En­trepreneurs look to them­selves – and in­vest in them­selves

Finweek English Edition - - Unit Trusts -

TO OF­FER PROSPEC­TIVE en­trepreneurs a whiff of what it is to be an en­tre­pre­neur, the Uni­ver­sity of Pre­to­ria’s Gor­don In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Sci­ence (GIBS) hosted an eclec­tic panel com­posed of some of South Africa’s most ar­tic­u­late and suc­cess­ful en­trepreneurs shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences.

They were: Ivan Ep­stein, CEO of lead­ing soft­ware com­pany Soft­line; Kevin Ver­maak, founder of one of the world’s premier moun­tain bike races, the Cape Epic; Brent Townes, cur­rently de­vel­op­ing a new prop­erty auc­tion plat­form; Dolly Mok­ga­tle, co-founder of Peotona Group Hold­ings and an ex-busi­ness­woman of the year; and Gideon Novick, joint CEO of low cost air­line Ku­l­ula.

As they shared their ex­pe­ri­ences on the road to suc­cess, one thing be­came in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent: there is no sin­gle model or for­mula for suc­cess, other than per­sonal drive and lead­er­ship.

Soft­line was be­gun in the 1980s by Ep­stein with lit­tle more than the ba­sic idea that com­pa­nies had to com­put­erise, but that there was a dearth of ac­count­ing pack­ages, so they de­vel­oped the first such lo­cally de­vel­oped pack­age.

Ver­maak’s Cape Epic is reg­u­larly sold out on­line within sec­onds when en­tries be­come avail­able, with a huge pro­por­tion of for­eign con­tes­tants. While his mo­ti­va­tion was to have fun, the in­spi­ra­tion came from see­ing the op­por­tu­nity to de­liver a world-class ad­ven­ture ex­pe­ri­ence bet­ter than he’d ex­pe­ri­enced any­where else in the world.

“I’m still a small en­tre­pre­neur and love the fact of re­port­ing to no one. It was my idea, I own the busi­ness 100% and I’m in charge of my own destiny – that’s the beauty of be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur,” he said.

Mok­ga­tle had a 21-year cor­po­rate ca­reer be­fore ven­tur­ing on her own, and said her mo­ti­va­tion came out of hard­ship. She said that while many peo­ple claimed to start busi­ness with lofty ideals of chang­ing the world, her be­lief was that peo­ple suc­ceeded when they sim­ply had to do so in or­der to sur­vive.

Townes de­scribed him­self as a se­rial en­tre­pre­neur. Hav­ing per­son­ally started a num­ber of house­hold-name prop­erty busi­nesses, he was no longer a novice and de­scribed his mo­ti­va­tion as be­ing the de­sire to con­tin­u­ally start some­thing new.

“I have four busi­ness ven­tures on the boil at this moment, three be­ing in the em­bry­onic phase. These ideas emerge from a spirit of aware­ness and a readi­ness to seize the op­por­tu­ni­ties when I see them. Some­times there are busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties that look so ob­vi­ous you won­der why they were never done be­fore,” he says.

Novick’s Ku­l­ula air­line is now eight years old and well es­tab­lished. His ad­vice to novice en­trepreneurs is to al­ways be in­quis­i­tive: the key to suc­cess at Ku­l­ula was to scour the world for the best ideas and knowl­edge and to bor­row them un­scrupu­lously.

Is start­ing a new busi­ness hard work? Within such a di­verse group, views nat­u­rally dif­fer. Townes sets a tar­get for each day and does not go home un­til he meets the tar­get, even if it means an 18-hour day. Ep­stein says work should never be hard: “I don’t need leisure time be­cause my work is fun. I don’t do any­thing else.”

In the case of Ver­maak, his busi­ness is a di­rect re­sult of his search for ad­ven­ture and he says at­tempts to ‘cor­po­ra­tise’ the busi­ness proved coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Ef­forts to con­vert the busi­ness into a ma­jor events man­age­ment com­pany re­sulted in more stress and ef­fort than profit, and he found he could make more profit by fo­cus­ing on in­no­va­tions to the orig­i­nal idea.

How­ever, it does re­quire ini­tia­tive and a de­sire to make things hap­pen. Mok­ga­tle said this was par­tic­u­larly vi­tal within the black com­mu­nity where there was a dan­ger of peo­ple set­tling into an en­ti­tle­ment cul­ture in which they sim­ply wait to re­ceive what they per­ceive as their due.

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