Over the last two decades or so, the idea of running one’s own business has become an increasingly desirable goal. As the economy toughens and people lose jobs or find themselves shut out of the workforce, the term ‘entrepreneur’ has developed a sort of neon glow for those wanting to break free of corporate life, be their own boss, and make the kind of money one might never see in a salary. But however independent-minded and challenge-driven you are, there are important qualities you will need to nurture and cultivate.
There’s some soul-searching to be done – and it’s not just about the business you plan to launch. It’s about you. Will you knuckle down – or buckle under? You will need to consider an array of attributes:
- good communication skills;
- sales ability;
- energy; and
- high productivity.
And those are just the basics.
You’ll also need: enthusiasm; creativity, the ability to inspire; a highly motivated approach; an awareness of trends and willingness to change. And a nose for marketing and how people think and behave.
Even if you can’t rustle up all these talents, it’s possible to foster a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit through focus and hard work. Here are five key elements that can be taught and applied:
Knowing how to present not only a unique service but also a unique profile that translates across all your communications.
The ability to develop your plan and implement it in a way that constantly enhances the brand and business growth.
Ensuring that you understand how much money you will need to launch your idea, put plans into action, repay loans – and survive the initial test phase without profit.
Having the psychology to understand people, hire the best fit, and apply the right level of emotional intelligence to get them to perform at the top of their game.
Possibly the hardest quality to learn. There is no business, no start-up, no venture without an element of risk. How much are you prepared to fuse into your business without backing down in the glare?
The fallacy that often prevents people from going after their dreams, is that you require substantial money behind you before you begin. You will need, some say, top-level education and a host of well-heeled supporters who will help to bring your vision to fruition.
While all of the above may be helpful, many successful entrepreneurs have started with nothing, paid no attention to specific plans, and have approached the business potential with caution, taking small steps with little risk, testing ideas against the fabric of possibility without forcing a concept on the market. Often the route to success is an accident, a matter of curious, inventive minds rather than a nailed-down business plan.
Ryan Bacher, Lawrence Brick and Jonathan Hackner launched NetFlorist on Valentine’s Day in 1999. They had no intention of starting an online floral and gifting company but the site did unbelievably well on the day, so they didn’t shut it off. ‘We had no stock and knew nothing about flowers. We just sent the orders to a flower shop in Sandton,’ Bacher said.
Zero to R1 billion in 15 years.
Albe Geldenhuys, launched USN sports supplements in 1999 from a small flat in Pretoria. A born salesman, Geldenhuys didn’t concentrate on business plans or marketing strategies – he focused on selling: ‘I targeted anyone. I had no strategy beyond just sell, sell, sell.’
From concept store to national retailer.
James Robertson and Philip Cronje launched Big Blue from a flea market stall. Today the company has a turnover of R100 million. They conducted small experiments, not risking too much, but getting some initial data to decide whether to invest more fully in a strategy or not. ‘Try stuff, and if it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, stop.’
Fats Lazarides founded Ocean Basket in 1995 with R800. Today the nation-wide brand has system-wide sales of over R1 billion. ‘We convinced our suppliers to let us pay them with post-dated cheques, and then we worked like hell to make enough money that month to ensure those cheques didn’t bounce.’
The potential to go from ordinary to billionaire is available to all if you have the right idea, work ethic and perseverance required. That’s all Elon Musk and Mark Shuttleworth began with.
Born in 1971 in South Africa, Elon moved to Canada in 1989. At first he worked in low paid jobs and for almost a year teetered on the brink of poverty. He attended college and obtained a BSc in both Physics and Economics. Together with his brother, Kimbal, he created his first IT company, Zip2. He worked from early morning until late evening, living in the same warehouse where he rented the office. When he needed to take a shower he had to go to the locker rooms of a local stadium.
But by 1999 AltaVista, the biggest search engine of that time, made an offer of $307 million in cash and $34 million in securities for Zip2. Elon was then financially set to realize his other dreams: the electronic payment system that became PayPal and a share in Tesla Motors which focused on developing electric cars. The rest – including SpaceX – is history.
Born in 1973 in the dusty mining town of Welkom in South Africa, Mark studied for a degree in Finance and Information Systems. Fascinated by the potential of the Internet, Mark founded Thawte, which became the first company to produce a full-security encrypted e-commerce web server that was commercially available outside the US. It quickly established a leadership position in helping businesses around the world accept secure transactions over the web.
Mark believes that South African entrepreneurs – no matter their background – have the potential to start businesses with global impact. The entrepreneurial spirit that secretly lurks in all of us – if developed – can and should create the changes for good that society needs.