16 August 2012

Johan Jansen van Vuuren: The effect of good experiences

Johan Jansen van Vuuren,
South of Africa
A long history of entrepreneurship has given Johan Jansen van Vuuren a solid foundation for his business South of Africa – a portfolio of eight fine properties – which launched in 1990. With hotels in Limpopo and the Western Cape, the South of Africa brand of hospitality is big on family values and memorable experiences.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I’ve been entrepreneurial since my childhood days. It started with me breeding budgies and rabbits, and then buying sweets wholesale and selling them at school. 

What were you doing before starting your business?
I was a flight attendant with South African Airways (SAA). This exposed me to a variety of opportunities, options and dreams. Living out of hotels and experiencing 5-star luxuries pushed me to pursue my dreams even further, as I knew that I wanted to offer guests the same experiences. My entrepreneurial spirit helped me to reach this goal. I built a small business while flying and eventually had to stop flying so that I could give my business more attention and to realise my dream of owning my first hotel.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
Planning is essential for any business’ success. The biggest part of planning happens in your head. You dream it. Having a vivid picture of what you want to achieve and a basic step-by-step plan is what I had, not a business plan on paper – it was always in my head – if you can see it, you can achieve it.

What was your start up capital?
I received a food allowance from the airline when we stayed over in cities around the world. Instead of spending all of this on gregarious meals and luxuries, I lived on cheap takeaways like Big Macs and cafe food. I used the remainder of my allowance to purchase items for clients and charged a small commission. Eventually, I ended up importing items from the East.

What was your big dream for this venture?
South of Africa is a dynamic portfolio of fine hospitality properties, with high ethics, delivering outstanding quality experiences and exceptional service in a unique, creative environment.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
In my experience, attending trade shows and being a member of local business chambers and tourism associations was the best way to find leads. Selling your product as a service to your local community is where it all starts. Through word of mouth, referrals build relationships and result in profit in the long run.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
You have to constantly measure yourself against your opposition, but be creative and individual. You must maintain the creative edge and do not reveal your trade secrets up-front but hint at the extraordinary service that awaits guests. 

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
It’s important to calculate your cost of service or product. Thereafter you need to do a comparative analysis in your immediate area. You also need to see what other services and products that you compare yourself with cost. Combining and averaging these out is what you base your prices on.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
I was declared insolvent at the age of 24. My father had to sign surety, so he was liable for all my debts. This forced me to get up and start afresh. I had to earn an income, repay the debt and I had to get back on my feet. I focussed on the results I wanted to achieve and worked very hard to get there again.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Firstly, believing that you will get rich quickly and make lots of money. The biggest failures are due to the shortage of working capital – you need to have capital for at least six to 12 months. 

How do you keep yourself motivated?
Through prayer and positive affirmation, and believing in myself and my dreams, I stay focussed.  You are in charge of the end results, and you – and only you – can make the difference.

Did you have a mentor?
Yes, I had quite a few that played valuable roles in my life. One important piece of advice was that you can never go wrong with investing in property. My mother’s advice was to look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves; this is so true.

Which three character traits do all entrepreneurs possess?
I think that the most important trait that is clearly visible is tenacity. This goes hand-in-hand with patience and a strong desire to succeed in your dream. Through passionate and intensive hard work, your common sense and goal-setting will result in success.

Do you believe in internships for your business?
It is imperative to pass down knowledge and share your skills with others. Through this process of training, you not only enrich others’ lives, but the business also benefits from this. We take on trainees and they are tutored in all aspects of the business. We have also introduced an in house trainer. We’re currently busy with preparations to open our own training academy to invest not only in the future of the country, but also improve others’ lives.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Introduce proper financial accounting from day one. 
* Have control and take control of all operations on all levels. 
* Despite temptations and endless possibilities, do not grow and expand too quickly. 
* Don’t lose focus. 
* Complete tasks and only once the dream is reached, do you continue to the next project. Do not forget about completed projects – keep them alive!

Get in touch with Johan Jansen van Vuuren via email: johan@southofafrica.co.za, visit: www.southofafrica.co.za, check out his Facebook page or on Twitter: @southofafrica01.

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