Spending the weekend in the mountains around Stellenbosch, I found myself looking up at the majestic Stellenbosch mountains and through back on my entrepreneurial journey, including the mountains that I had to climb, and still keep climbing to this day. Here are some insights of what I have learned over the last few years, how much technology has changed the way I approach entrepreneurship and what “equipment” you may require to climb the mountains that are on the horizon.

Starting out

They say life is a journey and there is arguably no greater journey than that of an entrepreneur. Being entrepreneurs, we always strive to move our business forward, grow our team, create greater employment opportunities and so much more. Yet, being involved in entrepreneurship from a young age of 7, I have been privileged to experience many ups and even more downs. Yes, you read right, I choose to see it as a privilege to experience the downs as this is where I learned the most and achieved the most personal growth in my entrepreneurial walk.

Starting out, one quickly had to learn the effects of supply and demand on your young business and I still remember the first time I came face to face with a shortage of cash flow in order to expand my young school business. I humbly look back at those days, convinced that  I was crazy to try and do the things that I did and somehow came through it and built businesses that were able to sustain me through school and thereafter. People may laugh, but I regularly tell them that where I learned the most about business is between the ages 8 and 9 and had to deal with the most difficult customer imaginable to an 8-year-old…the 13-year-old children that towered over you like mountains. Here you quickly learn about conflict resolution, intimidation and no matter what they throw your way, stick to your guns as you have a dream and you need to make it a reality. The support of family and friends should also not go without mentioning. Without the support of people around me, I would probably have given up a long ago.

Starting the technology journey

During university days, a new mountain starts rolling in, namely technology. Being adaptable is of key importance when it comes to an entrepreneurial business and technology soon came rolling through the business environment. I quickly realized that if I did not embrace technology, my entrepreneurial walk may soon come to an end. When I started looking at technology, it looked like a mountainous wave that if not navigated carefully, would wash me and my businesses down the road. It was, therefore, time to adapt, change, embrace… or die.

When starting my technology journey, the first hill was upskilling. Even though I grew up with computers, cloud technology was something that I had little exposure to and there was little to no resources available in the market. The upskilling process had to start in earnest, but where to start? Living in South Africa, the first technology exposure was that of traditional ERP and CRM solutions, desktop-based software that required dedicated hardware/server infrastructure. Learning the hard way is a typical experience associated with entrepreneurship and working with traditional software exposed me how to do technology the hard way. Dealing with server failures, data corruption and tedious support due to custom development code all sparked a feeling that there has to be a better, simpler and more reliable way that would enable businesses to scale.

Head in the clouds

Enter cloud technology and a fresh round of upskilling that was required. When I was first introduced to cloud technology, I immediately questioned if it can be as effective as what the sales and marketing consultants made it sound. Spending the necessary time in investigating and upskilling myself, I quickly realised that it was worth all the hype. What I found with cloud technology is that these providers took the hard learnings from the traditional systems and built a robust and scalable technology, available to all and not just the elite few. Fast forward a couple of years, I can now say with confidence that cloud technology has or has started revolutionizing all industries across the world.

Yet, something was missing and I quickly found that many of these cloud softwares had a common problem to that of traditional software and that was that they did not integrate with each other. Enter Application Programming Interfaces (API’s). API’s is what makes the cloud magical as this enables one cloud technology to seamlessly speak to another cloud technology. By following this approach, we find that one can combine cloud technologies with each other and if done correctly, it can rival the functionality of many enterprise solutions on the market.

Mountains still on the horizon

Every entrepreneur knows that there will still be mountains to climb. So what mountains are on the horizon? As technology is ever-evolving, the following list is my tips in order to remain relevant for the mountains to come:

  1. Set aside time for learning – I set aside about 15% of my week in order to learn new skills, new technology and understand new industry trends. This might sound like expensive time, but if entrepreneurs do not do this, then we will be left behind whilst watching our competitor plant their flag on the mountain you were climbing.
  2. Write about it – Writing it down ensures that you commit it to memory. I personally ensure that I go to my local coffee shop once a week for 2 hours and write an “article” about what I have learnt this week. By telling others about it, it ensures that I am well versed with the information at hand and adds value back to others.
  3. Don’t become complacent – Technology is developing every day and even though you have a CRM that you may love, there may be one that offers even more and will give you an improved edge over your competition. Keep looking for solutions to problems you don’t even know you had.
  4. Keep on innovating – By making those micro innovations, you ensure that you remain part of the industry leaders.
  5. No open API, no thank you – Technology needs to be able to speak to each other. If a technology solution does not have an open API, then it typically gives you a good idea of the architecture that the technology was built on and that API’s may not be possible on said platform. Don’t write the technology off though. They might innovate and be back on the market a year later with the best technology solution with API integration capabilities.
  6. And lastly, don’t do it alone – Employing/partnering with someone that focuses on technology innovation is not a bad idea when you know that it is not your strong suit. This ensures that you have dedicated resources whose role it is to remain at the forefront of technology and take ownership of said role within your organisation.