The value disconnect

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Don't get caught by this!When you’re looking at starting a business, the one thing that you need to be very careful of is who has control of whether you succeed or fail. One of the most common (and most fatal) flaws in a startup business model is when they don’t control the value that they provide – and as such aren’t in control of their futures. This is surprisingly common!

TEST: Any business that cannot provide it’s primary value to only one customer runs this risk.

You’re guilty of this where you are dependent on someone else providing information, a service, a deal, opportunity or product. Any time that you cannot control the value that you are selling to your customer. This (seemingly obviously) poses a difficulty when trying to find a way to make money. Continue reading

So you’ve got a startup idea. Now what?

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I come across a number of people who have an idea and want to be entrepreneurs, but have no idea where to start. And most ideas remain just that, ideas. Knowing how to get to where you want to go is the part where the most ideas fall flat. Thats what this post is about: the steps you need to follow in turning your idea into a business. It’s not rocket science, but there is also no silver bullet. The steps below are just a guide where the details will depend on your idea, market and a whole bunch of other factors. This is just a place to start.  Continue reading

Be careful taking advice on your startup

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Founders generally fall in the category of knowing enough to see an opportunity, but not enough to see the obstacles. Which is normal, as otherwise they wouldn’t start in the first place, but this means that they need to rely on a community of people to get feedback, guidance and to learn from others experiences.

I’ve had a couple of instances of late where entrepreneurs with very viable businesses are told that their idea is not feasible, not scaleable or not worth their while. It normally comes from a VC (or incubator). The advice is not wrong – possibly misplaced – but the one thing you need to be very aware of is the motivations and perspectives of the person giving you advice.
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Work on Super yachts: Advice on everything you need to know

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Superyacht at night

I spent 4 years working on luxury superyachts (or megayachts or gigayachts) and every time someone I know is thinking about it I end up having the same conversation with them. I’ve decided to stop doing that and put everything that I’d normally say into this post. This is everything you need to know about working on superyachts, all in one place.

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How to find a domain and name for a startup

The hardest part about finding a name for a startup is finding a decent free domain. In most cases,  the available domains is one of the main determining factors for which name you choose. With an awesome domain normally going for over $10 000 US it’s no wonder why startups are looking for variations away from the norm. The global village doesn’t help much either…

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Why startups are hard: It’s all you.

One of the hardest things about a startup is that the buck stops with you.

With a very small team and a brand new product/service, there are no balls rolling and there are no pressing deadlines – until you create them. Clients not calling? Call them. No one coming to your website? Promote it more and get it out there.

It’s this responsibility that makes it so frikken hard to start a company. They call it the hustle. And all you do, all day, is hustle hustle hustle.

One of the most important things for a tech startup is to get your product in front of customers. (It’s that whole Product/Market fit thing that you’ve got to try and work out as quickly as possible.) If you don’t have a product yet, pitch the idea. See if you can get people to sign up or agree to terms then go and build it. Fast. Cold calling really sucks but it’s one of the best ways to start talking to people about their needs and what you can do to solve them.

This is one of the biggest hurdles to get over in the early days of a startup. It’s because you don’t have a benchmark and have nothing to compare what you should be doing to. It’s those awkward moments when you’re talking to a customer and have never had to pitch it in this way before. You’re making it up on the fly and everything you are saying is a test for the person’s reactions. Say one thing wrong, price it too high or mention the wrong features or benefits and this potential customer is about to become another failed lead.

One wrong step and you fail. Then you pick yourself up and try again. (Probably to fail again.) It’s this cycle that makes it hard. When it’s a slow moving corporate cycle, it’s even worse.

Keeping motivation through the first couple of months is a serious challenge. Don’t underestimate it. Just remember that it’s all up to you – and get on with it.
[Note: These are my thoughts. If you want the real deal, I recommend reading this post by Paul Graham on ‘What startups are really like.‘ or browse WWPGD.com]

When national strengths become weaknesses

Back in 2010 I hear Dr Vincent Maphai speak on “Understanding the levers of our Society” during a BYM conference. Seriously smart guy and I find myself remembering parts of his speech almost every time I read the news. His comments and thoughts seem more relevant every time there is a new crisis, such as the Limpopo textbooks or Lonmin. Here’s some parts of his talk that I scribbled down and really stood out for me: [Note: I’ve paraphrased a lot as it is reconstructed it from my notes]

South Africa is still a very young democracy. Most countries took a very long time to become a stable democracy. Think of the UK which took over 400 years, Sweden who took 80 years or Turkey who 70 years later is still wrestling with the concept. We mustn’t be in such a hurry. Things will settle, we must be patient.

Being very involved in the ANC struggle all the way through apartheid, he observed that “the tools that you use to liberate yourself are not the tools you need to successfully run a country.

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Do you feel Lucky… Punk?

How lucky are you? I’m not a big fan of starsigns and superstitions, but some people just seem more lucky than others.  Isn’t strange how some people always seem to land on their feet in any situation and that everything always works out for them? With some other people, it’s the opposite. So, what is it that makes some poeple really lucky?

As I found out in The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman, there’s actually a little more to it. Through over 10 years of experiments researching luck he reckons that it depends more on what type of person you are than what you star sign is. The old saying, “Unlucky at cards – lucky at love” seems to be slightly off the mark because generally people that are lucky are lucky in many aspects of their life. So what makes for a lucky person?

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Why base Silicon Cape in Cape Town?

What does it take to recreate a Silicone Valley? This question has been looked at from various perspectives, but how does that relate to us? What will it take for Cape Town to build a strong entrepreneurship community and why is it preferred over Joburg? With this article I hope to re-ignite the discussion and to highlight some things that we, as South African entrepreneurs can use to build upon.

“The exciting thing is, all you need are the people. If you could attract a critical mass of nerds and investors to live somewhere, you could reproduce Silicon Valley. And both groups are highly mobile. They’ll go where life is good. So what makes a place good to them?” – PG

Here are a couple of factors that I perceive to be the most important things that the greater Cape Town area has going for it as far as attracting the types of people that you need for a startup environment:
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True Leadership

I recently submitted an application to “The Chosen” and had to write a 400 words on leadership. Thought it might be nice to add here too and I would love to know what you think…

South Africa has inspired some of the greatest leaders of our time. From Mandela to Gandhi, people have been inspired – through some form of suffering – to lead the transformation of society and of the world. True leadership inspires and empowers others.

The most crippling action in our society is thinking small. Thinking that you are insignificant. It is the duty of our leaders to change that; it is our duty to change that. For this country to flourish and for real transformation to take place, people need to be lead to the door of possibility and empowered to open it. That is true leadership.

We need to shift the mindset from being constrained by the past and limited by the present to being free in the possibilities of the future. For us to live in an equal society, it is not the leveling of status that needs to happen but Continue reading

Why Drop out of University – Real World degrees

While there is a staggering number of people at the top of the “rich List” who are university drop-outs, there are still unrecorded masses for which it didn’t work out so well. Why does dropping out sometimes help and most times not? What are good reasons to drop out and what are the benefits from doing it? As a UCT drop-out myself*, here are my thoughts – it would be great to hear yours.

While there is plenty of merit in getting a degree, isn’t it strange that so few people actually use what they learnt in their degree in their first job? Nowadays a degree is more proof that you are trainable and can think than a means of showing your experience. It is more about extending your title (i.e. Roger Norton, BSc Electrical Engineering) than giving you any real experience in that field and limiting you to use what you have learnt…
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What I learnt from Billionaires…

I worked for 4 years as an engineer maintaining the systems on Superyachts. (Large luxury private yachts.) It was a great lifestyle and I learnt many things while travelling. The one thing that is very unique to the job was the close proximity to billionaires. Here are some of the things that I picked up form being around them… Continue reading