Exploring entrepreneurship: a tool to rebuilding the nation
By Nicholas Lamohr
My journey started working in the digital and print industry. After spending 16 years as at the General Manager of successful print company, having acquired the necessary skills and knowledge essential for managing key areas of any organisation (Sales, Operations, IT and HR), I felt that it was time for a change. However, my career had reached a point where I needed to decide, stay in this lane; or take the leap.
The thought of applying to a different company as an employee was not appealing to me. I recall many occasions in which I spoke to other business owners regarding the credentials needed to be an entrepreneur, or what was it like to start a business of your own. I found myself auditing their responses to see if I had what it took to take that step.
On one occasion, I set up a lunch appointment with a very successful business acquaintance I knew, to ask him if I had what it took to take the leap from employee to entrepreneur. This journey of trying to find validation and advice went on for a few years, until 2011, I started noticing a gap within the digital market by assisting small businesses.
I witnessed numerous small business requests for web-design being outsourced to other companies. I was extremely interested in pursuing this opportunity, and subsequently registered Linchpin-PM and studied web design. I “dabbled” part-time for six years, without any clear strategy or direction on where the business was heading. I quickly learnt that I enjoyed strategising with small business owners. Upon discovering this newfound passion, my focus shifted from creating the product to the process of helping them improve/develop better strategies to assist their business to be more relevant, customer-centric and profitable. Adopting the vision of Hillsong Church, our mission became that of “helping SME’s to rebuild our nation”.
In March 2017, we decided to resign as a GM and pursue running the business full-time. The start was rough! We had no start-up capital, no proper business plan, and no proper strategy. By the grace of God, we were able to navigate our first year full-time and cover most of our bases.
From SBA into the Lions Den
In 2019, a friend recommended that I participate in the Small Business Academy (SBA) programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB); where they provide business skills to 21 entrepreneurs from low-income areas of the Western Cape. The trajectory of my business and personal development was instantly changed from the first time I stepped into that classroom. We all had to introduce ourselves, say where we came from, and what type of business we had. Let me just say that at that moment, my empathy level has forever been changed! What was obvious, is that the legacy of apartheid still deeply affects many entrepreneurs who come from previously disadvantaged communities.
The SBA programme has enriched me with a world of knowledge and skills I needed. I developed better business practices, and by implementing what I learnt, I transitioned from an employee to an employer. Resilience and perseverance became two major qualities I have acquired during this process. There have been many relational and financial setbacks, and as a “young” entrepreneur, you learn to evaluate, evolve, and strategise daily.
The SBA programme also provided each student with a mentor and I started a wonderful partnership with the great Morne Nigrini (USB and Stellenbosch alumnus). Morne convinced me to enter the USB’s Lion’s Den Programme; competition entrepreneurs get the chance to pitch their business ideas in the den to a panel of investors – the industry lions.
With the SBA Programme nearing its completion, I undertook the parallel journey into the Lion’s Den competition. To enter, each contestant had to submit a two-page executive summary of a business and a shortlist would be made to see if your idea/business made the cut. I was already in a process of re-structuring my business (as part of the SBA Programme) I submitted my application, thinking that nothing would come of this. I later came to learn that the calibre of people who participate in the Lion’s Den competition are current MBA students or USB alumni and that more than 50 entries received on average.
I made the shortlist of 40 people. To say that I was elated and surprised was an understatement. At this stage, I still knew very little about the competition, or the process required; however, I recall sitting in that auditorium, my nervousness visible to all. “Game face, Nick” I kept telling myself, but I’m not sure it worked. I was intimidated by the calibre of people in the room. Lawyers, doctors, industry guru’s with MBAs; and here I am, trying out this “entrepreneur thing” while currently in the SBA Programme.
What I learnt that day was that the process of being in the Lion’s Den competition gave contestants the exposure to pitch to experienced Venturepreneur (D’Niel Strauss), and stand a chance to receive business development incentives for best pitch. D’Niel’s coaching through insights into the pitching and presentation process was amazing! My first pitch was the most validating. I did all the graphics and presentation work myself, delivered the pitch in a very raw manner, and received his brilliant feedback. I belonged here. I belong here.
With the amazing guidance and support of former contestant and USB alumnus Jacquis Tolsma, I ended up in the final of the Lion’s Den competition. Unfortunately, we did not win, but from the feedback of many people there and some of the judges, I delivered the best pitch. The culmination of my 2019 year at the USB was achieving the highest mark overall in the 2019 SBA programme.
The nature of our business had changed; with the new emphasis to provide SME’s with digital skills, strategic thinking and digital innovation to any business exploring the digital landscape. I believe in the potential, beauty and authenticity of SA, and the rest of Africa!
The global COVID-19 pandemic has presented the world with some interesting challenges. It is estimated that 91% of the formal business entities are SMEs. These SME’s also contribute between 52 to 57% to GDP and provide about 61% to employment.
I have witnessed and experienced the uncertainty and impact that the pandemic has had on every aspect of our nation, let alone economically. Stories of businesses closing, people losing jobs and protests erupting have all been too common during this time. The biggest challenge has been the Lockdown Experience; loss of income and fear of the unknown, how long will our cash reserve keep us afloat?
Being a movie lover, I cannot help but use a quote from the movie Rocky Balboa: “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
So, what advice can one offer during this time? I have adopted the “glass half-full” approach. I would encourage you to do the same. We have used this experience to re-position our business services in helping SME’s navigate this journey, by building E-Commerce platforms, providing cheaper E-Learning solutions and more. All SME’s require strategically digitising their business and services, especially now that most people must work from home. Businesses have had to suddenly adapt to a new way of doing their work and this is what we found is our strength. We can help businesses make those changes without the stress most people are experiencing during this time. It has added a new dimension to our business and we are striving to help our clients see a way forward to also survive the challenges of the new COVID world.
Your industry and business lens may need to differ during this time. Do not use the same lens you did before. Life has presented us with an opportunity to evaluate, adapt and change; it is up to you to make the adjustments needed.
I leave you with the words of the Zig Ziglar: “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”