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Entrepreneur letter to budding entrepreneur

  • By Alan Knott-Craig
  • September 10, 2015

1 entrepeneur


Dear budding-entrepreneur,


You are on the cusp of becoming a full-blown entrepreneur,


I’m going to share a couple things I wish someone had shared with me when I was 25 and embarking on my journey of starting new businesses and building new things.


These are mostly things I picked up by doing the wrong things in my adventures…


First, the Big Four Don’ts:


  1. Don’t chase the limelight. If you’re a success lots of people will pay you to attend conferences and tell your story. The risk is you’ll end up spending all your time telling your story instead of living your story. Many promising young entrepreneurs have been sucked in that vortex, never to return. Try avoid the temptation. Limelight has no lasting value.


  1. Never lose sight of your relationship with your spouse. If you don’t have a spouse, don’t forget Golden Rule No. 1. Find a spouse.


  1. Don’t talk about what you plan to do in the future. Only talk about what you’ve already accomplished.


  1. Don’t panic.


The coming months will culminate in decisions that will affect the trajectory of the rest of your life. Try remain grounded and close to your parents (I’m on the record as saying we should ignore our parents, but sometimes they do know best.)


Personally, I’ve found the hardest part of my entrepreneurial journey was applying the right framework to decision-making rather than relying on sheer willpower. The pressures and stress of starting your own business warp your mind and can lead to flaws in thinking.


The key to establishing the right framework is getting your priorities straight.


For me they are, in order of importance:


  • Wife
  • Children
  • Siblings
  • Parents
  • Close friends (i.e.: 3 people)
  • Business partners
  • Everyone else


Of course, the above list assumes two things:


  • You’re married
  • You married the right person


Lucky I did, high five!


It took me a long time and many unnecessary mistakes to figure out my priorities. Luckily I had mentors that nudged me in the right direction along the way.


The most important inflection point was in 2008. I was at the top of my professional career game and hit a wobble in my marriage.


I asked my dad for advice, fully expecting sympathy.


His answer: “Al, its simple. Look at your family and look at your company and choose.”


Not a hard choice when so starkly illuminated.  Lucky I made the right choice.


The other big decision I’ve had to make in my life is in which country to live. I’ve been fortunate to see the world, and I can probably choose the country to live in.


I choose South Africa every time. I feel at home here, I think it’s a healthy environment for my kids to grow up in, and it’s the only place in the world that offers the opportunity of simultaneously making money and making a difference.


3rd world problems, 1st world infrastructure.


I want to make money and help people. South Africa lets me do both.


Of course big life decisions must be made in concert with my wife. Fortunately we both agreed that raising decent kids was our priority, and that within SA the best place for us was Stellenbosch (near my in-laws and decent government schools).


For the record, if we didn’t have kids we’d probably live in Joburg. In my opinion it’s the best city in Africa and compares to the best in the world in all aspects (money, people, lifestyle).


These decisions (marriage, priorities, where to live) are easier said than done and not the same for everyone. The trick is to find your right path. It’s not a train-smash to go down the wrong path. When you realise its wrong, stop, turn around, go back.


Too many people find themselves in a cul de sac (i.e.: living in Australia or married to the wrong person) simply because their pride won’t let them admit they were wrong.


One of the most amazing entrepreneurs (male or female) I’ve ever known was Priya Haji. She passed away in 2014 from an embolism at age 44.


We became friends by sitting next to each other at Harvard during a 10-day program for YGLs. Neither my wife nor I have ever met anyone as grounded, as smart, as well spoken and as hardcore at Priya.


Living in San Francisco, unmarried, she was single-handedly raising two small children and running a high growth Internet start-up.


By herself!


She could do it. She knew she could do anything if she set her mind to it. So can you.


You’re in the same category as Priya. You can do anything; so don’t feel intimidated by the thought of starting a business. You will win.


Just remember that when you become an entrepreneur, you give up your 8-5 day job and sign-up for a 24/7 life job.


Startup life is all-consuming. There are no weekends, no holidays, no me-time. Your every thought will be dominated by your new baby.


As any mother knows, babies are not a Benson & Hedges day-night slogfest. Babies are a 5-day test match… Babies will test you.


And there is no end. Once you’ve taken the red pill there is no going back to applying for leave and unquestioningly following orders and gossiping by the Ricoffee machine.


You’ll be unemployable.


Let me sign off with the top three tips I received from mentors:



“Toughen up. Business is rough and tumble.” Denis O’Brien. That means you need to accept that the game is not always clean. If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.


“Never lose your cheesiness.” Brand Pretorius. The bullies of the world will make fun of you and try embarrass you. Screw them. “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” Joseph Campbell


Smile and wave.” Jane Raphaely. There will be critics. There will be enemies. There will be jealousy. If you really want to irritate them, smile and wave.




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