Just Start – Go small, quick, iteratively and cheaply

Of all the entrepreneurial mantras out there, probably the most famous is possibly “Just Start”. It sounds reasonable and even motivational mantra, and gels with our ideas of entrepreneurs as creatures who throw caution to the wind. Yet, when one looks carefully at successful entrepreneurs they are neither risk takers, nor running around aimlessly doing stuff. The risks are smaller, and there is a process of learning.
I have been a customer on Envato for four years. Envato runs a network of sites selling digital files and a set of educational sites, and a couple of other things. It is the biggest marketplace for WordPress themes in the world. It is however a very successful business. From a customer perspective I have some issues with the business, but still regularly purchase from them. In 2010, the CEO/ Founder of Envato gave a five minute talk that helps us understand the “Just Start” philosophy using the Tuts + network as an example.

Three features of the presentation are worth noting:

  1. Start small – In the presentation notice how they started with literally a basic static website, and overtime invested in the development of the
  2. Start quickly –  Everything does not need to be perfect, but having a product or service available provides a
  3. Make changes – These days the concept of a pivot is popular in the startup community. In building the Tuts Plus network the changes the important feature is that they were making changes as they better understood there customers.
  4. Cash flow – In this presentation, Collis Ta’eed notes that it took them 18 months to become profitable. Managing costs and keeping costs down are crucial.

Means in Hand

The story told in the video resonates with one of the principles of effectuation. The principle is called “Bird-In-Hand”, which focusses on the means that are available to entrepreneurs. It is drawn from the idiom “a bird in hand, is worth two in the bush”. The presentation shows this principle. Ta’eed has at his disposal the following:

  • Photoshop skills: Knowing how to use Photoshop is a fairly common skill
  • HTML skills: Again, a resource available to most people, and fairly easy to learn
  • 3 Tutorials: Again, developing a couple of tutorials is not that difficult.

The important lesson is that using these available resources, they were able to get started really quickly and test an idea – with available means.

The Pitching Den – Training for successful entrepreneurs

The Launch Lab based at Stellenbosch University is hosting The Pitching Den.The concept is that participants provide an informal pitch at the LaunchLab. The pitch itself has some interesting rules, especially:

  • 3 minutes
  • No slides (e.g. PowerPoint, Keynote)

The topics to cover in the presentation are:

  • Team
  • Problem/need that is being addressed (your market & customer)
  • Your solution (your product/services)
  • Why it will work? (your value proposition)
  • How will you make money? (your business model)
  • How much money do you need to launch and what will you spend it on? (your budget)
  • What are the main activities you will need to complete in order to launch? (your project plan)

After the three-week intake of ideas, a week will be allocated to filter the ideas and choose the finalists. A panel of judges will choose the best ideas from the final pitches. The winning ideas will win seed funding, mentorship and space in the LaunchLab so that they can be developed further. The panel of judges will consist of representatives from industry (Angel investors and/or successful entrepreneurs) as well as Stellenbosch University Entrepreneurship Forum and faculty members. Feedback will be provided to the students on the merits of their idea. The audience will be allowed access throughout the event to also provide input on the ideas. The Pitching Den will run on the 22 – 24 April 2014. The final presentations will take place on the 8 May 2014. For more information and to apply, please click here.
(Personally, I think this is a really useful exercise to undertake for any entrepreneur. Developing a short presentation without the aid of slides is excellent preparation for talking to clients, and perhaps even winning awards.)
The outcomes are that:

  • Real businesses will be formed. An example is a previous winner of the competition, which teaches people Afrikaans. Africhance looks and feels like a real and viable business.
  • Prepare students/ teams to present at the IDC, based on a relatiopnship between the IDC and Launch Lab.

Think Big – Call for entries

Think Big is a television show looking for entrepreneurs to apply.
The promotional chatter is as follows:

From thousands of businesses across South Africa, twelve courageous entrepreneurs will emerge – all who have the ability to ‘step it up’.
This 10-part television series will track the personal and business challenges of our twelve heroes as they dare to go beyond their comfort zone and ‘step it up’ towards a potential R1million investment into their dream.
For these budding business giants, financial independence is not enough. They are building a nation.

Watch the video below for an introduction to the television show.
The television show is sponsored by Standard Bank, and applications are directed to their website.
The television show is focussed on established entrepreneurs, who are ready to grow their business.
Remember, to apply to Think Big, and do not be tempted by any offers of small business loans.

Maverick Awards – SA Young Entrepreneur Awards

The Maverick Awards will recognise 10 categories of young entrepreneurs and nominations are open to all young entrepreneurs between the ages of 18-35 who operate their businesses within the borders of South Africa and have been in operation for at least 3 years, turning over a minimum of R1 million in revenue per annum. Nominations are open and will close on 11 April 2014. For more information on how to nominate yourself or a young entrepreneur(s) you know go to www.under35mavericks.com

Winners are in line for some amazing prizes in business growth, support and development opportunities to the tune of R1million over and above exposure as an ambassador of Brand SA’s Play Your Part national campaign on radio, television, print and outdoor media platforms.
Corporates and public sector players are encouraged to purchase tables for the Mavericks Awards Gala Dinner to be held on Friday 13th June 2014 at Emperors Palace in Ekurhuleni from 6pm till late.
The Maverick Awards understand the rarity of successful youth entrepreneurs, and describe their purpose, thus:

The aura and spirit of The Maverick Awards is to celebrate the distinctly unique, independent and rare unconventional style of thought and action process, possessed only by a select few in any society who go on to attain phenomenal business success. Some call it ‘Innovation’ we think it is more than that, hence we call it ‘The Maverick Mindset’, what we all agree on though, is that those that possess it, are prodigies of society that must be identified, preciously nurtured and capacitated to create lasting value that will continue to live and be enjoyed, long after they are their time. The premise of The Maverick Awards is based upon the building and bequeathing of youth legacies to posterity.

For any other enquiries or corporate sponsorships please email: info@under35mavericks.com

10 Myths of Entrepreneurship

Amongst the many myths of entrepreneurship, the most jarring is the existential question:

Am I really an entrepreneur? 

This is the self-doubt that almost every entrepreneur faces at some point. The reasons for this self-doubt are many, and include the hero status that some entrepreneurs have. In the face of outstanding success by these entrepreneurs we wonder whether we have the insight, determination, product and skills to build what we dream. The narrative is intended to empower, but may have the opposite result.
The video below dispels several of the myths associated with entrepreneurship, including understand who and what entrepreneurs are. The video draws on the excellent work of Saras Sarasvathy, who has introduced the concept of “effectuation” to the entrepreneurial world. The video starts with super entrepreneurs, and helps us to learn lessons. Most importantly, through understanding the myths, it helps us deal with self-doubt and get started.

 Myths Of Entrepreneurship

The important learning for me from this video are:

Entrepreneurship is Not Extraordinary

At one point for all of us, riding a bike was extraordinary. After a few stumbles and bruised knees we learned to ride a bike. In doing that riding a bike became both enjoyable and ordinary. In the video the same point is argued, entrepreneurship should not be viewed as extraordinary, but that each of us have this capacity.

Start with available means

I have seen business plans that need such huge investment that no bank or investor are likely to finance it. The ideas underlying the business plan are often sound and sometimes inspiring. The problem is that it is just a plan, the company has literally no customers, and they have not taken the time to test their idea. Starting at a different point would help these entrepreneurs. They should instead start with what their available means. Tapping into networks, using money to build a prototype or even getting commitments from potential clients are all within our available means. It may even help getting finance for your business, but more importantly it may allow you to bootstrap your business or in the worst case realise that your idea is not that good.

Multiple Goals

Personally I have many, many ideas. This creates a huge problem of focus for me, and everyone tells me that I need to focus on one idea. Effectuation looks at ideas and actions differently. It encourages having various possible goals and to develop solutions to these specific problems. Importantly, it asks you to reassemble your available means in creative ways to reach a goal. A word of warning though, managing multiple ideas, goals, action plans and customer service is extremely difficult, and not what I am suggesting.

The learning point is rather not to  fixate on one outcome, but rather be open to various endpoints.

This is a lesson we learned at Zapreneur. I started this looking to develop an online publication focussed on economic inclusion and small businesses. My intention was to run this as a paid subscription model. In the process we learned that South African entrepreneurs have a very different set of problems, and that we could develop small and useful online applications that could solve real problems. Proposal Desk is our first attempt.

Affordable Loss

Dreaming of making a million bucks in a year or even a month? Dreaming of buying an island? Stop!
Rather than focus on the upside, focus on the downside potential. Knowing how much you can afford to lose is vitally important. It provides a constraint to your ideas, and as a result brings discipline, effectiveness and reduces financial stress. In fact, go so far as to have a very specific number in mind. You need to know for instance that, I am willing to lose R 10 000-00, and willing to invest six months of time into starting this business. Knowing that allows you to plan your expenses, pay the kids school fees, design a realistic marketing plan and know your breakeven point.  That is an incredibly empowering position to find yourself in.

Create The Future, Do Not Predict It

The exciting part of entrepreneurship is that we have the opportunity to create products and services that make the world a better place. Through using principles like affordable loss and using available means, creating the future becomes more action orientated .  See you at the start line !
(Over the next few weeks, I hope to discuss effectuation in greater detail and with examples. )

South African Small Business Blogs and Websites

It is encouraging that there are more South African small business blogs and websites producing content, gaining audiences and in their own way helping entrepreneurs. Today, I spend time reading articles on these websites, and I am sharing with you the more interesting websites I visited. I have excluded all aggregator websites and those offering dodgy get-rich-quick-schemes.  

  1. Small Business Connect: This website is sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry. There are a couple of articles per day, that covers entrepreneurial advice, case studies and announcements.
  2. Ideate: One of the oldest small business blogs in South Africa, the site always has a surprise or two. The site argues that it is “The biggest South African blog written for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs”.
  3. Mzansipreneur: Written by Trudi Makhaya, who was the Deputy Competition Commissioner, the blog provides a feisty and interesting perspective on small business in South Africa. The public policy insights are exceptional.
  4. Small Business Insight: Stephen Timm is an important voice on small business in South Africa. He works as a journalist/ analyst and has produced insightful research papers, comparing South Africa to other developing markets. Of particular importance, is that the research papers and articles are very strong on suggestions, and recommendations for government and the private sector.
  5. Venture Burn: This popular multi-authored blog provides fresh analysis of South Africa, Africa and other emerging economies. I particularly enjoy the stories of entrepreneurs written by the entrepreneurs themselves.
  6. Adii Pienaar: A mix of personal and business, this blog by one of the founders of Woothemes provides inspiration, home truths on the difficulties of entrepreneurship and inspiration.
  7. Human IPO : Recently discovered website, that covers startups and technology in Africa. Comprehensive and insightful.
  8. Kick Start Magazine: I picked up a copy of the magazine out of interest, and it has an interesting perspective. The website looks like it is in the early stages, and we look forward to reading more articles.
  9. Silicon Cape – Much more than a blog, the space provided to entrepreneurs to write articles always turns up a gem or two. Recently rediscovered this space, and hoping to be more active on this site.
  10. SME South Africa  – Recently relaunched and with much more original content.
  11. TechCentral – The website provides an interesting window on the technology space in South Africa. The startups category is why we read TechCentral.
  12. Zapreneur

Please add your favorites in the comments below. There must surely be more excellent small business websites focussed on South Africa.