Ivan Epstein recently had the honour of speaking to Executive MBA students from the University of Columbia when they visited Cape Town for a summer school. He shared with them some of the key lessons he learnt during his first couple of years of running a start-up business

would like to share my learnings with entrepreneurs looking for some guidance.

1 Data doesn’t tell you everything

Most successful entrepreneurs trust their gut and instinct as much as they trust formal market research. Creating a new business is about defying the odds and finding opportunities. It’s about heart and courage as much as it is about intellect and analysis.

2 Disputes with business partners can arise

If you have partnered with other people to build a business, be ready for some potential disputes once the idealistic glow has worn off. Be sure that your partners complement your strengths and weaknesses and that you are able to turn the challenges in the relationship into a net positive. Conflict, if well managed, can create great opportunities.

3 The first employee is an important milestone

When your business is a start-up, you’ll find it hard to attract the right people. Your budget will be limited, which means your choices of potential employees will be too. Great talent usually wants to work for well-known and successful brands.

Don’t make a bad appointment out of desperation – take your time to find the right fit. Remember that you’re not just hiring a techie or a sales rep – you’re laying down the foundation for your future culture.

4 Don’t be seduced by your own pr

As your business takes off, you might get opportunities to attend gala events with established business people. You could also get some PR. That’s all great, but don’t let it go to your head. Make sure you are focusing on your business fundamentals and not just your image.  And remember, the press can be unpredictable.

5 As your company grows, your control may diminish

Many entrepreneurs dream of securing venture capital funding, being bought out by a bigger brand, or even listing their businesses on a stock exchange. It’s important to be willing to let your role evolve if you embrace such changes – you may need to be more transparent and flexible as well as delegate aspects of the business to others.

6 Learn how to cut your losses

If a product line or a division in your business is failing, act quickly. If it’s beyond redemption, dispose of it as cleanly and rapidly as you can. Don’t let a failing part of your business disrupt your strategic direction.

7 Share the wealth

As your business grows, make sure that your people’s prosperity grows, too.

Making people feel that they’re recognised and valued is vital to employee engagement and retention of wonderful talent.

8 Change the world!

Use your talent and organisation to make a difference in the world. Give something back. It instils in your people a wonderful feeling of being part of something amazing.

It also attracts investors, customers, and other stakeholders who want to be associated with a company that has a heart.

Author: Ivan Epstein, President for Sage International (Africa, Australia, Middle East, and Asia) and Chairman of Sage Foundation


The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Reports (2001–2016) noted that apart from funding and access to finance, South African SMMEs suffer from poor management skills caused by inadequate training and education, resulting in high rates of business failure

Despite their significant importance and contribution to economic growth, SMMEs across the world – and in South Africa in particular, which has one of the lowest SMME survival rates in the word – are still faced with numerous challenges that inhibit entrepreneurial growth.

The SMME sector is a major contributor to economic growth and employs up to 77% of the workforce internationally whereas in South Africa the average hovers around 60%. The SMME sectors play a major role in creating jobs, and if South African SMMEs can increase their participation rates and contributions closer to the global averages, unemployment will reduce dramatically and economic growth will escalate.

Owing to legacy issues, and other challenges facing South Africa, a recent study  on the causes of business failure among SMMEs highlighted the key reasons for business failure, which include poor cash flow management, barriers to access to finance, and a lack of financial management, governance, and IT skills. Significantly, more than 70% of all business start-ups fail in the first year. On the other side of the spectrum, corporates also face similar challenges as the modern-day CFO has to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and has to evolve to meet the growing challenges of business. It is indeed a case of ‘adapt or die’.

As business leaders and as CFOs we are presented with an opportunity to nurture and grow businesses – especially SMMEs – and to contribute significantly to the economic development of South Africa. We should therefore consider how we are able reduce business failure and to add demonstrable and sustainable value to the entities that we work for. The finance function has evolved from being reactive to proactive and we often report in real time. However, this has not been sufficient given the high incidence of business failure among global corporates and SMMEs over the past 20 years.

Key challenges facing business

Apart from the onerous regulatory issues that aspiring entrepreneurs face, the key challenges that business and finance leaders face today are:

  • Business intelligence and data analytics
  • Risk management
  • IT and digital know-how (driving change and innovation)
  • Stakeholder/environmental compliance and regulation

Business leaders therefore have to address each of these challenges to shape future strategy and drive innovation for long-term sustainable growth. For the finance function to be successful, it needs to be more strategic and creative than it is today. The additional responsibilities will be in the areas of business intelligence and data analysis, risk and compliance – and naturally being more astute in technology. This is key in developing a strategy that is in sync with the business, stakeholder and social needs.

As technology evolves it will enable us to report faster, reduce the time required for annual budgets and enable rolling long range forecasts (in real time), and enable the development of sensitivity analyses, balanced scorecards, risk and risk mitigant analyses.

Key challenges facing the finance function

Against the backdrop the finance function has to be agile and has to recognise the following:

  • Growth opportunities are harder to identify and execute and we have ageing first-world economies versus young emerging nations in Africa and the BRICS countries, including China.
  • Embracing technology and understanding its impact on business is the key to business growth and survival.
  • Outsourcing of non-core and non-value adding functions will have to escalate.
  • Finance has to increase its leadership and influence in companies.

As the commercial landscape is being transformed, the most effective finance teams take the lead in steering the business through unfamiliar terrain and orchestrating its strategic response and consequent success, as illustrated by the following examples:

  • In a company such as Kodak, which went from number 1 to pariah status, the question that needs to be raised is whether finance took the time to assess future strategies and challenges to their long-term plans, or whether there was complacency. Today Kodak is slowly re-inventing itself after being in the wilderness for a long period of time.
  • Apple, on the other hand, went from pariah to a sought-after share. The challenge facing Apple today is how finance will continue to compete with aggressive competitors whose offerings threaten to overtake them with each new release (such as Huawei) and how finance can continue to support that dialogue. Interestingly Nokia and BlackBerry, who were both knocked off their respective pedestals, are re-emerging and are beginning to recapture some of their old sparkle.

In summary, finance should provide a window into the future through which an organisation can best prepare itself. This implies a shift in behaviour, as highlighted in the table below:

Addressing the challenges for 2017

Above we spoke about the high incidence of business failure and the key challenges facing business, and finance today. In this area, we will summarise how finance and business need to tackle these challenges:

  • The business strategy should factor in and adapt to the ever-changing customer needs as well as fast-moving competitive dynamics, including changes in technology and the regulatory environment. Forwarding-thinking CFOs will recognise this and:
    • Support the need for capital investment in an ever-changing business environment
    • Identify risks and market changes early and drive long-term sustainable growth
    • Comply with regulatory volatility and lead by example with regard to integrity and ethics
  • Embrace innovation and adapt to new business models – in short, be a leader rather than a follower.
  • Embrace technology by supporting investment in digital and by creating a happy medium between short-term targets and long-term potential targets. In summary, the CFO should support significant investment in technology.

To conclude: we need to continue with the initiatives to improve the framework within which SMMEs operate, namely business-friendly policies and improved access to markets from both the public and private sectors. The reduction of unnecessary red tape must also continue in order for the SMME ecosystem to be conducive for business formation and growth.

Therefore if finance functions and our CFOs adapt their approach to incorporate future trends, the finance function will assist in driving business growth and consequently economic growth which will ultimately result in less business failure and higher employment.

The era of business as usual and completing tick-boxes is over; it’s time for innovation and forward thinking.

Tertiary institutions and professional accounting bodies need to be flexible and ensure the continued relevance of their respective syllabi.

Author: Suren Panday CA, CGMA, MSc is CEO at SADL Consulting Services


It’s quite the knife’s edge on which our young democracy finds itself balancing. There is no doubt that present-day South Africa is experiencing a pivotal time in its history. Louw Barnardt looks at the future of doing business in South Africa

This is no secret: as a country we find ourselves at a fork in the road. The high road sees us remaining the strongest economy on the continent, with reasonable growth and relative stability and peace. The low road sees stagnant, if not negative, growth and currency devaluation limiting opportunities, causing increased poverty and unrest.

Our economic environment is tough. Non-existent growth is not creating the jobs, wealth and economic opportunities that our people demand. Intense poverty and inequality are causing crises like student uprisings, strikes and high levels of crime. Politically, we find ourselves in one of the worst situations that we have ever been in. A massive leadership chasm and endemic corruption among the political elite regularly leave us scratching our heads in desperation.

Unfortunately, the international investment community does not care much for excuses. We managed to evade a downgrade to junk status in 2016 but remain under very close scrutiny by ratings agencies. There is no doubt that the February budget speech will be placed under the magnifying glass.

The question must then be asked what the future holds for starting and growing businesses in the current climate of chaos and uncertainty. Are there enough opportunities in this market to warrant the risk of building a company and a future here? Let’s look at some of the unique characteristics of the RSA from the perspective of an entrepreneur and investor.

Low levels of entrepreneurship leave gaps and opportunities

South Africans are generally a risk-off nation when it comes to entrepreneurial ventures. The 2015/2016 Global Report from Global Entrepreneurship Monitor ranks South Africans’ perception about good opportunities to start a business, as well as their confidence in their skills and capabilities to successfully run a business, among the bottom half of the 62 countries surveyed. This outlook, paired with our general fear of failure, has unfortunate effects on our levels of entrepreneurship. It does mean, however, that the gaps and opportunities in the market for those who are willing to take the plunge are bigger than in more entrepreneurially competitive countries. Corporates that run near-monopoly markets traditionally struggle to keep up with change, leaving many markets ripe for disruption.

Huge demand for jobs

With our staggering unemployment figures, we have a long way to go towards providing decent jobs for our entire working population. The oversupply of labour drives the cost of employment down. When converted to rand costs, highly skilled, skilled and unskilled labour cost less here compared with most other countries. This creates an opportunity for companies that are able to employ locally and compete internationally.

Investment incentives like Section 12J

Section 12J of the Income Tax Act creates a unique opportunity to save tax for South Africans who are willing to invest in young companies through a venture capital company (VCC).

Investment in a SARS-registered VCC is met with a taxable income deduction of 100% of the value of their investment. In the 41% tax bracket, investors will get R410 000 back in tax savings on every R1 million invested. This mechanism has seen 42 venture capital companies registered at the beginning of 2017. Although many of them are not yet trading and most of those that are have not yet raised significant capital, I believe that this incentive will greatly accelerate our young venture capital market and the availability of seed and growth funding available to entrepreneurs on the back of the exciting tax saving offered to investors.

Positioning that can yield growth

Globally we find ourselves in a low-growth environment. Listed assets are expensive compared to their current yields with little room for strong growth projected – especially in established markets. Huge government-level debt is threatening financial stability, adding to the risk of liquid assets at current price levels. Investors need to ask themselves where growth will be found in the next five to ten years.

I believe that this creates a unique value proposition for investment into private companies in Africa. The continent has a massive number of problems to be solved, with governments that are unable to contribute to solutions. The emergence of new technology and connectivity is enabling new types of businesses and new business models. Not being affected much by what GDP growth, manufacturing data results or the market at large are doing, successful emerging private companies are able to generate returns well beyond that of traditional asset classes. Yes, these types of investments are subject to higher inherent risk, liquidity risk, currency volatility risk and more.

But considering that an investment in a company with a similar team, tech, traction and scalability can be made for a tenth of the price that it would cost to invest in the Silicon Valleys of the world, the upside potential is undeniable.

Waves of change

It is hard for us as South Africans to be proud of our government. Large amounts of red tape and incoherent foreign direct investment policy hinder the ease of doing business. From public health care and public safety, all the way through to state-owned entity finances – it’s shocking what the public has to put up with. But our hopes have been rekindled by our last municipal election. The ANC has already lost a lot of ground and more and more voters are beginning to take a jaundiced view of our current leadership. 2019 offers the prospect of a change of power at national level – an exciting prospect for anyone doing business or earning a living in South Africa.

In summary

My conclusion is that we are indeed in hot water but that there are always good opportunities where market mechanisms are not functioning properly. With access to the right network and by applying sound business and financial management principles, entrepreneurial success can be achieved by those who are able to solve problems really well. This will not be an easy journey but for those with the passion and perseverance to never accept defeat the rewards will be astronomical. To quote James Dean: I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.’ Happy venturing!

Author: Louw Barnardt CA(SA) is the founder and MD of financial management company Outsourced CFO

Turning failure into a successful business 

CA(SA) Darren Lang was a star performer at university. So why was he at the bottom of the performance pile when he started work? The answer is something Lang and his business partner have turned into a highly successful business

As a top student at university, Lang decided to spend the first year of his training contract as an academic trainee at the University of Johannesburg passing on his knowledge to others before going to work at an auditing firm because he thought that he would learn some additional skills that would set him apart when he entered the auditing world.

But there was one skill Lang didn’t master during this time: Excel. Little did he know that this hole in his skills set would leave him feeling so out of his depth that when he left academia and entered auditing he soon would go from top performer to average trainee.

‘Working on my first client, I remember watching my peers bash away at Excel and selecting data for audit samples like pros. This is something I had no clue how to do. Soon I started hating going to work and suffered from Sunday blues every day because I was so inefficient, unproductive and frustrated. This drove me to learn everything I could about Excel,’ explains Lang.

It was a decision that changed Lang’s career path for good.

You see, Lang wasn’t the only person to feel the wide gap between what he’d learnt at university and what he was expected to do at work. His business partner, qualified actuary Dan Stillerman, had the same experience. Within the first few weeks of entering the business world, Stillerman’s confidence went from sky high to rock bottom all because he lacked the Excel training he needed to do his work.

It was this experience that sparked the seed that eventually became Excel Academy, a training provider intent on assisting others to become proficient in business’s most important tool.

Turning excel zeroes into excel hereos

Founded in 2013 by Stillerman and joined by Lang in 2015, Excel Academy is today the preferred Excel training provider for undertakings such as Discovery, Investec, Mazars and Thuthuka (SAICA’s bursary fund).

To date, they have helped approximately 5 000 people around the country become more successful through their Excel training workshops. Starting with workshops that only helped one or two people, the business is now at a stage where projected revenue for 2017 looks set to triple, their workforce is set to double and they’ll be expanding their offerings internationally to New York, Hong Kong, Australia and the UK.

This type of success is a dream come true for a CA(SA) with an entrepreneurial spirit like Lang.

Do what you love and love what you do

‘One of the things I’ve always believed is that it’s important to do what you love. In fact, this is a non-negotiable,’ says Lang when asked where his business passion comes from. ‘It’s important to do things that inspire, add value to others and change people’s way of thinking. Education is something that helps do this. It brings out the best in people and transforms them. The fact that I am part of a business that does this on a daily basis makes all the mixed emotions that come with taking the entrepreneurial leap worth it.’

Having watched his role models – which include his father and father-in-law –establish and run their own successful business, Lang knew entrepreneurship ran in his blood.

‘When deciding to take the leap, I kept in mind what Brian Joffe once said about people loving the “sexy jobs”. For me, it wasn’t about having a “sexy job” – in fact, when I told people I’d be teaching Excel, many laughed in my face – but the truth is, for me it’s important to be able to breathe passion into my work and do something that genuinely helps people work smarter, not harder.’

This message is something Lang carries around with him wherever he goes. Recently meeting with over 100 accounting students at the University of Witwatersrand, Lang expressed the three thing he believes it takes to seize the opportunities the CA(SA) route exposes to you if you wish to start your own business:

    • Don’t be afraid to take risks  ‘As a profession, many people see CAs(SA) as risk averse. This isn’t true. Being a CA(SA) teaches you to practically assess the risk before making a move. And this is crucial in business. After all, without risk there is no success.’
    • Learn to manage your time  ’We only have 24 hours in the day; it’s what you do with those hours that counts. One of the things Mark Sack, my triathlon coach, has taught me is that you can’t focus on everything at once. Focus on one thing at a time and you’ll not only get more done, you’ll also be more successful at what you do.’
    • Don’t be afraid of failure  ‘Failure is life’s best teacher. This is something I learnt the hard way and, through Excel Academy, Dan and I managed to turn the lessons failing taught us into a profitable business.’

Author: Karin Iten is Project Manager: Nation Building Marketing and Communications

The courier in your pocket

The courier in your pocket You can call 1Fetch ‘the courier in your pocket’. Right from conception, the idea resonated with both Jason Psillos, CEO,  and Panico Theocharides. As co-founders of 1Fetch (Pty) Ltd, they have developed an on-demand, hand-to-hand, instant motorbike courier service that is available at the touch of a button. It speaks to all the excitement of today through the tech angle and has also provided its founders with the opportunity of creating employment and empowering people along the way.

The 1Fetch service is accessed through either the 1Fetch app or website and the process of placing an order follows a few simple steps culminating in your package being … Delivered Now!

What was your motivation for deviating from the typical CA(SA) path?

The CA(SA) qualification provides you with a well-rounded commercial platform from which to grow and utilise your skills.

One of the key factors to understanding business is the ability to understand the numbers. Throw in a bit of entrepreneurial flair and it is actually a great combination.

What made you choose this type of business?

Everything is shifting to what is commonly being defined as the ‘1 hour’ economy. Tomorrow is too late. People want things done on demand and they want them now. Technology is the enabler for this instant gratification economy and it needs to be a part of any new business going forward.

The 1Fetch concept speaks to a real need that people have and utilises technology to execute on this need.

On many instances we both could have used the services of a courier ‘at your fingertips’, so to speak, be it for a forgotten pair of work shoes after an early morning gym session or an urgent document that needed to be sent from the office.

What sets your business apart?

1Fetch works because you can’t buy time and we are in the business of saving people time. 1Fetch is a same day, hand-to-hand courier service but with a big difference. That difference is the fact that everything we do is instant.

We take customer service and the customer experience very seriously. Our riders are professional, courteous and efficient and we guarantee collection of your package within 90 minutes.

Describe yourself as person?

We are both positive people and like to surround ourselves with other positive people.

Panico is a clear thinker that cuts straight to the point. He is able to assess an array of issues and very quickly identify the areas that require attention. Jason is hard-working and dedicated and employs a more indulgent approach to those around him. He is detail oriented and gets deeply involved in every aspect of the business.

What do you believe has been crucial to your success?

Two things. First, the ability to interact with all walks of life, no matter the shape, size or form and to embrace any differences and leverage off them for the better. Second, the ability to take a calculated risk and act on it. By not being afraid of change, 1Fetch was taken from a mere idea to a commercial reality. A healthy dose of self-belief and perseverance have also been key ingredients to the journey so far.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?

The initial challenge we faced was ensuring that there was sufficient funding for our business, given the long and sophisticated development process, and then to also ensure sufficient funding for the commercial conversion.

The second major challenge for our tech start-up was to create market awareness, a task made significantly more difficult given the fact that we’re introducing a relatively new concept into the market. We needed to educate people about the ease, efficiency and reliability of the 1Fetch service and we are constantly pushing to create the necessary awareness and penetration into our target market.

How did you overcome these challenges?

We were able to raise sufficient funding to assist us with the completion of our development and the commercial roll-out of 1Fetch. Key to our capital raise were many of the skills learnt through our CA(SA) qualifications which we were able to apply to the process.

We are still pushing every day to further 1Fetch’s awareness. We are continually devising new and exciting methods of spreading the word. You need to give people a product that appeals to them and then follow that up with a fantastic customer experience. We have those bases covered!

We have a 100% record for being on time, safe and reliable …

So we have never been late, never had an accident, and nothing has ever gone missing.

What is the best piece of advice you can give a young entrepreneur?

First, you need to have absolute belief in what you’re doing – your idea needs to be well thought through – and you need to back yourself all the way because there will be naysayers at every turn. And these naysayers can be quite convincing and will create doubt. All you need is that one good reason that knocks everything else out the park and outweighs the risks.

Second, be disciplined – in your thinking, in your actions, in your time management. Time is the one thing you can’t control and you need to use it smartly.

Third, work out what differentiates you, what your value-add is. And don’t be sensitive – you need to learn to handle rejection and to deal with speed bumps on the road so you need some fight in you.

It’s important in this era that you consider a business that is highly scalable. That is not time dependent. Hours are limited. Technology is unlimited. Think about a business that gives you unlimited reach without being limited by time or physical space.

What is principle that you live by?

There are no shortcuts to success. It takes commitment, hard work and complete dedication to achieve your goals. Also, don’t give up.


After a 10-year stint at KPMG, Zacharia Choshane boldy left his prestigious position as an associate director to launch Mehlala Consulting, a fully-fledged accounting, auditing and advisory practice. It is a 100% black-owned company and has a staff complement of 12 with three branches, with two more to be launched this year.

Passionate about serving his clients, team, country and continent, Zacharia’s strategic priorities are to provide high-quality service, contribute towards the country’s business development, and create employment for others.

Describe yourself as a person?

Entrepreneurial, professional, humble, quietly confident, vision-driven, action-oriented.

Inspiration behind being a CA(SA)?

When I chose to follow the commercial stream of subjects in Grade 10 a temporary teacher who was serving practical teachers’ training at Makgoka High School said to us: ‘The highest qualification in accounting is chartered accountant.’ I said to myself, I want to become a chartered accountant!

Tell us more about Mehlala Consulting?

Our clients include large corporates, government entities, emerging businesses, NGOs and individuals who operate in the financial services, health care, mining, media and retail sectors, as well as in the public sector.

Our offices are based in Johannesburg, Pretoria, amd Jane Furse in Limpopo. On 1 March 2017 we will open our fourth office in Rustenburg and on 1 May 2017 we will open our fifth office in Polokwane.

Sucesses of Mehlala Consulting?

Our achievements are measured in reference to the strategic priorities we set when the firm was established. We review our strategy in August of each year. In summary, our achievements are:

  • Mehlala Consulting existed for more than 1 000 days set by business experts as a start-up survival period.
  • It’s a fully-fledged firm as we have and are currently rendering the above variety of services to our clients. It’s a multi-location firm with three offices within three years and two more to be opened in 2017. Also, it’s a multi-industry firm as we have a variety of clients from emerging, to medium and to large. In addition, we have a high-performing team with high retention.

Can anyone be an entrepreneur?

I don’t think so. However, I do believe that there are many entrepreneurs out there who need to discover their talent but they have not because of the current system of getting to school, to tertiary and the getting a job.

Your advice to young entrepreneurs?

You don’t always need funding to start a business. We started Mehlala Consulting with two laptops worth R8 000 which I bought at Game  on a special. Also, keeping a close eye on cash flow is key when those projects come through.

Greatest lessons you have learned thus far?

Deliberately search for your passion. Visualise where your passion can take you to. Set goals to work towards your vision. Be disciplined and focus to work to realise your vision by achieving your goals. Measure progress at the end of each day, week, month, year and three years and repeat the process. It’s the only way you can become distinguished in your field, become great, and leave a legacy.

Any challenges launching your own accounting practice?

We were fortunate to launch Mehlala Consulting with few challenges because it was well planned and I have been preparing for it since 2010 mentally, physically and financially. Fortunately  our clients started supporting us quicker than expected and I did not need the back-up plans I had created. Our biggest challenge remains to penetrate the public sector.

The majority of your staff is women and youth. Why do you believe it is so crucial to empower women and the youth?

More often than not women are the centre of a family because they mostly know that charity begins at home. Generally, youth still have have energy, ideas, potential and time to do more for the society. The empowerment of women and youth has a greater impact in my view, although we do not exclude anyone.

What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind one day?

Al though I like fine things in life, I am not obsessed about accumulating lots of money. I am driven by being bold to invest what God has entrusted me to manage on His behalf in various business ventures to create opportunities for others to thrive.

It is my wish that Mehlala Consulting continue to exist indefinitely.

What will make South Africa a better place?

We need to teach our kids and each other that we need to be cautious of the entitlement mentality. We need to encourage more and more people to be self-sufficient by creating their own businesses, work hard, and create opportunities for others. That’s what matters. The rest can come afterwards.

Future aspirations and vision for Mehlala Consulting practice?

To become external auditors and advisors of JSE-listed companies.

Tell us something interesting about yourself?

I do feel I set too high standards at times and there is a risk that others may feel left behind.


In matric, Mpho Sedibe, founder of Mopsy Strategic Advisors, obtained six distinctions, funded her studies through an academic scholarship, and then graduated as a CA(SA). But she didn’t stop there. Today Mpho is an enthusiastic entrepreneur with her main goal of getting companies to stop viewing BEE as a grudge regulation, but to instead see it as an investment for which they can get a great return. When more people can sustainably participate in an economy, this will support economic growth. And when she sees her work benefiting both a client and beneficiary – it’s a job done well!

Describe your business in a sentence or two?

My primary passion is to advance economic empowerment for black people across various dimensions – from advising JSE-listed entities to scaling small businesses and providing market-leading employment opportunities that restore the dignity of our teams.

What was your motivation for deviating from the typical CA(SA) path?

Business is my calling, so the typical CA(SA) stream wasn’t a path that I was meant to stay on. Being a business allows to me to have impact at a larger scale than a job would.

What made you choose this type of business?

I’m passionate about solving problems and not just stating them. I looked at the things that irked me in everyday life and collaborated where necessary to design appropriate solutions that also generated commercial value.

What sets your business apart?

We always seek to solve the client’s actual problem through thought partnership. We aren’t there to think for the clients, but with them.

Describe yourself as person?

Spiritually grounded, intelligent, (over)ambitious, lover of laughter, tough business person, family-centred.

What do you believe has been crucial to your success?

Finding my purpose in God coupled with my upbringing where I learnt the importance of humility and multi-generational wealth creation.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?

Assuming that the labour market is full of ‘Mphos’, I struggled with delegation, coaching, and appreciating a team for what they individually bring.

How did you overcome these challenges?

I had to release all employees and start again. It’s been a painful but valuable lesson that I need more than ‘Mpho’ to make a business work.

What is the best piece of advice you can give a young entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurship is a calling. If you weren’t born with the requisite DNA it will be difficult to make it through the hard times.

Do you have any dream you would still like to achieve?

A few. In the short to medium term, I’d like to advise the DTI on B-BBEE policy, expand Studio MoMa to a national footprint, supply spices and relishes as inputs into other value-added production processes, and establish an online platform for high school students to meet bursars.

Long term, I’d like to catalyse others and myself to invest in the education of young girls from a primary school level.

What do you believe the future of a CA(SA) looks like?

It’s bright. New blood with fresh thinking is making it into the system coupled with a rapidly changing landscape that forces the qualification to be flexible in responding to market evolutions.

What would make South Africa a better country?

Collective responsibility and drive to advance economic empowerment beyond B-BEEE. When people have more (money, access, etc), they have a better chance at life.


Michael Butchart  and  Eric Ndlovu, co-founders of CA Classes (Pty) Ltd, don’t consider themselves to be the typical accountants and have built their brand along these unorthodox lines with their business bursting with personality, fun and light-heartedness.

Always more interested in the ‘how things work and getting it done’ over and above just dealing with the financial aspects of a situation, they decided boldly to ‘jump ship’ and launch CA Classes. CA Classes is a tuition provider for students pursuing a career as chartered accountants through distance learning universities. They also provide IFRS, GRAP and customised training to corporate clients.

They tell us how they sold their German cars, reduced monthly expenses to the minimum, and saved for the big move.

Number of years you been running CA Classes?

Four years. CA Classes opened its doors to students in 2014 in Pretoria, and the end of the year we had lectured to more than 300 students countrywide.

What made you choose this type of business?

We have always felt that education could be taught in a better and more entertaining way. We opened CA Classes with a point of being different not only in our teaching approach but also in our look and feel. We have made our brand fun and being as different as possible from what you would expect from a typical accounting tuition provider.

What sets your business apart?

Our business is all about the students and the best experience that we can provide to them. Through our fun and light-hearted branding we follow this through to the lecturers in class. All our lecturers are people that fit into our brand and way of doing things. They are young, energetic and have unorthodox personalities. To have this mix of people, we have spent a long time finding individuals that are interesting and exciting to listen to in class and have tons of personality to go with an extremely experienced resume.

How has your CA(SA) qualification benefited your business?

We believe that being a CA(SA) has given us this wealth of business knowledge and experience (in articles and professional career thereafter). With the skills that we picked up along the way, it was natural for us to combine our individual skills and go the entrepreneurial route. These include project management, communication, presentation and risk taking. And that is what we have done at CA Classes.

How would you describe yourselves?

Eric and I are very similar in our work ethic and approach to getting things done. However, our personalities are very different. I am the more reserved and creative person who enjoys the aspect of branding and marketing our business. Eric, on the other hand, is a more social and get-things-done kind of person. We both believe in providing a quality service with no excuses as to why it cannot be done – which makes us a good team.

What has been crucial to your success?

This question is a rather difficult as we strive to be better and improve in everything we do, therefore success is always a moving target which you keep pushing towards and try and leave an amazing experience for yourself and those you interact with along the way.

The biggest factor has been self-improvement and continuous learning.

Some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Our biggest challenge which I think many new entrepreneurs face is that of capital, or should I say the lack thereof. Many business or entrepreneurial stories seem to leave out the parts about how they raised their first bit of capital.

The other challenge that goes hand in hand with capital is the ability to support yourself when you no longer receive a salary every month while you set up your dream. Too many CAs(SA) do not make the jump to start something new because they have become too indebted with houses and cars while they were building a formal career …

How did you overcome these challenges?

We told our families that should things not work out we would have to move back home. These are some of the sacrifices that a lot of people shy away from but are often needed when starting your own business. Currently a lot of aspiring CAs(SA) often want to get the fancy car and big house as soon as possible, and often obtaining these too soon leads a long-term financial burden.

This would make the decision to follow an entrepreneurial route that much harder, as you will often have to sacrifice these over the short to medium terms in order to make your new or growing business a success.

Best piece of advice you can give a young entrepreneur?

Good opportunities are timeless so take your time and build something that is what you want and try not to jump at things that look like quick opportunities to make money. And you will need to kiss a lot of frogs before you will find good people to work with. This is also true for good opportunities.

The principle that you live by?

Give your best no matter what, get things done, deliver on what you say with no excuses, and be the best person you can be to all those you come in contact with.

What do you believe the future of a CA(SA) looks like?

We have always seen a CA(SA) as a diverse individual and more than a typical accountant. A future CA(SA) will have many different faces. Our individual experiences mould us to be unique and therefore offer differentiating solutions to problems we face. Our training (articles) is catered to expose trainees to platforms of competence in accounting, tax, financial management and auditing. I believe that we can’t all come out of those experiences as mirror images of each other – instead we are bound to be as diverse as our individual personalities.

We just hope that more CAs(SA) step out of the formal employment market and put their skills to work developing new businesses in South Africa and abroad, and really challenge themselves to making a difference to our society.


Boldly stepping away from the conventional CA(SA) career path, Usha Maharaj believed that with the right inspiration and direction coupled with creative yet  simple strategies, she could help people in the workplace to be a lot happier. Because, of course, happy employees are more inclined to be healthier, give back to their communities, and make a positive difference to their environment – all the while creating sound financial returns for their employers.

When asked how she has overcome challenges as an entrepreneur, she says it’s her eternal optimism that has been her key to success. It empowered her to leave a powerful position in a prestigious company to overcome any challenge that comes her way and drives her to chase her dreams with the absolute faith that she can achieve them.

In her spare time you’ll find her listening to audio books, reading, taking an online course, or attending a workshop.

Name of business?

I offer my services under my personal brand, Usha Maharaj.

How long have you been in business?

Three years.

Describe your business?

I take my passion for high performance into the workplace through HR and talent consulting, helping companies to develop and implement strategies to get the best out of their people while engaging their teams in the meaningful pursuit of excellence.

What were the early days of business like? Has it changed and how?

I have been in business for three years and each year has held a different focus for me: from Discovery, to Connection, to Collaboration.

I always thought about the financial impacts of leaving the corporate world but never really understood the emotional side of leaving an organisation that I belonged to for 16 years. In the first year, I allowed myself the privilege of discovering the real me while progressing on a steep learning curve aligned to my business goals. The next year, with the help of phenomenal coaches and mentors, I built my brand through speaking engagements and the active use of social media.

In this last year of business, I have focused on collaborating with the right partners and my word for the next year is ‘Growth’.

What sets your business apart?

What sets my work apart is how I have combined my natural strengths and passions to deliver customised solutions to my clients. My unique blend of IQ and EQ, creative problem-solving ability, big-picture thinking, connection to people, and understanding of business ensures my clients get a balanced solution and clear return on their investment.

Describe yourself as person.

My highest value is placed on family. So when I am not working, my time is devoted to maintaining a happy relationship with my vintage-car-loving husband, being an active parent to my beautiful son and daughter, and being a supportive daughter to my very special parents.

What do you believe has been crucial to your success?

My eternal optimism is probably my greatest asset and one of the keys to my success. It empowered me to leave a powerful position in a prestigious company. And it leads me to overcome any challenge that comes my way and drives me to chase my dreams with the absolute faith that I can achieve them.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?

My top three challenges as an entrepreneur:

    • Being alone – entrepreneurship is a lonely journey. I have overcome this by joining leadership circles where I engage with like-minded, positive people. I have formed collaborative relationships with amazing companies, thereby extending my team and reach through them. And I am creating my own community of high-powered women who will engage and support each other.
    • Perfection paralysis – waiting for something to be perfect comes at a cost to the business. I have quietened the inner voice by reminding myself that keeping products or solutions to myself prevents me from best serving my clients, so now I focus on being perfect for my clients rather than perfect for me.
    • Being a constant creator – as a creative personality, the lure of a shiny new idea is often irresistible and comes with the risk of not refining and finalising the ideas right in front of me. While my innovative mind is one of my greatest strengths, I have to constantly be aware of the tipping point when this strength could turn into a weakness. Understanding my personality and having personal accountability partners has been my key to overcoming this challenge.

What is the best piece of advice you can give a young entrepreneur?

My advice to young entrepreneurs is simple ‘Chase your success, your way’. This simple statement means: Know yourself, play the game your way, and  fill in the gaps – collaborate with, hire, and connect with people who can fill in the voids.

Do you have any dream you would still like to achieve?

My dream is to make a massive positive impact in this world. At present, I am building a network of powerful, positive, inspired women who are serious about achieving their own career success while chasing excellence in all aspects of their lives and who want to help other women to do the same. My Facebook group, WomenCAN, is a step in this direction.

What would make South Africa a better country?

The core of any country is its people. Once we each start to take ownership and hold ourselves accountable for working together, we will undoubtedly see leaps toward building a country we can always be proud of.