If you’ve not heard of Mark Bernberg, then chances are if you’ve been to a shopping centre in Australia, South Africa or Brazil, you’ve used his services. Mark is the investor behind Skyfii, a company that provides analytical data to businesses direct from their customers using free wifi. With his expertise, Mark took this company from a startup to a listing on the ASX. He extended its reach from roots in Australia and made it a global presence with growth into South Africa and Brazil.
A self-confessed serial entrepreneur, Mark certainly knows his stuff. He’s built up and sold many very successful companies, in multiple industries, and continues to push the limits for groundbreaking business ideas.
The Guy Society was lucky enough to sit down with Mark to discuss his entrepreneurial journey as well as get some great insight and advice.
The Guy Society: It is clear from your resumé that you are very much the serial entrepreneur. Where does your passion stem from?
Mark Bernberg: It started at a young age; I was 11 and bought a double cassette player/recorder. I recorded songs from the radio and then offered my services DJ’ing at parties using the songs. I suppose it just grew from there. I really believe that it is something that is inside of you.
The Guy Society: You studied finance & economics at the University of Capetown. Many of the most documented entrepreneurs, the Alan Sugar’s and Mark Zuckerberg’s, are famous for their lack of college degrees. Do you think having your degree in this area helped you in your career so far?
Mark Bernberg: Not at all! To be honest, I have hardly used my degree. Upon graduation I was offered a scholarship to the London School of Economics. I turned this down to take a job at Investec London in the Private Bank. Two years of being in this position had proved to me that I had to go back and build my own thing again. I am not at all saying that you should not study; rather that it did not really help me.
The Guy Society: When and why did you decide to turn your back on the safety net of a 9-5 and build your own empire?
Mark Bernberg: After leaving a very successful two-year career at Investec Private Bank in London. I had an itching, a desire and a passion to go out there and test myself. I never looked back…
The Guy Society: What advice would you give to someone looking to make the break from their own 9-5 and start their first business?
Mark Bernberg: Wow – that’s a difficult one. I suppose the best advice I can give you is to “do your homework!” Research, think about it, ask people and then if it all stacks up – have a go! And, if you are going to have a go, you have to be ALL IN! It is too competitive and fast paced out there to hedge your bets and try and work both. There are a million others out there who are all in, and fortune favours the brave.
The Guy Society: You’ve made a big name for yourself in the technology industry, how did the opportunity to invest in Skyfii happen?
Mark Bernberg: I had just sold my Salesforce Cloud Consulting business – Instant Cloud – and was approached by a good friend of mine, Wayne Arthur, who had just founded a small Wi-Fi business called SkyFii. “Have a look at this,” he said, and so I looked – and loved. I saw what it could be and got involved at ground zero and I am so happy I did.
The Guy Society: There is a lot of money thrown at startups by investors. Do you think it’s essential for startups to look for investment or would they be better off keeping their equity, and more importantly, control, and build slowly?
Mark Bernberg: Equity is the most expensive finance available to any entrepreneur. Once given away you can never get it back. It’s easy to give away points in a business when it’s not worth anything. However when it is, you rule the day! Start small, keep it uber-lean and do what you can to keep as much equity as you can. Mark Zuckerberg held onto so much of Facebook as he went along and this is the path you should follow. Money is easy to find – equity % is not!
The Guy Society: You’ve recently launched Whizz a web & app based cleaning service. It seems that many traditional methods of acquiring services are being replaced with apps -cabs, takeaway ordering, cleaning etc. If somebody is looking at their own tech startup, is this a good place to start, research what they can modernize?
Mark Bernberg: Start with one simple question: Is there a need? Too many entrepreneurs develop solutions to problems that do not exist. Most of the time, the best ideas are born out of an actual need that the entrepreneur had. If this is the case, then simply see if others share the same need. If they do – off you go. Secondly – look for opportunities to disrupt the status quo. If the old way of doing this is slow, cumbersome and inefficient – then there is a gap to disrupt and gain quick market share.
The Guy Society: There are startups being set up every second. For you, as an investor, what do you look for when one of these startups gets the chance to pitch you?
Mark Bernberg: Market size, market potential and revenue model. These are three keys to success in any business. However, more important than any of those, are the founders. I invest in people, not in businesses.
The Guy Society: What steps does a brand new startup take to get their idea in front of an investor?
Mark Bernberg: Start with a minimum viable product (an MVP). Test the model, prove the hypothesis and try and gain some market traction. Then develop a kick ass Information Memorandum and try your best to get in front of angel investors
The Guy Society: You’ve started, run and sold multiple businesses. What inspires your ideas for the businesses and how do you ensure you have the time and expertise to successfully build these businesses in varying industries?
Mark Bernberg: I look at the market and ask myself – is the current status quo efficient? Is it convenient, effective and are consumers gaining maximum value. If I am able to say no to any of these then I start the process of “doing my homework” to see if a real opportunity does indeed exist. You do not have to have the expertise in everything- this is the key to being a great entrepreneur. Understand what you are really good at, then identify all of the key skills you do not have.
Then go and find people that are smarter and better than you in those areas and build a kick ass team! As David Ogilvy said, “the people with the best people win!”
The Guy Society: Your company the Fiveplus Group provides sales training to thousands of sales managers and leaders. In your opinion, what are the 3 key tips to become great at sales?
Mark Bernberg: Look, listen and learn. Reading body language is one of the most important skills that any person can develop. Business is all about relationships and “people buy from people”. Get good at reading people and you will become a very, very good sales person. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a very good reason. Stop talking and start listening. The best sales people in the world are great listeners! And finally, learn from every interaction you have. Always walk out of every meeting and ask yourself just one question: “what did I learn today?”
The Guy Society: When you’re juggling numerous businesses, how do you ensure you split your time efficiently?
Mark Bernberg: I get up earlier than everyone else and I work smarter than most people. I am having lunch when most people are having breakfast. I maximize the value of my time and work smart – not hard. Focus, dedication and most importantly routines are the keys to working successfully across multiple areas of business
The Guy Society: What is a day in life of Mark Bernberg like?
Mark Bernberg: My son normally wakes me at 5:30! Then it’s off to the gym. Five days a week, every week (healthy body = healthy mind). I am in the office by 7:30 and make sure I allocate time to spend quality one on one time with my staff. Home at 6:30 for bath time (work life balance is absolutely vital to long term success) and then after dinner, a couple of hours in the home office (the nerve center) before at least 6-7 hours of sleep!
The Guy Society: Do you have any new businesses in the pipeline?
Mark Bernberg: I am always on the lookout, although right now WHIZZ is really taking up most of my time and capacity.
The Guy Society: Our readers are all hungry for success. Any advice you can give them would be much appreciated.
Mark Bernberg: Read! Read and learn from the best. Read Branson, Buffet, Gates and other successful entrepreneurs. Learn from the mistakes they have made. Read about business principles (I love Gladwell and Collins) and always look to work smarter than everyone else. Steve Jobs said it best, “Stay hungry and stay foolish!”
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