MICHAEL JORDAAN

CHAIRMAN, BANK ZERO

" STOP BEING PRECIOUS ABOUT THE IDEA"

- MICHAEL JORDAAN, CHAIRMAN, BANK ZERO

Get into the market as quickly as possible and listen very carefully to your customers. Adjust the product/service quickly based on their feedback. Make your first customers very happy and you will be able to grow much faster. But get out the laboratory and into the arena, fast.

No one is as smart as everyone. Diversity of opinions is crucial in the process of innovation, which can be messy. Sometimes the “no” voice is very important. At the same time, the team should be thinking about solutions, not just obstacles. A “can do” attitude is important on top of diversity and creativity.

What I have learned about innovation from other leaders I have encountered:
– Take risks, make mistakes
– Only the paranoid survive
– Good ideas do not keep office hours
– The tone is set at the top
– Be the change

It would be easy to list a few well-known individuals or brands that stand out that have been inspirational, but the reality is that my approach is deliberately broad. I try and read widely and regularly. Not just business books but also biographies, history and fiction (including science fiction). This means that I can just as easily find an example in say Netflix’s culture statement as in a quote from Napoleon. In any event, the problems that each leader tries to solve are subtly different so instead of copying them it is better to understand the underlying principles. That gives one a far better foundation for decision-making.

If you believe, as I do, that the secret of (business) life is to surround yourself with great people and then give them space to deliver, it does mean that sometimes they will disappoint you and themselves.

It is the same with risk. If you don’t take enough calculated risks, you will underperform. But risks involve uncertainty and sometimes result in losses. The trick is to stay the course, knowing that over time the greatest risk is taking no risks at all.

To motivate and inspire young people wanting to start a business, I start by persuading them how little they have to lose and how much they can learn from it, even if it fails. Young people have so much less to worry about: no kids to support, no large home loan. And starting a business gives so much more experience than starting to work for someone else or studying for an MBA.

The best advice for someone with a good idea and no funding, I say funding is overrated and execution is underrated. There are often ways of starting very quickly with a small version of your idea and then building it over time, as customers pay for the product or service. If some capital is needed, find a way of saving. The best capital is your own capital. Also, try friends and family before you try to go to banks or venture capitalists. Persuading friends and family is also a good test of your sales skills and all entrepreneurs need to be able to sell.

If I had to start my career over again, knowing what I know now, I would have tried harder to study abroad (I did try but could not get funding or a bursary) and I would have loved to be in some start-up hotspots, like Silicon Valley, or financial capitals, like London, earlier in my career. Still, I have been highly fortunate in my career, especially due to the great people I have met along the way.

 

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