He’s interviewed over 100 founders and investors – Meet Sandras Phiri

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By Koketso Mamabolo


Losing both his parents as a teenager meant that Sandras Phiri had to rely on his entrepreneurial spirit to get through university. “I was always an entrepreneur. When I was a kid I used to sell sweets at school and helped my mum by selling goods at the market. I used to sell bread and milk every morning in the neighbourhood,” says the founder and CEO of Pranary Business School.

When Sandras graduated, he continued on an entrepreneurial path. “I founded a web development and networking company and later I ran a t-shirt business, as well as an entertainment business.” Now Sandras is in the business of education. 

“I’ve now had the opportunity of working with entrepreneurs from over 50 countries and I’ve interviewed over 100 founders and investors, and travelled to 25 countries.”

Sandras has valuable knowledge on startups and revenue generation, and is happy to share his knowledge with other entrepreneurs. His expertise has seen him share stages with the likes of Facebook and Asana co-founder Dustin Maskovitch, as well as YouTube co-founder Steve Chen and famed economist Clay Christensen, to name a few.

Sandras is a Director at Africa Trust Group and a fund manager for the R100-million Engyma Ventures Fund. Here he shares with us how he plans on impacting one million entrepreneurs, how entrepreneurs can build commercially-viable businesses, the mistakes entrepreneurs are making when speaking to investors and what he teaches his students.





What are the keys to building a commercially-viable business?

The key is to decide on what you want to build –  a small business or scalable business. Then set your high level goals. With the goals, put together a team and start executing. You must always talk to customers and get feedback from mentors. It’s also important to surround yourself with people who are on a similar mission – other entrepreneurs. 



Please share with our audience some tips/advice for people looking to become entrepreneurs

People who want to become entrepreneurs should just start even in a small way. A lot of people make the mistake of over-analysing and staying too much in their heads. It’s important to “get outside the building” and talk to customers. Share your ideas with people and get their feedback early. The number one reason why startups fail is “no market need” – building things that nobody wants to pay for.



Why do you teach business owners to pitch under three minutes, without a business plan?

Traditionally early stage entrepreneurs have been told to write business plans and send those to investors. So what happens is that the entrepreneur hires somebody to write the business plan and nobody reads it afterwards. Business plans do not really work for early stage startups as they are generally a work of fiction. Everybody makes money in Excel. All projects are profitable. But reality is different. Early stage startups must create a pitch deck instead which shows your market size, your traction, revenue model amongst other things. The pitch deck is short and straight to the point and investors read them. When you’re meeting people for the first time they do not have time for you so you need to learn to pitch clearly and get straight to the point in a short space of time. When you pitch successfully investors then give you more time.



What are the mistakes entrepreneurs are making when pitching to investors?

The mistakes entrepreneurs make when pitching to investors include sending a business plan, sending an executive summary etc. The other mistake is just pitching to everybody without knowing what they look for. Another mistake entrepreneurs make when pitching to investors is talking too much. They say a lot of things hoping that the investor will pick something from the many things mentioned. In pitching, less is more. Your pitch needs to be focused. I’ve seen entrepreneurs say “I have two pitches for you” which is a mistake. Lack of focus is a mistake. That said, we do have a free checklist that helps entrepreneurs learn how to pitch investors.



What sectors should current and potential entrepreneurs be looking to get into?

Most sectors present potential. However, entrepreneurs should lean more towards the different technologies or applying technology to their existing business models. There are opportunities in artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics, biotech, agriculture and generally deep tech. While some of the technologies might be hard to finance initially, nowadays there are a lot of investors and accelerators that are looking for these types of startups. 



What does the future look like for entrepreneurs? – How can they adapt to what’s coming?

The future is bright for entrepreneurship. It’s much easier now than ever before to build a world-class business. There is easier access to resources, support and capital. As entrepreneurs we must embrace new technologies as they are shaping the future. We must tap into communities that are shaping the future.


How do you plan on impacting 1 million African entrepreneurs?

We believe that entrepreneurship has the power to change people’s lives. A large majority of people who can say they have a job are working because of an entrepreneur. As Pranary we want to impact 1 million entrepreneurs in Africa. We plan to do this through partnerships and democratising access to world-class mentors and capital. We’re leading a movement of game changers in Africa. We are building a community of game changers in Africa and are always looking to partner with other forward thinking individuals, organisations and communities.




You can find yourself alongside other leading entrepreneurs

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