Zwambila
- Keri Stroebel
- Claire Reid
- Ramona Kasavan
- Carrie Leaver and Shona McDonald
- Donna Rachelson
- Mahadi Granier
- Liesl Esau
- Prudence Spratt
- Joyce Mnguni
- Janine Starkey
- Shamila Ramjawan
- Busi Skenjana
- Benji Coetzee
- Jerusha Govender
- Lauren Edwards
- Ouma Tema
- Annabel Biggar-David
- Jennifer Glodik
- Ntsoaki Phali
- Tara-Lee de Wit
- Kim Coppen-Watkins
- Mogau Seshoene
- Andy Golding
- Lien Potgieter
- Ezlyn Barends
- Rabia Ghoor
- Katy Valentine
- Leah Molatseli
- Lynette Ntuli
“Globally, women entrepreneurship rates are growing more than 10% each year. In fact, women are as likely or more likely than men to start businesses in many markets,” says Karen Quintos, EVP and chief customer officer at Dell.
The growing momentum of female entrepreneurship can clearly be seen in this comprehensive list of 50 of South Africa’s finest. Although this movement has far from reached its peak, for those looking for inspiration, lessons or businesses to invest in, look no further than this list of female pioneers.
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