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Why Most Startups Fail In The First Year

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Paul Cook, co-Managing Director of Silvertree Internet Holdings, the investment growth partner behind some of South Africa’s internet brands, on what startup companies must do to survive.

Resilience

There are many reasons why a business could fail within the first year. In some cases, the plan itself does not make sense and in some cases, it is the execution of it that fails. Whenever someone starts a business, they are often doing it out of a sense of personal passion or a sense of excitement and that can lead to overly optimistic projections, and we see this all the time.

There is always going to be a tough period during the first year or two when reality bites. It will happen in some way and it will happen in some form – there will be some piece of bad luck or a difficult time. It is at this time a real make-or-break situation happens.

If you have the right people around you, if you have the right personal resilience; that is what gets companies through.

If you don’t get past that point, the business fails. It is about resilience when you start a new company.

By definition, you don’t know what is going to happen…no matter how hard you plan for a new business, you will face unexpected events.

 

Planning

Make sure that you are good for the good and bad times during your entrepreneurial journey.

Your family too should be ready for the good and bad times… Try and build the right partnerships earlier on. Make sure that your relationships with whoever might be funding you – if there is an external funder – is right.

“No matter how hard you plan for a new business, you will face unexpected events.”

Finances

You should not be seeking funding for its own sake. It is very seductive to suddenly have a lot of money in the bank. You can also fail if you don’t have money, but if you have too much money, then you are tempted to focus on the wrong Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Your objective in a startup is not to raise money; it is not to build revenue for its own sake, it is to build a business.

A business requires cost-control and it requires good unit economics. The more money you have in the bank, the harder it is to focus on cost-control. What you will end up doing is build a business that keeps growing but could never make any money… Also, if you raise too much money as an entrepreneur, you will end up not taking as many good terms [in deals] as you can.

Have a clear mind about what you want to get out of an investment…If you have proven as much as you can with a certain amount of money, you will be able to invest in marketing, stocks etc., then that makes sense.

Communication

When you are at an early stage of your business and are less than 10 employees, typically, everybody is in, not because of the salary but because of their passion for the business. You need to be a team and everybody needs to be on the same page.The period when you grow, from 10 to 50 employees, then all of a sudden, that is no longer the case. That is an extremely dangerous time for many companies.

We have seen several companies not succeeding, and that is a very sad part of the journey. It is then that you need to think who your core management is, [and] who are staff who don’t necessarily need to know everything. But you can also go too far the other way. Everyone needs to know the broad outlines of your thinking; keep the message simple for your team.

Transparency

Be honest about where you need help and make sure your partners are able to help you on those topics. You should look at all the different [aspects] of your business.

Marketing and sales

Marketing and sales are absolutely vital, it is non-negotiable. But how you do it depends on your business. In some cases, it is going to be marketing and in some cases, it is going to be sales. So you need to work out the strategy and how it will be different as well.

Tips ForStartup Success

  1. Build a business that can make money: We are very tempted to copy Silicon Valley’s approach where you come up with an idea and you work out how to make money at a later stage. That makes sense in Silicon Valley but it doesn’t make sense here [in Africa], because there isn’t that tonne of money that is going to postpone your day of reckoning…You need to have a revenue model and whatever you are selling needs to be a lot more than your cost price.
  2. Find the right business partner: If you look for investment, make sure that you find the right partner whose incentives and offerings match your own, for now, and in the future.
  3. Build resilience: Make sure you are ready for tough times because there will be tough times.

Wealth

Jeff Bezos Is No Longer The Richest Person In The World After Amazon Stock Plunges

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Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos lost his title as the richest man in the world during after-hours trading on Thursday, after his ecommerce behemoth reported lackluster third-quarter earnings. 

Amazon shares fell 7% in after-hours trading, knocking Bezos’ fortune down to $103.9 billion. That puts him at number two among the world’s richest. The new number one: Microsoft cofounder and fellow Washington state resident Bill Gates, who is worth $105.7 billion. 

Bezos became the richest man in the world in 2018 and the first centibillionaire to ever appear on the The Forbes 400 that year with a net worth of $160 billion, ending Gates’ 24-year run as number one. 

READ MORE | Jeff Bezos Unloads Another $990 Million Worth Of Amazon Shares In Early August

But the Amazon chief executive’s net worth drop isn’t entirely due to the decline in Amazon shares. Bezos transferred a quarter of his Amazon stake to his ex-wife MacKenzie Bezos as part of their divorce settlement, which was finalized earlier this year. MacKenzie Bezos is worth $32.7 billion, and among the top twenty wealthiest people in the world. 

On Thursday afternoon, Amazon reported a 26% drop in net income in its third quarter, its first profit decline since 2017.  In after-hours trading, Amazon dropped nearly 9% to $1,624 per share in the 20 minutes after the market closed. It has since rebounded slightly, hovering at $1,657 per share at 7:30 p.m. ET

The company said it is investing heavily in logistics and delivery infrastructure, with the goal of making one-day shipping the norm for Amazon Prime members.

READ MORE | Jeff Bezos Sells About $1.8 Billion Worth Of Amazon Shares In Three Days

The company disclosed during its second quarter earnings call in July that it had spent “a little bit” more than the estimated $800 million that it has previously said it would invest in one-day shipping infrastructure.

The company declined to disclose how much it had spent on one-day shipping in the third quarter. But chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky did disclose Thursday that the company plans to spend $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter, presumably to finance the one-day shipping initiative. 

Gates, meanwhile, has been out of Microsoft since 2014 when he stepped down as chairman of the storied company, though he remains a board member. He has sold or given away the majority of his Microsoft stake and diversified his wealth over time. He is now the co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private charitable foundation in the world. 

Bill Gates debuted on Forbes’ first ever billionaire list in 1987 with a net worth of $1.25 billion. Bezos first joined The Forbes 400 list of richest Americans in 1998, one year after Amazon went public, with a net worth of $1.6 billion. 

-Angel Au-Yeung; Forbes

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Lists

These Are The Biggest Givers On The Forbes 400

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This has been a year of record-setting in billionaire philanthropy. In September, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of POM Wonderful and Fiji Water, pledged $750 million to the California Institute of Technology for environmental sustainability research.

In June, Blackstone cofounder Stephen Schwarzman donated $189 million to the University of Oxford—the largest single gift to the school since the Renaissance—to fund its work on humanities. The same month, Broadcom billionaire Henry Samueli pledged $100 million to UCLA’s engineering school, the largest gift ever to the department. 

Forbes tracks gifts and pledges like these as part of our ongoing coverage of charitable giving by the country’s richest people.

READ MORE | The World’s Most Generous Billionaires Outside Of The US

For the second year in a row, Forbes tracked the philanthropic giving of the richest 400 individuals in the U.S. and gave each member of The Forbes 400 list a philanthropy score. The score ranged from 1 to 5,  with 5 being the most philanthropic. List members for whom we could find no charitable giving information received an N.A. (not available).

Philanthropy Forbes 400
FORBES

Though the number of the biggest givers—those who scored a 5—stayed flat in 2019, those who received scores of 4 and 3 increased compared with a year ago.

The changes reflect two things: The country’s richest have gotten somewhat more generous, and Forbes had more information to work with this year. Some billionaires were willing to share information on charitable giving for the 2019 list who didn’t in 2018. As a result, four dozen people got higher scores this year than a year ago. 

This year, Warren Buffett led the list of top givers with $38.8 billion in lifetime giving, which is 32% of his net worth, and earned the top score of 5.

He was followed by last year’s biggest giver, Bill Gates, who has donated $38.5 billion so far. Two people who scored a 5 last year—Paul Allen and David Koch—passed away.

READ MORE: Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing

Billionaires like DreamWorks Pictures founder David Geffen and WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton moved up to the top score after each scored a 4 last year. According to the latest tax filings, Geffen gave $38 million to his foundation in 2017, which brought his lifetime giving to about $1 billion.

Acton and his wife Tegan, on the other hand, have been expanding their philanthropic network, Wildcard Giving, which they founded in 2014 after Acton sold WhatsApp to Facebook. The couple has given away more than $1 billion to charitable causes.

2019 Forbes 400 Giving
FORBES

Forty-one billionaires, including Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings and software billionaire Philip “Terry” Ragon, got higher scores this year than last year. Some, like Stephen Schwarzman, earned a higher score thanks to giving in the past year.

Others scored higher because we were able to find more information about their lifetime giving, through new public documents or details provided to us by Forbes 400 members or their spokespeople. In September, a Los Angeles Times report revealed that B.

Wayne Hughes, cofounder of self-storage behemoth Public Storage, had anonymously donated about $400 million to the University of Southern California in his lifetime. Hughes, who scored a 2 last year, jumped up to a 4.

Private equity tycoon Robert F. Smith’s pledge in May to wipe out the student debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College generated lots of headlines but did not end up changing his score because the gift wasn’t big enough to move him up a notch. In many cases, fortunes grew faster than lifetime philanthropic giving. 

READ MORE | Noëlla Coursaris Musunka The Trailblazer In The Congo

To come up with the information on which we based our score, Forbes reporters looked at tax filings for charitable foundations, annual statements, SEC filings and news about new gifts. When possible, we interviewed Forbes 400 members and executives from their foundations. Some Forbes 400 members said they have chosen to donate anonymously, citing religious or privacy concerns. 

Our score is based on total lifetime giving and what percent of their fortune members had given away. We weighted these two factors equally. Some individuals were then bumped up or down based on several other factors, including whether they had signed the Giving Pledge, whether they had pledged significant donations, how personally involved they were in their charitable giving, and how quickly and effectively their private foundations distributed dollars. We didn’t count pledges or announced gifts that have yet to be paid out, but we took commitment to philanthropy—or lack thereof—into account.

Forbes has been tracking the wealth of the richest Americans since 1982. “Some of [the members] told us to drop dead,” James Michaels, veteran editor of Forbes, told the New York Times in a 1982 story about the list’s debut. “They said they wanted no part of it, that they’d sue us.

This happens in reporting.” At times, our reporting on philanthropic giving received a similar response. “The new philanthropy ranking is fundamentally flawed, in that it is biased in favor of those who make their gifts widely known, and against donors who choose to make their charitable contributions anonymously,” one current Forbes 400 member (who did not wish to be named) wrote to us last year.

-Deniz Çam; Forbes

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Cover Story

Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

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Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.


In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.

On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.

In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).

Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.

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 “I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra. 

Beyond economics.

That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.

The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.

The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”

He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.

“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.

Raghu Malhotra President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”

Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.

It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.

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But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”

And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.

“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.

The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.

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Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.

“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”

Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.

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