Making the transition from a locally-focused business to an international player requires an entrepreneur to have more than just knowledge of the underlying fundamentals of running a business. Instead, it needs a complete shift in mindset.
Having worked with successful entrepreneurs for many years, I noticed that world-class entrepreneurs pursue opportunities using a particular pattern or mindset that can be distilled down to five key fundamentals. In 2021, I met two notable businessmen who have built tremendously successful businesses. They are Isaac (Ike) Chalumbira, award-winning founder and CEO of Lionshare, and Jr Bogopa, a globally recognised musician and owner and co-founder of Fyve, and Feel Good Music, a subsidiary of The Good Group South Africa. These two men agreed to share their insights as I consolidated my thoughts on what makes a world-class entrepreneur.
1. A long-term, global mindset
From the time a business is conceptualised, the world-class entrepreneur is already thinking about creating a global business. This mindset sets the tone for the business from the onset, with the ultimate goal to go global or benchmark against the world’s best.
In this digital age, it is easier now than ever to build a global business. There is no longer a question of how to reach people beyond the business’s immediate locality. Instead, the challenge is to develop and market globally interesting products and services from anywhere in the world.
Bogopa, who founded Africa’s first online music site, Fyve, cannot stress this point enough. “We need to think globally and must involve ourselves globally,” he says. Bogopa even goes as far as speaking in terms of dollars when it comes to the costs and revenue of his business. He believes this instantly takes him out of a local or regional mindset and puts him into a global one.
However, building a globally relevant and competitive business takes time. It requires years of hard work and commitment. As such, entrepreneurs need to know that they are in the game for the long haul. Bogopa’s strategy is to create businesses with the future in mind. “My motivation has a lot to do with the changing landscape. I look to understand what the music industry is going to become.” Bogopa is always looking forward. What he creates today must be relevant in the future.
2. It’s as simple as ABCD
When operating in a complex environment like South Africa, it is easy to bemoan a lack of resources. However, to borrow a term from the development sector, ABCD, or asset-based capability development, can provide a solution. This kind of thinking involves the appreciation of what you already have access to and allows successful entrepreneurs to identify and employ the strengths of the people and resources available.
Someone like Chalumbira, for instance, did not let inexperience and cashflow stop him from fulfilling his dreams. He explains that he started his business using money borrowed from friends and family. He used his credit card to secure his first property, a flat in central Johannesburg. He used his experience working for Coca-Cola South Africa to help inform his decisions as a new entrepreneur. Then, through partnering with the right people, Chalumbira moved into industries where he had no experience. As a businessman, he has never allowed a lack of resources or industry knowledge to slow him down.
This country has amazing talent, ability and energy, and with the right approach, it can be harvested and used to create a really strong business. Chalumbira notes that one of his biggest resources is people. In fact, Chalumbira is so dedicated to forging good relationships that he earned a degree in industrial and organisational psychology. He says: “Entrepreneurship is really about relationships, partnerships and people. It is about the ability to relate to people. What are people looking for, and how can we make that work.”
Most South African entrepreneurs are adept at solving problems. It is this problem-solving mindset that is a local entrepreneur's greatest asset. As we are a country with world-class problems, when entrepreneurs solve a problem locally, they will solve it for the world. This allows local entrepreneurs to deliver on global solutions, whether it is through products or services.
Building a strong business requires ingenuity and the willingness to move forward. However, world-class entrepreneurs always keep their ultimate goal in mind. They take one step at a time using the resources they have to move toward that goal.
3. Building a global network
Successful entrepreneurs have solid networks. However, those networks need to be global when growing a global business. Now, as business increasingly moves online, connecting globally is much easier. The key, though, is to show up day after day. Entrepreneurs must take part in events, meet people, find partners.
Both Chalumbira and Bogopa attribute strong partnerships to their success. Bogopa says, “I had to strategically engage and meet with the right partners. So, vetting every single partner and ensuring I chose the best partner to work with this type of business was essential.”
In a tech-heavy business, Bogopa stresses the need for highly-skilled people to find good people to help you. “When you look at partnerships and networks, just like a car has mirrors, they are there to show you your blind spots. They offer alternative reflective visions, which assist you,” he says.
Chalumbira, as a venture capitalist, says, “My game is absolutely partnerships.” He explains that he was able to move into different industries in his business by leveraging his partners' experience and expertise. “We started with one dealership three years ago. Now we have six. I found partners to run the technical side, as I am not an engineer in any shape or form.”
Chalumbira also notes that he could not expand his businesses into such diverse industries if he did not have a network of people who could introduce him to the right partners. That is why showing up is critical – the more people recognise you, see you online, the more familiar you will become. This familiarity leads to connections – and it is those connections that open doors to opportunities. Today more than ever, networking is possible – easy, affordable, doable.
But what is important, from my years of research, is not only how these partnerships can benefit an entrepreneur but how the entrepreneur can contribute to the partnerships. Adding value is becoming a central theme in business school teachings, and the value you add extends to partners, networks, customers and the broader community. For a man like Chalumbira, having an impact is a priority that has helped him succeed in business.
4. Be prepared to be wrong
When we look for role models, we always turn to success stories and do not always consider the countless times successful entrepreneurs were wrong in their decisions and failed. Being able to admit to mistakes allows the entrepreneur greater flexibility and adaptability. Companies can quickly pivot when ideas are not set in stone and mistakes are quickly identified and rectified.
Starting and running a world-class business is complex and difficult, so it is quite likely that the entrepreneur will make mistakes along the way. World-class entrepreneurs recognise and accept their mistakes and then change direction quickly to correct the situation. This makes it critical to ensure that you get honest feedback from those around you and that you are willing and able to hear it!
But being wrong is not easy, and it is time-consuming and expensive, so it should be avoided if possible. Both Bogopa and Chalumbira believe that it is best to ride on the shoulders of people who have succeeded before you to minimise mistakes. Chalumbira, for instance, says that picking the right partners – people who had already paid their dues – has saved him from many wrong turns on his journey to success. Bogopa believes mentorship is essential for entrepreneurs: “Get help from someone who has already paid their school fees.”
5. Personal resilience
The final point is a very under-appreciated topic when it comes to entrepreneurship. That is the issue of personal resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from a setback – which every entrepreneur is bound to face. If you cannot handle adversity, you will never be able to build a world-class business. Many entrepreneurs tell tales of how they lost everything and had to start from scratch. This requires resilience. Global ambitions push entrepreneurs further into the firing line as people label them arrogant and crazy. But world-class entrepreneurs look beyond these labels and soldier on.
A healthy lifestyle and good habits like a nutritious diet and regular exercise go a long way towards building resilience. Every entrepreneur, however, needs to have the support of family, friends and networks. Here, Chalumbira and Bogopa hold a common view. They both believe that work is a way of life and requires balance, which includes scheduled time with family. Bogopa takes his son to school every morning, while Chalumbira takes his children on road trips when he visits new locations.
But the ultimate form of resilience is a healthy self-belief in your own abilities, knowing you have what it takes.
Bogopa and Chalumbira’s words of wisdom:
- Entrepreneurship is a way of life, so safeguard a healthy work-life balance.
- Entrepreneurs never stop learning; the next big business opportunity probably does not exist yet.
- Create vertically integrated businesses which offer at least one service to a potential customer.
- Focus – ‘spray and pray’ is not a viable strategy. Know where your business is going, develop a plan, and then target the right customers.
- Make having a positive impact on communities and the environment a business imperative.