Thirty year old South African, Mike Eilertsen, is the founding member of The Luxury Network in Africa, a brand building and luxury marketing agency. He is also CEO of LIVEOUTLOUD, an all-encompassing luxury lifestyle brand, comprising of a LIVEOUTLOUD magazine and events company, as well as a travel agency, TRAVELOUTLOUD.
Eilertsen is often referred to as a serial entrepreneur, as he has a history of entrepreneurial endeavours that span back to his primary school days. He is a finalist for the 2012 Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year award and has also made the top five finalists in the Africa SMME Awards for the Most Innovative Company in 2012.
How we made it in Africa’s Kate Douglas asked Eilertsen what it takes to be a successful serial entrepreneur in South Africa.
What is the single most important reason for your success?
My enthusiasm for everything I do mixed with a never say die mentality.
Do you think being an entrepreneur has changed you? If so, how?
Not at all, it was something that was always a part of me. I started my first business before I even knew what a business actually was. In fifth grade, my weekly R10 (US$1.23) lunch money went to paying the two best marble players a couple years ahead of me R5 ($0.62) each for all their marble winnings of the day. I then divided them into starter packs and sold them for R10 to the mothers in the parking lot after school. Business was shut down when my parents called the school after I asked them to take me shopping to spend my R930 ($115).
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t employ my clones, and often it is difficult to realise you have done it until someone else points it out. As human beings, we are comfortable around those who are similar to us. Gregarious people enjoy the company of other enthusiastic individuals, while accountants generally prefer the company of others with logical and analytical personalities. No matter whom you may be, one tends to be impressed when hiring others with whose traits you relate too. In my case I am a hunter sales personality with weak administrative skills. Three months after opening we had a team of six others exactly like me, and not a contract, procedure or file in sight. Once the “clones” were pointed out, I diversified completely, targeting those who were as different from me as possible.
In your opinion, what is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
Courage. Almost every person I speak to has a big idea. The only difference is that months later, it is still nothing more than an idea. What differentiates entrepreneurs and people who work for others is that they had the courage to take that last step, and make it a reality.
Why do you think there are so few young, successful entrepreneurs in Africa today?
Firstly I believe Africa is the most entrepreneurial spirited continent in the world. However, as a continent, we haven’t yet fully grasped the concept of differentiation. The result is that the same products and services are offered by everyone, allowing no one to grow beyond a small time operator. Think of informal trading at Africa’s traffic intersections; there are amazing products being sold by spirited entrepreneurs. The problem is it’s the same products at each intersection. They also believe they need an elaborate business plan, which isn’t as necessary or important as a good idea and the courage to see it through. I believe people spend too much time planning and not enough time doing.