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Successful start-up founders offer techniques to get your mindset right

They built their businesses from the bottom up, and you can be just as successful if you follow their advice
Diana Albertyn

Your idea is great; you have financial backing, and you’re ready to get your business off the ground. But before choosing that prime office space, hiring your first PA or planning your first holiday as CEO, learn from what these five start-up founders found as hurdles to success and how they overcame them to be the successes they are today.

It’s said that knowledge is gained through experience, but if you take the following into consideration, you could save yourself from making the same mistakes:

1. Motiv8 founder - Vusi Thembekwayo

“I had seed money from ring-fencing and selling the division I’d built-up and ran. I used that money to get set up in fancy offices with a PA. I thought that was what you needed. And then it took eight months to get my first client…However long you think it’s going to take to get going, triple it. And you still won’t be there.”

Motiv8 has a multi-million-rand turnover, but Vusi Thembekwayo says he’ll never forget his first real start-up lesson: that success takes time, sometimes longer than expected, and you need to prepare for that.

Your first year might not be profitable, so spend your capital on getting your product into your consumers’ hands instead of trying to set yourself up for when you do have a booming list of clients. Throughout those eight long months, Thembekwayo had overheads and personal bills to pay, while his money was tied up in expensive office space and trivial trimmings.

2. Twitter founder and CEO of multiple start-ups - Jack Dorsey

“The way I found that works for me, is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company. Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth.”

Multitasking throughout your day means constantly having to shift your focus, and while it seems like you’re doing a lot, it makes you less productive than focussing on a single thing at a time. This adds up over days and eventually weeks, eating into your precious time and effectiveness as a start-up founder. By incorporating Dorsey’s technique, you’re able to give 100% of your energy to a theme or area on that day.

3. SaaS start-up consultant - Lincoln Murphy

“Because entrepreneurship is so centred around urgency, we often over-focus on the next customer meeting or feature release or conference, failing to optimise around our most precious resource: time”.

Successful start-up founders know how to automate, delegate and prioritise the tasks that create the highest impact. If you spend all your time reacting and managing crises, you have less time to think and act in the long-term interest of your start-up.

4. BodeTree founder - Chris Myers

“Work/life balance is a joke, at least for entrepreneurs. There’s just life, and the business that you work so hard to create is a huge part of that”.

It doesn’t mean you should bring your bed to the office, but achieving a work-life balance in the early years will be difficult due to the fact that you need to live, eat and breathe your product or brand in order to achieve the growth required in the planned time period.

5. RocoMamas founder - Brian Altriche

“Failure is part of the equation of success. I call them my fabulous failures. You can’t achieve greatness without failures and risk”.

By the time Altriche was in his early 30s, he had lost two brands he’d created, had a failed restaurant and sold the one business that was doing well. After the R240 000 he’d made from Ocean Basket and invested with a broker became R80 000 overnight, due to the 9/11 attacks in the USA, he was running out of cash, fast.

The turning point came when he accepted the powerful role that failure plays in eventual success. Making a success of your start-up requires more than just money and staff. It also requires the right mindset, which you can’t reach without looking to others before you.


  • Use your capital wisely – don’t splurge on non-essentials before you grow big enough to need them.
  • Prioritise your tasks and use time wisely because it’s precious, especially in the beginning.
  • Understand that you may be working more than anticipated – and harder.
  • Failures can be a detour to success.

This content was originally published on 24 March 2017.