By Chris Ogden, co-founder of RubiBlue
My business journey happened almost by mistake. In 2003, my late business partner called me while I was living in Port Elizabeth to ask if I was interested in moving up to Johannesburg and starting an IT business with him. We started out doing basic IT SLA work (like servicing printers and desktop support). However, I come from a development background and love solving challenges; I tend to find the mundane a bit boring. By chance, a car accident led us to meeting someone who had a franchise for a funeral business. He complained about the fact that his business didn’t have a proper IT system in place. Over six months, I built him a system and that’s how RubiBlue became what I like to call tech enablers. We use technology to solve business conundrums. Our vision is to solve challenges for people by using our creativity.
When we started RubiBlue, we faced a number of challenges. We thought we knew what we were doing but actually we didn’t. Finance is also always a problem in the beginning; you don’t make money right from day one. Finding the right people to employ was also a big challenge and, in fact, is still a struggle. We need strong people to enable our next level of growth and, if you make a mistake when hiring someone, it can impact the entire business.
I first encountered Raizcorp and its Partner Elite division when my late business partner attended a talk by Allon Raiz (at that stage, my partner was the face of the business while I worked in the background). After meeting Allon, he came rushing back and told me we were going to give away a percentage of the business in exchange for mentorship, training and access to markets. I was horrified and said it made no sense. I then spent an hour or two with Allon myself and, after walking out the meeting, we decided to give Raizcorp a percentage of our business for free but with a guarantee of growth or our equity back.
When we signed up with Partner Elite in 2005, we were a team of two. RubiBlue now has a staff of 35 and our turnover has grown to 40 times what it was. The business has grown instrumentally through both experience and our partnership with Raizcorp. My desire to build a big business wasn’t driven only by Raizcorp but they certainly shifted my thinking. They opened my eyes to the fact that I have a lot to learn and that I don’t know everything. Whether my or their opinions are right or wrong does not matter; it’s a way of bouncing ideas off other people with different experience and skills. I am definitely a lot more open to feedback than I was before. My relationship with Raizcorp and Partner Elite has changed me as a person and that has allowed the business to grow.
Partner Elite has also exposed the business to their FlowCode system which is Raizcorp’s approach to building strategy and creating processes. This has helped us understand that there needs to be a construct of systems and processes so you can put the groundwork in place. I like the concept of FlowCode and believe there is a lot of value that will help us to roll out and give us the ability to scale sustainably and profitably.
RubiBlue is busy on every level; we’re busy with new contracts, new deals for existing products and launching new products. We’re launching a series of internal process mechanisms as well as a values embedment plan to drive our culture. Over the next two years, we are looking at targeting foreign business in a more aggressive manner. We’re laying the groundwork for our future growth and are looking to grow to 250 staff members in the next three to five years.
If an aspiring entrepreneur asked for my advice, I would tell them three things: first, you must understand that you are going to have to work harder than anyone else who works for you; secondly, if you’ve got a product, you need to research the market to make sure people really want it; thirdly, you have to take every cent you make and pump it back into the business until you’re making enough to truly afford that nice car or house. I have seen too many businesses loaning money when they don’t actually need it. You need to learn the hard way to appreciate money and what to do with it.
Finally, don’t go into business if you’re not prepared to commit to your vision over the long term. Don’t think you can start a business today and be doing R1 million worth of business tomorrow. If you aren’t 100% committed, you are not likely to succeed.