It was a pleasure and honour to sit with Allon Raiz, the founder and CEO of Raizcorp, Africa’s only for-profit, unfunded AND profitable incubator focused on helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Allon’s illustrious career has seen him being named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader as well as publish two books: Lose the Business Plan and What to Do When You Want to Give Up. He has also guest lectured at Oxford University, where he has been Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Said Business School. Key take-aways from our interview included:
- Starting your journey as a Founder: After helping turn around two under-performing businesses, Allon Raiz left a secure position, as Marketing Director of a vehicle security company he’d help build up to over 10 times its original size, to found Raizcorp. Here are his 3 reasons why:
- It was due to the inspiration he gained from helping turnaround the two under-performing small businesses. He really enjoyed it and felt he was good at it;
- It was due to necessity because, although he was successful in his previous job, he did not enjoy it and felt soul ‘being eaten away’ doing it;
- It was a mistake, because he left his job quite suddenly, leaving his shares in the company, which he was unable to sell for 2 years.
The Lesson: Often dissatisfaction with where we are, coupled with a positive experience doing something else, can be the impetus to founding a business.
- Key Challenge: Allon’s biggest challenge, in the beginning, was over-optimism. He underestimated how long it would take to get customer traction, how much cash was required, how much effort would be required, in fact, he felt he ‘underestimated most things in terms of the journey’.
The Lesson: Entrepreneurs should be extra-conservative in their business projections.
Key quotes: “Double your break event point. So, if you think you’ll break even in 12 months, make it 24 months; if you think revenue will be equal to X, plan for half X; if you think costs will be Y, plan for Y plus 50%”.
- Key to success:
Allon attributed a lot of his success to having had a mentor, who mentored him through success and failure. He advised that one should look for mentors who are:
- “Tough, harsh, real, authentic and not politically correct”, as in his experience, that helped toughen him for the market.
- For mentors who are able to be objective, because some mentors may project their beliefs and emotions onto you, to your detriment; and
- For mentors who are competent entrepreneurs because, otherwise, their incompetence will affect you.
At the end, Allon mentioned that it is important to take all the advice you receive and adapt it to your circumstances or even reject it if it is inconsistent with your reality.
- Biggest mistake: Allon stated his greatest business failure was his first venture, the New York Sausage Factory. However, he was glad that the failure happened, describing it as his ‘biggest failure, and the most important thing that happened to him, when you get that kind of lesson as a young person it is a gift’.
Lesson: When Allon fails, he asks himself ‘if this were a good thing, why would that be’? His ability to see the silver lining in failure is a valuable lesson for us all.
Key quote: “I don’t have a bad relationship with failure. I really don’t, I don’t like it, nobody does, but I don’t believe it’s the end, I look for what’s the gift in this [the failure]”
- Knowing what he knows know: Allon would tell his younger self to be bolder, more aggressive. Looking back, he felt he had “left a lot on the table” particularly when he had been first in a new market.