Bootstrapper’s Manifesto: The BIG do not always eat the small but the fast always eat the slow

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Big companies have better distribution, access to money whenever it is needed, a brand that customers trust, access to the people who buy, and great employees. They have lots of competition, big and small, and they have sharpened their axes for battle.

As a bootstrapper what is your advantage?

You have nothing to lose.

This is huge. Your biggest advantage: Nothing to lose.

Big, established companies are in love with old, established ways. They have employees with a huge stake in maintaining the status quo.

How many of the great rail companies got into the airline business? Zero. Even though they could have completely owned this new mode of transport, they were too busy protecting their old turf to grab new turf.

Whenever a market or a technology changes, there is a huge opportunity for new businesses.

The challenge with big businesses is that they always slow to adjust to changes in the market because they have to be extra cautious because they have something to lose.

The bigger you get, the small the margin of error becomes.

Big businesses’s investors and employees want stability, more years like the one they iust finished. They do not want to hear about investing in new markets. They want to hear about profits. So they do more of the same.

A few years later, they out of business.

Elephants don’t turn, well they do, but very slowly.

When I was at business school, we had to interview an entrepreneur as part of an assignment. I spoke to an entrepreneur who was in the printing business. His business premises were next to a big printing business.

When I asked him how he managed to compete with the big business next door, he said, the big brother’s machines next door are set up to print big batches. If you want smaller print jobs, to set up their gigantic machines to print smaller job was not cost effective for big brother, and this is where he came in because he was able to execute small printing requests.

In fact he got most of his business from big brother next door because big brother, like an elephant couldn’t turn.

The big do not always eat the small but the fast always eat the slow.

Like elephants, big businesses takes time to turn and seize opportunities, therefore as a small start-up entrepreneur your ability to adopt changing environments is far quicker that big established businesses.

The bankruptcy of Kodak, a big established company is proof that the big do not eat the small but the fast always eat the slow.

Strap your boots to think fast, to decide fast, to operate fast and to move fast.

 

 

 

 

 

Bootstrapper’s Manifesto: A state of mind

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From a definition point of view, bootstrapping is starting a business without or with limited cash. Bootstrapping usually refers to a self-starting process that is supposed to proceed without external input

For me, a bootstrapper is not a particular demographic or even a certain financial situation. Instead, it is a state of mind.

Bootstrappers run billion rands companies, nonprofit organisations, and start-ups in their garages, or from the boot of their cars.

A bootstrapper is determined to build a business that pays for itself every day. In many ways, it is easiest to define a bootstrapper by what she is not: a money-raising bureaucrat who specialises in using other peopleʼs money to take big risks in growing a business. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

I think bootstrappers are entrepreneurs who don’t wait to raise enough capital before they start their businesses. I don’t think McDonalds started with huge capital investments and 200 stores, they started with one store, probably using the owner’s personal funds.

Nike started from the boot Phil Knight’s car.

Bootstrappers build prototypes with their own cash and then test the market, fix here, adjust there, step by step, drip by drip build a market, until funders are willing to invest in the startup and make it big.

Most of the companies you deal with every day, read about in the media, or learn about in school are companies with hundreds or thousands of employees. They have an ongoing cash flow and a proven business model.

Because this is the way you have always seen business done, it is easy to imagine that the only way to run a business is with secretaries and annual reports and lawyers and fancy offices.

Of course, this is not true, but it is worth taking a look at the important distinctions between what they do and what you do.

Just as playing table tennis is very different from playing Wimbledon tennis, bootstrapping your own business is a world apart from running SAB Miller. You need to understand the differences, and you need to understand how you can use your size to your advantage.

Traditional companies succeed for a number of reasons, but there are five key leverage points that many of them capitalize on. They are distribution, access to money, brand equity, talented teams and customer relationships.

Do you have a chance to succeed? No.

Not if you try to compete head to head in these five areas. Not if you try to be just like a big company, but smaller. If you try to steal the giantʼs lunch, the giant is likely to eat you for lunch.

Inventing a new computer game and trying to sell it in retail outlets would be crazy, Electronic Arts (EA) will cream you. Introducing a new line of sneakers to compete head to head with Nike at the core of its market would be suicidal.

You have to go where the other guys canʼt. Take advantage of what you have so that you can beat the competition with what they donʼt.

Many bootstrappers miss this lesson. They believe that great ideas and lots of energy will always triumph, so they waste money and years fighting the bad guys on their own turf.

David didn’t defeat Goliath with brute strength, he attacked Goliath’s weaknesses. He used Goliath’s weaknesses against him, more like bringing a cannon to a stick fight, Goliath stood no chance.

Bootstrapping is a state of mind that exploits loopholes in big companies’s business models, having little money and energy as a startup is useful but not enough.

Strap your boots and start that business.

 

The World

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The world is increasingly designed to depress us.

Happiness is not very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more?

How do you sell an anti-aging moisteriser? You make someone worry about aging.

How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration.

How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything.

How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws.

How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out.

How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind.

To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence.

To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.

Yet we have no other world to live in. And actually, when we really look closely, the world of stuff and advertising is not really life.

Life is the other stuff. Life is what is left when you take all that stuff away, or at least ignore it for a while.

Life is the people who love you. No one will ever choose to stay alive for an iPhone. It’s the people we reach via the iPhone that matter.

And once we begin to recover, and to live again, we do so with new eyes. Things become clearer, and we are aware of things we weren’t were of before.

— Matt Haig, Reasons To Stay Alive

 

Belonging

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People always have a need to belong. They always want to feel a need to belong, even Maslow recognised the need to belong in his hierarchy of needs.

Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong.

One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a group, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people.

We are drawn to leaders and to their ideas, and we can’t resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new. … We want to belong not to just one group, it turns out, but to many, be it a group of cyclists, church choir, a dance group, a group of a supporters of Mamelodi Sundowns, a team of comrades runners, a group of friends, a stockvel group, a work group, a community group, a church group, a political group, a sport team, a family, a team of chess players, a team organizing a major event, a WhatsApp group, A Facebook group page  etc. Everyone wants to belong.

A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter.

It is most unfortunate when you feel you have no one to belong to, but even worse is when you feel unwanted by people you feel you should belong to, or being in a wrong group and knowing deep down that you don’t belong there. This is like being lonely in a group.

Sometimes it is better to be alone than be in relationship you feel you don’t belong.

Our belonging is more important than our belongings.

As my mentor, Dr Naidoo says sometimes you need people you can count on when there is nothing to count on at times. You need people who go the extra mile to make things happen when nothing around you seems to be moving or want to move.

Whatever the environment or the circumstances, the need to belong will always outweigh the need to be alone, even introverts need someone to witness their lives.

There are many groups out there. The biggest test to pass is getting the right the person or group to belong to.

The best career move a person can make is who they get married to.

Our associations determine what we collide with and dream about.

 

Make something…

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Everyone should learn to code.

Not because we have a shortage of people who can code, but because once you know how to make something, it changes how you see things.

Once you know how to dismantle and assemble an electronic device, every computer seems a bit less mysterious.

Once you know how to give a speech, you see things in the speeches others give.

Learning how to make things turns you from a spectator into a participant, from a consumer to a producer, from someone at the mercy of the system to someone who is helping to run the system.

Learning how to make gives you the guts to make more, to fail more often, to get better at making.

When was the last time you made something with you own two hands?

When you spend time making something with your own two hands you impart love in a way that buying something never can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning how to see: I can see sound everywhere

 

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In an excerpt from Kanye West’s interview with Seth Meyers on Late Night with Seth Meyers, West discusses music, fashion, and how his celebrity status is holding him back from what he really wants to do in life.

In answering one of Seth Meyers’s question, Kanye says ” I have synesthesia; I can see sound in front of me.

Synesthesia is a poetic device that links together different senses; “warm color” is a synesthesia since it joins the tactile sense and your sight. In comics it is used to recreate sounds, such as POW, BOOM, etc. In the last decades it’s been used to define a neurological phenom that stimulates more senses with a single impulse.

With his music Kanye can paint pictures with his music and has the ability to recreate his vision through his production.

Recently I was watching Andreas Vollenweider’s music DVD and in it he says that he draws pictures when he makes his music. He draws a picture first and then makes the soundtrack for that picture, that’s how he does his music.

“Listen. Can you hear it? The music. I can hear it everywhere. In the wind… in the air… in the light. It’s all around us. All you have to do is open yourself up. All you have to do … is listen.” – August Rush in the movie August Rush.

Kanye West has to be one of the best Hip Hop producers, Andreas Wollenweider has to be one of the best harp jazz/fusion artist, August Rush has to be one of the most memorable movie. The three have one thing in common, they have Synesthesia, they can see their craft. They see music, they see sound, its everywhere.

You need to be so good in your craft that you are able to see it.

Learning how to see is not about looking at the end product, but seeing it everywhere.

You are see the next bounce of the ball, all you have to do… is learn how to see.

 

 

 

Learning how to see: It’s not what you look at, it’s what you see

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At the beginning of the internet revolution in the 90s, back then there was no word wide web (www), there were three guys all in the internet space. They were, like other people watching this fascinating thing called the internet unfold.

They were all looking at the same thing.

The one guy (out of the three) is a writer and worked at a book packaging and publishing business, looked at the unfolding revolution and went to write a book about it and called it  Best of the Net.

If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. So to this guy the unfolding of the internet was a nail and all he knows is writing, so he looked at the situation and wrote a book.

At the same period of time, the other two guys looked at the same unfolding situation, partnered and created a search engine on the internet platform.

The one guy sold about a thousand books making a couple of thousands of dollars. The other two guys’s search engine made billions of dollars for them.

The guy’s name is Seth Godin and his book Best of the Net was not a run away success. The two guys are Jerry Yang and David Filo and their search engine Yahoo became a huge success at the time, until Google came along.

Seth, David and Jerry looked at the same situation but saw differently.

Seth saw a book that made him a few thousand dollars. David and Jerry saw a search engine that made them $80 billion richer.

Seth had the wrong specs on that cost him billions of dollars.

Currently the world is changing, we are witnessing the end of the industrial revolution and beginning of the Start-Up Revolution unfolding, WEF Africa in Rwanda recently called it the 4th industrial revolution.

You can look at the unfolding situation and decide to fit in and be like everybody else and pretend that the past will be like the future or you can stand out and see the opportunities and maximize them.

You can look at the unfolding situation and ignore it, decide to write a book or a blog article, or you can maximize the next bounce of the ball and start something.

To look and to see are two different things, even if they both refer to visual perception.

To look at something means to gaze your eyes upon or acknowledge its presence. In order to see, not only does one look at the object but he/she also understands it and pays attention to it.

A person who looks just lives as life passes him by, but a person who sees can find the beauty in the little things, can detect the next bounce of the ball, act on it and actually enjoys their life.

It is not what you look at that matters, it is what you see.

The question is not what you look at, it is what you see.

Learning how to see: More humanity and less self interest

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If you want to make something new, start with understanding. Understanding what is already present, and understanding the opportunities in what is not. Most of all, understanding how it all fits together.

Today’s technology would allow someone to make a short film with very little effort. But could you? The making of the movie is not the hard part, in fact. The hard part is the seeing.

Spike Lee’s Boys in the Hood, Tebogo Mahlatsi’s Yizo Yizo, saw. They saw images and stories that were available to anyone who chose to see them, but others averted their eyes, grabbed for the easy or the quick or the work that would satisfy the boss in closest proximity.

When everyone has the same Mac and the same internet, the difference between unoriginal graphic design and extraordinary graphic design is just one thing, the ability to see.

Seeing, despite the name, is not merely visual.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie saw, Walter Sisulu saw, Imtiaz Sooliman of Gift of the Givers saw, Bessie Head of Maru saw, Robert Sobukwe saw, Wangari Maathai saw, Sojourner Truth saw. These and other people saw beyond just what normal society saw. The saw a different world, a different view.

The people who built the internet, the one you are using right now, saw how circuits and simple computer code could be connected to build something new and bigger.

Others had the same tools, but not the same vision.

And all around us, we are surrounded by limits, by disasters (natural and otherwise) and by pessimism. Some people see in this opportunity and a chance to draw (with any sort of metaphorical pen) something. Others see in it a chance to hide, to settle and to sigh.

The same confidence and hubris that Lee and Mahlatse brought to their productions is available to anyone who decides to give more than they ‘should’ to a charity that has the audacity to change things. While others believe they can (and must) merely settle.

Over and above seeing opportunities that are plenty around us, I hope that we will see each other as human beings and not as markets to exploit.

Given the atrocities, terrorism, kidnappings, refugees, bombings, intolerance etc, I’m convinced that the world has stopped seeing each other as humans. Instead of seeing people, we see a market to exploit, a country to invade, girls to kidnap, people to use, cheat and abuse, we have forgotten to see each other as humanity.

In our best possible future together, I hope we will do a better job of learning to see one another. 

We need to see more humans and less tanks and cannons. More humanity and less self-interest. More contributing and less consuming.

Being human is the only way to win. It’s time to see.

Some people see a struggling person and turn away. Others see a human being and work to open a door or lend a hand. There are possibilities all around us. Not just the clicks of recycling a tired cliche, but the opportunity to be brave.

If we only had the guts.

Ps: All the best to my friends running the Comrades Marathon

Learning How to See: You can look but still not see

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We are taught how to speak, but we are hardly taught how to see because it is assumed that you either see or you don’t, meaning you either have sight or not.

We assume that if you can see, you don’t need to be taught how to see. I think this is not true.

Looking and seeing are not the same thing.

We can all look at the same thing and see different things.

Do you look at your partner and see just good looks, manicured nails and makeup, or do you see talent, warmth, humility, loyalty and a winning partnership. If all you see are exteriors only, and fail to see talent, warmth and loyalty that lies beyond looks, then you are looking but not seeing.

It is easy to look and see tangible things, but it is not easy to see intangibles.

It is not easy to deal with depression because you are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames. And so, as depression is largely is unseen, it is easy for stigma to survive. Depression is going out with friends and laughing then immediately feeling empty for no apparent reason. Your friends will look and see a happy face, but not a sad soul.

Learning how to see is being able to see beyond your friend’s smile and see the pain she is going through and talk to her about it.

When I look at my scars on my body, I don’t see misplaced ugly tissues, I see survival, triumph against all odds, strength beyond imagination, healing, overcoming, courage. I see scars I carry, carry me. 

Learning how to see is about seeing things that other people don’t see. I’m not talking about seeing ghosts or being a fortune teller or palm reader who claims to see the future and can tell us our future but can’t give us lotto winning numbers.

Learning how to see is about seeing beyond what the naked eye sees, it is to understand beyond what you are looking at.

Learning how to see is about connecting the dots, not just looking at them. It is about connecting a sea of information into knowledge and into intelligence.

There is no doubt that today, we have plenty of information, having access to information is no longer a competitive advantage since most people have access to it. What sets us apart today is how we analyse and interpret that information into knowledge and intelligence.

We can look at the same information but not come to the same conclusion. Those who know how to see will come up with knowledge and intelligence, those who don’t know how to see will only see data.

Learning how to see is about seeing beyond newspaper headlines, seeing beyond trends, seeing where real development is heading and how to prepare for it.

As part of paying tribute to Deputy Constitution Court judge, Dikgang Moseneke who recently resigned, my friend Rose Francis posted this on her Facebook wall:

“A man who whilst in business as one of the founder members of Corporate Africa and I, a rookie in Investor Relations, presented me with the choice. Either ‘present intelligence or don’t present at all,’ I am not interested in mere information”

Justice Moseneke knows how to see, he wants and sees intelligence. You can argue that he is a judge and therefore should know how to see. Education is important but it is not an automatic tool to seeing.

Learning how to see is the difference between collecting the dots, and connecting the dots, between collecting degrees and certificates and collecting wisdom and intelligence.

Learning how to see is the difference between surviving daily and thriving in the future.

Learning how to see is knowing the difference winning the battle and winning the war.

Learning how to see is about seeing beyond the surface, seeing beyond the hype and frills, beyond smoke and mirrors, beyond the fanfare.

When we look at shopping malls mushrooming in the country, people look and see progress, while others see a market to explore, or is it to exploit by creating a culture of consumerism.

In business learning how to see is the difference between Uber and meter taxis. Uber sees it, Nokia missed it.

When you look at your business, what do you see? When you look at your desk at work, what do you see?

If all you see a desk, a laptop, some files, and a coffee mug, chances are you are looking but not seeing.

Learning how to see is realising that everything connects to everything else and seeing the entire connected picture and doing something about it.

 

Opportunity may knock only once but temptation leans on the doorbell

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Leaning on the doorbell means exactly what it says, leaned up against it, causing the doorbell to ring continuously.

Knocking, on the other hand, is a brief, and often more quiet way of announcing your presence at the door. The quote uses these different methods to show a relationship between the two.

Opportunity is usually seen as fleeting, a once-in-a-lifetime event. Temptation, on the other hand, is usually seen as pervasive and always there.

Temptations are everywhere. In life, temptations are put in front of us to challenge our loyalty and respect.

I believe that opportunity is always present. It may not always be at the door, but it is usually within short distance, or at worst, down at the corner.

What we have to do is work to take advantage of opportunities, both the obvious ones, and those which are not quite so obvious.

Similarly, temptation is no more or less prevalent than opportunity.

It is just that opportunity looks like hard work and temptation looks more like fun. It is just a matter of perspective.

The real challenge is to take advantage of the opportunities more often than we take advantage of the temptations. That may be a little more difficult.

I believe that with some effort, and some thought, we can learn to do a good job at not only seeing opportunity, but acting on the opportunities which are of interest. Similarly, I believe we can find ways to see fewer temptations, and to act less frequently on our urges.

There are plenty of ways to reduce and even defeat temptation. Being in the company of good friends who will nudge and advice you away from temptations, support groups, self-help books.

On the other hand, there are plenty of opportunities. But can you hear them knocking? Will you get up and answer the door? Will you check the front yard and all the way to the next corner?

Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity, but I believe even more expensive is maximizing temptation that is disguised as an opportunity.

Don’t give up what you most want in life for something you think you want now.

Strive to do what is right, not what is easy.

Keep going.

Being Busy and Lazy at the Same Time

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In the Startup Revolution: Fit In or Stand Out, I talk about the new definition of laziness. That if you can do your work with your eyes closed, without having to apply your mind, then you are not working hard.

If you go to work and stamp papers the whole day without really applying your mind, then you are not working hard, you are working long. Working long hours is doing repetitive work, doing the same thing over and over and over.

If the new definition of laziness is doing work that does not require you to exert your mental capacity but just do repetitive work then it means it is possible to be busy and lazy (not productive) at the same time.

Hard work has nothing to do with physical labour, that’s long work, hard work is about applying your mind to solve complex issues, creating new things that might not work, innovating, connecting the dots, doing emotional labour and doing work that matters.

Although we don’t like the sensation of being busy, we tend to view our busyness as a virtue.

We think of constant activity as the hallmark of someone who is productive.

But that is a huge misconception. Busyness can actually be a symptom of laziness, ineffectiveness, and procrastination. In fact, most of the time I’m busy, it’s precisely because I’m being lazy. 

What is essentially happening is that we are prioritizing poorly. We are choosing what we do based on what is easy and convenient for us in the moment, instead of what really has value for us.

In a sense, it is taking the easy way out. It is living our life in a half-hearted way because it is simpler. That is laziness.

And here is where it can get really dangerous: We can actually invent work to do: We clean our desks when they are not messy, check our Email more than necessary, and return phone calls that don’t need to be returned. Our postponing tactics get us running around in circles and we never tackle the important, all the while, feeling busy and stressed.

The trap of busyness is so much a part of corporate culture that many times it clouds our vision of what is really going on. We expect to be busy; we don’t know what to do when we are not.

The trap of busyness causes us to move with such mindless speed. We plunge into our emails and meetings with a manic energy that forbids reflection, deeply honest conversations, and breaks from the routine. 

Are you busy creating the new status-quo or are you busy maintain it. The former is what it means to be busy, the latter is disguised as being busy, but in the world that requires new solutions, doing the same thing over and over again is the new definition of lazyness.

Are you busy being productive, or are you busy doing repetitive work, work that doesn’t challenge or change the status-quo, because doing that is being lazy, are you busy being lazy?

Is your busyness a sign of laziness?

The Art of Entrepreneurship: The critic inside

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A friend recently posted on social media that he prefers Facebook than Twitter. According to him Twitter people are harsh and cold, that they have no chill because his day was spoiled due to a twitter argument he had with someone whom he suspects was probably using a pseudo account.

I have realised that social media has many critics, non-believers. This also applies to society outside social media.

Unfortunately, it is easy to tear each other down, than to build each other.

But I believe that the biggest critic is the one inside not outside.

The worst critic is in your head.

Internet critics are the commenters begging for a fight, the anonymous critics eager to tear you down, the hateful packs of roving evil dwarves, out for amusement.

But the one in your head, that voice of insecurity and self-criticism, that’s the one you need to be the most vigilant about.

Do not feed the critic.

Do not reason with the critic.

Do not argue with the critic.

Most of all, don’t litigate. Don’t make your case, call your witnesses, prove you are right. Because the critic knows how to sway a judge even better than you do.

Here is the thing about proving skeptics wrong: They don’t care. They won’t learn. They will stay skeptics.

Those skeptics who said the airplane would never fly ignored the success of the Wright Bros (inventors of the first airplane). and went on to become skeptical of something else. And even when they got onto an airplane, they did not apologise to the Wright Bros on their way in.

Get off the critic train. Don’t play angry bird, turn your back, walk away, do your work and deliver exceptional quality work.