3 Steps To became one of SA’s youngest multi-millionaire entrepreneurs

Taking risks and continuously creating opportunities is crucial to becoming a self-made businessperson, says Mike Eilertsen, CEO of Live Out Loud Magazine and VAULTLife.

Step 1: Build the product

“People do not purchase products. They buy people, they buy the narrative, and they buy the brand. That was presumably one of my first lessons….”

In 2000 Mark Eilertsen began his first small-scale venture selling R10 breakfast packs in Sandton’s morning traffic.

While studying towards a BCom Entrepreneurship degree at the University of Johannesburg, Eilertsen realized that you can only grasp business theory with practical experience. “I created this pamphlet that said, ‘My name is Mike Eilertsen, and the only way to study is to really learn it first-hand. As I’m learning these lessons, I will pass them on to you”. The pamphlet led to priceless engagement from prospective clients.

Step 2: Grow the idea

“You spot an opportunity, you are an opportunist, but you don’t simply settle for selling the stuff on the side of the road….”

A basic entrepreneurial rule is to continually look for a market gap and fill it.

“Someone who ordered breakfasts from me SMSed me one day and said, listen, we need coffee as well. So I started looking into that idea.”

Eilertsen combined coffee with his product mix by purchasing 12 Nestlé coffee backpacks. The approach started taking off once Eilertsen bought the rights to the “Rocket Man” rucksacks and “Major Tom” packs for beer. “By 2004, we were in each cricket stadium in the country,” says Elertsen.

Step 3: Make more mistakes.

“By the age of 25, I was in R7-million debt….”
After dropping out of the University of Johannesburg to pursue his business interests, Eilersten sold his backpack company Boiling Point and branched out into an industry he knew about.

According to the online magazine Entrepreneur, Eilertsen launched his magazine and publishing company with R980 000 and had to re-mortgage his house to keep the business going. In less than a year, he was R7-million in debt. “I was overspending and wasn’t being told about cash flow projections and budgets.”

Eilertsen now advises any start-up company to prioritize bookkeeping by hiring an accountant.

His way of doing business is risky but rewarding. “Would-be entrepreneurs in South Africa often misunderstand,” says Eilertsen. “They think that they need an excellent business plan and a loan. No. You need to determine how much money you have available and then find opportunities that fit with what you have.”

Eilersten says the advantage of entrepreneurialism in Africa is less competition, making it “a playground for an opportunity.”

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