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Santam 1001 Days: A Milestone Business Interview with JesseJames

Day 1 to 1001 of the successful start-up, JessieJames’ journey from an idea to a budding business.





The first 1000 days of business are make or break for a business. Statistically, very few entrepreneurs survive past 1000 days (3 years) of business. Santam is profiling diverse businesses to get their advice on how businesses can succeed to 1001 days – and beyond.

Meet JesseJames: a successful start-up founded when two childhood friends turned their mutual passion for design into a budding business that produces custom interiors, installations, activations and products for corporate clients.

Day 1 of 1001: Starting out 

After studying and then working abroad, Jesse Ede and James Bisset returned to South Africa. “There were not that many jobs”, says James. “The environment was very stark with few opportunities.” One day, surfing at Milnerton beach in Cape Town, the duo decided to start a design business that “makes things”. Their first ‘studio’ was James’ bedroom, and their first workshop was in Jesse’s artist father’s garage. They began by working for friends.

“We made a bookshelf for R1000. We made no profit, maybe R100”, Jesse remembers. But slowly, through word of mouth, they got more projects.

“Those first days were tough”, explains James. “We were living off our savings and having to make sacrifices in terms of lifestyle.” One of the first marketing exercises they did was to create a website, which they built themselves, and continue to update regularly.

Tip: “A lot of what we do has to do with attention to detail. When you’re starting out, it’s so important to form good relationships with your clients and the way to do that is to make everything absolutely perfect. That way, you build trust, and then a reputable brand.”

JesseJames Workspace

Day 155 of 1001: Created a creative hub

One of the first JesseJames standout jobs was a project for ELLE Magazine, designing the award for their “Rising Star” competition. Around this time, they decided to take the leap and acquire offices.

They found a great space but couldn’t afford the rent. They decided to sub-let the space to like-minded creatives. This not only covered overheads but also proved to be a valuable incubator. “We were all spinning off one another’s ideas and really learnt from one another”, James reminisces.

Tip: “Consider sharing your premises with other businesses to keep overheads low.”


Day 577 of 1001: Creating systems

Another turning point was to start implementing an invoicing system. “We use Freshbooks and it has really saved us time. One of the biggest surprises of running a business is the amount of time spent on emails and not actually doing work!” laughs Jesse.

   Tip: “Don’t spend your precious time on a task if an online solution or another person can do it.”


Day 763 0f 1001: A breakout client

JesseJames landed a breakout client in 2013: a yearlong project for a medical aid company. “We had to create a mobile lab that would tour around South Africa,” James explains. “It was very challenging as there were many innovations we had to brush up on.” The client was very happy and this retainer really helped to develop the business into what it is today.

Tips: “In client service, communication is key. If something is going wrong, let a client know early. Always try to get clients to commit some money on a job upfront. Even if it’s 10 or 20%, it will make them have a vested interest in the project.” 


Day 1001:  Refocus your offering

In 2014, they decided to put new product development on hold and focus on commissions. “The retail world is fickle and suffers from recession”, explains James. “Service-based work always does well. Commissions will hone our skills and give us opportunities to do R&D that can be used on product development in future.”

Tip: “Sometimes you need to keep it simple and focus on what you’re really good at. Don’t try to do too many things at once.”

The next 1000 days

What is on the JesseJames agenda for the next 1000 days? “We would like to invest in more hi-tech machinery as a way to improve further on quality, hire another designer and do more community-based work”, says James.

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Entrepreneur Today

Win 1 Of 50 Free Tickets To This Exclusive Event With Entrepreneur And Matt Brown Media

Calling start-up business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs 25 years old and under. Win a free ticket to this life-changing event with Entrepreneur Magazine, Matt Brown Media and South African entrepreneur Max Lichaba.





Are you a young, start-up or aspiring entrepreneur looking for inspiration from someone who started with nothing and built a R120 million business?

You could be one of 50 lucky, young start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs to join Lichaba Creations, Kwa Lichaba, Lichaba Custom Rides and Lichaba Refinery owner Max Lichaba on Tuesday 20 March 2018 for an exclusive two-hour lunch and in-person interview brimming with entrepreneurial insights.

Enter to win this once in a lifetime opportunity

If you’re 25 years old and under, and looking for business advice to help you build a successful start-up, then don’t miss this opportunity to receive access to the event, which will be held at Kwa Lichaba in Soweto.

50 exclusive seats up for grabs!

Your prize will include:

1. First-hand insights from successful South African entrepreneur Max Lichaba.


2. A free Brand ID workshop with Vega on ‘How to Develop and Launch Your Brand’.

The workshop focuses on the importance of reflection and self-belief when offering your own personal brand and products to the world. You will be encouraged to explore your own values, meaning and purpose, and guided as to how to create an identity that will capture the unique individual that is “brand YOU”. The workshop will be hosted in Soweto or at Vega’s campus in Randburg, and the date is still to be determined


  1. FREE access to the premier Kwa Lichaba venue.
  2. FREE lunch included in the event.

How to enter the competition

You must be under 25 years old to enter the competition:

  1. Send an email to Entrepreneur Magazine at
  2. Give us your full name and ID number.
  3. Tell us in your email why you should win a free ticket to this premier event.

What you will learn from Max Lichaba

Max finished school with a Grade 10 education, and was expected to become a miner like most of the men in his community. Instead, he focused on becoming a business owner. It’s been a long, hard road, full of challenges, but today he heads up a R120 million business. Share in his journey as Matt Brown interviews him in person, and unpacks his journey, the hardships he’s faced, and the lessons his learnt in overcoming those obstacles, including:

  • Wanting more out of life than being a miner in his hometown, like his peers and seeking alternative opportunities to make money and uplift his community.
  • The power of persevering even in the face of closed doors – they eventually opened up because he pushed through for long enough.
  • The importance of starting, even if you start small, by initially focusing on breaking even before buying into the fancy additions to presumably make business faster and easier.
  • Banking on a new business and losing it all, with the added responsibility of paying employees’ salaries and pension packages with money he didn’t have

Max will join a list of some of South Africa’s most successful billionaires, entrepreneurs and the CEOs hosted on The Matt Brown Show, on Tuesday morning. Matt’s 20 years’ experience in business strategy, technology and marketing communications and over a dozen local and international awards make this a discussion worth participating in.

Don’t miss out – enter the competition to win your ticket

  1. Send an email to Entrepreneur Magazine at
  2. Give us your full name and ID number.
  3. Tell us why you should win a free ticket to this premier event.


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Entrepreneur Today

Franchising Sector Ready To Lend A Hand

How business can use franchising to improve jobs and support entrepreneurship throughout South Africa.





“We are at a moment in the history of our nation when the people, through their determination, have started to turn the country around.
Now is the time to lend a hand…
Now is the time for each of us to say ‘send me’…
Now is the time for all of us to work together, in honour of Nelson Mandela, to build a new, better South Africa for all.”
Cyril Ramaphosa, SONA 2018

The Presidents commitment to small business

The SONA speech by President Cyril Ramaphosa and his commitment to supporting small business and entrepreneurship has been welcomed by Tony Da Fonseca, the Franchise Association of South Africa’s Chairman, who in 2017 had already met with the chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Trade & Industry to pave the way for greater co-operation between government and the franchise sector.

“We are encouraged by the President’s promise to increase co-operation with business and look at ways to encourage entrepreneurship, youth training and job creation” says Tony Da Fonseca.

“We are confident that the franchise sector can play a pivotal role through innovations like the development of social and micro franchising which hold enormous and largely untapped potential for the development of the economy and improve service delivery.”

Confirming that the growth of the economy will be sustained by small businesses, “as is the case in many countries”, President Ramaphosa confirmed that government would honour its undertaking to set aside at least 30 percent of public procurement to SMMEs, co-operatives and township and rural enterprises and would continue to invest in small business incubation. “It is our shared responsibility to grow this vital sector of the economy.”

Franchising is ready to play a larger role


As a sector that already contributes 13, 3% to the country’s GDP generating an estimated R587 billion through its 845 franchise systems, 40 528 franchisees and employing 343 319 people, franchising is perfectly poised to play an even bigger role in furthering small business development, skills transfer and job creation.

“As a successful businessman and former franchise owner himself, Cyril Ramaphosa is familiar with the far-reaching potential that franchising has in small business development, skills development and job creation, says FASA Chairman Tony Da Fonseca.

“We are hopeful that he will look to us in the franchise sector to assist in building that ‘small business support ecosystem that assists, nourishes and promotes entrepreneurs’ that he referred to in his SONA speech.”

That, together with the welcome measures by government to reduce the regulatory barriers for small business and the introduction of an innovation fund targeted at start-ups and small suppliers that could become supply chains to the franchise sector, will go a long way to opening the doors to small business expansion and the benefits to the economy that will flow from that.

Related: Multi-Unit Franchising Growing In South Africa

The Franchise Association of South Africa (FASA) has always been a proponent of small business incubation and has, over the years, embarked on various public/private initiatives to grow the franchise sector. Their efforts have included youth cadet schemes through the Jobs Fund, developing micro businesses to become franchise-ready through the Department of Small Business Development’s Micro Franchisor Development Project and through various private initiatives with funders and franchise members.

The franchise sector to stimulate entrepreneurship and jobs

According to Tony Da Fonseca, much more can be done in the public/private development space. “The opportunities to transform government services, such as health care, water delivery, education and in many other areas, through the social franchise format, are enormous. Both locally and internationally, pilot projects in social franchising that operate on commercial principles, making enough profit to sustain operations and re-investing surplus profits into the community they serve, have proved to be viable.”

According to Tony Da Fonseca, the franchise sector is well-positioned to come together in a concerted effort to stimulate entrepreneurship and create much-needed jobs.

Franchising in South Africa currently services around 17 business sectors – way behind countries such as Australia, Europe, Canada and the USA who boast between 25 and over 70 business categories.

Related: Key Franchising Trends To Consider For 2018

“The opportunities to expand into many more sectors and particularly in the social and services sectors of the economy are endless. We welcome the opportunity to work with government in creating an entrepreneurial environment that will grow investment confidence, introduce new small business concepts via the franchise system, accelerate BEE and enterprise opportunities, giving training to the youth and above all create those much needed jobs.”

Mr President, the franchising sector is ready and able to take on the opportunities for ‘renewal and revitalisation, and for progress to build the fair, just and decent society to which Nelson Mandela dedicated his life.’

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Business Model

How To Pick The Business Model That Works For You

So, you’ve picked your lane.  You’ve decided what you want to do and why you want to do it.  You’ve picked something you’re good at.  You’re convinced the world needs and values it.  You now need to decide how to make money.  That’s where business model design comes in. 

Anthony Miller




There are plenty of business model options for the same idea.  For example, let’s say your idea is to offer historic tours of Cape Town.  You could either do it yourself or hire professional guides to do it.  Or you could use mobile technology to provide DIY walking tours.  You could charge per tour or you could charge a membership fee.  There are so many options.  How do you pick the model that works for you?

The Lean Canvas is a great tool for entrepreneurs who are faced with this question. Adapted from The Business Model Canvas, it provides a simple, one page framework for brainstorming possible business models, prioritising where to start, and tracking ongoing learning.  It walks the entrepreneur through the business model process logically and ensures the key elements of a successful business are considered.

Related: Business Model Design – Picking The Business Model That Works For You

My co-founders and I have used the Canvas extensively at Simply – for designing our business model, and for communicating it to partners and investors. The only thing you know with certainty when you start a business is that it’s not going to turn out as you expect it to.  The Canvas evolves as you go – it was, and continues to be, a very useful guide in our journey.

Recognising an opportunity for disruption

We figured there was an opportunity to do something disruptive in the SA life insurance space.  It was clear to us that lots of people were either not covered or getting a rough deal.  Guided by the Canvas, we defined our first Customer Segment as adult South Africans, aged between 25 and 45 and earning between R5k and R30k monthly.

We then identified the 3 big Problems – specific to that segment – that needed solving:

  1. Most of the people in our segment have some form of funeral cover, but very few have life or disability cover.
  2. The cover they do have is often expensive relative to the benefits provided (i.e. a very small % of the premium goes towards the risk costs).
  3. There is no simple, intuitive way to buy good value life, disability and funeral cover online.

Developing a value proposition

Next came the Value Proposition.  We believed we could use technology, digital marketing and human-centred product design to deliver simple, online life, disability and funeral insurance at a great price.  We felt we could be for life insurance in South Africa what Takealot has been for retail.

We thought the world was moving far faster than incumbents realised; that millennials were ready to buy life insurance online; that we could build for the digital world and be in the right place at the right time.

And the rest flowed from there.  I don’t have the time or the space to walk you through the other elements of the Canvas here, but you can probably fill in the blanks.  Suffice to say, the process was invaluable and enabled us to build our business around a clearly considered business model.  It’s early days, but the signs are good – we’re making a positive impact, having fun and keeping our investors happy.

Creating a Lean Canvas

So, how should you go about sketching your own Lean Canvas?  The team at suggest the following approach:

  1. Sketch a canvas in one sitting. While a business plan can take weeks or months to write, your initial canvas should be sketched quickly.
  2. It’s okay to leave sections blank. Rather than trying to research or debate the “right” answers, put something down quickly or leave it blank and come back to it later.
  3. Think in the present. Business plans try too hard to predict the future which is impossible. Instead, write your canvas with a ‘getting things done’ attitude.
  4. Use a customer-centric approach.  You may need to sketch one Canvas per customer segment.  Start with the Customer Segment and go in sequence.

The Canvas has brought clarity and a common language to our business model design process.  It’s enabled us to agree upon and communicate our business model effectively – both internally and externally.  It’s also allowed us to tune and adjust our model as our story has unfolded – an inevitability for entrepreneurs.  I highly recommend the Lean Canvas as a tool for designing your business model.  Give it a try – I think you’ll like it.

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