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Rhodes

#RhodesHasFallen: 10 startup mistakes South African statues made

#RhodesHasFallen at University of Cape Town and the graffiti is on the wall for many other South African statues as we struggle to contextualise the past and define a shared future as a nation. Other recently defaced statues include Paul Kruger in Pretoria, King George in Durban, Louis Botha in Cape Town, Mahatma Gandhi in Johannesburg and Queen Victoria in Port Elizabeth. If some local statues were startup entrepreneurs, here are the 10 mistakes they made that could have prompted their downfall…

1. Single Founder

As a single founder you walk a lonely road without a constant sounding board to test ideas and play to collective strengths. Many founders who succeeded did so as a team of at least two. Team up. Synergise. A hashtag like #RhodesandMandelaMustFall is less likely to go viral.

2. Bad Location

Statues and startups prosper in some places and fall in others. Many contributing factors combine to form hubs where it is just easier to apply your trade. The creators of the Rhodes’ statue should have done more research before settling it on the doorstep of one of SA’s most progressive universities. Rather gravitate towards hubs where support structures exist.

3. Lack of Mentorship

Mentors are the secret weapons of successful startups. But mentor quality matters. Since Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival in the Cape was the beginning of all South Africa’s problems, he would have learnt some valuable problem-solving lessons along the way. Other Cape Town statues could use his guidance on establishing industries and his advice on avoiding failure.

4. Lacklustre Networking

Entrepreneurship does not happen in a vacuum. Sitting in one place staring into the distance will only turn you into a guano magnet. Business relationships are crucial for startups, as most deals are done in network. Get out there and actively network with peers, experts, investors and others. Madiba’s statue gets around and can often be spotted in places like Sandton, London, the Union Buildings and the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

5. Not Listening to Customers

Be customer-centric. As a statue you have access to many passers-by and customers engaging to take selfies with you. Talk to them constantly and learn from them. Their insights may surprise you.

6. Marginal Niche

At the core of any successful business is a good product or service combined with a large addressable market for it. Choosing a small, obscure niche in the hope of avoiding competition will result in avoiding sustainability. Oom Paul’s statue may guard the main gate at Kruger Park and overlook Church Square, but is there still broad market appeal for what he has to offer?

7. Slow Pivot

External and internal environments change constantly while executing a business plan. The inability to adapt destroys stubborn statues and inflexible startups that are not changing with the times by making structured course corrections. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. Surely finding his statue splashed with white paint is not the change he was referring to.

8. Failure to Innovate

Successful startups drive change through innovation; creating jobs in the process. Failure to constantly innovate leads to stagnation. Recent Chris Hani statue innovations include a memorial and walk of remembrance monument at his gravesite in Boksburg in addition to the statue at his birthplace Sabalele village in the Eastern Cape.

9. Poor Stakeholder Management

Startups grow through partnerships, and key stakeholders contribute to the success (or failure) of a business. Creating a Stakeholder Matrix upfront and then actively engaging with them through open dialogue and various touch points will disarm conflicting stakeholders that have disruptive agendas.

10. Trying to Be Perfect

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” – Reid Hoffman, Founder: LinkedIn.

Most statues have some bronze skeletons in the closet, as one does not become statue-worthy by sitting on the fence. Accept that many strategic actions have trade-offs. Analyse the costs versus benefits of activities and prioritise!

Image via BBC

Author Bio

Keet Van Zyl
Keet is a ‘Venture Catalyst’ with extensive high-growth investment experience. He structured various private equity funds in Southern Africa for a US fund-of-funds investor and worked at industry-leading companies such as Procter & Gamble, Investec Bank and Mark Shuttleworth’s ‘Here Be Dragons’ (HBD) Venture Capital. In 2010 he co-founded growth... More