Born in Holland, Martin Korver spent his young life learning the importance of finding a healthy balance between work and home life from his parents. After high school, he joined the special forces and spent several years in the service. When he completed his tour of duty, Martin went to Hotelschool, The Hague, one of the top Business Management schools in the world . He has always had a keen eye for finding products and services that people need. This ability would help him develop several successful companies over his career.
After a move to Amsterdam, Martin Korver joined an American company that was building a network to allow for payments in the burgeoning cell phone business and created a business to address this need. After some time, Martin started his own business consulting to them. The enterprise was successful for a few years before he sold the company in order to move on to his next adventure, which brought him to South Africa. Now living near one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines, Martin has started several companies since the mid-2000s. From the furniture industry to the hospitality sector, manufacturing, trading, and investing in startups, he has tried his hand in many different markets.
In October 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown, Martin Korver created Greenmouse Africa in conjunction with the Greenmouse concept from the Netherlands, a company that makes environmentally sustainable cellular phone accessories from 80% recycled plastic with minimal packaging. In the time since, the business has thrived. Martin Korver’s explicitly stated professional mission is to provide green alternatives in Africa, as well as sharing his wealth of business experience and knowledge with others.
One of the biggest lessons Martin has learned throughout his years in business is to make a choice, then get to work. Action is necessary for success—although that doesn’t mean he advocates working ten hour days. Part of the equation for success that Martin subscribes to is finding the balance his parents taught him about at such a young age. When not working, Martin can be found driving in one of his classic cars or out on the ocean sailing, and spending lots of hours with his wife and kids. He also enjoys traveling and spending time with his overseas family.
Where did the idea for Greenmouse Africa come from?
I got a call from an old friend in Holland that had knowledge of the Greenmouse business in the Netherlands, and is a match maker of note. The Greenmouse business already had some success with this type of business. It’s something that had not been explored much here in Southern Africa, so that meant it was something that had the potential to become successful—and quickly, too. I have always been out of the box when it comes to marketing and branding. I knew once I got the business up and running, getting it out there would be simple enough. There are so many cell phone accessories available, but none are as sustainable as what we have created. We are providing something everyone needs but in a more sustainable way.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Getting up early is the best way to make my day productive. I can usually get several hours of work in before I take my kids to school. When I get home, I will work for a few more hours before I take a break. During that time, I make conference calls or sign off on things. For me, finding a balance between your work life and your home life is very important. I find I am more productive when I take the time to go for a walk or have a long lunch with a friend. Not too long ago, my son and I (he is 12) took a long road trip in one of my classic cars. It was a beautiful ride for 2 days in this magnificent country, just taking in the sights and enjoying each other’s company. He loved the smell of the leather and wood of the car, which I must say is special.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The first thing I do is write it down. After that, I will discuss the idea with no less than three other people. I want to get as many opinions and ideas as possible on how to make the idea work. If I can’t find a logical way to get it going, I will move on. If I feel strongly that it will be successful, I throw all of my energy into it. Focus and planning are key in business. It’s one thing to come up with an idea, it’s another altogether to bring it to life and execute on it. To do so, it’s crucial to surround yourself with people who know the market and can give you good insight into it.
What’s one trend that excites you?
People are becoming more aware that we need to be sustainable and buy things that are more environmentally friendly. It is a very important aspect of what we, as a species, are doing right now and it’s important for the sake of all of our children. The younger generation has learned so much more about the environment and our impact on it than we did as children. They are more mindful and cautious about what they are leaving behind. It’s exciting to see and to be a part of.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Once a decision is made, we put it into action. So much time is lost on discussions when one meeting is all it usually takes to decide whether to move forward with something or not. For example, say you want to make a T-shirt to sell online but can’t figure out what design to make—how many meetings are you going to have before you pick one? Make the decision, then get going. Success requires action.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be to find someone you can go to for guidance. Especially when you are still young and new to the business world, it is important to surround yourself with the right people. I have been very lucky to have built great relationships over the years. Back when I was starting, I had to learn a lot on my own. It certainly would have made things a bit easier had I found someone to help point me in the right direction, especially with some of the bigger decisions. I’ve always believed in the importance of finding the right people to work with.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
My mother was a teacher and my father a physician. We traveled a lot as a family and they always taught my brother and me the importance of finding a good balance between work and life. That is a lesson I have always carried with me. I am a firm believer that you don’t have to work ten to twelve hour days to be successful. In fact, I feel that if you are working that much, you are decidedly not successful or fit for the job. What is the point of earning a lot of money if you never have the opportunity to enjoy it? How can you be happy if you never spend time with your children? Balance is important, not money.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Challenge yourself. Be willing to take a step back to re-evaluate your goals. The goals may change over time. Be willing to take a moment to step back and see if you should be doing something differently. Follow through on your promises. Be open with your peers and your employees. Make sure everyone you work with feels listened to, and be sure to provide the tools for their success. When people feel appreciated, they work harder. They will be more creative and more motivated. Their success brings you further success. Be open to suggestions from those you work with.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Marketing and branding have always been easy for me. Create a marketing idea that is clear and shows how you want to present yourself in the market. Then, get to work putting it out there. It doesn’t have to be a hundred page document. People respond to facts more than paperwork. Show what you offer instead of talking about it. That is how you grow—by actually proving that your products do exactly what you say they will. Know your market and brand appropriately.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In my career in South Africa, I started a furniture manufacturing company instead of only a trading company. I wanted it to be run similarly to how furniture factories in Europe are run. In the end, it was not successful because that business model didn’t work well here. I overcame the situation by accepting the truth and moving on. It was a more solid decision to close it down than to try and keep it going. It’s important to know, as an entrepreneur, that there is always a risk. Learn from these moments and do better. That is the takeaway.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
It’s all about finding what product or service is needed at the proper time when it is needed. Entrepreneurs see a need and find a way to fill it. Even in chaos, there can be opportunities. Look at the pandemic, at how much services like grocery and food delivery grew during that time. Those who didn’t want to go out were happy to pay those who were willing to go out and run those errands. Just figure out what is needed and find a way to fill the need.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
When I think about it, it may seem odd, but I got myself a really nice pair of jeans recently and they are really great. Every so often you need to spend some money on yourself.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use Excel a lot to make projections and flesh out ideas. The program enables me to input my numbers and make projections. The models are very simple. If you’re looking at cellular phones—the business that I’m in now—the fact that there are 140 million active SIM cards in this country means there is a lot of business out there. It’s wonderful to have access to a program that can interpret the information so easily. Teams has also become a very useful tool, especially over the last several years. My family and many business associates are in different countries, so it’s been a great resource.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I give everyone who works for me a copy of Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, M.D. The reason for that is that I want them to understand the imminent changes coming if they come into my workplace, even though these changes won’t be a standard operating procedure across the board for the next 10 years or so. It’s a very worthwhile read. If they don’t understand the book, which can be read in literally two hours, then I tell them please don’t work for me.
What is your favorite quote?
“Quality is a habit.”
- Find your balance.
- Surround yourself with the right people.
- Success requires action.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.