Lessons from Alan Knott Craig Jnr: Being a successful entrepreneur

2015-10-16 10:58

Yesterday (15 October) we had the privilege of hosting Alan Knott Craig Jnr at the company where I work. He got to share some good insights regarding business and entrepreneurship. Being an upcoming entrepreneur I was very attentive and took some notes as he went through his presentation. Before going into the details, a brief introduction of Alan follows (for those who might not know him).

Alan (38) was born on the 14th of August 1977. He is married and has 3 children. Both he and his wife are qualified Chartered Accountants, they got married when he was 25. Alan is the Founder of World of Avatar which started in 2010 and bought Mxit in October 2011. He also served as Chief Executive Officer of World of Avatar and Mxit Lifestyle. Prior to this he served as Managing Director of iBurst. He was formerly the Managing Director of Cellfind. He used to run iBurst and left in 2009.  Other companies he has been involved in developing include Neotel, Herotel and a recently started non-profit called Project Isizwe whose vision is to roll out free-WiFi on the African continent.

Now jumping into the lessons which Alan shared with us regarding being a successful entrepreneur.

1) Be Focused

It is not about will power (i.e. being disciplined) as you can get to point of getting tired. It is about the environment in which you operate. You need to create an environment of Focus.

2) Keep moving

This is about having an attitude of perseverance. Keep growing, developing yourself, getting up and going when you have stumbled etc.

Creating an Environment of Focus

a) Get married and do so young

This takes away so many potential distractions as you are now in a place of not needing to waste time on frivolous pursuits. Getting married is like starting a business, you don’t know how things will play out but you have to start and embark on the journey. Your husband or wife will help keep you grounded, help you learn more about yourself, support you and also even help out with the financial responsibilities.

Alan mentioned how one of the businesses he has been involved in only turned a profit in its 3rd year. In the 2 years his wife was helping with covering the household and business expenses. When the business started making money they had a subscriber base of 1 million people who were paying R10 subscription per month. Another thing Alan outlined was the importance of getting married before making huge money. He said it is easy to attract the wrong people who are only interested in what you have rather than in who you are.

b) Keep your overheads down

You need to live a frugal life as an entrepreneur i.e. keep your living expenses at the absolute minimum. When you have financial stress it eats you up and you are not able to focus on the venture you are embarking on. As part of these lessons, he advised not buying a car on debt. Alan drives a Honda Jazz 2003 model. He said at one point he wanted to buy a Ferrari but his wife closed that down. Alan’s children go to a public school in Stellenbosch where they currently live. His reason for putting them in a public school is to enable them to grow exposed to people from different socio-economic backgrounds. He doesn’t want them to grow up with a self-entitlement attitude.

c) Find partners and keep moving

Although many people have gotten their fingers burned because of partnerships gone bad (Alan himself included), in business you cannot do everything by yourself. The process of finding a partner (partners) as Alan explained, “…is like getting married. You might date a lot in trying to find the prospective partner without committing. Then you go stead for a long time in order to get to know the other party more. After this then you get married (into partnership).” He outlined that it is important not to get hooked to the wrong partner(s) as divorce is always something messy.

As an individual you need to establish filter mechanisms which work for you. Alan shared two mechanisms which he utilises. The first being getting someone with a specific skills set which he needs. He outlined that he is very good at selling seeing the opportunity, pitching a deal and closing. He therefore knows if he looking for someone who can sell they need to be able to speak well i.e. have the gift of the gab.

It is important to not just rely on this as someone might be able to speak well while having a flawed character. Another filter mechanism he uses is to look at the person’s close friends/associates since birds of a feather flock together. Two people cannot walk together unless they are in agreement, otherwise sooner rather than later one will have his values changed by the other.

In order to attract the right kind of people you just need to be authentic- be yourself. The right people you are meant to connect with will be drawn to you as they see certain characteristics which they can connect with. A way for you to get to know yourself is by taking risk. Doing things you would not ordinarily do helps you discover what you are capable of or not.

d) Live in the right place

You need to figure out what gives you energy and be in an environment where you can draw this energy. Although Jo’burg is where the money is (more than half of SA’s GDP made there) you don’t necessarily need to live there in this day and age of increased mobility and telecommunication technology. You need to use geography to help you focus, a place where you can minimise distractions.

Another consideration when it comes to living in the right place is being close to family. There are certain things which you will not even think of doing because of your proximity to family- this helps you focus. You will also have a ready support network which you can tap into at any time.

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