The first 1000 days of business are make or break for entrepreneurs. Statistically, very few companies survive the first 1000 days (3 years) of business so we sat down with 3 very diverse businesses to get their advice on how to get to day 1001. Meet our first business, JesseJames: these childhood friends have turned a mutual passion for design into a budding business producing custom installations, activations, interiors and products for corporate and media clients.
Day 1: Starting out
After studying then working abroad, Jesse Ede and James Bisset returned to Cape Town. "There were not that many jobs", says James. "The environment was very stark with few opportunities." One day, surfing at Milnerton beach, the duo decided to start a design business that "makes things". They used James' bedroom as their 'studio' and Jesse's artist dad's garage as a workshop, and started making things for friends. "We made a bookshelf for R1000. We made no profit, maybe R100", Jesse remembers. But slowly, through word of mouth, they got more projects. "Those first days were quite tough", explains James. "We were living off our savings and having to make sacrifices in terms of lifestyle." One of the first marketing exercises they did was to create a website, which they built themselves, and continue to update regularly today.
Tip: "A lot of what we do has to do with attention to detail. When you're starting out, it's so important to form good relationships with your clients and the way to do that is to make everything absolutely perfect. That way, you build trust, and then a reputable brand."
Day 155: Created a creative hub
One of their first standout jobs was a project for ELLE Magazine designing the award for their Rising Star competition. Around this time, they decided to take the leap and acquire offices. They found a great space but couldn't afford the rent. They decided to sub-let the space to like-minded creatives. This not only covered overheads but also proved to be a valuable incubator. "We were all spinning off one another's ideas and really learnt from one another", James reminisces.
During quiet times, the team hosted events in this space. "Over weekends we moved our desks out of the way and threw live music events, got DJs in, held cinema nights etc. We sold tickets which helped to boost our cash flow."
Tip: "Consider sharing your premises with other businesses to keep overheads low."
Day 321: Forging relationships with suppliers
In the first year, Jesse and James did all of the production themselves. "It didn't occur to us to use suppliers - at the time we had all the tools we needed", says Jesse. As the business evolved, they used more specialist tools and started to build a reliable base of suppliers.
Tips: "Keep suppliers as close to you as possible so you can visit them and keep an eye on production. Share your success with them, e.g. sending photos of finished products."
Day 577: Creating systems
Another turning point was to start implementing an invoicing system. "We use Freshbooks and it has really saved us time. One of the biggest surprises of running a business is the amount of time spent on emails and not actually doing work!" laughs Jesse.
Tip: "Don't spend your precious time on a task if an online solution or another person can do it."
Day 763: A breakout client
JesseJames landed a breakout client in 2013: a yearlong project for a medical aid company. "We had to create a mobile lab that would tour around South Africa," James explains. "it's very challenging as there were many innovations we had to brush up on."
The client was very happy with their performance and this retainer really helped to develop the business into what it is today.
Tips: "In client service, communication is key. If something is going wrong, let a client know early. Always try to get clients to commit some money on a job upfront. Even if it's 10 or 20%, it will make them have a vested interest in the project."
Day 1001: Refocus the product offering
In 2014, they decided to put new product development on hold and focus on commissions. "The retail world is fickle and suffers from recession", explains James. "Service-based work always does well.Commissions will hone our skills and give us opportunities to do R&D that can be used on product development in future."
Tip: "Sometimes you need to keep it simple and focus on what you're really good at. Don't try to do too many things at once."
The next 1000 days
So what is on their agenda for the next 1000 days? "We would like to invest in more hi-tech machinery as a way to improve further on quality, hire another designer and do more community-based work", says James.