Entrepreneur watch: Those who can, teach

Being a successful entrepreneur in your twenties is not a common reality in Africa. Imran Khan, however, is an exception. Khan is the founder and owner of Attitution, a South African tutoring company that offers extra lessons to school-going youths – and university students in their first three years of studying – in and around the Johannesburg and Cape Town areas. With ample competition in the region, Attitution has managed to stand out by transporting tutors to those who need extra lessons, rather than the other way around.

Imran Khan

After just over three years of running Attitution, Khan has made the finalist list for the 2012 Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year award in the emerging business category. How we made it in Africa asks Khan about his sprint – as a young entrepreneur – to the top.

How did the idea for your business Attitution come about?

Attitution came to me after I worked as a private tutor and was blasphemously exploited. I was underpaid, drove a huge distance away from my home and felt defeated. I felt as if my life at that moment, and the money I was making, plateaued. A few weeks before my birthday in September that year I realised that the cake I wanted to get, was too expensive. This was the “lightbulb” moment Oprah talks about. I thought “enough is enough, I am better than this” and I sat at my desk, trying to think of a way to make more money, whilst doing what I love. Attitution popped into my mind and the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you finance your business?

My partner and I poured in all the savings we had scrounged together from tutoring and promotional work for four months, which amounted to around R3,000 (US$367) each. It was all we had and we thought we’d be damned if we didn’t spend it correctly. We initially struggled to find our first client, and now we struggle to find staff to meet the demand for extra lessons.

What sacrifices have you had to make as an entrepreneur?

I have sacrificed a lot of my youth. From having to pay my way through university full-time, work-full time and then come home to more homework; to fighting off invites to student nights and parties and social gatherings because I had to work at home. With those sacrifices I have come to appreciate things my fellow 20-somethings only learn in their 30s. I have experienced problems, failures and setbacks that most people my age know nothing about – and that works for me right now, and I have a hunch it might just work out for me a little later on too.

What is the most significant thing you have done to grow your business?

After benefiting from referrals given by our existing clients to their networks for a year and a half, I decided to offer bonuses to clients for new referrals. This got our clients excited about talking about us, but was only half the trick. The other parallel to this equation was ensuring excellent service. I figured that people would never refer anything that wasn’t good, even if you offered them a new car to say thanks. So by pushing the limits of my staff, my administration and my demeanour with my clients, and my staff; I made sure that the business holistically reinforced the referral system so that we could constantly get new business. This allowed us to double our turnover between 2011 and 2012 and we haven’t second-guessed that theory since.