Here’s our ‘story’:
Like so many entrepreneurial stories, the Durban Entrepreneurs Club was founded to fulfil a need, or solve a problem. When Club Founder, Durban entrepreneur and public speaker Grant Gavin, was looking to join an entrepreneurs club, a simple Google search revealed a few options for female entrepreneurs, but very few options for him. So he made a decision to start a club of his own, and learned many lessons along the way.
Lesson 1 | Test Your Market
An important aspect of launching any business concept is to test the market demand, and a launch event was held in October 2015. Grant invited 150 guests to attend an event at the Gateway Hotel in Umhlanga, to launch the concept of a club that would provide a platform for like-minded individuals to come together once a month, listen to a guest speaker, and then get an opportunity to meet one another and build meaningful business relationships. Guest speaker at the launch event was the founder of Private Property and CEO of One Africa Media, Justin Clarke. Both Justin and Grant felt that an audience of 40-50 people would turn up for the event.
Not so. The launch event resulted in a packed room of 125 Durban entrepreneurs and the early signs were evident that Durban was ready for a Club that would not only inspire and educate, but create a meaningful platform for networking opportunities. The real test however, would be membership sign ups.
After the launch, not 1 person signed up for the Club.
Lesson 2 | Don’t Give Up
Entrepreneurship can be very lonely, and sometimes it will feel that you are the only person who sees the bigger picture, or vision. The real key is to never, ever give up, particularly after the first hurdle!
Grants vision was clear from the start – give entrepreneurs an opportunity to step outside of their businesses, and bring them together to be reminded that they are not in this journey alone. It’s one thing to throw a free launch event, but it’s another completely different challenge to get people to pay. The key is that you have to show value first.
So the first paid event was planned for November 2015, and about 75 people showed up to hear Murray Smith speak about finding your motivation in life. Guests were charged to simply cover their cost of catering at the venue, again at the Gateway Hotel, and membership applications began to come in slowly after the event. The journey was well on its way.
Lesson 3 | Surround Yourself With Good People
With the ball rolling, and a clear vision of what he wanted to create, now it was time to put the pieces in place, and figure out the plan. Most entrepreneurs jump off the plane first, and then figure out how to open the parachute on the way down. The Durban Entrepreneurs Club had jumped off the plane, now it was time to make it fly.
Grant realised that he needed to bring in some support from people who had some experience in business clubs. A simple guideline in picking your team would be to play towards your own strengths, and then hire to your weaknesses. A committee was quickly formed and selected on the basis of the skills that each person could bring to the table.
Lesson 4 | Think Big
Early committee discussions revolved around how big the club should grow. Should the Club membership remain exclusive, and available to a limited number of entrepreneurs? Or unlimited membership, encouraging a wider reach for the Club and its vision? It was agreed to remain flexible in the early months, but all felt that if the Durban Entrepreneurs Club could grow to 100 members in the next few years, we would have achieved something special.
Most people over-estimate what they can achieve in 1 year, and completely under-estimate what they can achieve in 5 years. For the Durban Entrepreneurs Club, year 1 was an explosion. Within 10 months, the Club had over 100 Members, completely shattering initial expectations. Towards the middle of year 2, the 200 membership mark had been reached and it appeared that demand was unlimited.
Lesson 5 | Keep Providing Value
With membership at the 200 mark, the Durban Entrepreneurs Club journey is still in its infancy. The first 3-5 years in business is always tough, and there is no illusion with regards to the difficulty in maintaining a demand for the Club. Early indicators show that getting people to renew their membership is just as difficult in attracting them to the Club in the first instance. The key is continuing to add value to your market.
The Club has built a reputation for being the No 1 Business Club in Durban due to the high calibre of speakers that it has attracted, but providing events on a monthly basis won’t keep members interested forever.
In terms of adding real value to members, the Club will evolve into an organisation that not only provides a platform for like-minded individuals to network with one another, but also to assist entrepreneurs with the growth of their businesses, as well as their own personal development as entrepreneurs and leaders.