Grant Vine, technical director at IT consultancy Cybervine, says starting a business in South Africa is fraught with challenges and lessons to be learned. He tells his story:
As a serial entrepreneur, I have discovered a lot about the mistakes entrepreneurs make. High among them are getting into business for the wrong reasons, poor planning, and bad choices in business partners.
With Cybervine, we have capitalised on past mistakes and brought in the necessary skills and experience to introduce new ways of doing business. And they are paying off. From a startup run by me and my father, retired banker Edward Vine, four years ago, Cybervine has shown 100% plus annual revenue growth and now serves clients across the country.
We have in our ranks some of the top technical minds in the country and have channelled a large portion of our annual profits into building and continually expanding our own lab environment.
Getting it right has been the result of a number of factors:
Don’t rely purely on techies
For one, Cybervine launched with the collaboration and input of an experienced banker. Techies tend to avoid paperwork and overlook the fine print on contracts. They tend to throw themselves into risk.
When you’re opening an IT business run entirely by techies, you are exposing yourself to the potential for serious future risks. With the right partner, offering business experience and an alternative viewpoint, a new IT business can draw on the strengths of both sides to offer innovation in solutions while remaining risk averse when it comes to managing the books.
Find the balance between passion and money-making
In addition, new businesses usually launch either due to a founding member’s passion, or to make money. Either approach in isolation is bound to fail. To be successful, a new business needs to find a good balance between passion for the work being done and generating revenue.
At Cybervine, we have this balance right. Our techies are encouraged to experiment with new solutions and are free to test new use cases in the lab. This allows us to develop a deep understanding of solutions and apply them to use cases in a test environment.
None of this knowledge is wasted, because at some point in future, the understanding and experience gained from experimenting with the technology can be monetised to meet the needs of a client.
Don’t be afraid to turn down the occasional job
Because Cybervine’s people are passionate about what we do, we have a vested interest in doing it right. And because we are not on this business purely for the money, we are not averse to turning down a project.
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of taking on every job that comes their way, without considering its impact on their brand. We consider the long-term impact – both on our brand and on the client. If the client wants a solution that does not suit their needs or is not future proof, we will tell them so.
We will be painfully honest with the client and even turn down the opportunity if necessary. While this approach may seem counter-productive, in fact it has the effect of building trust and establishing us as an ethical company.
Get a good lawyer and a good accountant
A key learning from my previous business ventures has also supported the success of Cybervine: before you even register a business, get a good lawyer and a good accountant. Many new businesses try to avoid hiring accountants and lawyers at first, in a bid to keep startup costs low.
Cutting these costs can prove significantly more expensive in the long run. With the right startup advice from an accountant, a new business is in a position to register and run itself in the most efficient, financially viable way. And with a lawyer drafting partner agreements and service contracts at the outset, the new business faces much less risk in the long run.
The successful modern startup needs to adopt new approaches to business: remain ethical, have a flattened hierarchical structure, and do the work primarily for the love of it. With this approach, business and revenue will follow.