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5 Tips From Nkululeko Silimela On How To Launch A Competitive Start-Up

Nkululeko Silimela has created a slick and professional operation that is still agile and boasts low overheads. Here are his tips for creating a successful start-up.

GG van Rooyen



Nkululeko Silimela

Vital stats

  • Player: Nkululeko Silimela
  • Company: Nkusi-IT
  • Established: 2011
  • Visit:

Take note

Clients don’t care if you’re a start-up. They will expect the same excellence and professionalism from you as they would from any corporate. Make sure that you’re able to rise to the occasion.

Entrepreneur first encountered Nkululeko Silimela of Nkusi-IT when it accompanied a bunch of promising local tech entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley in the US. The entrepreneurs were hosted by Investec and En-novate, giving promising young South African business people access to international markets, ideas and funders.

Nkululeko is an impressive individual who gave up a promising (and secure) job in the corporate world to launch his own business. The company, Nkusi-IT, was launched in 2011, and has now become an established business with an impressive list of blue-chip clients.

Related: How Maditsi Mphela Pushed Through Business Stagnation To Successfully Scale

Giving up a solid corporate salary and choosing to try and launch a new business is never easy, so how did Nkululeko manage it? A big reason for his success can be found in the lessons he learnt in the corporate world. Early on, he realised that start-ups need to act and look like large companies.

How, after all, can you hope to take business from corporates if you can’t offer the same level of professionalism? Here are Nkululeko’s tips for launching a competitive start-up.

1Act like a corporate

“What struck me about the corporate firms where I worked was the focus on excellence and professionalism,” says Nkululeko.

“There is a culture in these companies that demands your best at all times. Not only do you need to be great at your job, but you also need to act and look the part.

“You need to be professional. That means being on time, dressing appropriately and engaging clients in an appropriate way. It was an ethos I took with me to Nkusi-IT. I didn’t want the company to act and operate like a start-up. I wanted to offer clients the same experience they would have when dealing with a corporate, because I realised it was the only way I could ever compete with them.”

2Work for a corporate

“Spending time in a large company can teach you a lot about culture, and it can also make you better at your job. So, I would recommend spending a few years in an established firm before you launch your own business. It’s very hard to create a competitive business if you have no idea how things are done in an established organisation.

“Also, a corporate job can be invaluable in creating a professional network. It would have been much harder to grow NKusi-IT if I didn’t have industry connections that I could go to for help and advice,” says Nkululeko.

Related: 6 Mistakes That Rookie Leaders Make Which Can Cause Them To Fail

3Find a (big) partner

“While still working in the corporate world, I was a systems engineer who focused on Microsoft products. So, because of this, I knew the company’s products well, and I was familiar with some of the people within the local office.

“When I started Nkusi-IT, I decided to approach Microsoft and to become an official Microsoft Partner. Becoming a recognised partner isn’t simple — it’s quite a process — but it opens a lot of doors for you.

“My aim was to focus on government business, something that few companies were doing at the time because of the red tape and complexity. But I believed that there was a real opportunity for a company that could go in and assist government to be more efficient.

“As a new entrepreneur, you should remember that companies like Microsoft are often looking for small partners that they can invest in and help grow. A lot of corporates view it as their moral obligation for operating in a country like South Africa. Don’t be afraid to approach large firms and propose a partnership, even if your business is still very small,” says Nkululeko. 

4Build your brand

“As a start-up, your biggest barrier to landing large clients will be a lack of credibility,” says Nkululeko. “When you’re just starting out, you don’t have a track record, so it can be hard to convince people that you will be able to do the job if you’re given the contract.

“The solution is to make your business appear as professional as possible. You should act and look like a corporate. It comes down to the simple things. Pay someone to create a professional website for you. Pay someone to tweak and edit any company profiles or proposals you send out.

“A badly-written proposal with loads of typos and grammatical errors will send a terrible message, even if the ability to write is unrelated to the work you’ll be doing.”

Related: Why Failure Will Be Your Best Mentor – Ever

5Don’t overspend

“Your brand and image is important, but that doesn’t mean that you need to spend a fortune to look like a large firm. You might splurge in certain areas, but save money wherever you can.

“For instance, Nkusi-IT consists of a very small team. There are still only three full-time employees today. When we get a massive contract, I simply make use of a large regular pool of contractors that I know and trust, and who have started to actually feel like full-time employees.

“The point, however, is this: You don’t want to hire a whole bunch of people who you need to keep paying, even when there’s a dip in contracts.”


Entrepreneur Profiles

10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

Remarkable stories about local entrepreneurs who built big businesses and well known brands up from humble beginnings.

Nadine Todd



Lebo Gunguluza

Ryan Bacher

NetFlorist, SA’s largest online gifting company, was launched by accident


Ryan Bacher

“Our plan was to run the site for one day to prove that we could do it. And then we got R30 000 worth of orders. That was the equivalent of a whole month’s revenue at a flower shop.”

Ryan Bacher, Lawrence Brick and Jonathan Hackner; launched NetFlorist on Valentine’s day in 1999.

The founders of NetFlorist had no intention of starting an online floral and gifting company – they just wanted to prove to Makro that they could design and run an e-commerce site. But Valentine’s day came and went, and the ‘test’ site did unbelievably well, so they didn’t shut it off.

“What’s really crazy is that people were paying for us to provide a service. We had no stock and knew nothing about flowers. We just sent the orders to a flower shop in Sandton,” says Ryan Bacher.

How did they make it work? “We knew our best bet was to get the website out, hack it, and keep changing it. We would learn more from the site being out there in the market than we could ever learn in-house, trying to develop a perfect product. It was basically always a work in progress.”

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Entrepreneur Profiles

From Silicon Valley To SA: How Online Marketplace for Developers OfferZen Was Born

OfferZen was conceived in Silicon Valley but launched in Cape Town. The company founders discuss the advantages (and disadvantages) of starting a tech business in South Africa.

GG van Rooyen



Philip and Malan Joubert of OfferZen

Vital stats

  • Players: Philip and Malan Joubert
  • Company: OfferZen
  • Established: 2015
  • Visit:
  • About: OfferZen is a curated online marketplace for software development talent. It has over 500 companies since it launched, including big industry names like Barclays, GetSmarter, Takealot, FNB, Superbalist, Allan Gray, and Founders Malan and Philip Joubert have been included in Quartz Africa’s annual Africa Innovators list for 2017. The list features 30 of Africa’s leaders in technology, business, arts, science, agriculture, design and media.

As soon as they graduated from university, brothers Philip and Malan Joubert entered the start-up scene. Their first business, FireID, met a rather swift and ignominious end, but they kept the name and launched an incubator under the same moniker in Stellenbosch.

This endeavour was far more successful, helping to launch local start-ups like SnapScan and JourneyApps. Soon, a few of the businesses in their incubator were scaling and in need of funding, so the Jouberts relocated (with the start-ups) to Silicon Valley.

While living in the world’s most famous tech hub, the idea for OfferZen was born.

1How did you get the idea for OfferZen?

We enjoyed running the incubator, but we also knew that we loved start-up life and wanted to launch our own business. We identified education and recruitment as two areas where a tech start-up could be particularly successful and have a real impact.

Related: Meet The 40 Richest Self-Made Entrepreneurs On Earth

We settled on developer recruitment because of how skewed that marketplace is. Companies are so desperate for good developers, that they get spammed constantly on sites like LinkedIn.

We decided to create a site where developers could upload their details and companies would approach them — the opposite of your typical job or recruitment site.

2Why launch in South Africa instead of Silicon Valley?

We knew the South African recruitment market well, so we felt more confident launching locally. Also, South Africa is home to some great developers, as well as many large companies in need of their services, so we knew that a market existed for what we were doing.

Another big reason was the fact that we could bootstrap this business in South Africa, while we would have needed to raise funds if we wanted to operate in Silicon Valley.

Living and operating there is extremely expensive, so you need a lot of runway. There’s also a lot more competition, so you need big names and big money behind you.

3Is visiting a place like Silicon Valley worthwhile if you want to launch a tech business in South Africa?

It is definitely worth it. There is an unbelievable concentration of talent and expertise in Silicon Valley, and people are very willing to speak to you. While we were there and preparing to launch OfferZen, we spoke to countless similar recruitment businesses.

Figuring out what could be handled via software/computers versus what we would need people for was one of our major questions, and it was great to discuss this with experts on the ground. So, yes visiting Silicon Valley can be very useful, but you should be working on a specific project.

People there don’t mind engaging with you, but they want to address specific issues and challenges. They don’t want to chat in general. If you’re not actually busy working on a business, you won’t find it as useful.

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

4How did you manage to attract enough developers and companies to create a viable marketplace?

It really is a chicken/egg situation. You need a bunch of companies on the site to attract developers, and you need developers to attract companies, so how do you build up your database to a point where the whole thing becomes viable? That was one of the biggest challenges we had.

Our advantage, though, was that good developers are so sought after. Companies are desperate to find developers, so they were quite keen to support what OfferZen was doing and join the marketplace. We started by building up a solid database of companies, and then started signing up developers.

Once we had the companies, it was easier to convince the developers. We also offer developers who find employment through OfferZen a R5 000 bonus. Importantly, we started off quite small. Initially we just focused on Cape Town and created a viable marketplace there.

Once that was up and running, we expanded to Johannesburg. If we threw the net too wide, we ran the risk of not having enough developers and companies in one place.

5You have a very impressive developer-centric blog on your site. Why the focus on the blog?

We realise that only a small portion of developers are actively searching for a job at any given time, so we wanted to create something that would allow us to engage and offer something useful to the rest.

Ultimately, we want all developers to be aware of OfferZen and its website, and a great way to do this is to generate useful content that drives traffic to the site. But we don’t think this would work if the whole exercise was just a thinly-veiled marketing exercise.

So, we decided to create genuinely useful content that would interest local tech entrepreneurs and developers. Creating this kind of content takes time and money, but we believe it’s worth it.

6You’ve grown massively over the last twelve months, from five people to more than 20. How do you make good hires when having to fill roles that quickly?

We’ve posted an article on our blog where we go into the minute details of our hiring process, which people can read, but I would add that people should seek out the book Who: Solve Your #1 Problem by Geoff Smart. It’s a fantastic book on the hiring process.

Another thing worth mentioning, which OfferZen does, is to have what we call ‘simulation days’, where a candidate comes in and does actual work for a few days. It requires time and energy from the rest of the team, and it is also risky, since the candidate is doing real work and interacting with real clients, but we find that it’s an excellent way to gauge capability and culture fit.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Gareth Cliff Shares His Tips For Starting Your Very Own Podcast

Here are Gareth Cliff’s tips for starting your very own podcast.

GG van Rooyen




Well-known South African DJ Gareth Cliff left radio a few years ago to start his own podcasting company, CliffCentral. The company celebrated its third birthday in May of 2017, and has shown steady growth, both in terms of content and listeners. CliffCentral has definitely shown that there is a South African market for this new medium.

Here are Gareth Cliff’s tips for starting your very own podcast.

1How easy is it to start a podcast if you don’t have a large team/company behind you?

Anyone can start a podcast. You don’t need staff, a studio or expensive equipment. The hard part is delivering quality content and being consistent.

Related: When Gareth Cliff Met Bill Draper – The First Skype Funder

2What advice do you have for people looking to start a podcast? What are some of the dos and dont’s?

What can you do that nobody else can, or what can you do better than anyone else? That would be the start of the content plan for the podcast. Also, be prepared to grow the audience slowly. Building a solid listenership takes time. It isn’t something that happens quickly.

3More and more companies (like Dell and McAfee) are launching branded podcasts. What do you think of this as a content marketing strategy?

We think it’s terrific, as long as it’s relevant and interesting. Take a listen to what Gimlet Creative are doing for Microsoft and Virgin Atlantic. They’re not ads, they’re great to listen to. AutoCentral on CliffCentral is our motoring show, hosted by the guys from AutoTrader — and it’s really good, because they are so passionate about cars. T-Systems also host their own podcast during which they interview ‘disrupters’ in the industry.

4What does the local landscape look like? How is the local popularity of podcasting growing? Do you need to aim your content at an international audience?

Local service providers have told us that podcasting in South Africa doubled from 2014 to 2016 and keeps growing incrementally. In the US, podcasting has increased by 70% year on year for the last three years. That makes it the fastest growing medium of all. Our audiences are local and international. They choose us, we don’t target them.

Related: Celebrity Jen Su On Building Your Brand

5What is it about podcasting that you think sets it apart from other channels/mediums? What are its strengths, and what are its weaknesses?

Podcasting is replacing long-form journalism. People don’t have time to read reams of stuff. You can listen to a podcast while you’re driving, cooking or training. Also, mainstream media try to be everything to everyone. As Dion Chang recently told me in an interview, individuality is the way of the future — and niched content will become much more sought after than bland content crafted to appeal to the masses.

6What are some of the challenges of doing a regular podcast that people don’t tend to think of starting out?

Keeping content fresh, unique and relevant. That sounds easy, but it’s hard to consistently up your game and keep delivering. Listening to podcasts is an active choice — people don’t stumble upon them like you stumble upon a music radio show. That means the audience are discerning; they understand all the choices they have.

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