Thuto SerapeloBy Thuto Serapelo|June 10, 2022|8 Minutes|In Risk and Glory, Risk & Glory League

Risk and Glory

Want to know the way? Ask a billionaire Part 2

This is part two of the piece I wrote about some of the advice I had received from studying as well as meeting self-made billionaires and/ multimillionaires throughout my entrepreneurial journey. This piece will focus on the one thing that every business needs to succeed.

No matter what business you run. No matter what industry you are in, the only way to succeed in business or to build a billion-dollar enterprise is to have and serve your boss – also known as your customers. The late great Sam Walton who was the richest man alive and founder of Walmart, a company that constantly ranks number 1 on the Fortune 500 list and had revenue in excess of $500 billion for the 2021 financial year once said:

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” – Sam Walton

It is no wonder then that Jeff Bezos who was dethroned as the richest man in the world by Elon Musk to become the second richest man alive and was also the first person in history to have a net worth north of $200 billion according to Forbes set’s mission an ecommerce behemoth he founded in 1994 as: To be Earth’s most customer-centric company.

Intellectually it is easy to know and understand that every business needs to serve customers in order to be successful, but in the very busy, very stressful day to day when trying to build a company, we as founders tend to forget that fundamental principle.

I haven’t been immune to the mistake of overlooking that fact that customers are the most important factor that determines the success or failure of every business or start-up. In my ecommerce venture for example there was a time when in order to maximize profits I sold low quality products to customers and even though in the short term, lower cost products lead to more profit, in the longer term both the bottom and top line of my company’s income statement became negatively impacted as unsatisfied customers rightly chose to not buy from us anymore.

Earlier on I mentioned the mission of Amazon which is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company and one of the ways to achieve that mission is to invent on behalf of the customer. To come up with new products and services that customers may not have even known they wanted until offered to them. In my e-commerce start-up X-23, some of these inventions and/ innovations have included features such as a using a subscription service for buying toiletries for which we received a lot of positive feedback from customers. The subscription feature was not something that customers had asked us for, but it was up to myself and my cofounder to develop it for them.

Oftentimes customers do not know what they want until you invent it on their behalf. Henry Ford who had a net worth of $199 billion (adjusted for inflation) and is largely credited with inventing or rather commercialising the modern car, said that if he had asked customers what they wanted before he founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903, “they would have said faster horses”.

Today, innovative technologies can be used to invent new products and services for customers but technology entrepreneurs at times do not approach this opportunity correctly. Technopreneurs often want to start with a particular technology in mind and try to build a business from that. For example, I often hear entrepreneurs and would be founders say things like “I want to start a company in crypto” or “I want to start a company that uses AI and 4IR Technologies”.

As an Artificial Intelligence researcher/software engineer and someone who is deeply passionate about new innovative technologies I have fallen into that same trap in the past and I have seen how some of my peers at Wethincode_ who are some of the most brilliant people I have ever met make the same mistake when thinking about starting companies. In contrast, the right approach to take is to start from the needs of the customer and work from there to figure out how technology can be used to meet that specific need. This approach was epitomised by Steve Jobs, arguably one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time who has said that:

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology. You can’t start with the technology then try to figure out where to sell it.” – Steve Jobs

That approach of starting with the customer first is how a college dropout managed to not only build Apple, a technology company with a market cap of more than $2 trillion but also a multibillion-dollar entertainment company Pixar which Jobs sold to Disney for more than $7 Billion in 2006.

The second largest investment bank in the world Goldman Sachs has an initiative called 10,000 Small Businesses which “aims to provide 10,000 small businesses with assistance – ranging from business and management education and mentoring to access to capital and business support services.”

Billionaire investor Warren Buffet who has topped the Forbes list of billionaires only gives commencement addresses to the 10,000 Small Businesses graduating class and in 2016 he offered only one piece of advice to the business owners there. Buffet’s advice was to wake up everyday thinking about how the business men and women can delight their customers. The phrase is not “satisfy my customer,” Buffett emphasised, but to delight the customer. As he explained it:

“Any business that has delighted customers has a salesforce out there. You don’t have to pay them, you don’t see them, but they’re talking to people all the time… You will succeed if you have delighted customers.” – Warren Buffet.

As I am now building a new Fintech (Financial Technology) company at the Empire Partner Foundation Incubation Hub my number one priority is delighting the customers we will get to serve and every single second when not building the business and the technology that is all that I think about, how we can delight our customers.

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