Smudge's Founder Shares His Start-Up Success Lessons

Show up, do your best and hire the right people, says tech founder Gary Leicher.

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Vital Stats

Player: Gary Leicher

Joanne Olivier

Company: Smudge


Smudge was launched in 2009 by Gary Leicher. A development agency based in Joburg, South Africa, the business has evolved from a front end design agency into a business that offers a more holistic service, including front end, back end, website apps, and mobile app design and development.

The team is made up of Developers, UX designers, Project Managers and Scrum Masters and clients include Standard Bank, Nedbank, ABSA, Mercantile Bank, Huawei and Wits

Q. What do you wish you had known before you started your business?

First, that as an entrepreneur, you need to be brave and realise that the journey will not unfold how you expected it to.

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Don't resist change in the business landscape and ensure that you hire the staff with the right skills to deliver a quality product or service to your clients.

I also learnt that you basically need to take a lighter to your five-year business plan. Toss it out of the window and watch it as it falls through the air burning. Rather focus on a quarterly or even a monthly business plan – that's how agile you need to be to succeed.

Q. Given hindsight regarding your start-up journey, where would you spend more time, and where would you spend less time if you could go back and do it all again?

I would advise all start-ups to focus on using marketing channels such as social media or Google Pay Per Click to start attracting the customers they want.

I truly believe that all efforts in the early days need to be focused on attracting clients to your services or products.

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Learn how to identify time wasters and don't run after every lead that you know is going to amount to a waste of time.

If you focus your energy into leads that are worth chasing and getting your marketing strategy in place, then that is your first hurdle completed.

You will soon realise that as your business grows your marketing strategy will need to be re-looked and change with your business growth., but that's okay – that's why the one-month business plan is so important.

Saying that, marketing and sales are two different entities. If your marketing is generating the leads, then you also need to learn how to sell and close those leads.

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Generating leads is worthless if you do not have a strong sales process that closes the deals and that generates income for your business.

Q. What have your three most valuable learnings been from mistakes made during the planning and launch phases?

My most valuable lesson learnt is that you need to be sure that you can afford to start a new business.

This relates to a number of things. One is the obvious: Can you financially afford to start a new business or should you start a new business while you have the security of a 9 to 5 job behind you?

The second most valuable learning is this – Do you have the energy to start a new business? You're going to need it. Starting a new business demands your time, thoughts and energy 24/7.

The luxury of set working hours does not apply to an entrepreneur. You need to be willing to sacrifice weekends and evenings to get your business off the ground.

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Another valuable learning was not to take out a loan or give away equity for cash within the business, as it will affect your cash flow and ability to organically grow your business.

If I think back and try to identify any mistakes, I would say that if you are hiring resources to grow your business and service your clients, you need to hire right.

As a start-up, one of the biggest mistakes I made was hiring the wrong people to work with us.

So, learn how to hire as this is a skill in its own right – and an important one. Pay the higher salaries for the experienced staff members as well, as you will soon start to get the return on your investment when investing in the right people.

Q. Knowing what you know now, what would your best practical advice be to new entrepreneurs?

Show up every day and be prepared to give your best no matter the situation. Show up every day and be consistent in your offerings and your level of service.

Q. What lessons have had the greatest impact on your start-up journey?

If I look back, the greatest impact on my business is always the people I have hired to come along this journey with me.

Hire the best you can afford; hire people who are better than you at the job you are hiring for.

Remember, your staff are people and not cost centres. Always make sure that your team understands your vision and plans for the company.

If you have their support and buy in, then reaching the goals you have set for your company is easier achieved.

Don't be afraid to grow into new spaces your business can easily venture into. Our industry (technology) moves at a rapid pace. If I did not navigate my business into new areas over the years, we would surely be redundant today.

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