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Wednesday, 24 October 2012 16:28

15 years, 5 key lessons in entrepreneurship

15 years, 5 key lessons in entrepreneurship

Junk Mail started life as a weekly print publication, a solidly old-school business – but in the 15 years since I joined the business in 1998 it’s also become South Africa’s largest online classified advertising site, with a huge mobile reach as well thanks to our custom-developed mobile site.


These are the top five things I’ve learned in the past 15 years:

1. Never think you’re ahead of the game

We went through a phase a few years ago where everything we touched made money. I thought I was so good: And then the competitors came. I watched them, of course, but not nearly seriously enough - I made exactly the same mistake the newspapers had made with Junk Mail a decade earlier.

If I’d been a bit more smart, and a bit less complacent, I would have realised a lot earlier than I did that my business as I had known it would never be the same again.  Because these things sneak up on you – your numbers keep looking good, and you keep feeling successful, for quite a long time while the ground is being cut out from under you.

We survived, of course, but it was tough going for a while. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have moved to respond a lot earlier. Which brings me to the second lesson:

2. You can’t bar the door against a tsunami

Change happens, and you can’t stop it – you can only try to ride it.  With hindsight, we tried to protect the print side of our business against the Internet onslaught for far too long. I’ve learned that it’s always better to embrace than to defend – the more tightly you cling to what you know, the more you lose the essence of what you are trying to do. Ultimately we had to recognise that our business was fundamentally about helping people buy and sell things, not publishing newspapers – the medium our customers choose should make no difference to us.

There’s always going to be a new disruption around the corner – I’ve learned now to go out and pursue partnerships and collaborations, not view every new thing as a potential threat.

3. Trust your instincts and stand up for them

This goes along with the old line about it being easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. I’ve always had the best results when I’ve trusted my own experience and instincts. At one point we lost two years of growth, I believe, because I wasn’t confident enough in my own judgement to argue my position.

4. Look after your body

Running a business takes a lot of energy, and it’s a long-term commitment. Working 18-hour days fuelled by junk food and caffeine might work for a short time, but if you don’t look after your own resources they will fail you at a critical point. Looking after your body, taking holidays, looking after your relationships – these are important investments in your business as well as your own happiness and well-being.

5. Invest in your management

This is the hardest lesson of all, for most of us: At some point, we have to let go. It will always be agonising to hand a portion of the business over to someone else and then watch them make mistakes – but if you don’t do it, they will never learn and the business will never grow.  And if you fall ill, or fall under a bus next week, the business will collapse without you unless you’ve shared the vision and the competence that will enable other people to run things.

Published in Media & Marketing
Wednesday, 03 October 2012 12:02

Well-being at work

Dr Martin Seligman - Internationally acclaimed father of positive psychology

People who are happiest at work are 47% more productive than their least happy colleagues, and those who are happiest at work take only 1.5 days off sick a year.

So can one develop the ability to change one’s mind-set and be happy at work and home?

Dr Martin Seligman, the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, believes that one can. His ‘happiness formula’ assists individuals to learn how to obtain an optimistic outlook inside and outside the office. He defines a happy life as one filled with positive feelings and activities, and believes that the degree to which you experience these feelings matches your level of enduring happiness.

Within the workplace there are numerous benefits to having an optimistic mind-set and choosing to be a happy individual.

According to Dr Seligman’s studies, optimistic individuals, unlike pessimists, tend to believe that defeat is just a temporary setback and that its causes are confined to that particular case. When optimistic individuals are confronted by a bad situation they perceive it as a challenge and try harder. It is this very attitude that places optimists a few steps ahead of pessimists. Seligman indicates that optimists recover faster and are able to act again sooner, due to the way they explain a failure to themselves.

Anyone may experience failure or even rejection in the workplace, however Dr Seligman claims that you can still be happy regardless of this. He indicates that optimists have a beneficial outlook as it allows them to be proactive and productive in the face of failure, and to lead, inspire and encourage others, thereby preserving their happiness.

According to Jessica Pryce-Jones, CEO of the iOpener Institute, there are five factors that make up the structure of happiness at work:

  • Contribution – is about the effort you make and your perception of it
  • Conviction – is about the motivation you have whatever your circumstances
  • Culture – is about how well you feel you fit at work
  • Commitment – is about the extent to which you are engaged with your work
  • Confidence – is about the sense of belief you have in yourself and your job

Pryce-Jones explains that when you have achieved these, pride, trust and recognition will result. “Pride and Trust in your organisation work hand-in-hand. That means if you’re proud of where you work, you’ll also trust your workplace and its leaders. And vice versa. In summary, Pride and Trust are what you have in your workplace; Recognition is what you get back from it. Finally, lying at the heart of all of this is achieving your potential. If that’s what you think you’re doing, you’ll be happy at work.”

Dr Seligman believes that one can learn to be optimistic and get high off the good moments, as well as experience the highs of low moments. This can be learned by exercising the ‘ABCDE of optimism’; the process of adversity, belief, consequence, disputation and energisation.

Adversity – recognise when adversity hits. For pessimists, even successes can be a form of adversity, as they may believe that it won’t last or they were just lucky.

Beliefs – be aware of what you believe about the adversity you are facing. Are you being irrational or self-defeatist?

Consequences – what will the consequences of your actions/feelings/behaviours be?

Disputation – is what you believe the only possible explanation? What evidence is there for this? What are the other possible explanations? What are the implications of my believing this way? How useful are my beliefs and would I benefit more if I changed them?

Energisation – be aware of new consequences that could arise from a more optimistic explanation or set of beliefs.
Ultimately, well-being and happiness is a choice. Viewing obstacles and unpleasant experiences negatively can very easily take away our happiness - if we let them.

Dr Martin Seligman will be in South Africa for a one-day programme on ‘Happiness in the Workplace’ on the 25th October 2012. Download the conference brochure, visit the events section or www.theprogressconference.com for more information.


TheSALeader will be giving away two tickets, worth R 7974.30 each, to attend the Happiness Conference presented by world renowned speakers Dr Martin Seligman and Professor Dave Ulrich.

To enter you simply register on SALeader.co.za
Competition closes 19 October 2012 and competition rules apply.

Published in Wellness & Ergonomics
Monday, 17 September 2012 11:46

Chartered Accountants lose confidence levels in South Africa

Chartered Accountants lose confidence levels in South Africa

Chartered accountants in South Africa (CAs [SA]) have grown increasingly confident in the last few months regarding the levels of ethics being practiced in their profession; however, this improvement hasn’t translated into their view of the wider economy with most voicing their concern over the levels of governance being applied in the country, according to a survey conducted by PPS.

The survey of more than 600 CAs(SA) revealed a confidence level of 74% for the second quarter of 2012 when asked whether they are confident that professional ethics still prevail in their profession, up nine percentage points from the previous quarter. Conversely, their confidence in the level of governance applicable in South Africa declined by three percentage points to 47%.

Published in Economy

The SA Leader Magazine

Cover sml

In the August issue

SA's Coolest Office

MAXIMISE YOUR BUSINESS’ CASH FLOW - Top five tips to save on costs

Make your networking work for YOU

“LISTEN TO ME!” Just what are your employees saying?


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