01 August 2012

Jules Newton: No need to be unique; be the best!

Jules Newton, Avocado Vision
The CEO of Avocado Vision, Jules Newton, found herself in a tricky spot: managing the training of a team in a corporate environment and going through a divorce. Her then husband was working on the same team and it became a case of get another job or go into the self-employment space. That was in 1996 and Newton’s since been running a successful company that creates opportunities for the people of South Africa, to empower themselves through small business-creation and related skills.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
I have never written a business plan – it has grown in my head over time, as my capability and business acumen has grown. I think business plans may be useful when one is moving into a funding or venture capital stage, but I’ve never had any use for one.

What was your start in business?
I quit my job, signed my bond and my car finance deal, got divorced and started my company all in the same month. I didn’t have a penny. I did have a 3-year old child! All I had was a customer and a telephone. I worked from home and sold my heart out. Failure meant my child wouldn’t eat, so it wasn’t an option for me!

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them? 
Building relationships with prospective customers and creating a proposition that adds value to those people. Making sure what you charge is always just a little less than the value you create for them. And talk to lots of prospective customers.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique?
It’s about understanding the industry you occupy very, very well.  The more you know about your industry, the more you’ll be able to understand how you can differentiate yourself. But people can be successful entrepreneurs even if they’re not unique. Doing a great job, pricing well, and being in your customers face when they need what you’re selling can be enough.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
Market research and talking to clients are important factors. Beware underpricing, though. There is a psychological “value perception” factor that comes in. If you try to significantly underprice your competitors, clients may perceive you to be “cheap and nasty”, or suspect you may eventually go out of business, by naively pricing your product in an unsustainable way.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
I used VAT and tax money to pay salaries when I ran out of cash. Then I even ran out of cash to pay salaries again. I had made a very serious pricing mistake, and was running my company into insolvency without really seeing it. Changing my pricing strategy and focussing on getting more clients saved the day. Working closely with my team during that time saved all our jobs.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Spending cash in the business on personal luxuries, and expecting growth to happen much more quickly than it does, and risking costs in anticipation of that growth.

Did you have a mentor?
I have had many mentors over the years. All of them helped me reframe my picture of my business and gave me practical insights. And courage to carry on!

Is it ever alright to give up on a dream? 
Many people do. I haven’t. It’s nearly killed me, but I’m still in the game. I have no idea whether it’s alright or not? I suppose we all have a limit as to what costs and sacrifices we are prepared to risk and endure.

What’s your life motto? 
“Get up again.”

Which three character traits do all entrepreneurs possess?
Resilience. Vision. Conviction.

In an entrepreneurial arm-wrestle, who would you back: Steve Jobs or Sir Richard Branson?
Richard Branson. I believe Steve was a brilliant man, but I wonder how long Apple will last in its specialness now that he’s gone? I think he kept Apple going through sheer force of his will. Richard seems to be able to build powerful people around him and then let go. Virgin will survive Richard, I think.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* There are very few shortcuts. You won’t get rich fast. Starting your business is a long and risky road, and you have to be able to stay the distance.
* Apply for a credit card and DON’T use it until you have a cashflow issue and you need to pay salaries before you get paid by your client.  Pay it all back as soon as the client deposits.
* Don’t employ staff until you absolutely need them. You can save costs and do a lot yourself before you saddle yourself with overheads.
* Get a business mentor: someone who has walked the same road you are starting on.
* Read Allon Raiz’s book: What To Do When You Want To Give Up. It has a lot of simple and practical steps to give you a road map around “what’s next”.

Get in touch with Jules Newton from Avocado Vision via email: jules.newton@avovision.co.za, visit: http://www.avovision.co.za or follow her on Twitter: @Avojules.

No comments:

Post a Comment