The following article originally appeared in the Sunday Tribune on 25 October 2015
Lavan Gopaul finds out about the property professional Brad Porter’s personal strategy.
- How did you get interested in this industry, and when did you start in business?
I’ve spent the past 20 years as a marketer and entrepreneur striving to be innovative, creative and an originator.
Most of my experience was gained in the UK working as a recruiter. Later I was in the commercial property sector, specialising in serviced offices.
Since returning to South Africa, I have established and managed an events company that specialises in corporate events and teambuilding.
My UK experience helped me identify the need for a serviced office offering in South Africa. This led me to open Flexible Workspace in 2005.
- When did you first achieve success?
I believe that you build on small successes to create larger ones. I had to leave the business in the capable hands of Carey da Silva, who is now our head of operations, and she achieved more sales in two weeks than I had in over six months. I realised I was not critical to the daily operations of the business.
- Why did you start your business?
In addition to the very real business need that exists, my desire to leave a legacy and my passion for empowering people underpin the Flexible Workspace value proposition.
- At first, what work did you do?
I have had a variety of jobs over the years, from waiting on tables to packing boxes and working for one of the world’s biggest recruitment companies.
- What path did you follow to get to your current position?
I had a vision in 2005 of building a network of business centres around South Africa. Our growth has been organic and self-funded, which means it has not been rapid.
We have grown from 200m2 in Florida Road to 5000m2 spread over five business centres in Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal, with a further 2000m2 coming next year.
- What problems or challenges do you face daily?
Our biggest challenge is cash flow, defaulting tenants (recovering money) and making sure we have constant feed of leads.
Our daily grind includes power outages and various IT-related issues, along with the usual business – demanding customers.
- How do you choose key staff?
Its all about culture fit. Potential staff must have the same values as the company and the rest of the team. Their skill sets and experience are secondary.
- What benefits do you have over competitors?
Our all-inclusive billing structure ensures our tenants don’t receive any surprises at the end of the month. Flexible Workspace centres are friendly, and our staff consider themselves an extension of a tenant’s business. There is an oversupply of office space to let. Landlords sometimes prefer partnering with companies such as ours that rent out larger space so that they avoid the hassle of a multi-tenanted space.
A case in point is that we have been approached by a landlord in Sandton to take on 2000m2 on a long lease in return for a six month rent-free period and a favourable tenant installation.
This creates a win-win, as our start-up risk is heavily reduced, while they in turn secure a good tenant for a long period.
- What has the reaction been like to your product/service over the years?
Our model is well received, but at times there is resistance to the pricing. We find our easiest sale is to the financial manager or director, because they understand the cost to the company and the benefit of the outsourced model.
- What mistakes have you made, and what was your biggest mistake or regret?
One of the biggest mistakes I made was starting the business with no funding. If I had known that then, I might not have started it at all. Like most entrepreneurs, though, I was single-minded about my vision and kept plugging away.
- What is the most important bit of advice you have for young business people?
Watch your cash-flow closely. Minimise costs and long-term commitments by outsourcing and concentrate on your core business.
- What advice would you give to people thinking of entering your industry or sector?
Make sure you have the funding, find the right location, and ensure you hire good people.
- What type of clients do you have?
Flexible Workspace clients vary from start-ups and small businesses to international firms looking to open branch offices.
They all have the common factor of operating with fewer financial and resource risks.
- What features or expansion are you planning?
The current rapid growth phase will be maintained for 24 to 36 months. Our plan is to establish a national footprint by 2017.
A strong focus will be to support and grow small businesses in South Africa through a variety of strategic partnerships that will enable us to nurture and develop entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises.
We will also give big business the opportunity to score enterprise and supplier-development points on the broad-based black economic empowerment scorecard.
- To what do you attribute your success?
A supportive wife, loving parents and a good attitude. The birth of my son is my greatest achievement.
- Where do you see yourself in the near or distant future?
Continuing to grow our business. We intend to build a portfolio of our own properties that we will manage and run.
I would also like to expand our network to include growth into other countries.
- What other industries are you looking to venture into or interest you?
I have another business in the events industry. I love the creative space – we are now working on an end-of-year function, Wickedly Odd the Night Garden, in a partnership with the Botanic Gardens Trust.
- In your opinion, who is the most influential South African leader (business or political)?
Cyril Ramaphosa is one of the only individuals or politicians who has the ability to change the current sentiments of our political landscape and drive our economy forward.
- What do you hope to accomplish with your wealth or business?
Personal success, as well as the employment and enrichment of others.
Adv Lavan Gopaul, Director Merchant Afrika
Tel: 083 716 5916
By Brad Porter