GD Industries CEO and founder Gareth Duncan explains how you could use your hours as a student to establish a business at a young age.
Gareth Duncan, who hails from Kuils River, comes from a media background.
After emerging as one of the top journalism students from the Cape Peninsula Univeristy of Technology, where he obtained his Journalism National Diploma and BTech qualifications, he started his professional career as a sports writer. He also toured as Team South Africa’s Media Manager to two major youth international events. This allowed him to gain a high level of experience working on print, digital and mobile titles, as well as TV and radio.
After five years as a media professional, Gareth pursued his personal endeavours as a youth entrepreneur in 2013. In May 2015, he launched his own media strategy company, GD Industries. Since then, the 26-year-old has assisted with the growth of over 20 brands and companies (start-ups and corporates).
He’s been recognised as one of the top youth entrepreneurs in South Africa, becoming a Glenfiddich Maverick and TedX speaker. He was recently named in the Seed Academy and City of Cape Town’s #YouthStartCT Top 25.
What is GD Industries?
GD Industries is a media strategy company, specialising in website development, media strategy, editorial and video content generation, social media management and more. In a nutshell, we build brands so companies can attract their target market in creative and effective ways – and of course- at an affordable price. The beautiful thing is that the brand theory works across all industries!
What attracted you to the University of the Western Cape?
Although I was a student at CPUT, most of my friends studied across the road at UWC. So whenever I had free time, I’d go hang out with them in the cafeteria or at the barn. Looking back, I think I actually spent more time at UWC than CPUT!
How did an education create a foundation for your career?
It gave me the time to understand my industry as a professional and helped me develop the necessary knowledge and skills to do my job well in practice. Education is not a “must” when it comes to entrepreneurship, but it definitely gives you a major advantage.
What motivated you to start your own business?
I wanted to build something I could call my own. I wanted to create my own opportunities, which could empower me to follow my passion and achieve my goals. I also wanted to prove that entrepreneurship is a realistic career option – you just need to have a strong work ethic and perseverance. You need to want it really, really bad. This is vital standard to set, especially in our communities where youngsters don’t have many people to look up to for inspiration and motivation.
What challenges did you face during the early stages?
When I tell people about my journey, I always emphasise the fact that I failed within my first six months. I had this idea of what I wanted to do, but eventually realised down the line that there was no demand for that service in the market. I learned the hard way and definitely “paid my school fees” (lost money, but learned valuable lessons). But instead of giving up, I adapted. And with the experienced I picked up during those six months, I was able to spot the bigger opportunities and tailored my services to meet the demands.
What were the major lessons from your early mistakes… or “school fees” as you call it?
I learned a lot more in my first six months than I did during my five years as a media professional. From managing business administration and finances to understanding the consumer’s mindset and perspectives, I gained valuable experience by digging my way through the dirt. Although you’ll always try to involve yourself in everything when it comes to your business, the reality is… you can’t! Invest in an accountant and lawyer to ensure you are sorted out, and network or collaborate with other professionals to take your brand to the next level.
In hindsight, what would you have done differently?
I regret all those hours I wasted in the cafeteria, playing dominoes and cards. Also those hours I wasted watching series until the early hours of the morning. Look, I’m not saying don’t spend time with your friends and family or don’t have fun, but I could’ve done more with the amount of free time I had as a student. When you start your professional career, you realise very quickly that free time is a luxury! I wish I learned about entrepreneurship at a younger age… like how to register your company and identifying the fundamentals and necessities needed to grow a business. I wish I experimented with different ideas when my cost of living wasn’t a major expense, so when some of those ideas didn’t work out, it wouldn’t be a major burden. There are so many opportunities in the current market, which make it possible for students to start their own business at a young age. It just depends if you have the vision and motivation to take your opportunity.
Did you encounter discouragement from friends and family?
I think most entrepreneurs do! My parents weren’t exactly happy when I told them I was quitting my job to start a business, but I appreciated the support they gave me when possible. My friends and family also questioned me, especially during the difficult stages. However, once you start making progress and achieve notable growth, those critics become supporters. They eventually admire you more for going against the grain and proving them wrong.
How important is it to give back to your community?
When I started my career as an entrepreneur, my main focus was creating a comfortable lifestyle for myself. But those failures during my first six months transformed my mindset. Because of those experiences and witnessing the struggles of other start-ups, I realised the importance of social impact and building a legacy. All entrepreneurs should take on the responsibility of giving back and creating opportunities for those around you and from your community. That should be a major motivating factor. I want to leave behind a legacy that creates a platform for the future generation. So one day, they can build on it and surpass the benchmark set by the current generation.
What do you make of the growth of the UWC Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation?
It’s something really exciting and it’s definitely needed, especially in our community. People don’t realise the difficult circumstances in the entrepreneurship field. South Africa recently announced an increased unemployment rate of 26.7%, which means over 8 million educated and trained people are struggling to find jobs. A big cause of this damning statistic is the fact that over 85% of businesses are failing within their first year. We need businesses to be able to grow and establish themselves to become self-sustainable in the long term, so they can continue to create employment. All students who have entrepreneurship ambition should be approaching the UWC Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for support and mentorship. This could be a big difference between your success and failure. It’s great to know that the UWC Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is playing an influential role in developing community-based businesses in the Western Cape.
ARE YOU A FUTURE UWC ENTREPRENEUR? CLICK HERE TO APPLY TO THE UWC CEI STUDENT START-UP WORKSHOP!