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The Art of Following Your Nose Serial entrepreneur Stuart Weaving has seen tremendous success across a very diverse range of industries. He attributes his success to having a nose for opportunities, developing good business acumen and being a terrible student.

By GG van Rooyen

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GG Van Rooyen

Vital Stats

  • Player: Stuart Weaving
  • Claim to Fame: Stuart Weaving is a British serial entrepreneur with close ties to South Africa. He founded the Weaving International Friendship Foundation in 1968, which embraces the Friends of the Springbok and Friends of the Lion, and helps reunite families and friends in the UK, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and North America. Over 48 years, the foundation has assisted with more than one million family reunions. SA has benefitted greatly with an injection, in today's terms, of over R30 billion.

I was a terrible student, at the bottom of a class of 40 pupils

At 11, my parents realised that I couldn't see, and got me a pair of glasses. Once I had glasses, I moved up two spots to number 38. Glasses or no glasses, I just wasn't a good student. I left school at 14 and started doing other things. I was an actor, I had a stint in the navy, and I started some small businesses.

Starting as an entrepreneur at 14, I amassed experience before I had even left my teens. People who only leave school at 24 start their journey so much later. They do develop important skills, but the point is this: Being a bad student doesn't mean that you won't succeed. Many successful entrepreneurs were bad students.

I've never been a big reader

Aspiring entrepreneurs are often told to read, and you can certainly gain from a lot of knowledge through books, but I often viewed my dislike of reading as an advantage. While others were reading, I was coming up with business ideas, crafting business plans and turning thoughts into action. There is nothing wrong with reading, but it's important not to spend so much time accumulating information that you never actually follow your dream. The key to success lies in spotting an opportunity and turning it into a viable business.

There are loads of business ideas out there

All you need to do is find a problem that must be solved. I've been involved in different industries because I spotted opportunities. You can always find excuses why you shouldn't pursue a business idea. As an entrepreneur, you should trust your gut. You're a consumer yourself. You know what you like and dislike as a consumer.

You know what a good customer experience looks like. Don't overcomplicate things, just find the best way to solve your customers' problems. That said, I don't think you could be a success if you care only about money. You have to really want to solve a problem.

Diversification is key

I've always looked at ways to expand and diversify. A great way to grow your business is to identify associated opportunities. Never allow a lack of experience to hold you back. For example, I once owned a company that organised events. When the catering wasn't good enough, I decided to bring that function in-house. I had no background in catering, but I knew what customers wanted: Good food and short queues.

Good teams come in pairs

Although I was a bad student, I discovered later in life that I had a great head for numbers. Figures came to me very naturally. But I wasn't good when it came to marketing. I've found that a company works best when you have two people at the head of it: One who is great with numbers, and the other with marketing and communications. So, I've tried to ensure that all my companies are led by a team like this. You need to be honest and acknowledge your shortcomings. Know what you're bad at and find someone who can bring those skills to
the table.

Long-term success lies in knowing when to amputate

Industries change and opportunities come and go. If you want to enjoy long-term success, know when to let go. An entrepreneur needs to be brave and tenacious, but not cling to a dying idea. Be open and realistic. Admit when it's time to move on, whether that means pivoting the business, closing a department or selling the company. Don't be so married to a business that you go down with it.

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