Fail Forward: A Journey of Entrepreneurial Resilience

Updated on 16 July 2014

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Millbug Technology

Company Profile

Name of company: Millbug

Years in existence:  2 and a half

Position: CEO with Thulisile Volwana  as COO

Can you tell us a little bit about your background – personal, educational and professional?

Thulisile and I met as students at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. I grew up in Port Elizabeth she grew up in NgcoboThulisile is an economics graduate and I am completing my MBA.

Tell us about your company and what you do.

Millbug Technology is an IT company that has as its mission statement, “Bringing happiness to those that need it the most”. This can be taken quite literally through our socially conscious products or can be interpreted to mean a particular client’s potential customers. Much as we’ve developed the solar-powered Millbug Vuya Tablet PC, we have won awards for our mobile web and native application development.

How did your journey begin and how have you achieved success so far?

Several push and pull factors motivated us to start MillbugThulisile and Sabelo are very independent and passionate people. This, coupled with a shared curiosity and love for learning and discovery, made entrepreneurship (and technology in particular) a perfect avenue to indulge ourselves whilst making a positive contribution to society.

“Perseverance saw us through the toughest times”

When we began our company in 2012 as an eCommerce firm, we got many insights into the way people around the continent access and make use of the internet. The Millbug Vuya Tablet is a solution that we hope will increase the participation of Africans in the digital economy by becoming content creators and not only consumers.

Has it been difficult? What were some of the obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

Entrepreneurship is without a doubt the most difficult but fulfilling exercise we’ve ever done. Many doors were slammed shut when proposing our innovation but we continued learning. Perseverance saw us through the toughest times.

How many people does your company employ?

We have a wonderful team of 5 at the moment. We are expanding and would welcome applications.

What is your overall vision for your business?

Our vision and the company’s goals pivot around our mission statement, “Bringing happiness to those that need it the most”. Less than one per cent of content online is created in Africa. We wish to sell enough of our products and solutions to get this number to at least 10 per cent by 2020.

What do you think it takes to establish and run a successful business in South Africa?

We believe that above everything, it takes an internal locus of control to run a successful business in our country. All the incentives are there but nobody will do the work for you. One has to take full responsibility and work very hard to be successful.

How did you finance your business, how difficult or easy was the process?

Our business was primarily bootstrapped. This meant many all-nighters as we didn’t have the cash to hire staff. This turned out to be one of the best things to have happened as we got to know every intimate detail of our company and a fair bit about our clients as well.

What are the three things you attribute your business success to?

Compassion, Discipline and Innovation.

When did you know that you were an entrepreneur?

We both knew from a young age that we were very independent and wanted to be like superheroes. These thoughts were solidified the day we sold our first product on an online platform we had built, that’s when it became real.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Our leadership style can best be described as transformational. As a startup with bright prospects, we have to ensure that our current employees become leaders themselves. This, we have found, creates a wonderful environment for innovation and contrarian thinking.

What are some of your favourite motivational books and motivational gurus that have inspired you to grow your business?

Some so many wonderful books and teachers inspired us to grow our business but a must be: Steve Jobs – by Walter Isaacson, Winning – by Jack Walsh, Think and Grow Rich – by Napoleon Hill, The Magic of Thinking Big – by David Schwartz, Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got – Jay Abraham, The Art and Science of Success – Edward De Bono, Losing My Virginity – Richard Branson, Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and The Business of Life – Alice Schroeder, and of course: The Lean Startup – Eric Ries, The Innovators Dilemma – Clayton Christensen, Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell, Startup growth Engines – Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown, the list goes on but these books immediately come to mind.

What three pieces of advice would you offer young entrepreneurs starting today?

First, entrepreneurs need to take full responsibility for their success, nobody will do it for us. Secondly, read – it’s amazing that people who’ve done what you want to do give you a roadmap to replicate their success. Finally, failure is part of the process – learn to fail forward.

What’s the worst and best business advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice we’ve ever received was that we should validate every assumption we make before scaling. The worst advice has to be, “You have to spend money to make money”.

And finally, do you believe in luck, hard work or both?

We believe in both. We don’t gamble or even play the lottery but we’ve had our fair share of serendipitous occurrences spur our business forward after working harder than we ever thought a person could.

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