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Vusi Ravele didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. In 2015 he received a cordless drill for Valentine’s Day, and as he’s shared in countless interviews since then – he couldn’t stop drilling holes in things.

 

His untapped creativity was soon followed by the entrepreneurial bug. Could he take his new-found love for designing and creating wooden décor and turn it into a side hustle?

 

Not only did Vusi do exactly that, but by 2016 he had entered Shark Tank and secured a R400 000 investment for a 40% equity stake in his business from Gill Oved. The rest, as they say, is history and Native Décor has grown from strength to strength ever since.

 

It’s a classic entrepreneurial tale, but even though Vusi secured start-up funds, his growth has been organic and it’s this time in the market and slow and steady growth that has led to some strong foundational insights that Vusi is happy to share.

 

Here are his lessons:

 

  1. Invest in your business

 

From one cordless drill to a CNC machine, mirror cutting equipment and the ability to weld and fabricate steel, Native Décor can offer a wide range of products (250 unique products and designs, at last count) because Vusi has been willing to invest in his business’s ‘next’. It’s important not to over-capitalise, but it’s also difficult to grow without investing in the future and extending your offering within the spectrum of what you do. It’s a delicate balance, so focus on where you will see returns. Do the numbers. Make the investment.

 

  1. Upskill, upskill, upskill

 

Native Décor does this in two ways. First, aligned with the investents Vusi has made is a keen sense of figuring out what the market wants and upskilling to meet the challenge. Vusi didn’t start out with steel fabrication skills, for example. He barely knew what to do with his drill. But he has researched, stayed ahead of market trends and focused on what is available to add to Native Décor’s products. This all takes a willingness to learn.

 

This same attitude is passed on to his employees. Native Décor currently employees 12 people and half of them were unemployed when they joined the business. Vusi doesn’t look for skills – he looks for attitude and then upskills anyone who joins him, creating skilled employees who will always be able to add to the job market as a result.

 

  1. Differentiate

 

We hear this time and time again. Everyone thinks they have something unique to offer the market, but unfortunately many businesses look exactly like their competitors to customers. Vusi advice is simple: Make sure you have IP that is yours and yours alone. For Native Décor, this is designs. It could be technology or a specific process that ensures you are far faster and more reliable than your competitors – whatever it is, focus on it, perfect it, and make it yours.

 

  1. Understand your go-to-market strategy

 

Native Décor was born an online business and that’s what it has stayed. Between Vusi’s own website, being listed on Takealot, Supebalist, Woolworths and many other sites, the brand has a strong reach into the market without investing in brick and mortar channels. This may change one day, but for now, Vusi knows his strategy and he is sticking to it.

 

  1. Look after yourself

 

This is perhaps one of the harder lessons that many entrepreneurs learn and yet it is so important. Until your business reaches a certain level of maturity, you are the most important person in your business. For many, this means they work themselves to the bone, but what happens when you burn out? Instead, taking care of yourself means looking after your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health, spending time with family and loved ones and sometimes even taking a break. When you show up, you want to show up as your best.  

 

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About the Author

Elisheva Gilbert
Chief Marketing Officer, Sasfin Holdings Limited