Entrepreneurship means many different things to the variety of people living within South Africa. Read about what entrepreneurship means to these inspiring South African entrepreneurs.
An entrepreneur’s path to success is, arguably, shaped by what is important to them and what they strive for. The heritage of these entrepreneurs, however, has led to how they developed their entrepreneurial spirit. Let their lessons inspire and motivate you on your entrepreneurial journey.
1. To be a South African entrepreneur you need drive
Vinny Lingham - Silicon Valley-based tech expert, investor, South African Dragons’ Den judge and serial entrepreneur
“At the age of six I was already selling stuff. My first ‘product’ was ThunderCat stickers that I sold to kids at school. By eight, I was selling Verimark products at a local Christmas fair, and by the time I was a teenager I was selling computers.
Even while earning my degree, I never stopped my entrepreneurial pursuits. That’s the kind of drive you need if you want to be a successful entrepreneur.”
2. To be a South African entrepreneur you need vision
Derek Thomas - Co-founder of Letsema Holdings and co-presenter of the entrepreneurial series Think Big
“The way to build wealth for the country is through businesses, and through supporting entrepreneurship.
I want to continuously illuminate the art of the possible, not through my words, but through my constant actions so that others can see that even if you come from poverty, by constantly seeking to better yourself and the world around you, it is possible to achieve.”
Related: Derek Thomas unpacks learnings from episode 1 of Think Big
3. To be a South African entrepreneur you need integrity
Euphonik – DJ, radio presenter, TV presenter, and entrepreneur
“My mantra is, love what you do and do what you love. It might sound like a cliché, but I’ve turned down deals and offers that were only about the money.
If your gut says no and you do it anyway, it’s hard to get over the experience, but if your gut says yes and it was a mistake, I can reconcile with the fact that, that was clearly a lesson I needed to learn.”
4. To be a South African entrepreneur you need self-belief
Jen Su – TV and radio presenter, author and international brand builder
“It’s important to have self-belief. Passion for success is the most important driving force to achieving your goals. Do what you do for love, and not for money. I’ve been fortunate to be blessed with an incredible power to visualise where I want to be, which has then helped me map a path to get there.
In the US, I imagined myself on TV and was on the Today Show as part of a Chinese dance troupe at the age of five. In Taiwan, I won the equivalent of Idols after visualising my success in the competition. I’ve managed to find similar success across Thailand, Hong Kong and South Africa.”
Related: Celebrity Jen Su on building your brand
5. To be a South African entrepreneur you need originality
Siv Ngesi – Actor, comedian, MC and entrepreneur
“The worst business decision I ever made was trying to impress everyone else. I was so busy being cool that I lost my authenticity. When that happens, you misplace what makes you unique and different.
I was in the Philippines a few months ago, and I was so disappointed to see that every store was selling the same cheap items at the same price. There is nothing entrepreneurial about that. No one is trying to stand out, or do something different. You’ll never innovate if you’re following everyone else.”
6. To be a South African entrepreneur you need authenticity
Mark Pilgrim – Radio DJ, motivational speaker, entrepreneur
“Everyone always knows what they’re going to get with me, and I carry this through to everything I do. I won’t support a charity or initiative I don’t believe in, and I won’t become a brand ambassador for a product I don’t use.
If I am a brand ambassador, I won’t agree to a set number of tweets or mentions per week either – it needs to come naturally. I’m a very active social media user, and I like talking about the products I use and give credit where it’s due – but I believe in authenticity, or it’s of no value to my followers. In this day and age, if you’re not authentic, people will soon see through you. You can make mistakes, just be true to who you are.”
7. To be a South African entrepreneur you need dedication
Concord Nkabinde – Jazz musician, musical director, and founder of Drocnoc Music record label
“I host regular workshops for young musicians. During these workshops, I always tell them to be patient when trying to convince family members that being a musician is a viable career path. Resistance is a test of how dedicated you truly are. If you work hard and show that you take things seriously, parents will accept your choice eventually.
Although my dad was the one who introduced me to music, he wasn’t ecstatic about the fact that I wanted to become a musician. In the end, though, he became my biggest supporter.”
Related: Musician Concord Nkabinde on treating music like a business
8. To be a South African entrepreneur you need commitment
Jimmy Nevis – Pop singer, songwriter, producer and entrepreneur
“Always give an extra 5%. Stay late, play a little longer, go beyond what you promised. People who give a bit more are the ones who make it. Extra effort never goes unnoticed. Today’s success lies with fans – of music, products and services. Keep your fans happy and the sales will follow.
I’m the jealous type and if I see other people doing well, I’m driven to do even better. It’s a huge motivator for me and that is what has pushed me to extend my reach, and to integrate and collaborate with fellow artists. It’s important to remember that no one will protect your business or brand for you – that’s your job.”
9. To be a South African entrepreneur you need a little faith
Barry Hilton – Comedian, entrepreneur and creator of ‘My Cousin’ and ‘Nou Gaan Ons Braai’ product ranges
“Always have faith in yourself. Pick yourself up after each failure, because there will be many of them. Just understand what success means to you, and strive for it.
And, find a good partner – in life and in business. My wife Sandy is my rudder, my business partner, and she’s able to honestly appraise my ideas. There’s nothing more valuable.”
Related: Start-up lessons from South Africa’s favourite cousin: Barry Hilton
10. To be a South African entrepreneur you need initiative
Garth Barnes – Accounting lecturer, business owner and frontman for CrashCarBurn
“You need to go out and make things happen for yourself. On the one hand, I believe that 80% of success comes from dedication, hard work, and conviction, and 20% is inexplicable luck and timing.
On the other hand, you can’t wait for life to happen the way you want it to. We go out and create shows. We find places we’d like to play, and we make it happen. We’ve built careers and businesses around our passions, and these feed seamlessly into what we’re trying to achieve with CrashCarBurn. We’re focused, and through it all, we’re living our passions.”
11. To be a South African entrepreneur you need generosity
Scott Picken – runs four successful companies, he’s an international real estate analyst and investor, author of Property Going Global and serial entrepreneur
“A principle I hold close is one from Zig Ziglar, that you can have anything you want if you help others get what they want. When I was working in London after university, I could’ve bought a house by myself, and buying the next one would take a long time. Instead, I got my friends to all pitch in and everyone won. It’s how I run my businesses now too. I help others invest, and we all win.
"Similarly, I discovered a charity in the US called Lemonade Day that teaches kids entrepreneurial skills. I’ve bought the rights to it and I am currently launching it in South Africa.”
12. To be a South African entrepreneur you need determination
Herman Mashaba - founder of Black Like Me, author of Capitalist Crusader, and most recently, Mayor of Johannesburg
“When I was growing up, we rarely knew where the next meal was coming from. In fact, we often knew that there would be no meal on the table.
This kind of poverty causes you to react in three ways: You become despondent, you become bitter, or you become determined to change your situation. I experienced all three, but it was a combination of determination, opportunity and very hard work that allowed me to escape poverty.”
13. To be a South African entrepreneur you need to trust
Corné Krige - Former Springbok captain, motivational speaker, founder of CK Outdoor and entrepreneur
“Leadership is more important than right or wrong. In the heat of battle, sometimes a decision gets made within split seconds. It could be the wrong one, but if it’s made with conviction, and if your staff knows you used your heart and the right intentions to make it, they’ll not only be forgiving if things go slightly wrong, but they’ll be instrumental in achieving success.
Even the wrong decisions can turn out right if they’re well executed, and that starts with your team.”
Related: Corne’ Krige’s leadership insights
14. To be a South African entrepreneur you need hunger
Sonia Booth – International model, businesswomen, author and entrepreneur
“Change is the only constant. If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that things change. Never believe that success in the past guarantees success in the future. You need only look at the long list of actors and musicians who had one massive hit, and then disappeared completely.
You can never sit back and relax. You need to seize every opportunity that comes your way. Steve Jobs said it best: ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’.”
15. To be a South African entrepreneur you need courage
Graeme Watkins – Frontman of The Graeme Watkins Project, entrepreneur and collaborator
“Of course you might fail along the way. That’s fine. Failure is good. There’s no greater teacher than pain. Sometimes the greatest successes have an equal if not bigger chance of failure. Don’t let the fear that you’ve never done something before hold you back.
You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take. If you approach life with an attitude of ‘I want that, I covet it, but I’m too afraid to try,’ you’ll never find those sweet successes.”
16. To be a South African entrepreneur you need foresight
Louise Carver - Local music icon, jewellery designer, entrepreneur and serial collaborator
“The trick is to be open to opportunities that come your way. For example, I started designing my own range of jewellery because a no-name brand manufacturer approached me to become an ambassador for some of their pieces. But, they were all pieces I would never wear. At the time I was an artist contracted to Sony in a very structured environment, and I was looking for a creative outlet.
It was the perfect opportunity. Instead of saying no outright, I proposed a collaboration. They had the contacts for rose gold, silver and pearls, and the skills to assemble the pieces. I could design a collection and brand it with my name. It’s been an amazing partnership.”
Related: Louise Carver on why women should collaborate more
17. To be a South African entrepreneur you need perseverance
Amy Kleinhans-Curd - Co-founder and director of the PLP Group and lifelong entrepreneur
“I’m most proud of the fact that today I’m enjoying the fruits of the ‘compound effect.’ I’m a very goal-orientated person, and I realised a long time ago that the things in life that really matter are worth waiting and working for. There’s no such thing as instant gratification, not if you want to build something sustainable.
I believe you can’t hit a target you can’t see, and so I create goals and then work backwards, planning how I will achieve them. It’s a slow build up, but the compound effect is incredible. The energy, focus and rewards are long-lasting, and well worth the wait.”
18. To be a South African entrepreneur you need unique skills
K.O - successful solo artist and entrepreneur
“No one is great at everything. We all have our limitations and shortcomings. I depend on my business partner a lot when it comes to running Cashtime Life.
What’s important is to make up for your shortcomings in other areas. What unique skills and abilities do you bring to the table? In what areas are you invaluable? You need to find that area where you can offer real value.”
19. To be a South African entrepreneur you need leadership
Ivan Zimmermann – actor, singer, motivational speaker and philanthropist
“Leadership comes down to two questions: What makes a leader, and what do leaders do? Leaders don’t compare themselves to others, but measure up against themselves and the challenges they face.
On the tour there were younger and fitter guys. Had I compared myself to them I would have lost confidence. Many quit after six weeks and only four out of 42 finished – that says a lot about the power of mind-set.
What I achieved through training and self-belief serves to motivate others by proving that ordinary people can be leaders and achieve extraordinary things. There will always be better people – one guy just did the whole thing in 41 days unsupported.”
20. To be a South African entrepreneur you need obsessions
Vusi Thembekwayo – Global business speaker, South African Dragons’ Den judge and serial entrepreneur
“Passion is not enough if you want to be successful. Just about everyone has passion — passion is standard. You can bet that all your competitors are just as passionate as you are. What does this mean? It means that passion has become boring.
It’s no longer a meaningful differentiator. If you want to be successful, you need to be utterly obsessed. You need to reply to customer queries after 5pm on a Friday.
You need to cringe when someone tweets about a bad customer experience. You must always be switched on — you need to be present and relevant at all times.”
These 20 entrepreneurs used their heritage to plot their course to entrepreneurship. Each has a vastly different story to tell, which gives them their own unique entrepreneurial flavour. You can also achieve success by embracing your heritage and allowing it to guide your journey forward.
Related: Vusi Thembekwayo's rise to entrepreneurial success