By Bryan Hefke, Account Executive at Irvine Partners
A quick Google search will reveal many examples of successful entrepreneurs who started out with nothing and went on to become hugely successful, whether they began as a side hustle on the weekends or as a startup run from their garage.
And while there is no single recipe for success, read on for insider tips from industry leaders who started out armed only with a clear vision of how they wanted to make it to the top.
“Company culture is the bedrock to a successful business”
Striata is a 22-year-old tech company that started in a garage in Johannesburg. Founder Mike Wright realised his clients wanted more authentication and security support after starting off as an email-only organisation. Because of this need, the company determined that the best way to launch a business was to develop their own technology rather than rely on the technology of others – a move that would prove significant for the business.
Striata has since progressed from humble beginnings, with three people working in a garage, to an award-winning “visionary” in the CCM market. And in 2020, Striata was acquired by Doxim, a CCM software company headquartered in Ontario, Canada.
The bedrock to a successful business is the company culture, and this has been key to Striata’s growth and success. “We value our people, and our culture reflects this in how we grow staff and maintain a family atmosphere. We have coded our way of working into the 10 Big Values which are regularly reviewed, refined and taught to each new employee as a part of their extensive induction process,” explains Wright.
Wright continues, “fundamentally you can’t change people, and key to our success in expanding to markets was supporting individuals from within the organisation to spearhead international growth and build networks on the ground.”
Wright advises aspiring entrepreneurs to start small, learn, and identify their specialty. “Once you’ve discovered your niche, you can expand and grow.”
“A new business requires perseverance, energy, and a growth mindset”
David Seinker, founder and CEO of serviced office space provider The Business Exchange (TBE), was working from a similar facility when it dawned on him that the growing demand for these spaces was where the gap was for him to step in and combine his interest in property, people and entrepreneurship.
“I knew I could create something unique to meet this growing need for serviced office space, so I did what any other entrepreneurially minded person would do – I took the plunge and opened the first TBE space in Sandton, Johannesburg,” he says.
This was before serviced office spaces and hybrid work models were an entrenched and accepted part of how we work. “At the time that we established TBE the concepts of flexible work and serviced office spaces were still very niche but I knew that if I persevered, and worked strategically, we’d eventually reap the rewards.”
That perseverance has taken on many shapes and forms over the years. “The struggle is part and parcel of building a business, so the challenges must excite you. That requires a lot of energy – emotionally, mentally and physically – and it also necessitates a growth mindset,” Seinker shares.
While Seinker’s passion and perseverance has played a key role in TBE’s success, he is quick to highlight the value of relationship building in business. “The right people and partners can make or break a business. I’m privileged to be surrounded by dynamic people who I continue to learn from.” Similarly, he says the importance of process management and operational efficiency should never be underestimated in building a business. “A business can only scale if there is structure and processes in place,” Seinker says.
Today, a mere eight years later, TBE boasts four facilities in Johannesburg, one in Cape Town and one in Mauritius, with further expansion planned for the near future.
“Respond to the way your industry is evolving”
Before bond originators came into the market, banks sold their own products and services, and each buyer (client) had to apply to their bank in person for their home loan.
In 2000, when mortgage origination in SA was still in its infancy, Rudi Botha in 2000 founded BetterBond. The company grew rapidly and in 2003 merged with PA Homeloans to immediately become the country’s second biggest originator. It has continued to flourish and, as the market leader since 2005, has helped more than 1 million South African families on their journey to owning a home.
“Although the initial consumer buy-in was small, the growth was phenomenal. Now the BetterLife Group, which includes BetterBond, currently accounts for 30% of all new mortgage bonds registered in the Deeds Office annually,” says Carl Coetzee, CEO of BetterBond, one of the businesses within the BetterLife Group.
Record-low interest rates and an accommodative lending environment has seen BetterBond’s application volumes increase even during the pandemic. “BetterBond responded to the hiatus by immediately taking steps to shield the business. This meant putting employees and customers first,” explains Coetzee. The company set up a situation room where senior leaders could work on worst-case scenario modelling and agree on solutions. “The focus was on the organisation, its people, and its clients as well as its operations, managing costs and revenue,” adds Coetzee. “BetterBond has always been able to respond to the evolution of the bond origination industry; ensuring it remains as relevant as it was when it launched more than 20 years ago.”
“Make an impact by finding a pain point for customers, and solving it”
In 2013, Aisha Pandor and Alen Ribic, needed a temporary replacement for their helper who’d gone on holiday. It proved to be a tricky, time-consuming process, but sparked the idea of building an app, called SweepSouth, to take the hassle out of booking a domestic worker. From idea to execution took about five months, in which time the couple sold their house and cashed in their pension plans for start-up capital. Once SweepSouth was launched, however, it revolutionised the domestic services landscape, giving clients the convenience of booking home services on demand, and providing flexible work opportunities to underemployed domestic workers.
Soon, new services were added onto their platform – gardeners, plumbers, handymen, electricians and many more – clearly meeting a gap in the market for pre-vetted, trustworthy on-demand home service providers.
Cleaning and home care are relevant wherever you go — everyone’s living spaces get dirty and need TLC — and once Aisha and Alen had bedded SweepSouth down as a successful model in SA, they considered where to spread their wings next. “When we started the company, it was always with the vision to build a business that would be scalable beyond the South African market,” says Pandor. “We spent years refining the platform into a great user experience in SA, and going into a new region gave us the next big boost in growth.”
Today, SweepSouth is one of the leading home services on the continent, and one of a few start-ups operating in Africa’s four key tech markets of South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt.
Certainly, execution of the company’s pan-African expansion didn’t happen overnight and took day after day of relenting faith in their business model. “If you want to truly make a difference in your market, find a pain point for your potential customers and solve it. And when you’ve done that, find the next one. You’ll soon make an impact,” says Aisha.
All the entrepreneurs mentioned above found success even when times were tough, holding onto the vision they’d set for their companies to guide them when they encountered challenges. As motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar once said: “If you want to reach a goal, you must ‘see the reaching’ in your own mind before you actually arrive at your goal.”
Bryan Hefke is the Executive at Irvine Partners based in Cape Town. Irvine Partners is one of the most sought after, full service, public relations companies in South Africa. The driving principle behind the agency is to ensure clients grow their business as a direct result of the team & efforts to increase brand credibility and profile.