I recently took a group of MBA students on what we called an Entrepreneurial Exploration Journey across Joburg. It was a day-long outing during which we visited five entrepreneurs, across five different industries and at five different stages of their businesses growth cycle. Our mission: to uncover some of the secrets of growing a successful business.
We met Allon Raiz of business incubator Raizcorp, Ryan Falkenberg from learning solutions company Hi-Performance Learning, Jason Lurie of Moyo fame, Urban Ocean property developer Alfonso Botha, and Ciko Thomas of BMW dealership Joburg City Auto. The insights that emerged were incredibly valuable, with the key learning comprising just three factors: passion, action and ability to adapt. These are excellent signposts for future entrepreneurs to drive towards, and current entrepreneurs can use them to ensure they are on track.
1. Passion. The people we visited are motivated by something more powerful than materialism or the drive to create wealth – they are deeply passionate about what they are creating. They have connected with something that drives them from deep within. It is this passion that enables them to overcome the challenges and obstacles they have encountered. Each of these entrepreneurs has taken the time and effort to truly understand themselves; this has given them the ability to seize business opportunities they find truly meaningful and important. They are living a dream and this fuels them on a daily basis. Allon Raiz spoke of his experience as more of a spiritual journey than a business one. When he brings new entrepreneurs into his profitable, private business incubator, he invests a significant amount of time getting them to engage in self-awareness exercises. This ensures they are on the right track, and that they are doing something they are deeply passionate about.
To grow a business in a sustainable way, you need to understand yourself and do something you are passionate about. If you are already in business, take time out to ensure you are involved in something that is meaningful to you, that stimulates you. If not, refocus and find something that excites you.
2. Action. It has been said that entrepreneurship is 10% idea and 90% execution. Certainly, the entrepreneurs we visited had a propensity to just “do it” as opposed to “thinking about it” or “talking about it” for too long. As a current or prospective business owner you have to realise that you will probably never have all the information or insight you need to make a fully informed decision. There comes a time when you need to take action and learn from the consequences as you go along. For a business owner this can be a powerful educational experience. Even if you make a wrong decision you will glean lessons that teach you more than you would learn through an MBA or other university degree. Jason Lurie was a development economics lecturer when he had the idea to open Moyo. In no way was he the right person to start the business: he did not have start-up experience, the restaurant industry was mature and over-traded and, on the surface, the Moyo concept did not seem to be any different from existing African restaurants. Yet the key to his success has been his inclination to just try things, to experiment and to take action.
3. Ability to adapt. Leaders of large, established corporations tend to put a great deal of emphasis on one-, three- and five-year plans. The business owners we spoke to are more concerned about what’s happening now. They live in the moment; their focus is on adapting to the current environment and responding to immediately evident opportunities rather than trying to predict where they will be in three years’ time. They allow their strategy to take shape as they go along. Ryan Falkenberg of Hi-Performance Learning says explicitly that he does not believe in business plans. He says he spends more time on developing an adaptive enterprise and a flexible mindset so that he can quickly respond to emerging opportunities rather than stringing together long-term plans.
They may sound like abstract concepts, but passion, action and the ability to adapt are the keystones for success in the lives of real entrepreneurs.