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En-novate Goes Toe-To-Toe With The Best In The World

South African entrepreneurs can go toe-to-toe with the best the world has to offer, but they need to think bigger. Much, much bigger.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Natan Pollack and Dan Brotman
  • Company: En-novate
  • Founded: February 2016
  • Aim: En-novate believes that South African SMEs and business professionals need to start becoming more globally competitive. They make this possible by taking groups of entrepreneurs and business professionals on exploration trips to innovation hubs around the world.
  • Visit: en-novate.co.za

Silicon Valley. For many entrepreneurs, it’s more than a place, it embodies an idea. Populated by unicorns and pirates and hackers and angel investors, it’s a magical place — like Wonderland or Neverland.

Consider the companies that are based in the areas around San Francisco and Silicon Valley: Google, Facebook, Adobe, Apple, Tesla Motors, WhatsApp, Oracle, Twitter and Netflix, to name but a few, are all a mere Uber ride away from one another (and, yes, Uber is based there too). All these companies are clustered together, yet they have a global reach that stretches into the billions.

How did this relatively small patch of earth become such a hub of tech success? And more importantly, what can South African entrepreneurs learn from how business is done there?

In order to try and answer this, a group of South African entrepreneurs recently visited San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Related: Customers Will Pay For Amazing Experiences – If You Deliver Explains Karabo Sepharatla

The trip was organised by En-novate in partnership with Investec. En-novate founders Dan Brotman and Natan Pollack share what they learnt from the experience.

Can you briefly explain what En-novate does?

Dan: We founded En-novate in partnership with Investec in order to expose South African entrepreneurs to cutting-edge innovation and new business trends. We both have very international backgrounds, myself having moved to South Africa five years ago from the US. South Africa is geographically cut off from some of the world’s top innovation hubs, which at times prevents our entrepreneurs from accessing new commercial opportunities in other markets.

Natan: Our aim is to help local entrepreneurs connect to international business hubs in order to expand their thinking, and help them build global business networks. We want local entrepreneurs to benchmark their businesses against global best practice and start transacting abroad. En-novate also assists entrepreneurs raise funding both locally and abroad.

What would you say is the ultimate aim of this? What do you want entrepreneurs to take from a trip?

Natan: We want them to realise that there is no need to limit their vision or ambition. South African entrepreneurs are some of the best in the world, and can definitely compete on a global scale. There’s no reason that someone from South Africa can’t launch the next Facebook or Google. But ultimately, we want them to start doing business abroad, and expanding their customer reach.

Dan: The biggest problem many local entrepreneurs have is that they think too local. They focus exclusively on the South African market, but being the best in your domestic market isn’t good enough any longer. We live in an interconnected world, and South African entrepreneurs need to start playing in the global arena, similar to their Swedish and Israeli counterparts.

What does this mean in practical terms? As a start-up founder, how do I start playing globally?

En-novate-south-africa-business-trip

Natan: It starts with confidence and big thinking — with the belief that you can take your business global. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t be limited by their location. This doesn’t mean packing up your things and permanently moving to Silicon Valley, but it does mean reaching out to potential overseas partners and investors, and at least exploring your international options.

Dan: That’s what we’re trying to do — to help facilitate this process. At the moment, we’re focusing on taking South African entrepreneurs overseas, but we also want to set-up some sort of support structure in places like Silicon Valley that can offer them a ‘soft landing’ when they go there to do business. This offering already exists for new arrivals in Silicon Valley from countries like India, but very little exists for newly arrived African entrepreneurs trying to make it in the US.

Related: 7 Up And Coming SA Businesses To Watch

Do you think this is important? To create a place that offers a ‘soft landing’?

Dan: It’s incredibly important — it’s absolutely crucial. Stepping off a plane and trying to establish connections and organise meetings is practically impossible. You need someone to show you the ropes and help with introductions.

Natan: Countries like India and Israel are already doing this — helping their people establish themselves in places like Silicon Valley. Having a support structure and appropriate resources available makes launching your business into new markets significantly easier. Currently there is no ‘soft landing’ for Africa in Silicon Valley and En-novate aims to change that in the near future.

Speaking of Silicon Valley, you recently took a bunch of local tech entrepreneurs there, so what was your takeaway from that trip?

Natan: That South African entrepreneurs are just as good as other entrepreneurs. We tend to look at Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and view them as untouchable; this is not the case, we just need to travel to Silicon Valley to learn this. I also witnessed how hungry our entrepreneurs are for global exposure, and on the other side, how keen international companies were to meet the South Africans.

Dan: But what they lack is access to opportunity and international business platforms, and there’s no reason for this. Africa offers tremendous opportunity, and being situated in South Africa provides you with everything you need take advantage of these opportunities. But it requires a mind-shift. Entrepreneurs need to start thinking global. We hope to help them do this by showing them that there’s a whole world of opportunity out there.

Want to go global?

If you’re an entrepreneur looking to expand your horizons, it’s worth visiting the En-novate website to find out about the trips that they are planning for the near future.

Entrepreneurs on En-novate trips are either funded by a corporate sponsor or self-fund, but there is a fairly tough selection process.

As you’d expect, spots on these trips have already become hotly contested. Visit www.en-novate.co.za, and click on ‘Apply’.

Related: Busy Cardiologist Dr Riaz Motara Works A 4-Day Work Week – Here’s How

Remember this

The greatest limitation placed on your business is often your own vision. Great entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to think big.

GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

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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

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Lebo Gunguluza

Ryan Bacher

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

ryan-bacher

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

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Philip and Malan Joubert of OfferZen

Vital stats

  • Players: Philip and Malan Joubert
  • Company: OfferZen
  • Established: 2015
  • Visit: www.offerzen.com
  • 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 24.com. 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

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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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