Winterburn worked as a sales manager at one of the largest IT companies in South Africa. In 2009 he started Intuity Solutions with the intention of leaving his permanent employer. He struggled, however, to find a business concept that made sense to him.
In 2014 he finally took the proverbial leap. Intuity now builds and maintains software solutions for organisations, while Oqlis, a second company, develops software products.
“Our business model is to build software solutions that are intuitive and easy for companies to use and add huge value to the people who use them,” says Winterburn.
“Our first product is Oqlis [pronounced oculus], developed in South Africa by my partner Andrew Bosma. It is a business intelligence and analytics platform, designed to make it super easy to connect into a customer’s database and extract nuggets of information in a visually appeasing way.”
He shares his experience on setting up shop.
How did you spot a gap in the market?
Most of my career has been within the information technology space. I realised early on that I should play to my strengths and to what I knew. When I started Intuity, I believed that there was two ways to get a business going.
Firstly, have a solid plan and stick to your guns and be true to your assumptions.
Secondly, have a general idea, but keep on testing the business model until you have something that organisations are willing to spend their hard-earned cash on. So it has been a continuous process of reinventing what we do and aligning it with what our customer is willing to pay for.
Why did you decide to do your own thing?
Growing up you get told to find a great company and work your way to the top. Initially it is great to gain experience working under collective bosses and with colleagues, but eventually I got very frustrated with the bureaucracy and inefficiency of large corporates.
What becomes very apparent is that, when working for a boss, the amount of work you need to do to reach success. You can only do so much, you do not have real ability to scale your earning potential unless your skills are unique and the output that you deliver is incredibly high.
Working for a company, you have certain benefits. However, you are often at the mercy of good and bad decisions that have a direct impact on your career.
To me it has become about the balance – as a business owner, your venture is an extremely important part of what defines you, but you need to maintain a balance with family time, health and quality of life.
Lastly, I thrive on a good challenge. Owning a business is what I wanted to do for many years, and this was a point I wanted to prove to myself – that I could do it and make a success of a venture.
What kind of preparation did you do before quitting your job?
I didn’t know it at the time, but I think there are two areas that prepared me the most.
Firstly, I had opened a few businesses, tried a few concepts with fellow entrepreneurs, and was always looking for the right opportunity to come my way.
The second was education. This was important in understanding each and every aspect of how a business operates and how to make the right decision that will ensure longevity.
Owning a business is like driving a car – the more you practise, and the more you do it, the better you become at it, until one day, when you almost run on autopilot, so you need to live the dream each and every day.
How did you initially fund your business?
I saved up to have a three-month runway, but eventually sold my house to make sure that the venture had enough legs to succeed.
How did you survive the dreaded first two years?
To remain motivated I created short-, medium- and long-term goals that I wanted to achieve. Every day I work on these goals and do not lose sight of the end game.
Entrepreneurship is a lonely and extremely difficult journey. My saving grace was realising that a partnership can be mutually beneficial; it allows you to focus and enhance your skills, while your partner can do the same.
What has been the most challenging aspect?
Initially the difficulty was how one is programmed to be a good corporate citizen when working for a company. You are hard-wired to follow, play the internal politics and work as a part of a team.
Once you start our own company, you quickly realise there’s no one to follow, no corporate politics and – most of all – no team.
Whatever you do every day from that moment onward is your decision – and these decisions will either make or break you. You are totally alone in the journey, with no one to point a finger at but yourself.
Another challenge has been to call on the network of customers you’ve worked with before, who like what you’re doing and think you have a great idea but then they’re not willing to take the risk on your venture.
What would be your advice for people wanting to start their own businesses?
There’s a reason there are so few people that have their own businesses: to get going is very difficult and extremely lonely.
Your friends and family can only support you up to a point, but you need to take the bull by the horns and make it work.
I personally romanticised the notion of being a business owner and having the freedom to do what I wanted.
There is also no place for an ego, for complacency and for someone who is not willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes to be successful.
You need to ask yourself if you are really in it for the long haul, and if your ideas will be adopted by people who are willing to pay for what you are offering.
You need to have enough capital to carry you for two to three times longer than what you think. There is nothing more stressful than having debt collectors knocking on your door every month end.
And never lose track of your money matters; keep a buffer in your account, or ensure you have investments for the rainy days.
You are the business.
If you are going to put your future on the line, be over-committed and truly believe that your business is going to succeed. You can’t be half pregnant in this game – it’s all or nothing.
But considering all of this, I would still rather be riding the roller coaster with all its ups and downs than sitting on the sidelines wondering what it is to experience this amazing journey.
This interview originally appeared in the 13 October edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.