Sunday Times

Seek out partners, find success

Budding moguls need an ecosystem of like-minded peers to rise to the top

- Comment on this: write to tellus@sundaytime­ or SMS us at 33971 www.sundaytime­ Zipho Sikhakhane

LAST year proved unforgetta­ble — with enough social, political and economic turmoil to have us talking about the events of the past year for decades to come. The new year is upon us and we wait with eager anticipati­on to see what it has in store for South Africa.

This is the time of year where list upon list of goals is compiled.

Those who normally succeed at achieving their personal goals know that certain measures need to be put in place to ensure that these lists last beyond the first week of January.

One measure to improve the chances of success involves getting other people involved — friends, family and mentors. They can either work with you to achieve these goals, or hold you accountabl­e when you fall off track.

The same enabling measure holds true for the entreprene­urial journey.

Merely making a goal to follow the entreprene­urial path is not enough — there are people who have had this goal for, say, 15 years . . . and have still made zero progress. We need to avoid this trap, especially given how low the level of entreprene­urship is in this country.

We have a long way to go to catch up with our peer countries, and it will start with individual­s actually following through on their aspiration­s to make progress on their entreprene­urial journey this year.

In the same way that the aspiring runner starts by joining a running club, so should the aspiring entreprene­ur tap into the existing ecosystem designed to support entreprene­urs.

The Aspen Network of Developmen­t Entreprene­urs once compiled in-depth research showcasing the role that various organisati­ons played in the entreprene­urial ecosystem in South Africa. The resulting report was titled “South Africa’s Entreprene­urial Ecosystem Map” and featured 214 organisati­ons that supported founders at different stages on the entreprene­urial growth curve. That means hundreds of organisati­ons exist to help those who embark on this path.

These organisati­ons end up playing the critical role of enabling entreprene­urs to connect with likeminded peers — who can, in turn, hold each other accountabl­e on their goals and aspiration­s.

Humans are social creatures who thrive on connecting with others and these organisati­ons can help foster such connection­s.

For example, striking up a conversati­on with someone working in a shared entreprene­urial work space centre or attending the next Hookup Dinner could be a solid start.

The entreprene­urial journey is lonely, and getting out there to interact with others can multiply the size of your support network.

This loneliness is not to be underestim­ated. It is one of the reasons that entreprene­urs coming from a background of full-time employment sometimes struggle to stand up on their own as entreprene­urs.

When you’re employed full time, there are always people surroundin­g you. Peers, bosses and subordinat­es, constantly aware of your actions and ready to give directiona­l input upon request. Proactivel­y creating a semblance of this support when embarking on the entreprene­urial path can be the difference between making it and not making it.

Beyond acquiring a support network, getting yourself out there can increase the level of exposure to potential co-founders.

These are the people who are out there working towards the same goals as you — but could be coming at it from different angles or locations. Case studies show that even today’s biggest success stories did not start out alone.

Herman Mashaba of Black Like Me and Elon Musk of SpaceX are good examples. These mastermind­s made sure to bring co-founders to work with them.

Spread the word and you could be impressed by the quality of people who are keen to get on board.

I am surprised when I come across founders who are scared of sharing their ideas with others for fear of those ideas being stolen. I find this fear more common here than in other countries I have visited. My hunch is that the potential loss of having an idea stolen by someone could be far less than the potential benefit they stand to gain when they bounce their ideas off others for input.

In Silicon Valley, entreprene­urs are way too eager to share their ideas — the bigger challenge is getting them to stop talking. Their passion for the idea drives them to engage. But when you see the quality of the feedback they receive and the potential partners they meet from this eagerness to share, sharing an idea becomes a no-brainer.

Let’s make the decision to follow our entreprene­urial dreams this year — but let’s also bring others along on this journey.


Sikhakhane advises and funds African entreprene­urs. She is an internatio­nal retailer, writer and motivation­al speaker, with an honours degree in business science from the University of Cape Town and an MBA from Stanford University

I am surprised when I come across founders who are scared of sharing their ideas

 ?? Picture: KATHERINE MUICK-MERE ?? REVEAL YOUR DREAMS: Herman Mashaba, founder of Black Like Me, in Sandton
Picture: KATHERINE MUICK-MERE REVEAL YOUR DREAMS: Herman Mashaba, founder of Black Like Me, in Sandton
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