Attitudes of successful entrepreneurs: Reframe


When radio was first introduced to the market in the 1920s it was a flop, nobody bought it.

Radio manufactures were frustrated that they have invested the single cool piece of technology in like forever, talk about a game changer.

They thought this has to be the most disruptive thing in the world but no one bought it and they couldn’t understand why.

Along comes a guy called David Sarnoff, who works for Radio Corporation of America [RCA].

He assess the environment and then says we have framed our value proposition all wrong.

We are trying to sell people a box, a piece of technology, that’s not what they want.

He goes out and speaks to promoters of a boxing match to broadcast a famous boxing match between Jack Dempsey vs. Georges Carpentier in 1921 [Boxing’s Broadcast Firsts].

He comes back and says we are not selling boxes we are selling experiences.

We are in the business of bringing to the world live experiences in people’s living rooms.

Framed that way, all of a sudden people get it.

“Oh I can listen to a boxing match from my living room. That makes sense to me.” 

Reframed that way, radio becomes this run-away success story.

When Steve Jobs, introduced iTunes, he didn’t say “now you can download music in a portable device.”

He framed it as: why download the entire album if you can just download and listen to your favorite song, without buying the entire album?”

Uber framed their value proposition say: press a button and your ride arrives in a minutes.

Reframing may sound like a trivial thing, but it’s not, it’s huge thing.

Reframing your value proposition is hard and a lot of companies struggle with it.

Once you are used to doing business in a specific way, you are bound up in your ways, that it’s very difficult to change your worldview and relook at the world with a new and different lense.

Failure to reframe a value proposition has resulted major companies going bankrupt.

Nokia failed to read their market and reframe their value proposition and went bankrupt.

Kodak failed to reframe their value proposition and went bankrupt.

Blackberry [BBM] failed to reframe their value proposition and went bankrupt.

Sony failed to reframe their business model in the midst of technology and they were disrupted.

All these companies were disrupted and most of them vanished, not because weren’t smart, not because they lacked resources, but because they lacked the imagination to reframe their businesses in the face of transformation.

If a problem can’t be solved within the frame it was conceived, the solution lies in reframing the problem.






Attitudes of successful entrepreneurs: Overcome fear


Having started the business 15 years ago in 2004, he left teaching and decided that he wants to be an entrepreneur selling computers.

This at a time when computers were not something that township people were familiar with.

Luvuyo Rani quit his job and, partnered with his brother, Lonwabo Rani who was fixing phones at the time, began selling computers and parts from his “mobile office” the boot of his Corsa Lite. Later his sister in law, Nandipha joined them.

He secured a loan of R10,000, purchased four refurbished computers to sell in Khayelitsha. Khayelitsha [Xhosa for Our New Home] is the largest township in Cape Town and is situated 30km south east Cape Town.

Starting a business in townships and rural areas is tough, lack of funding, a skeptical market about you and the quality of your products, break-ings and theft, lower purchasing power [at that time], are some of the challenges you have to deal with.

Luvuyo said:

“It was tough. People were sceptical about the informal nature of our business. They wanted to know: ‘Where are these computers coming from?’ Even if they knew, no one believed that there was a future in computer technology in the townships.”

Business got so tough that at some point the bank wanted to repossess his “mobile office” his Corsa Lite.

He had to duck and dive from the bank, to an extent that he would park his car 5 or 6 houses away from his home, and then walk to his house.

At some point in the entrepreneurship journey, you will come face to face with bankruptcy.

Entrepreneurship is emotional roller-coaster.

One minute you are up and another you are down.

One day you are winning this game, the following day, this game is winning over you.

The fear of failure is what prevents a lot of people from starting their businesses.

How do I get rid of the fear? is the wrong question to ask.

The only way to get rid of the fear is to stop doing things that might not work, to stop putting yourself out there, to stop doing work that matters.

No, the right question is, “How do I dance with the fear?”

Fear is not the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy.

Learn to dance with fear, instead of avoiding it.

Fear is always there, it’s always present, but Luvuyo, Lonwabo and Nandipha learned to dance with it, instead of avoiding.

By end of 2004, they had sold 15 machines.

By 2006, they opened the first internet cafe in Khayelitsha Mall.

By 2007, they opened a training centre in Litha Park.

By 2008, they opened a store in Khaya Bazaar Centre.

By 2009, they opened 5 more stores in the Western Cape.

By 2014, they had 16 stores open in the Western Cape, and 14 in the Eastern Cape.

By 2017, Silulo has trained over 29,000 students since inception, has 42 internet cafes across three of South Africa’s provinces [The Western and Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal] and employs over 180 people.

Silulo is targeting to open 100 stores by 2020.

More stores, means more fear [what if we fail], it means more dancing to do.

In a country, where unemployment is 27,5%, creating over 180 jobs and training over 29,000 students is BIG deal.

Attitudes of successful entrepreneurs: Humility


When she left being a CEO of a major bank in Botswana to start Sally Dairy, Mme Lorato Ntakhwana quickly learned the challenges of entrepreneurship.

Leaving corporate, let alone being a CEO of a major bank to being a CEO of a startup, is not easy.

The biggest challenge is downgrading your lifestyle and freeing yourself from the financial shackles of living a corporate lifestyle so that you can invest your resources in your startup.

Being used to red carpets being rolled down for you, to having to buy carpets and stationery for your business is not easy.

Being used to flying business class and going economy class is not easy.

Being used to wearing power suits to wearing jeans and overalls and being hands-on in your plant is not easy.

Being used to having stimulating intellectual discussions about economic trends, monetary outlooks, budget analysis with colleagues, to having basic conversations with your team who most of them only have matric is not easy.

Mme Ntakhwana had to hit the ground running, learned fast the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship and sticking it out to build a growing business that is Sally Dairy.

What makes Mme Ntakhwana and other entrepreneurs like her, special is that she has the courage to disregard all the perks, the social status, and soldier through what she thinks is correct.

She is understands the difference between being employed and being an employer.

She understands that even the major bank she led before was once a startup.

More than intellectual smarts, connections, amazing product, and a great cv, entrepreneurship will teach you humility.

No one owes you a sale, customers don’t have to buy from you because you are this superstar person.

You can’t bring your Phd title, your “Do-you-know-who-I-am” attitude, your I’m popular, I’m beautiful, I’m smart attitude to customers.

Customer don’t care about your accolades, they care about themselves, about what value they can get from you in exchange for their hard-earned money.

In corporate you are given a budget to spend, in entrepreneurship you make your own budget.

That’s a huge shift in mindset. It teaches you to be humble.

Being humble teaches you that life is not about you and your title, but about others [customers].

That’s why entrepreneurs don’t really care much about their positions and titles, they know customer want excellent service, not titles of who is who in the business.

Being humble teaches you to serve, instead of insisting to be the centre of the universe.

This then creates a strong culture of customer care and relationships.

If customers feel appreciated and feel like they matter, they will always come back. 

Being humble about your work, means you always leave room for improvement.

When you think you have arrived, it becomes difficult to discern areas of improvement.

Jeff Bezos, when asked about a company disrupting Amazon said: “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”

Despite Amazon’s success, he has the presence of mind that startups can disrupt Amazon and succeed.

Being humble is an antidote to arrogance.

It is a virtue that allows you to stay ahead of the classic innovator’s dilemma while your startup can be disrupting an incumbent your company might be the one to get disrupted in the next innovation cycle

A humble leader says: “when the company succeeds, credit goes to the team, but when the company struggles, I take the blame.”

Reflect credit, and embrace blame.

A humble leader spawns other humble leaders around herself.

Being humble does not mean being tolerant of mediocrity.

Being humble means striving for excellence and not compromising standards, but being humane about it.

You can still fire a non-performing staff, but after you have tried to help them perform and given them time improve.

There is so much power in humility.

Transformation starts with someone saying, I’m leaving my job to start a business. I’m aware that to succeed in this journey I have to put customers at the centre of everything we do at _______ [insert your company name].

Book Review: The Runaway Species: How human creativity remakes the world by David Eagleman and Anthony Brandt


Unlike wild creatures, which operate largely on autopilot, humans usually avoid repetition, seeking novelty. By living our lives on autopilot, we dim our creative spirit and deprive the human specie of our creative genius.

The Runaway Species: How human creativity remakes the world is a deep-dive into the creative mind, a celebration of the human spirit, and a vision of how humanity can improve our future by understanding and embracing our ability to innovate.

The book engages this topic of creativity and innovation in three basic strategies by which all ideas evolve:

  • Bending: a makeover of an existing prototype through alterations.
  • Breaking: fragmentation and
  • Blending: combines two or more sources in novel ways.

We take the raw materials of experience and then bend, break and blend them to create new outcomes.

The book looks at innovation from these three pillars. Some of the concepts on the book may not be quiet new, but they provide a different lens on how to look at them.

The books offers a number of examples and ways in which creators and innovators have processed the available past to produce new outcomes, from better smartphones to artistic interpretations of classic images.

No matter what medium they work in, creative readers are likely to recognize immediately how breaking things into “workable chunks” or blending them into surprising combinations (such as sushi pizza) can foster creative outbursts.

Do not commit to the first solution. Always generate options—a “cornerstone” of the creative process.

Often we talk about the importance of allowing children to take risk.  Risk taking not only in their play, but also in their learning. Our schools today don’t encourage risk, and testing is set-up so that failure is a frightening prospect.

We must allow children to take risks and we must refrain from penalizing them when they do so. Brandt & Eagleman dedicate an entire chapter to this concept; then they move on to talk about what we hope will be the school of the future.



Essential, and highly pleasurable reading for anyone who cares about ideas and innovation.

The storytelling in this book is crazy remarkable and the use of analogies is very impressive.

It is a balanced book in its approach, takes you to the future and back .

Favourite Quotes

  • “To our parents, who brought us into a life of creativity…our wives, who fill our lives with novelty…and our children, whose imaginations summon the future…”
  • “…our inventiveness typically runs in the background, outside of our awareness.”
  • “As important as creativity has been in our species’ recent centuries, it is the cornerstone for our next steps.”
  • “Synthetic biologist, app developer, self-driving car designer, quantum computer designer, multimedia engineer – these are positions that didn’t exist when most of us were in school, and they represent the vanguard of what’s coming.”
  • “…corporate boardrooms everywhere are scrambling to figure out how to keep up…”
  • “This mandate for innovation is not reflected in our school systems.  Creativity is a driver of youthful discovery and expression – but it becomes stifled in deference to proficiencies that are more easily measured and tested.”
  • “If we want a bright future for our children, we need to recalibrate our priorities.”
  • “A balanced education nurtures skills and imagination.”

  • “Smartphones revolutionized our communications, but new tech becomes basic, universal, and invisible before our eyes.”
  • “…magic of human brains: we relentlessly simulate what-ifs.”
  • “Hope is a form of creative speculation: we imagine the world as we wish it to be rather than as it is.”
  • “The drive to create the new is part of our biological make-up.”
  • “Steve Jobs…Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it.  They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while; that’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

  • “Human creativity does not emerge from a vacuum.  We draw on our experience and the raw materials around us to refashion the world.”
  • “…modern science historian Steven Johnson puts it, “We take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape.”
  • …new ideas take root in environments where failure is tolerated.

  • “James Dyson invented the first bag-less vacuum cleaner. It took 5,127 prototypes and fifteen years for him to nail the model that would finally go to market.”
  • “Like so many other human endeavors, creativity is strengthened with practice.”
  • “FabLabs, Makerspaces, and TechShops are burgeoning, with their communal tools for making artwork, jewelry, crafts, and gadgets.”
  • “…but too many classrooms offer little to be digested, instead proffering a diet of regurgitation.  That diet threatened to leave our society hungry for future innovators. We’re stuck in an educational system born during the industrial Revolution.”
  • “An education in creativity lies in the sweet spot between unstructured pay and imitating models.  The sweet spot gives the students precedents to build but it doesn’t condition or constrain their choices.”
  • “Praise efforts, not results.”

  • “Any problem with an open outcome promotes risk-taking.”
  • “To produce a thriving society of creative adults, it is crucial to inspire risk-taking students who don’t cower in fear of the wrong answer.”
  • “Giving students a chance to solve real-life problems is an inspiring way to spur creativity.”
  • “Creativity is the fuel for our species’ runaway progress.”
  • “…young minds need art.”

  • “…the arts…are the most accessible way to teach the basic tools of innovation.
  • Every facet of the creative mentality can be taught through the arts…”
  • “Students learn the experimental method in science class, but the experiments they conduct are often aimed at a predetermined result: as long as the students follow the right procedures, they will arrive at the expected outcome.  In the arts, students learn the experimental method, but without any guarantees.”
  • “…all of us merit the opportunity to develop our creative capabilities.  Otherwise, society provides an incomplete education.”
  • “If we don’t cultivate creativity in our children, we won’t take full advantage of what’s unique about our species.  We need to invest in imagination.”

Attitudes of successful entrepreneurs: Disagreeable


Between Tesla Motors and SpaceX, Elon Musk has become a legend. But to achieve his current enormous success, Musk had to ignore smart advice and pass under a multitude of storm clouds.

What many don’t realise is that Tesla Motors and SpaceX both narrowly escaped bankruptcy.

Tesla Motors nearly died due to delays and cost overruns, at some point it was written off by major car magazines.

Musk put his last $3 million into Tesla and began borrowing money from friends. He even sold his car [an expensive McLaren F1] to give Tesla its last breath before the tides finally turned.

Musk persevered because he felt that his success could be a global breakthrough for future technologies, he says: “I just thought, these are important things.

People felt that Musk is committing career suicide with his impossible crazy ideas.

During all these challenges, Musk was ridiculed, his ideas were labelled crazy, a waste of money, if there is ever company shares that you shouldn’t touch, they are Tesla shares.

As his ventures were struggling to take off, so were the criticisms coming in thick and fast.

So what did he do in reaction to this universal ridicule and disdain?

Nothing. He didn’t care, cared less.

It absolutely had zero effect on him that everyone thinks he is insane.

The word that psychologists use to describe that kind of person is: disagreeable.

Not disagreeable as a synonym for obnoxious.

Disagreeable is a term that psychologists use to describe people who do not require the approval of their peers to do what they think is correct.

To be innovative and successful, entrepreneurs must be disagreeable.

It is not enough to have great ideas, the discipline and focus to see them to fruition, entrepreneurs must have the strength, resolve and the courage to pursue their ideas even when the rest of the world thinks they are are crazy.

Time and time again if you look at stories of extraordinarily important entrepreneurs, there is almost always a moment when they are the only ones who believe in the value of what they are doing.

As humans beings, we are hard wired to want the approval of our peers, and so we avoid doing innovative projects that will attract criticism.

But someone like Musk has that unique ability to stand up in the face of mass ridicule and shrug.

He has the courage of his convictions.





Nobel Prize

Sello is walking down a country road when he spots Farmer Jacob standing in the middle of a huge field of corn doing absolutely nothing.

Sello, curious to find out what’s happening, walks all the way out to the farmer and asks him, ‘Excuse me Farmer Jacob, could you tell me what you are you doing?’

‘I’m trying to win a Nobel Prize, ‘the farmer replies.

‘A Nobel Prize?’ enquires Sello, puzzled. ‘How?’

‘Well, I heard they give the Nobel Prize to people who are out standing in their field.’

More ethics?


Recently I was working on preparing my company financial statements and tax returns.

I realised that we measure a lot of indicators on our financials.

We measure what is measureable and we deem what is measurable to be more important.

We don’t quiet measure ethics in our financials.

Most companies seek to be more profitable.

They seek to increase their Key Performance Indicators. More referrals, more satisfaction, more loyalty.

They seek to increase their market share, their profits, their dividends, their share price.

But ethics?

In fact, most companies strive to be just ethical enough.

To get ethics to the point where no one is complaining, where poor ethics are not harming their KPIs.

What if instead…

Being more ethical was the most important KPI?

What if instead, we measure the number of traffic fines not received?

What if instead, we measure how many returns we submit on time and not incur penalties and interest?

What is instead, we truly state our financial performance and not under-report because we want to pay less tax.

What if instead, of inflating our company profile in order to secure a contact, we state correctly the number of clients we served even if it’s small?

Perhaps profit and market share and the rest could merely be tools in service of the ability to make things better, to treat people ever more fairly, to do work that we are more proud of each day.

It might be worth trying.

Standout: with a better story


Today, I was in the Gautrain, everyone, well almost everyone was on their phones, laptops, earphones and some gadget.

People are glued to their screens checking out stuff or listening to stuff.

We have all heard the news that attention spans are shrinking.

According to research, the average attention has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8.25 seconds in 2015.

Scientists reckon we now have shorter attention span than a goldfish.

The average attention of a goldfish is: 9 seconds.

I’m sure your attention has been distracted while reading this so far.

People check their phones over one hundred times in a day.

The Internet doesn’t want you to have a long attention span. Digital media is designed to be clicked, consumed, and shared as quickly as possible.

There is no time to go deeper on topics, we see the headline, we click and share and move on.

Ad revenue is driven by clicks, not by how many people actually read an article or watch an entire video.

We have come to believe that the people we are trying to reach are always distracted.

If that’s so, how do we explain the rise of binge-watching, the success of serialised podcasts and long read articles?

I used to binge-watch Prison Break when it started, but after they broke out of prison and were on the run I was fatigued from watching and stopped watching subsequent seasons, but for a good 8 season, I was glued, captured and held on suspense by the Prison Break story.

I haven’t seen Games of Throne, but the fans of this series are glued and follow the story with passion.

What we are witnessing is not just a shift in the way content is consumed.

It is a change in the intention and behaviour of both audiences and content creators according to their preferred platform or media.

The goal of prolific tweeters and grammers is to distract, rather than to immerse their audience.

People visit Twitter and Instagram when they want to be distracted.

Steaming services and series tv wants to keep us watching. Their intention gives rise to the creation of engaging content and better storytelling.

How we tell stories changes how people react and respond. How audiences react and respond changes the kinds of stories we tell.

We become better storytellers by knowing who we are and who we want to be to whom.

Purposeful storytellers are intentional about the impact they want to have and the messages they choose to send.

To stand out in today’s noisy world they need to tell a better story.

Ps: I’m aware that different researches on attention spans comes up with different numbers in terms of attention deficit, but what is consistent between them is that our attention span is decreasing.


Standout: Lessons from Les Demoiselles painting


In 1907, 112 years ago, in a small studio in Paris, a young painter named Pablo Picasso sets up his easel.

Usually penniless, he has taken advantage of a financial windfall to purchase a large canvas.

He starts working on a provocative project, a portrait of prostitutes in a brothel, an unvarnished look at sexual vice.

Picasso begins with charcoal sketches of heads, bodies, and fruit.

In his first versions, a sailor and male medical student are part of the scene. He decides to remove the men, settling on the five women as his subjects.

He tries out different poses and arrangements, crossing most of them out.

After hundreds of sketches, he sets to work on the full canvas.

At some point he invites his mistress and several friends to see the work in progress.

Their reaction so disappointed, that he stops and sets aside the painting.

But months later he goes back to the painting, and works on it in secret.

Picasso views the portrait of the prostitutes as an exorcism from his previous way of painting.

The more time he spends on it, the further he moves from his earlier work.

When he invites people back to see it again. Their reaction is even more hostile.

He offers to sell it to his most loyal patron, who laughs at the prospect.

His friends avoid him, fearing he has lost his mind. This painting was deemed immoral.

Dismayed, Picasso rolls up the canvas and puts it in his closet.

He waits nine years to show it in public.

In the midst of the first world war, the painting is finally exhibited.

The curator, worried about offending public taste, changed the title from  Le Bordel d’Avignon [The Brothel of Avignon] to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon [The Young Ladies of Avignon]

The painting has a mixed reception, over time, the painting’s influence grows.

A few decades later, when Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the New York Times critic writes:

“Few paintings have had the momentous impact of this composition of five distorted nude figures. With one stroke, it challenged the art of the past and inexorably changed the art of our times.”

The art historian John Richardson later writes that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was the most original painting in seven hundred years.

The results and successes of standing out are not instant, they take time.

On your way to standing out, you will have to withstand a lot of criticism, some of it genuine, some just fake.

Sometimes your standing out may be ahead of its time, and the audience is just not prepared.

Picasso took months to commit his ideas to canvas, and nearly a decade to show his art.

Make something for the long haul, because that’s how long it’s going to take, guys. 







Standout: vs. being found


Karabo is a seamstress. She has been in business for twenty years now, long enough to see the world of business and marketing turned upside down.

Fifteen years ago Karabo took out a three line advert in the local newspaper every week.

She finally cancelled that three years ago when it was yielding two calls a month and no real work.

Now she pays Google, her website designer, social media adverts, SEO meister and other third party platforms a couple of thousands rands every month in order to be found.

Karabo learns about backlinks and search queries while managing the day to day admin, quoting and craft of her business.

She gets more leads, but so do the six other seamstresses who are playing the ‘being found’ game along with her and so they end up competing on price, not value.

Once the prospective customer arrives at Karabo’s website there is nothing to distinguish her from her competition.

Because all of her energy and resources are spent on being found, she has nothing left to tell the story of how she stands apart.

We have mistakenly made being found the number one goal of our businesses.

But being found is useless if we can’t make people feel like they would not even consider the competition.

That’s what you are shooting for. Put your energy there.

It’s nice to be found but it’s more essential to be sought.

Standout: Different brands, same design


When you enter to eKasi [township], any Kasi, you get to pass about 4 car washes on the same street.

These car washes wash cars the same way, charging the same price, using same process tools and processes etc.

Different car wash names but the process, prices and tools are the same.

The same goes for the hair salons, tyre fixers, spaza shops, different brand names but same design etc.

Have you ever noticed how a crowd exits a packed venue?

Even when there are three exits most people take the middle one.

You see this play out in business too.

Take a walk through the running shoe department in any sports store, and you will find little to differentiate one shoe from another. Most of the shoes are similar, they may be different brands, but their designs are similar.

When one brand starts designing and manufacturing with a new kind of material others follow suit.

The same patterns emerge in entrepreneurship.

Every brand aspires to be unique, to stand out and create something meaningful, yet when it comes to executing on those aspirations we imitate, dumb down and deviate towards the mediocre mean.

We head where everyone else is headed because the uncrowded edges feel risky.

In fact, the opposite is true.

You stand out when you stand for something, when you go to a place your peers or competitors are not prepared to go.

Standout: Rules of standing out


If you want to stand out, do the thing that’s in short supply, that’s scarce, that in limited supply, here are some of the rules:

When everyone is fighting for attention, be the one who earns permission.

When everyone is quick to blame others, be the one to forgive others.

When everyone is rushing through, be the patient one.

When everyone wants to be the show-stopper, be the one who exudes subtle beauty.

When everyone is striving for glory, be the one who does work that matters.

When everyone is looking to take the credit, be the one who gives credit.

When everyone is talking, be the one who listens.

When everyone is ready to take and take, be the one who shares.

When everyone is chasing popularity, be the one who deepens connection.

When everyone seeks scale, be the one who values loyalty.

When everyone takes shortcuts, be the one who commits for the long haul.

Don’t be different because you are trying to grab attention, don’t be different for the sake of being different, be different because it makes things better.

The thing that is scarce right now is sincerity in one form or another.

We are tired of tactics that manipulate as a means to someone else’s end.

In the end we win by being the exception to the rule.