I attended a lecture by Laurie Dippenaar on Leadership recently. He relayed a few of the highlights he’d enjoyed on the journey of setting up Rand Merchant Bank, and ultimately, FirstRand. He talked about the fears and challenges that are common corridor talk for entrepreneurs – worrying about having money to keep the lights on, dealing with people and their quirks and managing clients that are bad for business.
His underlying theme for strong leadership is consciously developing an element of trust with all people you encounter and deal with. People will tend to favour doing business with you if they trust you, or be referred because you’ve had integrity in prior dealings with those in your network.
Laurie, like other famed South Africans such as Elon Musk, Mark Stuttleworth, Adrian Gore and Justin Stanford, all started out as entrepreneurs, with a little bit of risk capital and a lot of enthusiasm to make a difference in their industry.
As the typical corporate employees that we mostly are, we focus on becoming specialists in our roles, each of us a cog in the greater engine of the organisation. Jobs don’t engender experiences in wider business circumstances – understanding HR, accounting, marketing, sales or product development, unless we’re active in seeking that out.
The advent of technology allows us to dip a toe into being an entrepreneur these days on an experimental level. There is a critical mass on startups in South Africa that need help in the “specialised silos” of business that we can volunteer to help with. eCommerce software engines allow for us to set up virtual shops overnight, where the likes of Bean There Coffee and League of Beers have growth capacity to reach the stardom of Yuppiechef.
Throwing caution to the wind and trying out something entrepreneurial, where your own money and time is at risk will, at a minimum,
- Broaden your thinking about commercial situations and decision making
- Realise what you’re not good at, and what you’re passionate about
- Grow your appetite for risk
- Expose you to a new group of people with war-stories of running small businesses
- At worst, grow your commercial insight for the benefit of your current employer
Moneyweb recently published this article on spending time with wealth-generating people, with particular focus on the now multi-millionaire who started Dropbox, Drew Houston. Read his tips on making money, without it costing you a cent.
You never know – you might find a passion for something that currently sits in the white-space of the industry and go on to be a respected and inspirational leader, through your experience as an entrepreneur.
Some local entrepreneurs that have survived the months of starvation, caffeine addiction and extreme anxiety and have inspired me through their stories are: Mike Sharman – Retroviral; Ivan Kirstein – Richie Rich; David Philip – SilverApple Studios; Kirsty Sharman – SuperHeroStuff; Mike Wronski – Fuseware; Brenda Vos – Rovos Rail; Nick Petzer – Bayswater Capital; Tim James – Sustainable IT; Geoff Irons – GD Irons Construction; John Wolfaardt – Fruitworks; Lorraine Loots – 365PaintingsForAnts – and of course my Mom – Stanford Country Cottages