29 JUNE 2017
15 of SA’s business leaders’ best advice for your business
by Nicole Crampton

Do you want to hit that R100 million mark in turnover? Do you want to make a name for yourself as one of those that made it? If you want to streamline your path to success, read these insights from some of SA’s leading businesspeople.

These 15 South African business leaders have already circumvented start and growth hurdles, and built-up their R100 million business. It’s always a good idea to listen to the advice of established, successful entrepreneurs, especially when you’re just starting out, or are experiencing growing pains, or even if you can’t figure out why your business isn’t growing.

Learn the secrets, top tips and best advice for your business from 15 of South Africa’s biggest business leaders.

BEST ADVICE 15: Go all in

  • Player: Nadir Khamissa and Shaazim Khamissa
  • Brand: Hello Group (includes Hello Mobile, Hello Distribution and Hello Paisa)
  • Established: 2005
  • Visit: www.hellogroup.co.za  

Hello Mobile achieved 718% growth from 2010 to 2015, while Hello Paisa achieved 1100% growth from March to October 2015. These next-level growth entrepreneurs disrupted international calling, telecom distribution, money transfer and low-cost banking across Africa and Asia.

It wasn’t an easy journey for these two brothers, R6 million in seed capital turned into R30 000 after some early, expensive mistakes. But they persevered, and today Hello Group is changing lives at the base of the income pyramid.

Best advice for you

What do you do when your first business idea is a failure and you’ve lost all your money? According to Nadir and Shaazim Khamissa, go back to the drawing board.

“We needed to make sure we created value, differentiated ourselves and knew why people would buy our product,” explains Shaazim. “This meant challenging all of our own ideas and making sure that only the best survived. It’s a process we still follow today and is part of our DNA.”

This won’t be easy, you’ll need to be able to critically evaluate your own ideas, admit when they’re flawed, listen to other people’s opinions and move on quickly when something isn’t quite right.

BEST ADVICE 14: You can still launch without being fully funded

Natasha Sideris overcame the challenges associated with starting a restaurant to create a brand that is utterly unique. Like other successful franchises, tashas grew from a small sole operation into a large organisation.

With 19 locations, including 2 in Dubai and 1 in Abu Dhabi, tashas has started its journey to become a global franchise. But it hasn’t been an easy journey, trying to get a hold of funding was a serious obstacle for Sideris.

Best advice for you

“Money helps, but you can get very far with hard work, tenacity and ingenuity. Don’t let money put you off. Too many entrepreneurs feel that they can’t pursue their dreams because they don’t have money. That’s just not true. If you’re willing to work extremely hard, you can make it happen,” explains Sideris.

“A lack of money can often be a good thing, since it forces one to think creatively,” she continues.

BEST ADVICE 13: The power of marketing

  • Player: Grant Rushmere
  • Brand: Bos Brands
  • Established: 2009
  • Visit: www.bosicetea.com  

Grant Rushmere engineered Bos Ice Tea for stratospheric growth, which required a ballsy optimism and willingness to go big or go home. “From the beginning we jumped in with both feet. We approached retailers and secured contracts that we knew we wouldn’t be able to sustain down the line if we didn’t get funders on board, but it was a calculated risk that we were willing to take,” says Rushmere.

Best advice for you

In their first year, Rushmere and Bowsher, his partner, spent as much on marketing as their turnover. “We knew we were tapping into a health trend, but this didn’t mean we should scream health from the front of our packaging, and in our marketing messages. If you do that, you lose all sense of fun. You want your consumers to feel a little naughty; like they’re having fun,” explains Rushmere.

This might sound counter-intuitive to you, but from a brand’s perspective, an emotional hook is much easier to defend than a functional hook.

“By tapping into emotions, what the brand stands for and how it makes you feel, you give the brand a voice; you’re not just selling features and benefits. If you take a functional approach to marketing, you’re basing everything on the fact that you contain less sugar than other soft drinks. What happens when someone comes along with even less sugar? You’re suddenly dead in the water,” advises Rushmere.

BEST ADVICE 12: Like who you’re hiring

  • Players: Tom Goldgamer and Danny Aaron
  • Company: 3 Way Marketing and Benater Production Group
  • Established: 2008 and 2012
  • Visit: www.3waymarketing.co.za  

Danny Aaron and Tom Goldgamer launched their business in 2008 with no grand strategy, five-year plan or a physical product. They started with an idea, a few business philosophies and a willingness to take on a lot of risk.

“We operate in an industry that changes frequently, so strategising too far ahead is difficult and often counter-productive,” says Goldgamer. “But we knew we needed strong foundations if we wanted longevity and growth, and so we focused our energy on developing business philosophies that we could implement across our various companies.”

They now have a turnover of over R200 million, with staggering year–on-year growth.

Best advice for you

Conventional business practice says hire for skill. Goldgamer and Aaron have done the opposite. A large portion of their early hires were friends or friends of friends. Everyone had strong referrals and they only hired people they liked.

“We hired people who we thought could help us grow the business, not necessarily because they possessed the right skills, those could be learnt, but because they had the right attitude,” says Aaron. Today, those early hires are managers, instilling company values in their own teams, hiring based on values and continuously focusing on upskilling.

BEST ADVICE 11: Make fewer mistakes than your competition

  • Player: Stephan Ekbergh
  • Company: Travelstart
  • Established: 1999 (Sweden), 2006 (South Africa)
  • Visit: www.travelstart.co.za  

Stephan Ekbergh recently sold 49% of his business for R648 million, but at one stage he had to lay off 34 of the company’s 40 employees. Ekbergh founded Travelstart in Sweden in January 1999. In 2002, after a few very bumpy years, the tide turned, and Travelstart started to become exceptionally profitable. In 2004, he decided to move to Cape Town and launch Travelstart here.

Best advice for you

You’re going to make mistakes, but so is your competition. If you’re on the ball, you can benefit from every mistake they make. “The difference between failure and success often lies in making fewer mistakes than your competition. You need to ride in the slipstream of your competitors and wait for them to mess up. Over the years, we’ve made some good decisions at Travelstart, but at least some of our success is attributable directly to the mistakes of our competition,” says Ekbergh.

BEST ADVICE 10: Your customer is the boss

With no experience in publishing, Peter Du Toit built up the biggest single-copy-sale weekly publication in South Africa. Soccer Laduma has a turnover of R90 million, 3.4 million readers and some of the most loyal customers in the country.

Best advice for you

Du Toit’s first rule is that he’s not the boss. The readers and online users are always the boss. “No one works for me. They work for the reader. It’s an important mind-set, because it means that everything we do is with the reader in mind,” says Du Toit. “What do they need from us? What do they care about? Are we delivering on those needs?”

Even though the reader is the boss, Du Toit has implemented a system to ensure everyone works towards keeping that boss happy, he labelled them his six golden rules: Planning, planning, planning, preparation, preparation, and preparation. You can use these six golden rules to ensure your team works towards keeping your consumer happy.

BEST ADVICE 9: Stick to your guns

John Nicolakakis took over the reins of Roman’s Pizza from his father. He had only one goal: To create the biggest pizza brand in SA. With R1 billion in system-wide sales, the company’s aggressive expansion plans have never wavered.

Best advice for you

Nicolakakis developed a specific business plan for Romans Pizza; have high-quality product with a low price. To do this he decided not to offer delivery services throughout the whole brand.

“I don’t believe the South African market suits a delivery model. Urban areas are congested with traffic, and suburban living means that a delivery radius needs to be quite large. It’s expensive to offer; even if it’s marketed as ‘free,’ that service has to be built into the product’s price point. It’s also difficult to deliver a hot product that’s as good when it reaches its destination as it was when it left the store, and there will always be incorrect orders.”

Even though he’s lost business to customers who want delivery, he’s stuck to his guns and refuses to budge on his price just to capture the delivery market. Once you’ve decided on something, whether it’s for financial reasons or based on what you offer your customers, you should be resolute in your decisions, after all, you made them for a reason.

BEST ADVICE 8: Build positive relationships

  • Players: Tshego Sefolo (founder and CEO) and Londeka Shezi
  • Company: Agile Capital
  • Launched: 2016
  • Visit: www.agilecapital.co.za  

Hard work, determination, drive and discipline are the habits of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and you need to study them. Tshego Sefolo and his business partner Londeka Shezi recently raised over R500 million in capital to launch their private equity firm, Agile Capital.

Building market trust and credibility to make his dream a reality has been 14 years in the making for Sefolo, and worth every second.

Best advice for you

“My role was to identify opportunities for the business, but on a personal level I saw it as the start of my own foundations and networks. Investing is all about building and leveraging networks. Sustainable relationships allow you to identify and then tap into opportunities. Integrity is incredibly important in all business dealings, but it’s integral to the private equity space,” says Sefolo.

Through his positions over the years he came into contact with the business that would eventually found Agile Capital. Because he built up trust and integrity he was able to realise his dream.

“It takes time to build up trust and integrity in the market place, so I knew that this was a long-term commitment. That was okay, I wasn’t in any rush. The right foundations have been fundamental to launching Agile Capital.”

BEST ADVICE 7: Don’t be afraid to fail

  • Player: Brian Altriche
  • Company: RocoMamas
  • Launched: 2014
  • Visit: www.RocoMamas.com  

Altriche has taken RocoMamas from three stores to 49 in 18 months, and is spearheading South Africa’s renewed love affair with the burger. Even though he has achieved success, his past is riddled with failures. His first franchise left him in debt, he lost almost his entire life’s savings on the stock market, he got squeezed out of one business and sued by Red Bull in another, and the list goes on.

Best advice for you

“Failure is part of the equation of success. I call them my fabulous failures. You can’t achieve greatness without failures and risk,” says Altriche.

Failures are teaching moments that can help you learn to navigate future business opportunities. Yes, they hurt, but if you didn’t experience them it wouldn’t change your thinking and help you to make a break-through, or at the very least progress.

“I opened a Longhorn Steakhouse in Pretoria. It was a lead balloon,” he says. “My gut told me the location wasn’t right, but I didn’t listen. On paper it looked great, a good suburban, high-LSM area. Once I opened, it quickly became apparent that there were no office parks in the area, which meant no lunch trade, and the residents were primarily retirees whose kids had left the house. This was not the right demographic for my steakhouse.”

He immediately approached Fats Lazarides, who had five Ocean Baskets. Altriche became his first franchisee. “I opened in Southgate. The lessons I had learnt were valuable with the second business. Thanks to Ocean Basket I paid off my debt, had a nice living wage, and walked away with R240 000 in profit when I sold it in 1998.”

BEST ADVICE 6: Aim for the stars

When Manny Rivera launched Planet Fitness 20 years ago, he was fresh from New York, having married a South African girl. He was in his early 20’s, had no credit record, no assets and no money. And he had one goal: To take on the Health and Racquet Club to become the biggest health and fitness brand in the country, and he achieved it.

Now, he’s in a position to open a club every month for the next five years, despite the recession.

Best advice for you

Michelangelo says: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it’s too low and we reach it.”

Don’t settle for a business idea or opportunity because you think you might not be able to achieve it. Aim for the moon, and if you don’t land it, they say “at least you’ll land among the stars.”

“Take on the big player. Believe in yourself. Know you’ll build a big business that’s profitable. If you have the passion and you’re able to reverse engineer your success with a step-by-step growth plan, you’ll reach your dream,” says Rivera.

BEST ADVICE 5: Actively seek growth

Successful businesses are formed through a series of challenges and solutions. Nicholas Bell doesn’t deal with challenges as they arise though. He sets goals, and determines what is currently stopping him from achieving those goals. Then he puts a strategy in place to eradicate any and all obstacles.

Nicholas Bell founded Decision Inc and within 2 years he had achieved R1.6 million in revenue. Eight years later, Bell hit R100 million, and now his sights are on a R1 billion business that will show a 10x return.

Best advice for you

“I don’t ever want a challenge to slow me down,” he says. “You can let a setback derail you, or you can use it as an opportunity to learn and carry the business forward. I believe it’s important to dissect everything — even opinions and advice I don’t initially agree with. Mentors have taught me that it’s important to be adaptable and that nothing in business is hard or fast. We’re constantly faced with new sources of data needed to grow our business, and I’ve learnt that the only real question is whether you’re willing to use that data to drive the business forward.”

BEST ADVICE 4: Don’t divide your focus

Marnus Broodryk was a self-made millionaire by the time he was 24. He founded Beancounter, but that wasn’t his only successful business, “I also got involved in a frameless glass company, a construction company, and bought a vegan restaurant,” he adds.

“It was a good experience, and I was particularly proud of some of the individuals I’d helped during those years. I lent one construction worker R20 000 to start his own business, for example. Today he employs 200 people and has the biggest road maintenance contract on the N3.”

Best advice for you

“I knew that I wanted to build something big, and I was never going to do it like this, with my focus spread across so many different businesses. I sat down and asked myself, ‘where’s my biggest opportunity?’ The answer was clear. The Beancounter. We’d made progress, had the right foundations, could drive it — and the market was ready,” says Broodryk.

“In 2008, when I launched the business, cloud technology didn’t exist yet, but we had a vision. By 2014, real-time information was now possible because of the cloud, and it was affordable and accessible for SMEs,” he explains.

BEST ADVICE 3: Anything is possible if you get started

  • Player: Rodney Norman
  • Company: Chrome Supplements and Accessories
  • Launched: 2009
  • Visit: www.chromesa.co.za  

When Rodney Norman was 21, his first business ended up R1 million in debt. He owed too much to suppliers to continue trading. Ten years later, Chrome SA has a turnover of R100 million, he still works with all his previous suppliers, a testimony to how well he handled the situation.

Best advice for you

“At 21 I had this enormous debt. It was a defining moment for me. I could call it quits, or get stuck in and make it happen. I managed to pay it back in two years. That’s all it took. I just had to start. So how could I do it? The answer: Slowly,” says Norman.

His first step to fixing the problem was to speak to all of his suppliers. He explained the situation, and that he would be fixing it and paying off the company’s debt, he just needed time.

“I made small deposits consistently, and that was enough. As long as it was being paid, and the needle was moving, everyone who I owed money to was happy. That’s the secret: Consistency. Don’t avoid the tough calls; take them and face the music.”

Because of Norman’s actions a few years later when he started Chrome SA, all of his previous suppliers were happy to work with him again. He earned their trust, and trust can make or break a business.

BEST ADVICE 2: The wheel keeps turning

  • Player: Sisa Ngebulana
  • Company: Rebosis Property Fund
  • Listed: 2011
  • Visit: www.chromesa.co.za  

When Sisa Ngebulana left Mthatha to pursue his dream he had high aspirations for himself. He didn’t know what path his career would take, but he did know he wanted to achieve greatness. When he listed Rebosis Property Fund in 2011, it was the first black-managed and substantially held property fund to be listed on the JSE.

He is also founder and CEO of the Billion Group, a commercial and retail property developer that will spend in excess of R35 billion over the next ten years on its current projects. The journey wasn’t an easy one, but he says an entrepreneur needs to take the hard knocks, learn the lessons they bring you and forge ahead with a positive attitude. That is the entrepreneurial way. That’s the real secret to success.

Best advice for you

Just when you’re at the top you find yourself R30 million in debt and need to regroup and start again. Ngebulana says that success is cyclical, you can be abundant one minute, and have nothing the next, but if you keep moving forward, you can build that abundance again. You just need to get started and then build on each small success.

“The coal mining business was a financial blow, but it was also a blessing in disguise. It forced me out of employment, if it hadn’t, I might still be employed today, and I would never have achieved what I have through the Billion Group and Rebosis. ”

BEST ADVICE 1: Run a tight ship

  • Player: Andrew Brand
  • Company: 99c
  • Established: 2008
  • Visit: www.99c.co.za  

Andrew Brand learnt to build an advertising agency that cares more about customer supplier awards than glittering design awards. It’s a foundation of a 300-employee strong business with a turnover in excess of R175 million that was only launched because Checkers was willing to give a two-man agency a chance to improve itself. And it’s how a business that launched just as the recession hit, not only survived, but thrived.

Best advice for you

One of biggest factors separating corporates from smaller entrepreneurial businesses is cash flow. But, while corporates have healthy cash flow to work with, the ability of a start-up to run lean is invaluable as the business grows. This is because you’ve built into the business’ DNA to be careful with expenditure.

“We needed to hire a team, purchase equipment and find premises. We also couldn’t afford to run with fewer people than we needed, and so our first round of hiring was over 30 people. We haven’t stopped growing since, and I believe in investing in people. That said, there are many ways you can run a lean organisation without skimping where it matters. Don’t be a bloated, top heavy business. Rather invest in the core of your business. What will enable you to offer your clients the best service possible? That’s where you should be investing,” advises Brand.

Source: Advice, insight, profiles and guides for established and aspiring entrepreneurs worldwide. Visit our web-site at: https://www.entrepreneur.com/sa.

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