Thuli Magubane on How She Prepared Herself For Startup Success

Starting a business is never easy, but it's even harder without business experience. Understanding the basics of business, and spending some time in a professional environment, can really help.

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Thuli Magubane 
  • Company: Mint Fresh Advisory Services
  • Founded: 2010
  • About: Mint Fresh Advisory Services is a consulting company specialising in strategy development, project management, business case and business plan development, Supplier and Enterprise Development and financial due diligence. Thuli Magubane also hosts My Money and Me on Kaya FM.

Thuli Magubane had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur. In fact, she didn’t even study a business-related subject. She had a degree in politics and wanted to become a diplomat, but, as the saying goes, life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Just out of university, she was offered a job in management consulting. She took the job and loved it.

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By 2008, she had landed a top job at a bank, but just a few months after she started, the economy turned and she chose to take a voluntary retrenchment package. With no jobs on offer, she started Mint Fresh Advisory Services. The business is still going strong today.

Here is her advice for surviving the (often tumultuous) entrepreneurial journey. 

I was a management consultant without any business experience. Because of this, I decided to improve my business acumen. I studied a PDM at Wits Business School, an introduction to investment banking at Trimaster and the Executive Master in Positive Leadership & Strategy programme at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain. The knowledge I built up through studying was incredibly useful when I started my business.

If you don’t have any business knowledge, it’s worth studying a business-related subject, as it can help tremendously when running a company. The important thing is to honestly assess your own abilities and identify the areas that need work. Perhaps you’re great at crunching numbers, but you don’t know much about marketing.

A start-up founder needs to wear a lot of hats, so it’s useful to have at least some knowledge in the crucial areas. 

Corporate life was not for me, but it was still an immensely valuable experience. It’s very hard to start a business if you have no idea how a company operates, so I’d definitely recommend  spending some time in a professional work environment.

I have a friend who believes that you shouldn’t even start your own business until you’re forty years old with loads of experience. I don’t know if I would go that far, but experience undoubtedly helps.

You need to understand systems and processes, and you need to acquire the ‘soft skills’ necessary to do business. You need to be able to handle yourself in a meeting and send an appropriate email to a client. When you start a business in a particular industry, it also helps if you’ve done similar work inside a respected operation. It’s easier to land those first few clients if you can point to work you’ve done for a large corporate. 

If you want to start a business, you need a strong network

Another reason to get some work experience before launching a business is because of the business network it provides. It’s almost impossible to launch a successful company if you don’t have good relationships in the industry you’re operating in. Nine times out of ten, an entrepreneur gets a break because of a contact — your old employer becomes a client, or a business acquaintance decides to take a chance on you. So, start building your network as early as possible. Thanks to social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, this is easier to do than ever. 

The main reason to start a business is to solve problems and challenges

Whenever I speak to young prospective entrepreneurs, I always ask them why they want to get into business. I get a variety of answers, but in my opinion, there’s only one correct answer: You’ve identified a problem that you believe you’ll be able to solve. Moreover, the problem 

is important enough that customers will be willing to hand over money for your solution. If you’re not solving a problem, you won’t make it. 

Passion is crucial to survival

Passion is not enough to make a business succeed, but it also can’t succeed without it. You need to solve a problem, but you also need genuine passion for what you’re doing. There will be tough times, guaranteed, and all you will have to see you through when business dries up and times are tough is your passion. If you don’t have passion, you’ll be very tempted to throw in the towel.