Starting your own business or company is a daunting task that involves a lot of risk, guts, and incredible dedication, but if done right, can see you becoming one of the next great entrepreneurs of your generation. Aimed at identifying, rewarding, and accompanying the best new projects in enterprise creation or development, Total have recently launched the Startupper of the year challenge. The winning entrepreneur will be awarded the title of “2016 Startupper of the year by Total” as well as receive personal business coaching and funding from Total to implement their project.
Alongside the Total Startupper challenge we’ll be speaking to different entrepreneurs on a range of different topics from failure to success. To kickstart this mini series we’ve asked 3 serial entrepreneurs with burgeoning local businesses to share some info and advice on what it takes to start a business.
Lungisa Matshoba is the Technology and Product Director at Yoco, a POS and payments offering company recently launched in South Africa that allows small businesses to accept card payments using their smartphone connected range of card readers.
Andy Hadfield is the founder of Forgood, a platform for the social sector which essentially connects people to causes and provides a hosted solution for companies to run their employee volunteering programmes.
Vuyiswa Mutshekwane is the Director of The Other Girls, an events and lifestyle company best known for their monthly brunch and daytime party, The WKND Social. She also owns and runs a marketing consultancy.
They say that all it takes to become a successful entrepreneur is one great idea and a whole lot of hard work. Is this true? What else does it take?
Lungisa: I think it takes a lot of resilience, a strong sense of purpose. When it comes to great ideas, I think those are not something successful entrepreneurs need, great ideas are for men like Tesla and Einstein. Entrepreneurs just need problems, problems that have not been solved, or not been solved effectively enough. I stopped looking for great ideas years ago because I am surrounded by lots of challenging problems, and my role as an entrepreneur is to find great solutions.
“Ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is everything.”
Andy: Pah! Ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is everything. A bad idea executed perfectly will still outperform a great idea executed badly! It’s a slog. It takes a lot of luck and a lot of timing. It takes persistance. And still 95% of us won’t be wildly successful. So I guess it takes the continual and all-consuming ability to delude yourself into thinking you can do this thing! Ha! It also takes beer.
Vuyiswa: There are a number of factors that can determine one’s success as an entrepreneur. Although a great and original idea is key, it is not the sole determinant of success. Being successful as an entrepreneur has a lot more to do with the timing of your great idea, access to funding and therefore cash-flow planning, your networks and the quality or effectiveness of your business partnership (if you’re in one).
Do you believe all great ideas come to you when you least expect it? How did the idea for your business come about?
Lungisa: My co-founder Katlego saw a great solution to a problem we face in South Africa being used in the US. This solution was square, and our role as entrepreneurs in this case was to solve the problem we see locally with technology we first saw in another market.
“It’s really about solving a problem or finding a service with the right market fit and timing.”
Andy: I really don’t think business are much about the idea. Have a look at the tech accelerators in the US – they’re manufacturing ideas like cookies. It’s really about solving a problem or finding a service with the right market fit and timing.
The “idea” for Forgood was actually generated quite a while back by my business partner, Garth Japhet (of Soul City and Heartlines fame). You’d have to ask him, but I guess he just saw a gap in the social sector of South Africa – even back then. Lots of willing citizens and companies that wanted to become more socially active, but no real channel or tool to help them do it in a sexy way.
Vuyiswa: The best ideas often occur in response to an urgent or observed need at that time. As much as they may not be expected, they are often very simple and logical responses to a need that you or the market at large may have.
Was this your first shot at launching a start-up business? What other projects have you been involved in?
Lungisa: I previously co-founded a startup called Yeigo in 2005. It was a fantastic experience and I enjoyed the journey from start to end.
Andy: Ha! No. I appear to be a glutton for punishment.
My first startup was getALife (gal.co.za) – it doesn’t exist anymore, but was a kick ass student media company. Content portal, dating site, 3 physical bookshops on campuses in CT and JHB, email provider and ISP. My business partner had a heart attack, died, we hadn’t done our legal stuff properly, his Mom went a bit loony – long story short, it had to be shut down.
The second was Real Time Wine and MyBeer – consumer review apps for the boozy amoung us. Awesome apps, won awards, got some great engagement but ultimately didn’t make money and had to be shut down.
This is my third shot at bat.
Vuyiswa: No it certainly wasn’t. I have a curiosity and an innate desire to solve problems that lends itself to entrepreneurship. I started my first business in varsity. It was a quirky clothing brand (t-shirts and caps) that we distributed on campus. I have also since run 2 events companies, a clothing boutique and more recently have started a marketing consultancy.
How important is it to have a good team? Can you be as successful by yourself?
Lungisa: For me, a good team is everything. There are businesses that you can do alone, but I simply do not care to involve myself in those types of businesses. I believe in the power of collective intelligence. I love nothing more than finding myself in conversations where every assumption I had is destroyed and my perspective is completely realigned.
Andy: Highly unlikely – and I say this through experience. I was a sole founder on the Real Time Wine startup and it was bloody hard and lonely as hell. I’ll never do it again. A team is everything. It provides scale. It provides chemistry. It gives you the opportunity to build people not just products.
“A good partnership, or lack thereof, can make or break your business.”
Vuyiswa: A good partnership, or lack thereof, can make or break your business. No one is an island and there are very few people who possess the full spectrum of skills required to run a successful business alone, so I am a firm believer in partnership and/or effective team work.
What were some of the most difficult parts about starting and growing your business?
Lungisa: As a player in a highly regulated space we spent the first year of our existence making a case for our entry into the market. This was followed by a period of certification and intense product development, and finally a year of market validation. Yoco is essentially a business that took three years to launch. This sort of wait is something difficult for any member of an early stage startup.
Andy: Learning to trust partners. Playing with a much bigger cashflow than my previous two companies. Trying to be as Lean Startup as possible even when it appears impossible. Trying to figure out how to mould your product to something that people actually want, not just something that you want to build.
Vuyiswa: The first 2 years are always tough: getting a firm understanding of the market, refining the operations of the business and the steady climb to profitability. It was no different for me in any of my businesses.
Which start-up businesses and successful entrepreneurs, local or international, do you look to for inspiration?
Lungisa: I learnt early in my entrepreneurship career that good ideas are nothing without great execution, and this has led me to have a profound respect for entrepreneurs who have been able to execute their way to market success. Men and women who entered markets that were considered saturated, and dominated those markets by simply out executing and out-thinking every competitor around them, and focusing on delivering a simple good quality offering. When I think of people like that, the following come to mind – Stewart Butterfield, Brian Acton and Mark Zuckerberg.
Andy: Rob Stokes. The Ron Weasley of the Tech Industry. He’ll kill me for saying that. Not because he sold Quirk, but because of the culture he built. That place is legendary in terms of culture. It shows you how powerful people are in the startup equation.
Vuyiswa: I am inspired by all tales of entrepreneurship regardless of the scale but over the years I have always sought inspiration from all “the greats” – Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Elon Musk, Oprah, Jack Ma etc. and locally, I have a lot of respect for women like Khanyi Dlomo, Ipeleng Mkhari and Jane Raphaely.
They say being a successful entrepreneur has a lot to do with taking risks. What kinds of risks have you taken in launching a business?
Lungisa: I believe one of the most important resources we all have is time, it’s something that not even money can buy back and I have bet a lot of time on this business. Myself and my partners decided early on that this was not a side project. We took it on full time with all the risks that come with that and have not looked back.
“I believe one of the most important resources we all have is time, it’s something that not even money can buy back and I have bet a lot of time on this business.”
Andy: I risked a bunch of income and stability. Two kids and a career in startups doesn’t make for the easiest cashflow. I risked reputation a bit. South Africans don’t take failure as well as our first world brethren – but that’s changing thankfully.
Vuyiswa: It is impossible as an entrepreneur to avoid risk. When I started my clothing boutique in 2009 in Braamfontein, there was nothing much there other than the odd bar or hair salon. I left a very promising (but limiting) corporate job and cashed in what little I had acquired in my pension fund to start my business. It was a trying time but also very exciting and I am proud to have been a part of the start of what is now one of Johannesburg’s major entrepreneurial and creative hubs.
Looking back on your first start-up business, what do you know now that you wish you’d have known then then?
Lungisa: I wish I had the sense of resilience then that I have now. No matter what happens, I have learnt that the sun rises in the morning.
Andy: Everything. But then half the fun (if you interpret fun as a painful, stressful yet kind of enlightening and entertaining) is in making the mistakes. If I’d known then what I know now – I might not have even tried!
Vuyiswa: A great design (or idea), passion and hard work are virtually meaningless without adequate capital and strong networks.
“I wish I had the sense of resilience then that I have now.”
A lot of businesses nowadays are committing themselves to sustainable development or combating socio- economic injustices. How important do you think it is for a business to commit to change?
Lungisa: Committing to change is great, and I am happy a lot of businesses are committing to change. I would however like to see more businesses being impactful and then telling us about it, than letting the telling lead the doing.
Andy: Very. That’s exactly what we do at Forgood. We’re a for profit social enterprise. Trying to make money – and save the world at the same time!
Traditional capitalism is fine, it just seems to be changing. Companies have to be trying to mature their offerings. The cliché approach is the “triple bottom line” – but I think it’s more about a maturing of how we do business, how we treat people and how we give back to communities.
The world isn’t going to work with the current wealth and priviledge gap. Keep going and the pitchforks will come out. We also can’t run the planet like a charity – the answer has to be somewhere in the middle.
Vuyiswa: In a country like South Africa that is plagued by such profound levels of socio-economic disparity, it is a non-negotiable. The entire private sector has an obligation to assist in rectifying the ills of our past and creating the kind of country that future generations can be proud of.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, what would you be doing now?
Lungisa: Building stuff, not really sure what where and how, but I would be building stuff, either physical or virtual.
Andy: Teacher? Lawyer? Digital Guy at some cool corporate? South Africa’s solution to the Test Match Spinner Crisis?
Vuyiswa: I would be working for an international organisation or be involved in foreign policy formation, international trade or diplomacy… maybe that will be the next chapter for me, who knows?
Think you’ve got what it takes to be the next Total Startupper of the year?
Project entry is free and open to any South African citizen, maximum 35-year old. Entries close 31st January 2016.
A jury of professionals will preselect up to ten of the best projects in South Africa based on the following criteria: how innovative, original, daring the project is, its development potential and its capacity to improve the living conditions of the populations.
The list of finalists will be published on the challenge website following the final selection phase which will end by March 15th.
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