Build the product
“People do not buy products. They buy people, they buy the story and they buy the brand. That was probably one of my first lessons…”
In 2000 Mark Eilertsen started his first small scale venture selling R10 breakfast packs in Sandton’s morning traffic.
While studying towards a BCom Entrepreneurship degree at the University of Johannesburg Eilertsen realised that you can only really grasp the theory of business with practical experience. “I created this pamphlet that said ‘My name is Mike Eilertsen and the only way to study is to really learn it first-hand. As I’m learning these lessons I’m going to pass them on to you”. The pamphlet led to priceless engagement from prospective clients.
Grow the idea
“You spot an opportunity, you are an opportunist, but you don’t simply settle for selling the stuff on the side of the road…”
A basic entrepreneurial rule is to constantly look for a gap in the market and to fill it.
“Someone who bought breakfasts from me SMSed me one day and said, listen, we want to have coffee as well. So I started looking into that concept.”
Eilertsen then added coffee to his product mix by purchasing 12 Nestlé coffee backpacks. The idea really started taking off once Eilertsen bought the rights to the “Rocket Man” backpacks and “Major Tom” packs for beer. “By 2004 we were in every cricket stadium in the country,” boasts Elertsen.
“By the age of 25 I was in R7-millon debt…”
After dropping out of the University of Johannesburg to pursue his business interests, Eilersten sold his backpack company Boiling Pointand branched out into an industry he knew nothing about.
According to online magazine Entrepreneur, Eilertsen launched his magazine and publishing company with R980 000 and had to re-mortgage his house to keep the business going. In less than a year he was R7-million in debt. “I was overspending and I wasn’t being told about cash flow projections and budgets.”
Eilertsen now advises any start-up company to prioritise bookkeeping by hiring an accountant.
His way of doing business is risky but rewarding. “Would-be entrepreneurs in South Africa often misunderstand,” says Eilertsen. “They think that they need an extraordinary business plan and a loan. No. You need to determine how much money you have available and then find opportunities that fit with what you have.”
Eilersten says the advantage of entrepreneurialism in Africa is that there is less competition, making it “a playground for opportunity”.
Article by Neo Koza