Failure is inevitable but it isn’t final; every stumbling block is also a stepping stone to success.

Shawn Theunissen, head of corporate social responsibility at Growthpoint Properties and founder of Property Point

Entrepreneurship To The Point hosted by Property Point, recently plugged into the experience of four respected entrepreneurs who are not afraid of failure.

These successful business people have failed, learned from it, and used the lessons to power them forward in their business journeys.


Face the harsh truths

Ludwick Marishane is the founder of Headboy Industries and inventor of DryBath, the world’s first waterless bathing lotion. He has been rated as the best student entrepreneur in the world and Google named him one of the 12 Brightest Young Minds in the World. TIME magazine ranked him one of the 30 people under 30 who is changing the world.


“From the beginning and for the first four years of the business’s life, the problem was that we were actually selling the product to the wrong customers,” admits Marishane. “This was tough to accept.”

DryBath was designed for people who didn’t have a steady supply of water and couldn’t afford hygiene. Marishane came up with the idea while in high school, but only developed it later at university where he was promoting it to his peers or elders. “While they liked the idea as a concept, they weren’t putting their hands in their pockets. The moment of truth only came when we tried to sell it to high school kids.”

Marishane says there are harsh realities that you have to face as an entrepreneur. “If you face them you won’t fail, but if you struggle to face them then you are destined to fail. My personal definition of failure is when you get to the point that you stop trying. There is nothing wrong with that. When there is evidence that a specific idea in a specific market at a specific time will not work, keep an eye on it and, maybe in future, a variable may change. It’s also about timing and luck.”

One of the key lessons Marishane has learned along his journey is the importance of the scientific method. “I believe that engineers and scientist make the best entrepreneurs simply because of their process of thinking. When you have an idea of value, with the potential to create economic value, you need to test that theory. A business that has failed is one where you have been a bad scientist. Know why a business didn’t work. If you don’t know why then you have failed.”


Do your due diligence

Letty Ngobeni is founder and CEO of Integrico and Mndhavazi Trading Enterprise , runner-up for National Business Woman of the year for Women in Property and a Property Point alumnus. She also owns a chain of butcheries as well as a coffee shop named Cup ‘O Joy, which can be found in corporate buildings such as MTN.

A qualified teacher and chef, Ngobeni left teaching to start her own business and purchased a food franchise in a shopping centre. Having taught business economics and accounts, she thought she knew about business but quickly discovered that there is a big difference between theory and practical application. Early on she realised that she had been sold a sinking ship.

“I didn’t get advice before buying, I just trusted the franchisor,” she says. She didn’t even know what the process she needed was called at the time, but now she understands the very real value of due diligence. “If I had known about due diligence, and used the right people to advise me, they would have told me not to buy it. I tried hard to make it work for about a year and a half, but the business failed. I learned a lot.”

With her support system, perseverance, faith and the value she places on mentorship, Ngobeni has used the lessons she learned to find a new direction on her business journey.

She is adamant that thorough due diligence and research are vital for any business. “Not all that glitters is gold. You need to be hands-on in a business if you don’t want surprises,” says Ngobeni. She also strongly recommends being active in marketing and networking and developing your skills and education.

“Know your market, its size, your competition and define your business. Highlight what it is that makes you stand out and why people should work with you and not bigger companies,” she advises. “Use my story; don’t give up. I’m still standing and I’m not afraid of failure, because I have learned that failure isn’t the end.”


Ask yourself three simple questions

Vere Shaba is an award-winning green building innovator, director of engineering consulting firm Shaba Green Building Design & Engineering, and on the Property Point programme. She is one of Forbes Africa’s top 30 under 30 for 2018. Vere holds a BScEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering degree and is a Green Star SA Accredited Professional with the Green Building Council SA.

Shaba says the big mistake that she made was getting distracted on her journey. She always wanted to be a green engineer and worked hard to start her own business, but got side-tracked when a Spanish company asked her to be the first to sell their product in South Africa. Not only did she get diverted from her journey but she lost a significant amount of money and a friend.

“If you remember why you started out in your career or business in the first place, you will know when to say no. No is a complete sentence; it doesn’t require justification or explanation. And, you will say it in full confidence, unashamedly, when you keep track of what originally motivated you,” says Shaba.

A practical lesson she learned was that a non-disclosure agreement is not a partnership agreement. She emphasises the importance of working with people whose core business is to advise on specific matters, like a good lawyer. “Don’t rely on Google,” she cautions.

Her experience also taught her that everyone is out for their own self-interest and that this is okay. “It may seem contradictory but if more people acted in their own self-interest – with self-love and self-worth – we wouldn’t have such a broken society. You can still be kind but play by the rules of the capitalist game and score. The more businesses that win, the less unemployment we’ll have in South Africa. We need businesses to win.”

To help entrepreneurs win, Shaba suggests asking three questions when considering a business venture, especially one that isn’t in your core business. Is this worth my time? Is this the change I want to make through my business? Have I got all the legal documentation?


Get started

Juan Pienaar is the founder of Apex Media, Founding Partner of Thought Engine, World Economic Forum Global Shaper in the Johannesburg Hub, and one of Forbes Africa’s top 30 under 30 in 2018. He has developed several award-winning strategies and campaigns for the likes of Microsoft, Bidvest, Philips and Barclays Africa/Absa among others.

After building Apex Media and selling it to the largest communications company in the world, Juan struck out on his next venture with a plan that has been successful in some areas but failed in others.

“It went too well too quickly. We brought in a third business partner who feigned interest and integrity, and scammed us of millions. We hired staff and not a team. We said yes to anything. We tried to emulate the models we saw around us, but didn’t consider if they were right for us or the happiness of the business,” reveals Pienaar.

He adds that part of the problem was that he tried to be pivotal to the success of the business. “By doing that you disempower people. People need a purpose. Failing to provide direction and managing the ‘what’ and ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’ is the mistake I made. You need to get out of their way and give them something to work towards rather than to work on.”

He believes that anyone considering being an entrepreneur should imagine they are financially free with all their expenses taken care of. Then, ask, “would I still be doing this?”.

“If the answer is no, change it. You are not serving the world by being mediocre. You’ll be amazed at how much you can do when you focus on a direction that matters to you. It shouldn’t be about money. Understand yourself, what pushes your buttons and drives you, and when you find it, chase it. It is where you will find happiness. My advice is simple: just start. You’ll figure the rest out. There’ll be twists and turns on the journey, and the faster you fail, the faster you’re going to learn where you are winning and not winning. But just start.”


Featured pic: Juan Pienaar, founder of Apex Media and founding partner of Thought Engine; Ludwick Marishane, founder of Headboy Industries and investor of Drybath; Letty Ngobeni, founder and CEO of Integrico and Mndhavazi Trading Enterprise; and Vere Shaba, director of engineering consulting firm Shaba Green Building Design and Engineering

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