guaranteed; but with encouragement, guidance and support for risk taking, it may well prove to be the safest and best path we can encourage our children to take.
Tell them the truth about overnight success. For the past three years, Pioneer Nation has been meeting with young and old South African entrepreneurs doing amazing things, and not ONCE have we met anyone who has become an overnight success. Yet, traditional media continues to perpetuate the myth that there is such a phenomenon, and we’ve met so many young people who fear that when business success doesn’t come quickly, they are a failure. Malcolm Gladwell made popular the observation that it takes an average of 10 000 hours to become a master at something. In my conversations with young entrepreneurs, I often ask them to put pen to paper and calculate how many hours they’ve spent incubating and building their business. The results consistently surprise them! This 10 000-hour story applies equally to building a sustainable business, and there’s no one better able to tell this story to hopeful young entrepreneurs than young entrepreneurs themselves. By adjusting their expectations, they are far more likely to push past the tough times without feeling like they’ve failed—knowing everyone else has been on the same success trajectory.
Nurture the salesperson in children. I’m often asked which traits make a good young entrepreneur. I asked this question of one of South Africa’s most celebrated young Pioneers, Ludwick Marishane. He told me the answer is simple but so often overlooked by the litany of startup incubators out there: It’s the ability to sell. Marishane felt the best test of an entrepreneur’s aptitude to succeed is to give them a box of sweets and a street corner; the ones who come back with an empty box and a pocket full of money have the number-one talent needed to be a successful entrepreneur. I’ve personally witnessed this same trait in just about every successful entrepreneur I’ve met. Great entrepreneurs have a well-refined sense of empathy, able to connect with customers by understanding what it’s like to be in their shoes. From famous names like Steve Jobs and Sir Richard Branson, to the young entrepreneurs running modest enterprises like Department of Coffee in Khayelitsha and Thesis Lifestyle in Soweto—these entrepreneurs know how to sell. As parents, we should encourage our children to develop sales skills: It’s part technique, part ability to empathise quickly, part learning how to hear “no” without giving up. Don’t let them duck that school fundraiser—get them out there and help them learn how to sell!
Make them this generation’s rock stars. There are amazing entrepreneurs around us in every community. Their importance and value to our communities is far greater than the limited pool of sports and music stars we so ‘love to love’. Our research
shows we don’t need to work together to accelerate the aspirational value of becoming an entrepreneur; a majority of our young people want to own and operate their own businesses. But to create a better world for our children and ourselves, we need to expose them to the diversity of successful small enterprising entrepreneurs around us in all our communities, and celebrate those young ones who want to follow in their footsteps. Just point out to your kids that, behind every business in your community, is an entrepreneur who is making a job for him or herself and a living for their family by providing a service the community values and is willing to pay for.
Celebrate their ubuntu community impact. In our survey among 2 600 young people (statistically representative of South Africa in racial, income, geography and gender), we asked how they would know they’d become a success. We offered them a basket of choices: When I’ve made lots of money; When I’m the boss; When lots of people know who I am; When I’ve made a difference in my community. Amazingly, 57% chose the latter. Young entrepreneurs not only hold the key to transforming our communities; they fully intend to transform our communities, because that’s their personal reward. In the northern hemisphere, trickledown economics have been a failed theory of social advancement; we believe an African entrepreneurship revolution may show a vastly different result.
Teach the basics of cash flow in Grade 10. We should be bringing the secrets of cash flow to life for every child in high school if we want to nurture a generation of successful entrepreneurs. I propose that Grade 10 is the perfect time to do so. Grade 9 is a little too young—students are preoccupied with raging hormones, social pressures and coming to grips with the high-school curriculum.
Grade 11 is focused on cramming everything in before the big matric pressure hits, and Grade 12 is 100% focused on exams. But in Grade 10, students have made subject choices and are starting to engage mentally with their impending future as fully fledged adults. Acquiring a solid grasp of cash flow principles is not complicated, but can be brought to life in a pragmatic, life-relevant way. We’ll better prepare entire generations for the personal and career challenges ahead, and lay the groundwork for a generation of sustainable entrepreneurs. Embrace the notion that small IS big. The Silicon Valley entrepreneurship mantra is focused on scalability, but for South Africa, that may not be the best vision right now. Running sustainable, rapidly scaling enterprises requires expertise our country is woefully lacking. Our real challenge is how to give a generation of young people a future in a world without enough jobs to go around. Running a small business that turns over R2 000 every day is quite doable for many of these young people, and we can equip them with the right technical and emotional support. This R2 000/day average turnover becomes a small business with an annual turnover of R730 000— more than enough to support the entrepreneur and possibly an additional employee. They not only become viable customers for each other, but they become an interesting market for innovative products and services that add value to this tier of business. For every 2 000 of these modest sustainable small businesses we get up and running, we add nearly R1.5 billion to our economy. Pioneer Nation is committed to nurturing this revolution of growth in sustainable small businesses run by young entrepreneurs. In South Africa, embracing small becomes a very big idea indeed.
Cal Bruns is founder of the Pioneer Nation & Levi’s Pioneer Nation Festival.
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