Finding the start-up sweet spot

Entrepreneurial lessons from generations of entrepreneurs

Picturing a typical entrepreneur – the chances are you visualize a young, mission-driven techie with a mind-blowing idea that will make him or her the African version of Mark Zuckerberg.  While the fast, digitized millennial entrepreneur’s approach to business is highly beneficial for future success; there’s a lot to be said for more seasoned entrepreneurs and the wisdom they have gained during their years in the game.

Gugu Mjadu, spokesperson for the 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, says that instead of pitting one generation against the other – entrepreneurs looking for guidance should seek out a sweet spot between the two – as there are important lessons to learn from both:

Entrepreneurship is a tricky road at the best of times. In South Africa, the business ownership path is littered with a number of macro and micro environmental challenges making entrepreneurship even more difficult. These include access to markets, successfully navigating the legislation landscape and accessing finance. With this in mind, it is important for entrepreneurs to seek out advice from as many trusted sources as possible – to ensure they learn and gain insight into how to prepare their own business for success.

As the world of work shifts and evolves, it’s important to recognise that business lessons can come from all generations in the entrepreneurial world.

This includes millennials, who characteristically approach life and business with a fresh ideas and a new perspective on existing methods. Some valuable lessons from the millennial entrepreneurs include:

1. Be different – and not just in your USPs

Millennials are generally recognised for their ability and enthusiasm to stand out and be different. Differentiating from your competitors in the market with Unique Selling Points (USPs) is something all the entrepreneurial text books will tell you – but ‘being different’ goes beyond this. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to show their unique characteristics, to embrace diversity and look for opportunities outside of the proverbial box.

2. Question everything

Characteristically, millennials are curious. There is plenty to learn from this character trait – being willing to question why things are done in a certain way, and being brave enough to question if historical processes are still relevant and efficient. There is nothing wrong with changing the way something is done if it doesn’t suit your business. Standard practices are ineffective if they don’t evolve with your changing business needs.

3. Do and do quickly

Millennials were born into the technological age – they have grown up in a world filled with instant gratification, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and always-on connectivity through the internet, smart phones and social media. As a result, these entrepreneurs tend to work faster and this plays into the growing global trend of ‘failing fast’ – the skill of knowing when to stop planning and execute, and additionally, to recognise and stop doing something when it is not working.

On the other hand, seasoned entrepreneurs, who are perhaps more traditional and methodical, also have priceless tips and best practices as well as lessons on what not to do – all of which are valuable takeaways:

4. Be open to learn

Many established entrepreneurs admit to regretting their youthful arrogance when they first started their business. They have realised through years of experience that learning comes in many forms – advice from a business mentor, lessons through reading or even from receiving harsh criticism. Entrepreneurs should be open to looking at every situation as a learning opportunity – if something didn’t go well, what can be changed? If something went well, how can it be further improved or how can that process be applied to other areas?

5. Be deliberate

Part of building your business is building a network of clients, suppliers and other internal and external stakeholders. More seasoned entrepreneurs will attest to the value of being mindful about who you conduct business with – essentially, you want to trust your suppliers and stakeholders as they are an extension of your own brand. You want to deliberately pick out and nurture these networks as they are the relationships that will take your business further.

6. Don’t be afraid to fail

More established entrepreneurs, having been in business for a good while longer than millennials and having suffered more than a few set-backs themselves, will explain that the key is not to become despondent when things don’t work out. Failures are natural, and necessary for growth. As long as you actively learn from mistakes and proactively take steps not to repeat these in the future – failures can be the most valuable stepping stones to success.

It’s never too late to start your own business

50 is the new 21 age for entrepreneurs

There is a common misconception among many budding entrepreneurs that starting a business is a journey that is best initiated at a young age. Entrepreneurship is however not just for the youth, and can be embarked upon at any stage of life.

This is according to Kobus Engelbrecht, spokesperson for the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, who says despite the success stories about young individuals pursuing entrepreneurial ventures – such as  Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (then 20) and Airbnb’s Brian Chesk co-founder (then 26) –  these individuals are the exceptions rather than the norm. “The average entrepreneur tends to be a middle-aged professional who, through experience, has identified an opportunity to establish a business and fill a gap in the market.

He points to research conducted in the US by Kauffman Foundation titled the Anatomy of an Entrepreneur. Surveying over 500 high growth founders, it revealed that the typical successful high growth entrepreneur is 40 years old, and that there are more than twice as many successful entrepreneurs over the age of 50 compared to under the age of 25.

Our experience with the competition confirms that there are still are a number of ‘older’ entrepreneurs making a name for themselves – those that have had a successful career and have since developed a business after identifying  a gap in the market, says Engelbrecht. “Our 2013 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® category winner, Jonathan Pepler, spent 30 years in the corporate retail sector before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey in the construction industry.”

Engelbrecht adds, the 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year® overall winner, Tommy Makhatho – owner of BiBi Cash & Carry – is another example. “While he had entrepreneurial aspirations from a very young age, Makhatho’s business only thrived later in life due to the experience he had accumulated. Having left school after standard nine in 1976, he went on to pursue many avenues from hairdressing to a distributing of hair-care products. In 1998, Makhatho opened the first Bibi Cash & Carry Family Supermarket and subsequently Bibi Wholesaler and Bibi Cash & Carry. The retail group has grown in profit and size significantly, and today, Makhatho  employs over 500 people.”

The average age of an entrepreneur in South Africa is between 22 – 45 years, according to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) South Africa 2014 report. Although there is no prescribed age to pursue entrepreneurship, each age group has its advantages, explains Engelbrecht. “Young entrepreneurs benefit from their propensity to take risks, a characteristic that is synonymous with entrepreneurial traits, as well as a youthful energy to persevere should a risk not pay off at first.

“However, in contrast, older entrepreneurs have the advantage of experience, as well as the ability to take more calculated risks given that they are likely to have more weighing on the risks they opt to take, such as family or investment responsibilities. Older entrepreneurs, those with more working experience, also tend to have more skills in running a business and wider networks to utilise for business gains.”

Engelbrecht says that the fear of ‘being too old’ to start a business shouldn’t be a reason that aspiring entrepreneurs don’t take the leap. “Some aspiring entrepreneurs shrug off the idea of owning a business out of fear that their internal clock has long ticked past the proverbial deadline. This mind-set needs to change.

“There are many successful business men and women who, after years of experience in the workplace – whether near to or far from retirement – find that their minds and bodies are still active and fit enough to begin a new venture, even well into retirement years.”

Engelbrecht concludes with a reminder that it is never too early or too late to start a business – with calculated risks, sufficient research, a good business plan and the right support – opportunities for success are always in sight.