Jens Herf of Shopstar Knew Getting to Market Quickly was the Winning...

Jens Herf of Shopstar Knew Getting to Market Quickly was the Winning Ticket


Vital stats

  • Company: Shopstar
  • Players: Jens Herf
  • Est: 2013
  • Contact: +27 (0)21 424 1579
  • Visit:

South Africans are waking up to the joy of online shopping. In 2013 alone, the industry made up R4,2 billion of South Africa’s GDP. At the same time, our big cities are seeing an influx of small entrepreneurs peddling food, fashion, jewellery, art and design, turning revitalised urban spaces into hipster heaven.

That’s what got web developer Jens Herf thinking. There had to be a place for a home-grown e-commerce platform to allow anyone to create and manage their own online shop with minimal effort.

Related: Silent Killers of Great Businesses and How to Avoid Them 

He launched Shopstar in September last year and, after a slow start, it now has 1 200 registered shops that have sold 20 000 items totalling R5 million in transactions, and it’s growing by 30% every month.

“Most of our clients employ three to four people and our goal is to help them streamline their operations through e-commerce, make more sales, and employ more people,” says Herf. “To get that right, we are demystifying e-commerce for them.”

A three-pronged method

Herf’s approach was to go to market quickly. He designed a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP), an agile technique in which a website is developed with just enough features to satisfy early adopters.

The final set of features is only designed and developed after considering feedback from the product’s initial users, making the product more user-friendly and tailored to market needs. It also meant the business was developing its final product.

He also partnered with a logistics company that gives Shopstar preferential rates which are passed onto his clients, sorting out one of the biggest headaches for small online retailers – product delivery.

Next, he had to find clients who would use the platform to trade. To get that right, he had to educate them. He ran lots of e-commerce courses and events with organisations like the Cape Craft and Design Institute, bringing in specialists to inform people about the benefits of ecommerce. That was how the traction started.

The payoff

Shopstar’s first client was jewellery store Dear Rae, which grew its social media ‘likes’ from 200 to 9 000 after signing up, and upped its employees from two to six.

“That shows you what e-commerce can do, when it’s more than just a technology solution,” he says. “Our product goes beyond web hosting and offers the extra services that are essential to running an online business, like marketing and building communities. An e-commerce platform is not about writing code – it’s about learning how to sell online.”

Herf loves his job, adding that e-commerce for SMEs is a huge untapped market in South Africa. “These small businesses are the ones that will continue to generate employment for people and they are selling beautifully crafted locally made merchandise. We want to help put them on the map.”

Next, he wants to target traders who sell their goods at the Neighbor Goods Markets, at The Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town and in Braamfontein, giving them the opportunity to sell a lot more outside of market days.

When less is more

Don’t overbuild a product before releasing it. Many entrepreneurs tend to overbuild their first product release.

They want a compelling product, and they don’t want to give competitors a chance to leap-frog them. But overbuilding doesn’t guarantee that customers will want your product. It also delays potential failure rather than assessing and overcoming it.

Related: How To Determine Your Minimum Viable Product 

Creating an MVP will:

  • Bring focus to the product’s core value proposition and efficiency to the process
  • Reduce rework by lowering the risk of building unwanted features
  • Create relationships with customers as soon as possible
  • Bring focus to the most critical business functions.
Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.