What entrepreneurs wish they’d known when they were starting out

The 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® winners discuss the advice they would share with their younger selves

In the absence of concrete guidance and mentorship, the path to becoming a successful entrepreneur can be a very lonely one. As such, this path is too often forged solely by way of trial and error – frequently involving costly mistakes and countless sacrifices along the way.

In order to make this path less formidable for ‘up-and-coming’ entrepreneurs, we sat down with the winners of the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition to discuss the advice that they would share with their younger selves.

Vanessa Jacobs of Sow Delicious® and Emerging Business Entrepreneur of the Year® says that, above all, she would remind her younger self to never trade passion for money. “If you follow the money, it will seem to elude you and leave your life empty, but if you work for the love of it, then the money will follow you instead.

“It is also important to always remain teachable and view every set-back as a gift, because at its very core lies a solution of how to use it to excel to greater heights,” she adds.

This sentiment of remaining teachable is echoed in the advice offered by the owner and founder of Khonology, Michael Roberts, Job Creator of the Year ®. “Understand economics and how the world works, but be open to views, ideas and take advice. Look for inspiration in other people’s success stories and surround yourself with positive and focused people.”

Overall Entrepreneur of the Year®, Johan Eksteen of Agricon, urges young entrepreneurs to realise that they are loose cannons – something that he says is both a good and a bad thing. “Young entrepreneurs have untapped potential as they have not yet been corrupted by the harsh realities of the economy. They dream without limits and are therefore very creative and original. In this lies the caveat that it is both a good and a bad thing to be a loose cannon.

“Many ideas are potentially great ideas, but the key is to implement these ideas in real life. If they listen too much or too often to people with experience, they may be discouraged to even try, and therefore their great innovation may go undeveloped. However, if they do not take up some mentorship and advice, they may have no clue as to how they should turn the idea into a business.”

In this sense, Eksteen points out that strong mentorship encourages and guides a young entrepreneur is important, but also highlights the risk of getting the wrong mentor. “Choosing the right mentor is crucial, as the last thing you need as a young, driven entrepreneur is a passion killer.”

Carl Pretorius, managing director of Just Trees and Medium Business Entrepreneur of the Year®, says that he found having an older mentor whom he could bounce ideas off and get advice from to be very helpful. “When I was younger, I often thought that I knew more about certain matters than I really did. I would encourage young entrepreneurs to be honest with themselves about what they know and do not know, and then get help with or learn about the latter.”

Furthermore, Eksteen says that young entrepreneurs should realise that it can take up to five years to put a solid business concept together and to start making serious money. “In this time, the entrepreneur must remember that they are not managing a ready-made concept, so it requires constant change and sharp entrepreneurial tenacity to succeed.”

Eksteen finishes off with a final piece of advice that can and should be applied at any stage along the entrepreneurial journey: “Most entrepreneurs look down at the road they are on, and forget to check the direction in which they go. So keep your one eye on the potholes and the other on the road.”

Financial advice from entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs

The 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® winners share the best financial advice they have ever received.

Given the current challenging economic climate with South Africa’s GDP growth expected to remain flat at 0.1% for the year according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it is becoming increasingly difficult for entrepreneurs to ensure the financial sustainability of their businesses.

As there are many factors which contribute to the effective management of cash flow within a business, we asked some of the winners of the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS to provide us with the best financial advice that they have been given while growing their businesses.

“Remember that your business is a long-term investment.” Says Johan Eksteen of Agricon, 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® winner. “Always look at the bigger picture and be aware of how any decision can impact the future. When it comes to short-term solutions, you can’t ‘buy yourself rich’, so rather focus on selling your product or service as this is a sure-fire way to generate a healthy cash flow.”

In the same breath, Meisie Nkosi of Bella Bonni Guest House and 2016 Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year® winner goes on to say that finance is the heartbeat of a business. “Keeping an eye on daily expenditure and auditing these periodically will help you manage day-to-day finances. In order to maintain a healthy profit margin, make sure you price your product or service correctly,” she adds.

“Also make sure you find the right investor,” points out Carl Pretorius of Just Trees and 2016 Medium Business Entrepreneur of the Year® winner, who says that it is important to ensure that whoever invests in your business shares your vision and expectations. “I would also advise finding an investor that is patient as things don’t always go exactly according to plan and they may need to wait for the return,” he explains.

Michael Roberts of Khonology, 2016 Job Creator of the Year winner says that when building a business, you should manage your cash flow as if your life depends on it, because your business does. “My mantra is ‘Revenue is vanity, profit sanity, and cash is reality’,’” he continues.

Vanessa Jacobs of Sow Delicious and 2016 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® winner shares the same sentiment as Michael and recommends running a business on a “cash” basis. “I try to use cash when it comes to making and receiving payments as I find this helps to monitor cash flow and make better decisions for my business while ensuring steady growth,” she concludes.

Innovative gardening store owner recognised as emerging entrepreneur of the year®

Vanessa Jacobs, the innovative business woman behind Sow Delicious®, whose inspirational vegetable and herb Slab of Seed® invention is taking edible gardening to a mainstream audience, has been named the 2016 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year® at the annual Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, held in Johannesburg this morning.

Sow Delicious® began as an online niche gardeningstore in August 2013, through which a gap in the market for “grow-your-own” products was identified. This prompted Jacobs to launch her Slab of Seed® invention in 2014, which quickly evolved into the business’ core offering, changing its focus from an online store to wholesale for retail.  

The Sow Delicious® niche is that its Slab of Seed® only grows plants you can eat with each slab growing a mix of three different 100% Heirloom varieties. Making edible gardening more accessible for the ordinary, non-gardener consumer; the slabs grow just as well in pots as they would in a normal garden, thereby making them ideal for novice gardeners living in flats or townhouses. As the blocks are pre-fertilised with organic fertiliser, they germinate twice as fast and hold water three times longer than soil.

According to the judging panel, Jacobs is deserving of the award as she has tapped into a budding market that has unlimited potential for growth and expansion. “This idea is truly original and embodies everything that our competition stands for – true entrepreneurism in identifying a gap in the market, researching the idea and then capitalising on the opportunity. In our opinion, it is only a matter of time before this product takes off in South Africa and around the world.”

Discussing why Sow Delicious® is a worthy winner of this title, Jacobs says that their innovation has revolutionised the grow-your-own market in South Africa. “We feel that our trademarked invention – the Slab of Seed® – addresses three fundamental issues relevant to our society – health, food security and affordability. We successfully changed 34 000 South African lives last year and now we want to change the rest of the world.”

For more information on Sow Delicious® please visit www.sowdelicious.co.za.