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Perspectives on entrepreneurship, MBA-related issues, networking, personal branding, technology, investing, education and more…


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Running a school like it’s a business

Elandspark school pic

This article was published in the 09-October-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

As tech entrepreneurs, my husband and I are passionate about raising our two kids to be entrepreneurs. So we grab every opportunity we find to teach them about business. Sadly, however, the creators of South Africa’s school curricula don’t share our passion for entrepreneurship. Other than theoretical business subjects like Business Studies, Accounting, Consumer Studies, Economics, and Economic Management Studies, there is hardly any entrepreneurial training happening in most of South Africa’s schools. Elandspark School is a refreshing exception and a shining example of how to run a school like a business. Continue reading


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Great to gone to great again: bouncing back

lego-story-animatedThis article was published in the 2-October-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

Markets change. To stay on top, you need to change with them. Economist Joseph Schumpeter spoke about the “perennial gale of creative destruction”, where technological transformation and visionary entrepreneurs give birth to new things that annihilate old things, only to see the next generation obliterate those new things. Some of the most well-known companies in history no longer appear on the Fortune 500 list, having tumbled from great to good to gone from the list—companies like Kodak, Chrysler and Warner Lambert. And, out of the 500 organisations that made it onto the first list in 1955, only 71 were still on the Fortune 500 list in 2008. However, the forces of creative destruction are not unavoidable: not every company must inevitably fall and die. After all, multinationals like Johnson & Johnson, GE and Procter & Gamble have been around for over a hundred years and their positions in the Fortune 500 have climbed. And companies like Lego and Xerox plummeted from their pinnacles, but then turned themselves around from the brink of destruction to become great once again. How did they do it? It comes down to innovation, getting back to basics, and continuously adapting to changing customer needs and changing markets. Continue reading


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Failing forward: How failing can help you succeed

persist-win

This article was published in the 18-September-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

Back in 2008, GIBS asked a handful of MBA alumni who were internet entrepreneurs to share our biggest learnings. In all honesty, I don’t remember much about that night or what I talked about to that classroom of aspiring entrepreneurs. But the one thing I do remember as clearly as today, is the three words spoken by my classmate Justin Spratt, at the time running IS Labs. He said: “Launch, then iterate.” His sage advice came long before the global entrepreneurial Lean Start-up movement made this idea trendy. And I still swear by it to this day.

Justin explained “Launch, then iterate” along these lines: get your minimum working product out there fast, get customers using it as quickly as possible, and tweak and improve as you get their feedback. Don’t delay your launch for the day when your offering is perfect, because it will never be perfect, which means you will never launch. And that artificial goal you’re defining as perfection, may be something your customers won’t even want, let alone pay for. So don’t waste time or money building something that you haven’t yet tried out in a scaled-down form with your customers. Continue reading


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The glass is always half-full

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This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 21-Aug-2014 issue

Winston Churchill famously said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” We’ve all been through tough times at some point in our lives. We wouldn’t be human if we hadn’t. For the more resilient ones among us, it is our ability to see the positive in negative situations that helps us get through challenges and to overcome adversity.

I’m a strong believer that things happen because we’re meant to learn from them. If we didn’t have that negative hump to climb over, we wouldn’t recognise the positive staring us right in the face. I like to think of it as the universe (or G-d, depending on your beliefs) throwing you a curveball to test your bounce-back ability and how you can grow from it. And if that setback didn’t happen now, it would have to happen sooner or later, because it was placed in our path so that we could learn from it.

So the big question is: in tough times, instead of dwelling on the negative, shouldn’t we concentrate on how our setbacks transform us and transform our lives for the better? Shouldn’t we seek out the positive and what we’re meant to learn from difficult situations? Continue reading


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Welcome your bigger competitors

big dog vs little dog

This article was published in the 11-September-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

When small businesses take on their bigger competitors, the larger companies usually win, right? In many cases, yes, but there are important exceptions. New research reveals that sometimes it helps, rather than hurts, a smaller firm if consumers see that it is competing against a larger company. In this article, we unpack why and look at the positive implications for small businesses everywhere.

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Business is changing for good

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This article was published in the 4-September-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

Business is changing for good. The days of companies existing only to make money are dying. You don’t have to look far to see the devastating impact that unchecked greed and lust for profit has had on our planet and our lives. From global warming to the financial crisis, it’s everywhere. And so today’s generation are growing up with a conscience, far more aware than their predecessors that they need to look after what we have, to preserve it for their children and their children’s children. Call it conscious capitalism, social good or conscious business. Today’s social entrepreneurs maximise value for all the stakeholders in a business – not only for the shareholders, but also for the bigger community, the employees, suppliers, partners and the environment. Although non-profits and charities have a vital role to play, these 21st century entrepreneurs want to use for-profit business to change the world for the better. Running a profitable, sustainable company and doing good don’t have to fight against each other in business. With conscious capitalism, a profitable business has a purpose far higher than maximizing profits and shareholder value. Continue reading


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Yes, your team can have too much talent

This article was published in the 28-August-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

We’ve all heard the catchphrases thrown around the workplace: the war for talent, managers needing to be talent magnets that attract A-players, and so on. Attracting top talent should be a top priority for competitive companies, because the more talented your team, the better the results you’ll get, right? Wrong. Ground-breaking new research indicates that there is a limit as to how much talent is good for your team. Too much talent can actually hurt, rather than help, you. Here’s why. Continue reading


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Don’t sell to me, solve my problem

biz-mtg

This article was published in the 14-August-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine.

A big bugbear of mine is that most MBA degrees don’t have a component to teach you how to sell. In my work I’ve also met many MBAs who think they are above selling, that it is only the domain of sleazy carsalesmen.

In fact, the opposite is true. You don’t have to be a salesman to be selling. Every day you are selling yourself in some way. Whether you are convincing your boss to give you a raise, your potential client to accept your business proposal, a potential employer to hire you, your spouse to change the TV channel, or your child to do their homework. Effective selling is one of the most vital skills you need to achieve your goals in life and your career. The key is not to call it selling. In the words of Dale Carnegie, rather think of it as “winning people to your way of thinking.”

Here are some useful tips to help you be more effective at persuading customers or clients: Continue reading


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Can you grow a global business from South Africa?

global-business-globe-in-handThis article was published in the 31-July-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

It is widely believed that koi and goldfish can only grow as large as the enclosure they are in. Some grow big and others stay small, it’s all about the size of the pond or bowl.

This got me thinking about businesses in South Africa and the constraints posed by our environment here. Your business can only grow as big as the environment it is in. So if you want to scale, can you do it from South Africa? Continue reading


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Want to make your CV shine? Here’s how

Young man standing to the side of a large crowd
This article was published in the 17-July-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

Even in today’s web-driven world, your CV is still the single most powerful tool you have in your job search arsenal. If you get it right, it can open doors to new careers and opportunities. Get it wrong and you won’t even make it to the interview stage. Here are some useful tips to help you supercharge your CV. Continue reading


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African Women Chartered Accountants: a growing force in South Africa

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This article was published in the 10-July-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

Chartered Accountancy has long been a male-dominated profession. But that is slowly changing, with the help of the AWCA (African Women Chartered Accountants) forum. In this article we explore the impact this organisation is making on the rise of African women CAs in South Africa. Continue reading


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Start-up versus corporate: which one’s for you?

startup-vs-corp-shoes

This article was published in the 10-July-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

My former boss Kabelo ran his own business before moving into the corporate world. So he had a valuable perspective on both the corporate and the entrepreneurial “be your own boss” environments. At that time I had only ever worked for a large company. One day in the car park we were both admiring a sleek, red Aston Martin convertible. Kabelo roused my interest in the start-up world when he said, “Want to own that car? You won’t do it working here. But you might if you start your own company, because you’ll write your own paycheque. Think about it.” Of course, he hadn’t quite cracked it himself, but his words made a lot of sense.

In this article, we unpack the pros and cons of working in a start-up versus a corporate. Hopefully this will help you decide whether you should work for someone else or start your own business. Continue reading


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What makes you stand out from the crowd?

stand-out-red-apple5This article was published in the 26-June-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

Picture yourself in a client meeting selling your product or service. “What makes you special? Why should we buy from you and not from your competitors?” If you were asked these questions, how would you answer? In a nutshell, this is your Unique Selling Proposition or USP, your stand-out factor. It’s the reason that your product or service is different from and stands out from the competition. In his book “What to do when you want to give up”, South African entrepreneurship guru Allon Raiz describes it as your secret sauce. The question is: so what? In this article, we unpack why you need a secret sauce and how you can find yours. Continue reading


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Starting up: Online or old school?

Start-website

This article was published in the 19-June-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine.

If you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and are deciding to start your own business, one of the key factors you need to consider is whether it should be an online business (website) or a physical bricks and mortar business, and why. What makes online such an attractive option compared to bricks and mortar? In this article, we build a strong business case for an online venture. Continue reading


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We all spend our lives selling

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 5-June-2014 issue.

The uncomfortable truth: Even if we’re not selling for a living, we are all in sales. Get over it. Continue reading


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Can social entrepreneurs make money and do good at the same time?

social-entrepreneurship-hand-globe

This article was published in the 29-May-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

When you hear the words “social entrepreneur”, what image comes to mind? For many of us, it’s the founder of a non-profit organisation (NPO) trying to do good but each month battling to raise enough money to cover their costs, relying on volunteers and unable to pay anyone a salary, including themselves. These untenable organisations hang on precariously from month to month. However, social entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be unprofitable or unsustainable. Author Thomas L. Friedman summed it up brilliantly when he said that social entrepreneurs should  “combine a business school brain with a social worker’s heart.” We unpack some of the misconceptions in this space and speak to two inspiring social entrepreneurs who are running impactful businesses sustainably. Continue reading


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What does Google reveal about businesspeople worldwide?

Our favourite search engine exposes our prejudices.

To find information about anything and everything, Google is the first place most of us head to. The ubiquitous search engine has an autofill feature designed to uncover what people are searching for most often.  Fascinatingly, it can also reveal what people worldwide think about South African businesspeople, and indeed about businesspeople in other countries and continents as a whole. The prejudices exposed make for an eye-opening read. Continue reading


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Courageous leaders face the heat

courageous-leaders-lion
This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 8-May-2014 issue

Management super-guru Peter Drucker said: “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” Good leaders aren’t afraid to make tough, unpopular and often counter-intuitive decisions. The decisions that prompt their critics to ask: “What were they thinking?” It is their courage in the face of criticism that makes them the leaders of their organisations, while others aren’t. Continue reading


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Is honesty the best policy?

honesty-interview-cartoonThis article also appeared in Finweek on 25-Apr-2014

For President George Washington, honesty was tremendously important. You’ve probably heard the legendary story when he cut down a cherry tree, and admitted it to his father with the phrase, “I cannot tell a lie.” In his farewell speech of 1796, Washington said: “I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy.” And today as parents we teach this to our children. But is honesty really the best policy? Are we being truthful about the beliefs we stand for, when our culture rewards cheats and liars, and whistle-blowers get penalised? Continue reading


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Go big or go home: lessons for entrepreneurs

go-big-or-go-home-kid-pram

This article was published in the 01-May-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

All entrepreneurs start their businesses dreaming of mega success. But can moderate success lead to a slow, painful death for your start-up? If you achieve some success but don’t fail outright, at what point should you turn around and start again? Finweek unpacks the issues around entrepreneurial turning points and the important lessons they hold for entrepreneurs. Continue reading


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Mental maths: exercise for your brain

 

einstein-problems-longer-mental-maths

 

This article was published in the 17-Apr-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

Do you hit a mental wall when calculating numbers in your head? You’re not alone. Mental maths doesn’t come easy to everyone and most people find it challenging to master. Why is it important and how can you hone this critical skill? Continue reading


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Can introverts shine as leaders?

This article was published in the 3-March-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine

The stereotype that extroverts are more successful or make better leaders than introverts is everywhere. Looking at today’s leaders, you’ll often see this bias in action. We expect them to be charismatic, outgoing and articulate. Usually it is the outgoing sociable person who gets promoted over the introvert, or who plays the role of hero in the movie. With open plan offices and their emphasis on collaborative teamwork, many companies focus on this extroverted bias, making it harder for more introverted people to shine and to grow into leaders. But if you are an introvert, don’t lose hope! In this article, we challenge many of the misconceptions about introverts and share eye-opening examples of famous introverts. Continue reading


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How to be Confident and Gain Credibility

confident-man-landscape

How confident and credible are you at work? Are you one of those self-assured people that others naturally trust and support?

Or do you find yourself ignored or overlooked at work? Are you worried about failing, because others don’t give you the support you need? Do you find yourself shying away from others, because you are concerned about what they may think of you? Do you take care not to step on other people’s toes? Do you need other people to believe in you in order to feel powerful? Are you secretly concerned that you may not be ‘good enough?’ Are you feeling trapped and frustrated because of your lack of self-confidence? Continue reading


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Start-up versus a corporate: unpacking the pros and cons

corporate-vs-startup

My former boss Kabelo ran his own business before moving into the corporate world. So he had a valuable perspective on both the corporate and the entrepreneurial “be your own boss” environments. At that time I had only ever worked for a large company. One day in the car park we were both admiring a sleek, red Aston Martin convertible. Kabelo aroused my interest in the start-up world when he said, “Want to own that car? You won’t do it working here. But you might if you start your own company, because you’ll write your own paycheque. Think about it.” Of course, he hadn’t quite cracked it himself, but his words made sense.

In a previous article, we examined the traits you need to cut it in a start-up. In this article, we unpack the pros and cons of working in a start-up versus a corporate. Hopefully this will help you decide whether you should work for someone else or start your own business. Continue reading


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Information and Power – the surprising truth

sharing

This article was published in Finweek Magazine on 9-Aug-2012

“The most valuable commodity I know of is information.” These are the words of the depraved Gordon Gekko in the 1987 classic film Wall Street. In simple terms, information is power. And the less information we share with others – even if it is relevant and helps them do their jobs better – the more power we feel we have. Does withholding information from others make us more powerful? Or is the opposite true?

Continue reading


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It’s the principle, dammit!

bad-boss-red-tie

This article was published in Finweek Magazine on 26-July-2012

Why don’t companies train principles rather than procedures? Why don’t they empower employees to use whatever sensible means necessary to achieve the ultimate aim, rather than force them to follow one rigid course of action? Continue reading


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How to ace a job interview

job-interviewees-wait

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 10-May-2012 issue

Job interviews are nerve-wracking for most of us. If you’re better prepared, your confidence will climb. Here are some useful tips on how to impress potential employers in an interview and increase your chances of being hired Continue reading


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When winners are losers: lessons for entrepreneurs

Chris-Poole

This article also appeared in Finweek on 27-Feb-2014

Investors often look at early-stage traction as a key indicator of a start-up’s potential to succeed. Yet despite their sizeable user numbers, success didn’t happen for US start-up Drawquest. Would Drawquest’s impressive stats have translated into success if they had started up in South Africa? And what are the valuable lessons here for entrepreneurs? Continue reading


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6 Ways to raise our kids to be entrepreneurs

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 20-Feb-2014 issue

flops-teen-entrep

Our generation, our parents’ generation and generations before that, were raised to go to school, get a grade 12, and get a degree in order to get a job. But the world has changed. Job security and certainty about tomorrow, no longer exist. We cannot depend on anyone else but ourselves for financial and career security. We as parents and our educational system should be training our kids to be entrepreneurs, so that they can create jobs instead of working in jobs for someone else. We should be teaching them to be resourceful, resilient and creative, so that they can create their own successful tomorrow and don’t depend on someone else for their future. Continue reading


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Education is the way out of poverty

schoolkid-Africa
This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 07-Feb-2014 issue

We all know that South Africa’s school education system is in a shambles. But does this matter, if an overwhelming 81% believe that school does a bad job of preparing learners for the real world and the workplace? Actually, education is still the way out of poverty and here is living proof. Continue reading


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How female consumers are changing “guy branding”

male-female This article also appeared on Finweek.com on 18-Dec-2013

Women playing rugby, our very own Banyana Banyana soccer team, women riding motorbikes, women driving sports cars, women drinking alcoholic drinks. More and more we are seeing women moving into traditionally male-dominated territory.  Is the move good or bad for masculine brands? Finweek unpacks the issues. Continue reading


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Want to make better decisions? Give it time

sleep-and-decisions-and-ideasThis article also appeared in Finweek on 22-Nov-2013

In 2011, when Barack Obama had to approve the raid that would kill Osama bin Laden, he didn’t decide quickly. Instead, he chose to sleep on it first. After taking 16 hours to reach his decision, he got a lot of criticism. As a business leader, often you’re faced with complex, high-impact situations that call for big decisions. Should you make these immediately? Or like Obama, should you give yourself time to weigh up all the options? Research suggests that time (and sleep and meditation) can help you make better business decisions, even tapping into your creative side. Continue reading


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Why we need competitors

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 2-Jan-2014 issue

Defeat your competition, is what we often hear in business. No company wants competitors, right? Wrong. Competition is good for your business. Here’s why. Continue reading


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How the porn industry has driven internet innovation

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 28-Nov-2013 issue and online

It may not be everyone’s favourite industry, but like it or not, the sex trade has driven many of the major innovations we see on the Internet today. The explosion of the Internet, the swiftness of broadband adoption and the penetration of 3G: all must be credited to the porn industry. You can thank porn for not only for the omnipresence of the internet, but also for many of the technologies that we accept as the norm: streaming video, online payment systems and live video chat on the plus side, to spyware and spam on the minus side. Finweek explores the internet firsts that were driven by the sex trade. Continue reading


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Raising funding – learnings from Everlytic

raising-funding+contractThis article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 14-Nov-2013 issue and online

Raising capital isn’t an easy decision for an entrepreneur. In order to expand rapidly, do you give up equity and control to get the investment you need? Or do you take the slower growth track, where sales fund your company’s growth and you get to keep 100% control of your baby? South African-born software company Everlytic chose to go the funding route. Finweek interviewed managing director Walter Penfold about Everlytic’s recent capital raise and what they learnt from it. Continue reading


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Why talented people battle to get jobs

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 3-Oct-2013 issue

Worldwide we’re facing exceptionally high unemployment levels. And yet in spite of this, companies complain they can’t find good people. How do you explain this disconnect? And what can we do to fix it? Continue reading


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It’s my company and I’ll charge what I want to

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 27-June-2013 issue

nike-lebron-x-shoes-picAs consumers, we need to take responsibility for our choices. What we as consumers can learn from the Nike LeBron X pricing controversy.

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Persistence pays off for entrepreneurs

persistent mountain climber at summitThis article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 30-May-2013 issue

The 12th series of US singing competition American Idol reached its finale last week. 23-year-old vocal powerhouse Candice Glover took the title. With her talent you’d think she would have been a clear favourite. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, this was Candice’s third attempt on the show. She had auditioned for the ninth and 11th seasons but didn`t reach the finals until the 12th season. In a previous season, former Idols judge Simon Cowell condescendingly told Candice she would never amount to more than a lounge singer. But he didn’t bank on her strong sense of determination. “I always knew for some reason that it would happen if I kept going,” said Glover backstage after her 2013 win. There is a powerful lesson that many entrepreneurs can learn from Candice Glover: Persistence pays off. Continue reading


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Meetings are a time killer: how can we make them more effective?

dilbert_stand_up_meeting

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 16-May-2013 issue

On the way to taking our 8-year-old son Jayden to karate, my husband told him that he had to leave a meeting early to come pick him up. So Jayden asked: “Are meetings fun? Are they like play-dates for adults?

Jayden’s comment was spot-on. Meetings are a waste of time, and most of us would rather be working. In 37 Signals’ best-selling book Rework, the company reminded their staff that “every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.” Best of all, in 2011, 37 Signals even implemented National Boycott a Meeting Day.

However, if you absolutely must have a meeting, how can you make them more effective? Here are some useful tips. Continue reading


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Pay what you want: does it work?

panera counter.png

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 09-May-2013 issue

Dave was in the market for a new car. One afternoon he happened to be driving past the Ferrari showroom when he thought: “Why don’t I take one for a test drive?” An hour later he returned from an exhilarating drive in a Ferrari 458 Spider, with the top down and the engine roaring like a caged panther. Dave was sold. He asked the manager: “So, how much will this one set me back?” The manager responded: “Tell me how much you want to pay….”

If you were like Dave, you probably would have also done a double take. Pay what you want for a brand-new Ferrari? Seriously?

As much as we wish it would, Pay What You Want (PWYW) has not penetrated the luxury sports car industry, at least not yet. But worldwide, more and more business people are experimenting with this controversial new business model across many industries: from restaurants, the music industry, to gaming and movies and free online services like Mozilla Firefox and Wikipedia. So far all of these industries centre around goods and services that don’t cost a lot. Could PWYW spread to industries with big ticket items like cars and property? More importantly, does the PWYW model work? And do the numbers make business sense?

Continue reading


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Retiring at age 65: an archaic idea that doesn’t fit into today’s world

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 02-May-2013 issueretired not expired

A few years back my mother, a Professor and Head of Department at the Wits Faculty of Social Work, was forced to retire at age 65. Despite being very good at her job and showing no signs of mental or physical deterioration with age, she was stripped of her professorship and all that she could still do for the department, simply because she hit 65. In today’s day and age, is retirement at age 65 not an archaic concept that needs to be put to rest? Continue reading


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How to take on big companies and win

big dog vs little dogThis article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 25-April-2013 issue

Overnight singing phenomenon Paul Potts stole the hearts of millions of people around the globe. The soft-spoken mobile phone salesman came from humble origins in Bristol, England, the son of a working-class bus-driver father and supermarket-cashier mother.  From the age of six Potts had been bullied in school for being poor, which had eroded his self-confidence.  A serious bicycle accident in 2003 and subsequent financial troubles motivated him to enter the debut series of Britain’s Got Talent. Despite not having sung in four years, when he started singing on that stage in 2007, he blew the judges and audience away with his surprisingly incredible voice. With his breath-taking performance of “Nessun dorma”, Potts went on to win Britain’s Got Talent and receive worldwide acclaim, with his debut album One Chance topping sales charts in nine countries.

There is something captivating about underdogs like Paul Potts. When we see the longshot win against the odds, it makes us believe that nothing is impossible and we really can achieve our biggest dreams. This is true both in our personal lives and the business world. There are many examples of small companies taking on the industry giants and winning: Apple vs. Microsoft and IBM, Virgin’s Richard Branson, Whole Foods’ John Mackey, Southwest Airlines’ Herb Kelleher and Fedex’s Fred Smith. Locally we’re seeing it in the cell phone industry with Cell C versus MTN and Vodacom.

Yes, it is possible for minor players to take on big companies and come out on top. How they do it? Here are some of the strategies that work: Continue reading


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Venture capitalists: do entrepreneurs still need them?

money tree smallThis article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 11-April-2013 issue

Before World War 2, development capital was limited largely to wealthy individuals and families. It was only in 1946 that venture capital (VC) began to emerge. That year the first two VC companies, American Research and Development Corporation (ARDC) and JH Whitney & Company, were created in the US. Since then, entrepreneurs have pretty much depended on VCs to build high-growth businesses. But that could be changing. With the advent of crowd-funding and the dramatic drop in costs to launch an Internet start-up, do tech entrepreneurs still need VCs? Continue reading


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Acting crazy: your best competitive strategy yet?

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This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 28-March 2013 issue

The 36 Chinese Stratagems are an essay of powerful tricks personifying the ancient Chinese art of being cunning. Not only are these stratagems potent tactics in times of war and politics, but they can also be effective in today’s business world.

First revealed in history roughly 1 500 years ago and written up almost 500 years ago, since the Nineties the stratagems have become increasingly popular in the Chinese world of business. However, they are still relatively unknown in Western countries.

One of the stratagems gives the following advice:

Feign madness but keep your balance: Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack.

In laymen’s terms, if your adversary thinks you are crazy, he won’t feel threatened by you and so will not take you seriously or put up a fight against you. Continue reading


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Cannibalise your business before someone else does

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This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 21-March 2013 issue

Prozac, a breakthrough treatment for depression, is one of the biggest-selling, most profitable medications of all time. Since its launch in 1988, Prozac accounted for US$ 21bn in sales and 34% of Eli Lilly’s revenues in that time. In essence Lilly was the house that Prozac built. However, the US patent for Prozac was coming up for expiry in 2001. Executives at Lilly knew that this would trigger such a huge loss of revenue that 2001 was known throughout the company as “Year X”. So how did Eli Lilly prepare for Year X? In South Africa in 1997, Eli Lilly introduced Lilly Fluoxetine, its own generic version of Prozac. But this would eat into sales of Prozac. Why would Eli Lilly conceivably do such a thing?

Inevitably, markets are cannibalised. As business leaders, we have a choice: we can either cannibalise our own business lines, or we can enable existing or new competitors to cannibalise it for us. With pricey Prozac coming off patent, it was inevitable that other pharmaceutical companies would jump in to claim their share of the very lucrative antidepressant market. Rather than let competitors grab its Prozac market share with generics, Lilly chose to bring out its own generic. The thinking was that Prozac users could be converted to the cheaper, chemically similar Lilly Fluoxetine, rather than to the competitor antidepressants, and this would prevent some of the Prozac fallout. It was a smart strategy and helped Lilly stay in the antidepressant game.

So why should you cannibalise your own business? And what can happen if you don’t? Continue reading


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Should you pay people to quit?

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 14-March 2013 issue

zappos_tony-Lisa was in a group of new recruits going through an intensive week of immersion training at a new employer, learning everything about its strategy, culture and processes. Frank, the training class leader, left the room, and long-standing employees Joe and Cheryl came in to discuss the new group’s progress and offer support. Or so Lisa thought.

Instead, Joe and Cheryl kicked off a candid conversation with the newbies about their future at the company. They asked: “Does it seem like the right fit for you? Is this genuinely where you think you want to be?’” Lisa was slightly confused as to where this was heading. Then Cheryl made a very surprising offer to the entire class: “If this isn’t the place for you, we want to let you know about an early resignation offer that you can take advantage of. We’ll pay you for the time you’ve already spent training, plus a bonus of $4,000, to quit and leave the company right now.”

Lisa could not believe what she was hearing. Were they paying her to quit? Do companies really do this? Continue reading


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Entrepreneurs: stop cloaking your ideas in secrecy

share ideas entrepreneursThis article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 4-April-2013 issue

Joe and I met at a networking event recently. Joe is new to the entrepreneurial game and wants to start a business in the restaurant industry. When I asked Joe to tell me more about his concept, he immediately clammed up. “I’d prefer not to discuss it until it is launched”, he said hesitantly. “However if you could sign a confidentiality agreement, I do have one with me …”

I meet entrepreneurs like Joe all the time. Like most entrepreneurial newbies, he is very protective of his idea. His greatest fear is that copycats will steal it. So he guards his baby zealously, and doesn’t even tell his friends about it. By contrast, mature entrepreneurs who have been in the game for a while are only too happy to tell others about their ideas. Here’s why: Continue reading


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Your business: Is organic the way to grow?

tulips-growing

This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 07-March 2013 issue

In last week’s article we explored how growing too quickly could sometimes, but not always, be bad for your business. By contrast, even though it often gets a bad rap, slower, organic growth, could actually be a better strategy for your business in the long-run. Continue reading


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Is rapid growth bad for your business?

rapid growth graph tech bizThis article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 28-Feb-2013 issue

In 1999, the Webvan Group promised to transform the grocery shopping industry. Thanks to an über-successful IPO and other sources such as venture capitalists, it raised a staggering $1.2bn in start-up capital, rivalling big players like Amazon.com. Fast forward to 2001, when Webvan went bankrupt, barely 18 months later. The cause? It ran out of money.

How is this possible?

When investors inject capital into a business, they want a return on their money. And the expectation is that rapid growth will usually fuel this return. Americans even have an expression for fast-growing firms: “gazelles” are publicly traded companies that have grown at least 20% for each of the previous four years, kicking off with US$ 1m or more in sales.

But sometimes, growing too quickly can actually be bad for business. Continue reading