Grow Up co-founder Bianca Vernes had a May 2015 launch date but a prototype that was far from ideal. This predicament led her to wish for things that she’d only know later: the dos and don’ts of startups. Though hers has been a steep learning curve, it’s been an invaluable one and one she’s eager to pay forward.
The Grow-Up prototype was revealed a mere two months before they would launch. What was meant to be compact, efficient and aesthetically pleasing was everything but. What Bianca saw instead was a clunky, heavy, inefficient and … ah-hem … not-so-appealing version of Grow Up’s vision. Something had gone terribly wrong!
With the launch date an unreachable target now, it was time to take stock and ask some difficult questions: Was everyone doing what they were supposed to or even skilled to do? Was the original vision still being served?
Time to get serious
Fortunately Bianca didn’t have to go it alone. She was about to go on a week of business training that formed part of Youth Lab ZA’s ICre8SA programme. In 2014 both her and co-founder Lilian Maboya were selected as two budding innovators who would be exposed to business mentors and various industry experts during a year-long programme.
Bianca was assigned a mentor, Joshua Ngoma, of Earn International who is a seasoned entrepreneur with a background in engineering. Not surprisingly he put a lot of emphasis on building a business’s foundation, at which point Bianca realised that if she wanted people to take her business seriously, she had to do so first. This would mean tearing up the rickety foundations they had laid before and starting over.
She looked intently at every aspect of the business – Grow Up’s vision, goals and timelines, its financial and legal compliance as well as the assignment of roles and division of tasks. Some major changes ensued, affecting the day-to-day running of the business, the contracting of contributors and its access to funding.
After some honest conversations Lilian decided to take a step back to focus more on her Honours studies. This left the day-to-day running of Grow Up to Bianca and her budding team, which currently includes Cape Town designer Philippus Johan Schutte and web developer Raphael Segerman. She relished the challenge that lay before her and made some notes as she went along.
- DON’T assign or pick up roles where the expertise to fulfil them is lacking. Bianca explains, “It’s so easy to take people up on their offer because you’re so grateful for them wanting to support you.” However, you might find yourself settling for a service or product that doesn’t best serve your business. Or you might be wasting time figuring things out by yourself when you should be hiring an expert to do it for you.
- DON’T rush. She warns not to “sacrifice your business, your vision, yourself and your happiness at the altar of an arbitrary date.” What is important is not when you launch but how you launch and what you launch.
- DON’T leave boxes unticked. Not even for friends. Get things on paper and secure those legal and financial ticks. If you don’t, you’ll leave your business vulnerable.
- DON’T assume that the team you started out with is the team you’ll finish with. Don’t subscribe to blind loyalty if it does not serve the business.
- Become legally compliant. Get your employment contracts sorted and file for patents. Bianca suggests getting a legal team behind you, particularly Novate. They specialise in small businesses and offer their services on a month-to-month basis.
- Become financially compliant. Get a separate banking account for your business and set up a detailed budget. Bianca has learned that “not everyone you go to for funding will be able to foot your entire bill, but they’re likely to fund a portion.”
- Always act with integrity and respect towards your team. Be sure to acknowledge and honour the roles people have played or are still playing.
- Believe in yourself and your idea. Ask yourself: “Would I invest in this?” If the answer is yes, then put your money on the line. She explains that she recently risked paying for a trip to Johannesburg to pitch Grow Up to the Climate Innovation Centre, which is part of the Innovation Hub based in Gauteng. The risk paid off! Grow Up was awarded a three-month incubation programme.
Better than ever
Bianca also believed in herself and Grow Up to the point that she approached the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for support. And this request too was met with enthusiasm. Two more major changes to Grow Up has been the addition of product designer Max Basler of Lumkani fame and horticulturist Joshua Bones who specialises in water systems and irrigation. With their help Grow Up plans to intimate its pilot programme between June and July, during which the focus will be on refining the design; developing the marketing and branding content, and constructing the website and instruction manual. And if all goes well, Grow Up is aiming to launch its product come December this year.
The challenges and obstacles along the way has not only made Grow Up stronger as a business, it has also taught Bianca a thing or two about cutting yourself some slack and getting back up again.