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From zero to 100 million in just a few years: we take a look at South Africa’s start-ups that have grown from fledgling to multi-million dollar companies.
Small Business Ideas In South Africa
When Grant first introduced Rushmere Bos Ice Tea, he did so through the lens of creating a global brand. This was not to be a small local brand that would grow organically and perhaps conquer international markets in the distant future. No. This was a brand built for stratospheric growth, which required bold optimism and a willingness to make it big or go home.
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“We jumped in with both feet from the start. We’ve reached out to retailers and secured deals that we knew we wouldn’t be able to sustain down the line unless we got funders on board, but it was a calculated risk that we were willing to take.”
“I had the idea, the brand and the product, but I didn’t want to be a lone wolf,” says Rushmere. “I was looking for a partner who would co-invest in the business and bring skills to the company. Richard was ideal. He loved rooibos and actually made it, and he’s excellent with contracts and staffing matters. Where I think a handshake will do the trick, he seals a deal that protects everyone’s interests. Together we had the skills this company needed.”
Aside from bold moves and calculated risks, Bos Brands’ success is a lesson in the power of marketing. In their first year, Rushmere and Bowsher spent as much on marketing as they did on sales. While their sales have increased, they haven’t cut their marketing spend—they’ve increased it. Rushmere firmly believes you get what you pay for and his goal since the brand’s inception has been limitless growth.
Creative Destruction. It’s the cornerstone of everything Hello Group’s founders, brothers Nadir Khamissa and Shaazim Khamissa, do. In doing so, they have disrupted international calls, telecommunications distribution, money transfers, and low-cost banking across Africa and Asia.
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It was’nt easy. R6 million in seed capital quickly turned into R30,000 after some early – and very costly – mistakes.
But they persevered, and today Hello Group is changing lives at the base of the income pyramid, and the founders are having the time of their lives with it.
How do the Khamissa brothers do it? The base of the pyramid is a huge potential market, but the economics of tapping it are difficult. You need a price point that is affordable for low-income earners but still generates a profit for the business. It’s about low margins and high volumes.
The solution did not come immediately. It took time, a lot of hard work and some hard lessons. A quote from Eric Reis is emblazoned on a wall in the Hello Group offices:
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“The only way to win is to learn faster than everyone else.” And that’s exactly what they did.
Sorbet receives 40 franchise applications per week. The demand is so great that new locations are the biggest challenge for the ten-year-old company. To meet the ever-growing interest in the brand from both consumers and potential franchisees, new concepts such as Candi & Co, Sorbet Man and Sorbet Dry Bars were launched. It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago, Ian Fuhr and his business partner Rudi Rudolph weren’t able to sell a single franchise.
“We call them the ‘dark days,'” says Fuhr, referring to the first four years of the business when several attempts at franchising failed. Credibility.”
Both Fuhr and Rudolph were seasoned businessmen, and Fuhr had a number of successful businesses under their belt, most recently in retail. He was certainly not to be resent. However, he was new to the beauty industry and particularly to franchising.
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“Looking back, our slow start was the best thing that could have happened to us. He gave us time to build the credibility we needed to make the franchise model work and to get the franchise portion of the business right.”
“Our whole focus was to create loyalty – employee loyalty to the company and customer loyalty to the brand.
As a Sorbet employee, if you serve customers well and provide excellent service, they will come back, and they do. A day has a finite number of hours. So what you really want is a fully booked store.
This means that not everyone is working to build personal relationships with customers, but rather a bond with the brand itself so that all stores are full at all times.”
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Some of the biggest names in today’s business landscape were founded out of desperation or simply because the founder wanted the service for themselves. About is the product of its founders, who wanted to get from here to there easily and cheaply at the push of a button.
Closer to home, the founders of South Africa’s largest agency group, The Creative Counsel, were looking for a job that meant running their own business rather than working for a boss.
And then there are those who are kicked and shouted into ownership of a business. This is the story of Paul Simon, who founded Young Designers Emporium at the age of 21 because he was afraid his father would throw him out for good.
Simon, the leanest of the lean startups, sold YDE to Truworths Group ten years later in 2005. The purchase price is not known, but at the time sales were a healthy R160 million and the company was on a nice growth trajectory. Not bad for a kid who was voted “least successful” in high school.
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“For a long time I thought having a good idea was the hard part. It turned out to be the actual part of building the business that is difficult and for me it started with finding premises.
I had no contacts, no business acumen and no track record. I didn’t even have a PowerPoint presentation let alone a 3D rendering of what the store would look like, which was just as good anyway as I had no idea what the store would look like. I felt like Oliver begging with open hands, “Excuse me sir, can I have some premises, please.”
“Everyone said no until someone said yes. Here’s the thing – you just need one person to say yes.
And sometimes it’s just a numbers game. Ask enough people, search hard enough, and eventually you will find what you are looking for. We definitely have.
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100% annual growth. That’s what brothers Sam and Rob Paddock achieved with their online education company, GetSmarter.
Despite some setbacks, GetSmarter is not only a hugely successful company, but has been instrumental in shaping the online education landscape in South Africa. Sam and Rob may not have made all of their ideas work over the years, but their really big idea was masterful, both in conception and execution.
“I think it’s natural that success breeds some arrogance, but while confidence can be used to take calculated risks to build something great, hubris will often just make you fall flat on your face.
If you really want to build something amazing, focus on what you know and do it really, really well.”
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Big Blue is arguably South Africa’s most distinctive and unique retailer. It’s also one of the largest t-shirt retailers in the country, which is even more impressive considering that Philip Cronje and James Robertson have opted to work mostly with local designers and manufacturers, rather than importing cheaper fabrics.
While they help create local jobs, they also remain environmentally and socially conscious by choosing to use locally made and recycled fabrics and actively supporting craft groups such as the Hillcrest Aids Project, Diepsloot Crafters and the Topsi Foundation.
Those are lofty goals, but is there a strong business case for staying local? Cronje and Robertson firmly believe in it. The brand is not just different to be different. Big Blue’s list of achievements is long.
Many studies have shown that Robertson has very similar beliefs to most very successful s. They are skeptical of forward-looking information, which means they don’t decide in advance whether an idea will work or not. Instead, they run small experiments where they don’t risk too much but get some initial data to decide whether or not to invest more heavily in a strategy.
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It’s really easy for business owners to get lost in the day-to-day running of the business. If this is you, you should step back and work on the big picture instead.
The good news? It is possible that you will change your behavior. In this article, you will learn how to recognize and stop self-destructive patterns.
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