It’s like therapy for entrepreneurs!

Nomsa Nteleko | OS Holdings

When I was in school I really wanted to pursue medicine as a career but, after I matriculated, I couldn’t afford to study. I volunteered to work for a GP in my township while I tried to find funding to go to university. He introduced me to his accounts department which is where I had my first encounter with a laptop and accounting.

I knew nothing about computers but, as I learned more, I fell in love with them. At that point, I decided that medicine wasn’t for me. Around two years later, I started working for a company that used Sage accounting software, then later for a Sage partner. Ultimately, I wanted to run my own business but, before I could do that, I felt I needed to work more closely with Sage. I applied to join the company as a consultant so I was very surprised to get a call from their sales division saying they’d like to interview me. Even though I hated sales, I wanted to be part of the Sage environment to learn what I could. I started as a telesales consultant and, in my first month, achieved 140% of my sales target.

A year later, I moved into the evolution department where I could meet and interact with clients and propose solutions. They didn’t have a lot of clients in the franchise or public sectors, and asked me to research the area. While the franchise side of things didn’t excite me, the more I learned about tendering and the public sector and its reputation for wasteful and fruitless expenditure, the more interested I became.

I decided to leave Sage in 2012 and start OS Holdings. I wanted to offer integrated, easy-to-use solutions that really provided value, and for which I could provide guidance and support. At that time, GRAP compliance was becoming a big thing (local governments were supposed to be running like businesses). I wanted to capitalise on this gap and offer Sage solutions to this sector. I also saw that women weren’t big players in the industry and I felt there was a big opportunity to build a black, female-owned company that really excelled and added value in this space.

One of biggest challenges in the beginning was that people felt they couldn’t trust me with their businesses as I didn’t have the experience (we only got our first job six months after we started). Affording highly skilled people was also a problem. I was using my last Sage pay check, my provident fund and a SARS refund as capital. Fortunately, I had a sales background and was able to sell my vision to the people I wanted to work with. I took graduates straight out of university and started grooming them. It really was more of a partnership than an employer and employee relationship.

I first heard about Raizcorp when a close friend sent me a link to one of their programmes. I applied and was accepted, and started an 18-month programme in 2015.

A big issue was how uncomfortable I was looking at the business’s finances. I didn’t want to look in case we weren’t succeeding, because then I would lose heart. As an entrepreneur, you just want to do what you’re passionate about and leave the finances to an accountant but, really, you do need to know how to read those books. Raizcorp helped me look at our finances, how well we were doing and how we could grow. They gave me an objective.

Another important thing Raizcorp taught me is to look at myself as a person. When you’re so focused on your business, you can easily lose focus on yourself … You need to realise that if you are broken, your business will suffer. Also, being in a space with other entrepreneurs makes you realise that you’re not a nutcase! Interacting and networking with people on a similar journey was awesome. It really is a motivating space. Just by walking through the gates, you feel different because you know you’re in a space where you’re understood. It’s like therapy for entrepreneurs.

When I joined the programme, my turnover was about R6 million. A year later it had grown to R9 million and the following year to R18 million. During my time at Raizcorp, we created two new departments: a training department and an X3 department (which is a tier one solution for bigger clients). We also started an internship programme. In terms of job creation, we grew from 13 staff members to 43 last year.

We have also developed our own performance and budget management system for local government to assist in measuring and monitoring service delivery, and are now working towards helping municipalities improve their relationships with citizens by building exciting new service-delivery tools.

My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to remember that your journey is unique. You must trust in your own journey and never compare yourself to other businesses. Also, remember that cash flow is king; it’s the lifeline of a business. You need to find ways to make sure that your cash flow stays healthy at all times. If you grow too quickly, it drains your cash flow and brings other problems with it. You need to find solid funding and recapitalisation strategies so you can run your business and projects successfully. You need to run your finances responsibly so the banks will take you seriously. Also, a business cannot make a stand without a collaborative environment. I was helped by Raizcorp, by Sage, by employees who believe in me, and by my husband who continues to play a critical technical role within the company. You don’t exist in isolation. You need to make sure you’re surrounded by people who support your vision.

I am super-grateful for the opportunity given to me by Raizcorp and Investec. I had the most amazing guides who were really frank with me. There are so many more businesses that Raizcorp needs to reach – I see it as the best way to transform our industry. Small businesses are so important in our economy, and I believe that they are the answer to poverty and unemployment. If there were more businesses of the calibre that Raizcorp produces, this country would be a better place.