Hard-won Startup Lessons From 7 of SA's Top Entrepreneurs

Launching a business is tough, but with perseverance, a willingness to learn from mistakes and a focus on the future, you can turn your dream into a reality. Seven top South Africa entrepreneurs share their hard-won start-up lessons.

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Launching a business is tough. You're on your own, you probably don't have funding and you're relying on customers paying on time and your credit card, and you arent sure what's going to happen next week, let alone next month. Luckily, there are many, many entrepreneurs who have come before you.


Here are words of advice from seven top South African entrepreneurs that you can embrace in your startup endeavours.

1. OFFER ADVICE AND SHARE YOUR EXPERTISE FREELY. The more your clients are educated, the more empowered they will feel, and the more they will view you as a trusted advisor. I gave my clients material to help them develop the best labour policies and procedures. It didn't make my service redundant — it built trust between us.

— Arnoux Mare, Innovative Solutions Group, turnover R780 million

2. STOPY PLANNING AND START DOING. We all tend to complicate business with planning and processes. These shouldn't be ignored, but you need to also just start — start your business, start that project, start walking the path you want to be on.

— Gareth Leck, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million

3. PLAY YOUR HEART OUT AND THE MONEY WILL FOLLOW. I learnt this valuable lesson when I was a student and busked at Greenmarket Square. You don't stand with your hat, waiting for cash and then play — you play your heart out and the bills pile up in your hat. It's the same in business. You can't look at the bottom line first; it's the other way around.

— Pepe Marais, co-founder, Joe Public, turnover R700 million


What seems like an expensive lesson is actually the best thing that could have happened to you.

I wasn't paying attention to my partner or my books in our early days, and I didn't realise the debt he was putting us into. We ended up owing R1 million. In hindsight, it was a cheap lesson to learn. Imagine if that happened today? The fallout would be much greater. We have 19 stores and nearly 100 staff members. It would hurt everyone, not just me.

— Rodney Norman, founder, Chrome Supplements, turnover R100 million

5. LANDING AN INVESTOR STARTS WITH YOUR STORY. A great story and data are the two golden rules of attracting an investor. You need both if you really want to access growth funding that will take your business to the next level.

— Grant Rushmere, founder, Bos Ice Tea

6. OFFER SOLUTIONS. If you're not solving a problem and creating value, don't ship it — throw it away. That's cheaper than selling a bad product.

— Nadir Khamissa, co-founder, Hello Group

7. SMALL, CLEVER DECISIONS LEAD TO BIG PROFITS. One of the most important lessons any business owner can learn is that success on profit is nothing more than the accumulative sum of rand decisions. Lots of small, clever money decisions lead to big profits, and without the disciplines of frugality, money gets lost. It's that simple. Question every single line item on a quote. Do we need it? Can we get it cheaper? This is what it's about.

— Vusi Thembekwayo, founder, My Growth Fund