- Player: Daniel Newman
- Company: Druff Interactive
- Claim to fame: Launched CEOWise, a video series that chats to some of SA’s best entrepreneurs
- Launched: 2002
- Visit: www.druff.co.za
When Daniel Newman launched Druff Interactive 17 years ago, his value proposition was a simple one: His clients would receive the same level of service and creativity as they would from a big agency, but at a lower cost and higher output speeds.
Coming from a big agency, he thought this would be a win-win – he would run his own business and his clients would benefit from his big agency experience.
The reality wasn’t what he expected. Many companies want to use an established business with a track record, which meant that launching his own business wasn’t as easy as he thought it would be.
But he didn’t give up. It took longer than he thought it would to build his business, but the patience and persistence have paid off. Druff Interactive has grown from focusing primarily on website design and development in the first few years, to taking care of clients’ full brands, including logo and corporate identity design.
Today, Daniel and his business partner and wife, Heidi, serve the SME space from start-ups to established businesses.
Here are Daniel’s lessons for other start-ups who want to build sustainable businesses.
Q: Why do you wish you’d known your business wouldn’t grow quickly – or organically?
It’s impossible to know everything about your industry before you start, so read, read, read. The more you read, the more you learn and the quicker you can become a success.
I wish I had known that the business won’t necessarily grow organically and that you need to keep on adapting, pushing and learning, because every industry landscape is constantly changing.
In addition, having a sales team is critical and would have helped me to grow quicker. I know it sounds obvious now, however when you’re stuck scrambling to make ends meet in the beginning, you’re too busy working in your business and you can’t work on your business.
Q: If you could go back, you’d spend less time worrying and more time focusing on sales and growth. Why?
Hindsight is a great teacher, and if I could spend more time in some areas and less time in others, this is what I would have done:
Less time: I would spend less time focusing on what’s going wrong and worrying about it. I know worry is inevitable with any new business, but rather focus that energy on excitement for your new business and if there is a problem, on finding the solution rather than stressing about it.
I’d rather have sleepless nights over the excitement of building my new company and the challenge of finding a solution, than the stress of worry about what could go wrong because it probably wouldn’t change anything anyway.
More time: It depends if you’re the technician or the salesperson. If you’re the technician (the person physically doing the work in the company), spend more time and resources getting a dedicated sales team on board.
You can build your new company yourself and do the sales, but it’s going to take a lot longer. In the beginning, you should rather be focused on the product and continuously improving it.
If you’re the salesperson though (which many entrepreneurs are), you can focus on the most important aspect of the business, which is selling your product or service and getting it out into the market.
Make sure you work closely with your team though, and have a deep understanding of your product or service, what is possible and not possible, so that you don’t overpromise and underdeliver.
People with a sales DNA tend to say yes to everything in order to get the client on board, but this could cause unnecessary stress for your team. Cracks will quickly start to forming in your new entity if you’re battling to deliver on promises.
Q: What have your most valuable learnings been from mistakes made during the planning and launch phases?
So, like most entrepreneurs, I didn’t have a big planning or launch phase – I just got stuck in and ran with it, learning on the fly. There are pros and cons to this, but I think the most important thing is to make sure you’re learning and adjusting your business.
Every single entrepreneur I know has made massive mistakes when building their businesses. The same way a child will only touch a hot stove once, an entrepreneur learns from their mistakes. Don’t be too scared of making them.
Here are my most valuable learnings from mistakes:
- When you start to become successful, don’t under any circumstance become complacent and rest on your success. When my company Druff Interactive first became successful, I became complacent and didn’t pivot and push for more growth. I thought I would grow organically and that’s what stagnated my business.
- I did not have a dedicated sales team. I was the technician and the salesman at the same time and that doesn’t always work. When I started, I was doing the work and I was going out to see clients, when I should have focused on being the technician and then partnering or getting someone to go out and find new business. I know it’s not always possible when starting a new company, but it’s the single most important change I’ve made in my new start-up.
- Get a mentor as early as possible. Most of us have a more successful family member or friend that we can lean on for emotional and business support, and I’m not talking financially. If you are going it alone, or even if you’re not, you need someone to bounce your ideas off and get advice from; someone who has done it all before. It will save you a great deal of time and money if you’re learning from other people’s mistakes.
- Numbers are important. You need to understand them. I had a partner who took care of all the finances, and so I stepped back and didn’t know the key figures in my business. That was to my detriment in the downturn of the economy. I wasn’t making the best decisions because I didn’t always understand how they impacted my company’s bottom line.