10 business lessons for the young entrepreneur

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Alex Fraser, Silicon Cape chairperson and head of business development at venture capital firm, Invenfin, recently shared her business philosophies with an audience of young South African technology entrepreneurs at the Cape Town Geek Girl Dinner.

Fraser is involved in managing and assessing new investment proposals for the venture capital firm, and through her career has identified some philosophies that may benefit young entrepreneurs, these include:

1. Don’t wait for an invitation

“No one is going to invite you to be a part of the South African entrepreneurial ecosystem. If you want to be involved, it’s important to be proactive. Join associations and if there aren’t existing ones that are of interest to you, start your own organisation.”

2. Love what you do, don’t do what you love

“Your job should always provide you with a sense of fulfillment. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that just because you are passionate about something that it will automatically translate into a successful business.”

3. Be a builder

“I’m happiest when I’m creating something. I love being part of the Invenfin team and the Silicon Cape Initiative, because it involves working with and bringing together people who are passionate about building the South African entrepreneurial ecosystem by creating better startups and increasing access to capital.”

4. What makes you tick?

Fraser believes each person should take the time to determine how he or she makes decisions.

“When you’re looking for a potential investor, you need to know what makes you tick. You’ll find that people within your team will either make decisions with their heart, mind or gut. None of these methods are right or wrong, but it’s crucial that the team understands one another and are all working towards the same goal.”

Fraser continued, “Don’t underestimate the role that your gut feeling plays either. From an investor’s point of few, a startup may tick all the boxes, but your chemistry as a team is equally important.”

5. Do the hard thing for you

Starting your own business is a really difficult thing to do – entrepreneurs need to be highly motivated.

“As a VC firm, we often look for a personal investment from the entrepreneur because we know the person will be as serious about the success of the business as we are.”

6. Be prepared

“The more research you do, the more confident you’ll feel in an intimidating environment. Whether you’re a woman in a male-dominated space or you have very little experience in a particular industry; arming yourself with information will only benefit you. Even just knowing what you don’t know and what information you need to gather is better than not being prepared at all.”

7. Default to ‘Yes’

“This is not about saying yes to every opportunity that presents itself. As a VC firm, we at Invenfin definitely cannot say yes to every startup. Defaulting to ‘yes’ has more to do with building relationships and networks. In an industry built on forming partnerships and developing new ventures, exchanging information and collaborative relationships are critical to both personal growth and business success.”

8. It isn’t instant pudding

“Building a business is not something that happens overnight, it takes patience and a lot of hard work. What makes it even more challenging is that there’s no recipe you can follow.”

“This is also true for personal life choices. It is not a question of having it all, as no man or woman can have it all, but rather asking yourself what you would like to achieve and going after that. This too can be challenging as there is no recipe for life either.”

9. Broaden your horizons

You severely limit your business potential if you’re narrow-minded and not aware of how it fits into the bigger-picture.

“Many South African startups fail because they don’t look at what their global competitors are doing. Differentiating your business globally and ensuring that your startup is internationally scalable is essential, especially if you are looking for local VC investments. The South African market is relatively small and investors like businesses which can scale to other countries.”

“For me, travelling has really broadened my outlook on life – it’s important to know what’s happening in not only your local market, but in Africa and globally.”

10. The importance of downtime

“Taking some time out to relax and do the things you enjoy can be the best thing for your business. Downtime allows you to clear your mind and deal with personal matters so that you can focus on the task at hand when you need to.”

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