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5 Startup Lessons That Will Secure Your Industry Status Jacques Burger has built at M&C Saatchi Abel's winning culture by learning to win – despite the odds stacked up against startups.

By Nadine von Moltke-Todd

You're reading Entrepreneur South Africa, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


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Jacques Burger might be the founding partner and head of new business at M&C Saatchi Abel, an agency that continues to add big-name brands, including Tafel Radler and Continental Tyres, to its portfolio, but like all successful business owners, he too was once the founder of a startup.

Here are five top lessons Jacques learnt as a startup entrepreneur that can help you build a more successful business:

1. I wish I knew before I launched how hard it would be.

The secret though, is that while startups are tough, it was also a huge amount of fun – the lows were frequent, but the highs were unbelievable in the beginning.

I also wish I'd known that previous relationships don't automatically convert into business. I was well known in my industry, but people don't just buy you, they buy a team, a brand and a track record.

Related: The Secret To A Successful Start-up? You Need To Just Start

We thought that many people would give us business because they knew and trusted us and whilst a few wonderful individuals did just that, many only gave us business once we had proven ourselves – and there are some that we are still waiting for.

We had to go out and get a lot of business through building new relationships – never assume that you have something in place already; starting a business truly means starting at the very beginning.

2. Hindsight is a wonderful teacher, and we learnt how optimistic we are.

We see the best in people; we believe that the world is a wonderful place and that every brand has the potential to be brilliant and dominate on a global scale.

But optimism has a deadline. If we did this all over again, we would spend less energy working with clients whose ambitions are not aligned with ours, and instead spend more time with the ones whom we are aligned with and with whom we share the same values, views and dreams.

3. You need to change the way you view the word "no'.

For example, never take no for an answer from someone who doesn't have the mandate to say yes. You need to find a way to speak to the decision makers, instead of walking away from stakeholders who aren't empowered to choose you.

You should also always ask – if you don't, you already have a no, so you have nothing to lose by asking. Finally, opportunity sometimes comes wrapped in defeat, so always look for the upside, and don't give up.

4. Find the right partners.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have a team at M&C Saatchi globally who believed in us and backed us unconditionally, even when things weren't always going our way. It's made a huge difference to where we are today.

5. You have to back yourself and keep doing it, even if few others are doing it.

Have confidence in your own abilities, the smarts of your team and the brilliance of the product or service that you offer. If you keep the faith and remain focused on the plan, at some point in time that confidence will convert. It can be hard sometimes, but nothing drives success like positive energy and conviction. A winning culture is built by winning.

Related: 4 Ways to Fast-Track Your Start-Up Success

Nadine von Moltke-Todd

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor-in-Chief: South Africa

Nadine von Moltke-Todd is the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Media South Africa. She has interviewed over 400 entrepreneurs, senior executives, investors and subject matter experts over the course of a decade. She was the managing editor of the award-winning Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa from June 2010 until January 2019, its final print issue. Nadine’s expertise lies in curating insightful and unique business content and distilling it into actionable insights that business readers can implement in their own organisations.
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