Tangible lessons learned as an entrepreneur – 2 years later

The truth is, this is not a post about what I now know. It is about what I now do, that I did not do 2 years ago when I first took off on this adventure.

I read a lot of articles about entrepreneurship and how to be successful. They all have a common theme and the advice is usually such that it would apply to everyone. They are super inspiring and I have internalised many simple truths from what role models like Branson have to say. What they never did manage to share however is anything so tangible that I could use to change my actions immediately.

So here are a few things I think are super important and have become a part of my daily existence.

1. We succeed as a TEAM – Even if you can not yet hire people, find a way to get more people on your team. Get help from everywhere you can as people on your side are the best ambassadors of your brand and can help with getting more things done. I mean, get interns, family members, mentors, outsource all over the world and then go out and get some more interns to be a part of your adventure. Yes, our permanent team is only 5 people, but our extended team is more than 20 people around the world. The point is, we have never ever let our status as a start-up limit us in terms of how much we can do and who can join our team.

2. Learn to work in a virtual world and forget the old office stereotype – We have 3 offices on 3 continents. We decided to be global from day 1. Despite advice from many to choose one market first and then grow incrementally, we decided we wanted to do things differently. We use tools like Elance, Skype, Wunderlist and Google Apps to find and work with the best people for the job and these guys are all over the world. In a typical week we have skype calls with people in South Africa, India, Hong Kong, New York, Belgium, Lebanon, Slovakia and Israel.

3. University did not prepare me for this. To survive in the modern world you need to learn on the job and never stop learning – How good our products, websites and marketing are all depend on our ability to be the best and never remain comfortable in this position. We are still trying to figure out what we are all good at in our company, but every time we figure out we are good in a certain role… we take ownership and start the journey of 10,000 hours to perfection in that role. For us, learning is not a 20% of our time rule, it is 100% of our time. No matter what we do, we always try to look for the angle on what the work is teaching us and how we can improve.

4. Focus, prioritising, systems, processes, and delegation – in my view, the 5 secrets to transforming a start-up into a business. We’re still a start-up but here’s how each one of these concepts is getting us one step closer to growth and increased profitability.

  • FOCUS: Chose a business model, chose an idea, choose a brand name and stay focussed on one things at a time. One of the biggest weaknesses in our business in its early days was our lack of focus. We were all over the place, jumping from one idea to another. I feel like we have finally found a way to focus on what is really important. We test and review the results. If we were wrong, we refocus.
  • PRIORITISING: Even when we found our focus, there was still always more to do. Perhaps this is one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn, and believe me, I am still learning. The ability to choose what strategy to pursue, what tasks to do and what resources to commit when we have far more options than resources, is in my opinion one of the most important things we can learn as entrepreneurs. 
  • SYSTEMS: Every time we spend time on developing a better and more efficient system for a part of our business, we immediately see a drastic increase in our productivity. As we are a small team, systems allow us to do less repetitive and boring work and spend more time on developing the business.
  • PROCESSES: By standardising how we do many of our tasks, it becomes easier to become really good and fast at completing certain tasks. Even more importantly, systems and processes make the next point much easier to do well.
  • DELEGATION: At first I was a total control freak and wanted to do everything. By delegating to others what they are good at, I found that most people can do most things much better than I can and if you can give them ownership as well and accountability for what they do, then you also have a happy team member.

Outsourcing Web Development – Learning the hard way

There is nothing more stressful than getting frustrated at someone for not doing their job, have a row with them and then realising that there are half a dozen simple things that could have been done to insure that the project is completed on time and as required. I realise now why good project managers are so well paid.

I am now glad I studied economics for 3 years because it has helped me to understand that so many things in life are about punishment and incentives – the carrot that keeps the donkey going and the boot that kicks it when it goes astray. Let me explain…

Several months of paying 50% for the development of our site, we still do not have a finished working copy. I recently spent some time on a website called VWorker and while I have yet to use their services and see if they are any good, the infrastructure that the guys have set up on this community makes it so much easier to get work done.

The community has over 250,00 registered free-lancers and companies which bid on the projects people post. Within 24 hours of posting we have had over 20 bids to do our work with the cost ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. We see everyone’s reviews (something you can not easily do with companies you find when googling), and most importantly people are ACCOUNTABLE. If they agree to do the work within a month and they fail to complete the project within that time frame,  then you have the option to not pay a cent or give them an extension.

They let you know from the get go that only 25% of development/software projects in the entire industry finish on schedule (25% are never completed and 50% are delayed) and they reckon if we think a project will take 2 weeks it is more likely that it will take 2-to-5 times that amount of time.

All of our 20+ bids agreed to pay only a 10% deposit (and not the 50% we have currently paid) and there are requirements such as weekly feedback which make it easy to gauge how far along the developers are.

Incetives and punishment – a community that has both.

Overall, I can not wait to try out this service as we were really happy with a similar service (only it was for design and not development) from 99Designs. We got 19 designers to submit 59 designs for our new logo. After choosing the winning one we were also able to ask the winning designer to tweek the design to our heart’s conent. Check out our new DiamondsInAfrica logo below: