Before co-founding Ctrl a year ago, Pieter Erasmus spent more than 20 years in the corporate world learning valuable lessons, building up networks and gaining experience that he now puts to good use in the day to day running of a tech start-up.
1. Discipline – Putting in the hours
One of the biggest mistakes people make when deciding to start their own business is to think they’ll work less. If by ‘set your own hours’ you really mean ‘working less’, don’t even think about it! Especially in the early days when you’ll definitely be working longer hours. Corporate life teaches you the discipline to put in the hours until the job is done, and this can pretty much be pulled through to the start-up environment. The upside is that your hours might be more flexible, and you might be able to work remotely which is something that appeals to a lot of people.
2. Relationships – Getting along with everyone
I’m big on relationships and during my years in the corporate world, I clearly saw the value of nurturing internal as well as external relationships. Treating colleagues, as well as clients with respect by being considerate and helpful can go a long way. And this holds equally true for the start-up world where there is so much potential for collaboration and partnerships. You have to be intentional about it though. Get busy building bridges and never burn any of them! Even if you move to another company or another industry. Treat people you deal with the same way you’d want to be treated by giving prompt feedback, following up, delivering on your promises and giving recognition where due.
3. Humility – Take a step back
If I can offer a word of advice it would be not to start a business because you want to be the boss. Rather be willing to play to other people’s strengths. If need be, take a step back and let others do what they’re good at. This is key to good teamwork. One of the questions you always hear during interviews with big corporates is ‘can you work in a team?’ and there’s a reason for this. It’s because even in the smallest start-up, you’ll still be working in a team. There are very few one-man bands out there and even if you run the show all on your own, you’ll still have to know how to deal with clients, service providers and partners and nobody likes to be bossed around.
4. Thoroughness – The writing’s on the wall
Thoroughness pays off in the long run. Procedures, processes, systems, record keeping, filing. These might sound like swear words to a budding entrepreneur, but in truth, no start-up will survive without it and somewhere down the line you’ll be glad you did. Good governance might look different from traditional corporates, but it’s worth getting it right from the start. It provides a framework, takes away anxiety, gets everyone on the same page about what you believe and what you want to achieve; how, when and where.
5. Honesty – Open book policy
Unfortunately, corporate life is often tainted by office politics, which of course can be used in a positive sense as well. However, honesty and transparency are values that never get old and they are values that I aim to live by. People respect that. In my experience, most people would rather have an unpleasant, or inconvenient truth than be lied to.
In the end, I’m glad I made the move while I still have loads of energy to create something of value. It’s a dream come true to build a business up from scratch that will help me provide for my family, contribute to the economy, create job opportunities as well as a product that has real, tangible value to our customers. But I’m thankful for my years in the corporate world because it helped shape me and it equipped me for this phase of my life. So, I guess it’s about perspective and attitude. Put in the time, effort and willingness to learn, and you’ll most definitely reap the rewards.
Pieter Erasmus is co-founder of Ctrl – SA’s first independent digital insurance advice app.