Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Maanda Mulaudzi and I am the founder of Common Sense Holdings. We are a startup based in Johannesburg, South Africa and we have been in business for just over a year.
Common Sense Holdings is a technology solutions provider that specializes in mobile apps, web-based applications, and IT consulting. Our main focus is within the educational, commercial, and helping businesses improve the IT business operations. What makes us unique is the rapid prototyping tools we use in order to have quick turnaround times.
We are currently in the development of our new product which we released the beta version to our client by the end of the year. The client requested us to develop a web-based solution in order to enable their aircraft maintenance engineers to perform their maintenance checks via a mobile application. The application will have the following features:
- User access control and security.
- Allow users to perform engine performance tests and flight control tests.
- As aircraft hangs have limited wifi access the app can work offline and save the data once online as this is important in the African context.
- Admin functionality.
- Built-in dashboards.
The following is a preview of the prototype of the app:
We currently turnover $5,000 a month but we are looking to have a 100% increase in monthly revenue from early next year with potential new clients.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I would have to say I have always wanted to start my own business even from high school. I started a business with a high school friend and we would sell custom basketball shoes. Then my second business was making school sports gear throughout the university. During this period from high school until now, I have been a professional skateboarder, which has helped me travel all over the world. This was also a way I made money through hosting and organizing events.
When you think you have all the answers that will lead you to make more mistakes if you don't know something just ask someone who has that knowledge. This will help you reduce mistakes, swallow your pride, this is business.
I graduated from university as an industrial engineer and also have a diploma in financial management and have worked in various industries such as automotive, media and broadcasting, education, and manufacturing. After five years in the corporate world, I decided to travel and explore more of the world.
The idea to start the company really came when I was on a skateboarding trip in South America (2019) where I traveled on a bus from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) to Lima (Peru). In total, I traveled 5 countries, 5 584 km which is the same as 5 days 3 hours on a bus altogether. During my bus trips between cities, I had only three things to do: play chess on my app (which did 4,250 chess puzzles during my trip), look outside at the amazing landscape and think about how I wanted to leave the life of a 9 to 5 behind.
My 3rd last day of my trip, I was asked by another traveler what do you do for a living? and I said at the time: “Well my contract ends with the company I work for when I return home. I only have enough six months of money saved to live on. I had been applying to new jobs and have no offers. But since I cannot get a job, the only commonsensical thing to do was to start my own company”.
So when I got back to South Africa, I started my own company called Common Sense Holdings and since then everyday has been a learning experience and I am more motivated than ever to grow the company day by day into an empire.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Well, we as a company have a philosophy about how we design a product. The philosophy is based on three main pillars. The pillars are as follows: be the first, be different, and be the best. The diagram gives you a high-level overview of the way we design products both for clients and the business.
The most critical aspect of the design process is the prototyping as this gives both the market or client a visual idea of how the final product might end up looking. We as a business have rapid prototyping tools that help us reduce the development time as by the time the client has agreed to work with us we have 70% of the final product ready.
This has happened since the start of the company, we try to ensure we can develop an MVP within two weeks and show clients the product in the market. What really helped the company find clients with our products. The big mistake that startups make is they create a product and when they realize the product is already been created or there are no clients who want to buy the product they try to force to sell it.
We take a totally different approach we rather develop a product which the market requires or products which a client requests. This means the business has a high chance of success with their first couple of products. This way of thinking stems from the company being customer-centric. In short, your first products should always meet the market or client needs.
The final component with designing your first product is to listen to criticism. Throw out your ego as this process of getting feedback from friends and family will help you initially improve the product and reduce bugs.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Generally, this is the hardest process and time-consuming part of the business as it directly links to sales and business success. People always are either too scared to really put their idea/business into the market because you are going to fail or you don't have a clue what to do. I found that creating a checklist of items which must be completed before launch, during launch, and after launch.
A checklist is an easy way to help any startup prepare as best as possible to launch their business. Below is a simple list of items you must do and also note there might be more depending on your business.
Once these tasks are completed just before you launch the company, test all your systems e.g. website and emails as if they are not working that could cause a loss in business. Once testing has been done. You launch the business but during this time the real work starts as you have to not be available for the prospective clients. The following fundamentals must be followed during this process. Follow up on all leads, try to convert those leads as quickly as possible. By doing these simple things it will help nurture the business.
The biggest lesson I have learned during this process is: Be willing to make mistakes when you are starting out as you don't know everything. So when you try to reach out to potential clients and they are not interested then you must accept and move on and try other clients. The second part is that you need to be able to adopt, adapt, and change things up until you find your formula. This is the best way to learn and experience is the best teacher in this case.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
My experience so far since the launch I have seen most of my business has come from four main ways; networking at expos and events, targeted marketing, recommendations & internet-based marketing.
Networking at expos and events, this is a great way to meet other businesses that provide similar services and allows for you to strike partnerships that can automatically attract new customers or increase revenues from your current clients as you can offer more services.
Targeted marketing is probably the most successful method of attracting customers. This process requires a lot of research and time but worth it, as it means the potential clients you reach out to have a higher chance of wanting to do business with you. This must be done by creating a specialized mail list and calling potential clients and organizing demos. I feel demos are a key method to selling your product as once potential clients see your product they can already envision using it to help1 speed up the sales process. In order to achieve this in my line of business, we acquired a rapid prototyping tool.
Recommendations are a great way to attract customers as word of mouth is still the best seal of approval. In order to get clients to recommend you, there are two things, you must constantly do. Always deliver on time and on budget, this will not only get the clients to trust you but they will feel they want to help you grow. The second thing which you have to make sure of, deliver the best work as they always say “the proof is in the pudding” nothing can justify your credentials but the work your business produces.
The final method you have to use and it is a non-negotiable is social media and web-based advertising. I feel every business needs to look at their target market and decide which platform will best benefit and reach their target audience. For example, if the band is for a teen social media is your best platform and if you are selling expensive watches it’s totally different. Hence with regards to my business, we currently don't use the normal social media platforms as they don’t work for us. The business would rather focus on the 3 above methods as they bring the most clients. We do have a website and also do monthly advertising via Google AdSense. We are currently working to install SEO frameworks to help build our online presence.
Customer retention is key because it is directly linked to your monthly cash flows which keep the business running. The key is to have good support functionality within the business and also have open communication lines with your clients. You must always provide the service you promised to the clients hence never over-promise rather under-promise and over-deliver. This is important especially when you are starting out and will do anything to get your first client. The salesperson tends to over-promise when the client leaves. The last thing is maintaining clients is not only about selling them new products/features but helping them grow their business using your platform ensuring they get the true value of the system.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As I write this article it will be in lockdown for 26 days which means that business has effectively stopped and the company only being about a year old does not have the financial means for it to survive. Later in the article, I talk about watching financial markets and when I started my company South Africa started showing signs of going into a recession.
So 6 six months into starting my business I noticed that clients were very skeptical of a new company so I decided to get a consulting job because I felt I could use it to supplement income and make it my first point of business even though I wanted to build apps. I mean it was a common-sense as I have a great deal of experience in the IT industry hence might as well use this as a starting point and build my client base. The important lesson that all entrepreneurs know is that you need to adopt, adapt, and sacrifice to survive.
Now entering the second part of the first year and it becomes more interesting, I am getting a lot of consulting and web-based application requests for the clients because of the work I am currently doing and also finding potential leads via the internet. The business is slowly growing and now working on some partnerships with software providers around the globe. The day to day operations especially during coronavirus we generally not been impacted and this is because we are a cloud-first business hence we also mostly work remotely. The one thing I have been spending more time with regards to the business is building its online presents and footprint. This is that people are spending 45 % more time on the internet, social media, and streaming hence this is a good time to capitalize on the online marketplace.
What does the future look like? I have a strong feeling the future is bright for the company because of the following. The whole world is at a stance still, big industries are not operating and unemployment is up. This is where true entrepreneurs succeed as they will adopt, adapt, and sacrifice in order to survive. So in my view, while most people are looking at the world in a negative light, there are a number of new opportunities and also businesses that you could start during this time to meet the needs of your local community or country.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The following are the main factors that will either start your journey into the world of running your company or working for someone else for the rest of your life.
Work on your business idea everyday: I always listen to people who say I have a business idea and I ask them this, ‘have you registered a company yet ?’ generally the answer “No”. The reason why is that most people have great ideas and always feel that is enough to start a business. If fact, an idea is not a business, a business is a revenue-generating vehicle.
You will do everything at the beginning: the sooner you realize that you and you alone will have to do most of the leg work at the beginning and all your friends and colleagues who say they would love to do the business will not do the work when they need to. This is a good lesson as it makes you accountable for your business performance and also gives you an understanding of your business inside out.
Follow up, Follow up and Follow up: This is one the hardest things to do but it is very important as it helps you show the client you are always on top of things and also it helps if you want to get a new business or network. When you do take someone's number or business card you must follow up with them within the first 48 hours otherwise they will forget you and you could have missed an opportunity.
Take time to read, learn & do: this means you have to create an environment around you that will allow you to ensure you are able to have time to read, learn and also apply what you have read and learned. When you think you have all the answers that will lead you to make more mistakes if you don't know something just ask someone who has that knowledge. This will help you reduce mistakes, swallow your pride, this is business.
But to surmise everything, never give up, never that is the waste thing to do because you will regret it later in life. Follow your dreams rather than fail than not try.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The business is cloud-first when choosing business applications/tools for the main two advantages especially when you're a startup and have limited expertise and capital are as following; The fact the business reduces overhead costs of maintaining servers and data infrastructure and the ability to allow your employees to work anywhere in the world as they have to access the business tools.
The Business uses the following platforms
- Business Operations: G-suite & add-ons (Gmail, Drive, Hangouts, Sheets, Forms, etc)
- Process mapping: Draw.io
- Website: Squarespace
- Accounting: Xero
- Email Marketing: Squarespace
- External Marketing: Google AdSense
- 3rd party apps: Appy Pie
Regarding social media, we are currently in the process of finding an expert to help us set up out platforms but they should be up in the next couple of weeks.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I must be honest that I am not the biggest reader. This is partially due to the fact that I am dyslexic. I truly believe that your desire to succeed is what influences the outcome of the business and your journey.
For example, in order to counter my dyslexia, I have developed a photographic memory hence I watch a lot of video podcasts. The sort of videos I watch will generally be around the following topics: economics, technology, business, and history.
I have a golden rule when it comes to watching content, which is that the content must teach me something new and also informative. ”Remember time is money” hence I would rather work on the business than watch or read content that will not help me develop.
If I were to recommend some books
Recommend video podcasts/channels (youtube specific)
- Wendover Productions
- Real Engineering
- Company Man
- Cold fusion
- ViualPoliitik EN
- Business Casual
One thing I also learned from other more experienced business personnel is to watch the stock markets as that is a sign if there will be excess capital in the economy to invest as it is a simple indicator of the general overview of the economic outlook of the country.
You can do this by having mobile apps such as investing.com and create alerts about publicly traded companies in your sector. For example, I am writing this article during the coronavirus pandemic and it has caused a global economic slowdown. This kind of information is important to any small business as it helps them plan how best to overcome this economic slowdown with limited capital.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I think there are a couple of things I have learned quickly in the first year already of operating is that first if you like to sleep 8 hours a day you will never start your own business. The only business owners who sleep 8 hours have billionaires the rest of the business owners hardly sleep. You ask yourself why? The answer is simply time. Time is the only thing even a billionaire can not buy so as you start off your journey realize that your time and your IP are your assets so utilize them properly. To true meaning of wealth in my eyes is having the time to truly do what you are truly passionate about hence the goal of starting a business is to have “financial freedom”.
Now that we have established the true goal. These are the following keys principles that will help you achieve your business goals
Realise you are going to do everything at the start: You as the business founder will have to execute all the tasks from set-up the business website and also have some capital to pay for some of these initial services. One thing I have noticed is that there are a lot of business offerings to help you do these tasks and you pay them a fee but I feel you should go through the process yourself and it will help you understand the legal aspects of registering a company and improve your business knowledge.
Manage Your Time: Time is your asset when you start out so my suggestion is to start using your calendar to set up your weekly routine. This will give you the disciple and workflow to progress quickly and do your tasks. I have incertain a whole example of how one should plan their life and make sure they truly understand the time and how to use it.
Work on your Idea/business everyday: This is one of the most important things as a starting business as most people have an idea but they generally don't know where to go from there. The general thing is to make a business plan and find investors. While this is a valid option but time-consuming and most of the time unless you have friends or family with deep pockets this option always fails. The way that I have found that worked for me is rather than creating a business plan to work on the core product you are selling, refine, and improve it when possible. The advantage of this is when you show clients they already can envision what you are selling. It will make sales easier.
Set Goals: I know people always say it but maybe because it’s true, set goals. I generally only set 3 goals a year and that makes it easier to achieve. The trap of setting more than 3 goals generally results in people getting overwhelmed and not reaching any goals.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are not currently hiring out any full-time positions but we are looking for good mobile or web-based app developers on a contractual basis on specific projects we need more capacity to complete on time.
Please email your resume to [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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