What do you do if you want to start your own business but have no start-up capital? For Chris Masters and Alasdair Muller, co-founders of ShortBlackMocca, the answer was simple.
- Convince your current employer to allow you to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams after-hours and on weekends (thus maintaining a monthly salary).
- Find like-minded individuals who are as passionate about your idea as you are (and willing to work for free, after-hours just like you, as long as they have shares in the business).
- Create a system that lets clients test-drive a proof-of-concept product designed specifically for them, for free (which is possible if you have no overheads and everyone works for free, as already mentioned).
All fine and well, but can it work? Muller and Masters are well into their first year of proving that it can. ShortBlackMocca began life on a cocktail napkin. Employed as sales executives at Continental Outdoor Media, the co-founders soon discovered a mutual passion for starting their own business.
“We’re marketers and sales experts interested in business,” explains Muller. “I’m an avid tech user as well — overseas, there’s an app for anything, and yet it’s still a relatively new industry in South Africa. Our experience with clients has also shown us how many businesses, particularly SMEs and smaller retailers, don’t use apps to streamline their business processes or connect with clients. We believe there is still a huge gap in the market for custom-made apps in South Africa.”
The right people can make it happen, which is where the partners began. “I ran into an old school friend who is a brilliant coder,” says Masters. “We’re the face of the business. We understand marketing, spotting areas where a business owner can use tech to improve their offering and processes, and making connections — but we’re not tech guys. Pulling Quentin de Bruyn into the fold meant we had a coder who could create our customised apps, and we soon found an amazing graphic designer who could make the coding look good. We suddenly had a team as passionate about making this work as we are.”
Since everyone works full-time, the business has taken much longer to build than if all four dedicated 100% of their time to the company, but no one is in a huge rush. “It’s more important that we make sure we can all work together, and that we have platforms that work,” says Muller.
“At this stage we don’t have the capital to launch full-time, and so patience is a necessity,” adds Masters. “Every cent we make gets pumped back into the business, and our first port of call will be to pay our employees salaries before we join the business full-time. Right now we’re used to working 18-hour days and we know that’s the price to pay for our dreams. It’s okay though, we’re hungry. We know this will work, and we’re willing to pay our dues to see it happen.”
The group has kept its focus narrow, working on an anti-rhino poaching gaming app, Rhino Hero, to refine its skills, fine tune how everyone works together, develop a platform to show clients what the team is capable of producing, and make some money for the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), which receives 50% of every app downloaded.
“Going forward, social projects will be a big part of what we do,” says Muller. “But right now it’s all about hard work, developing a good reputation and excellent products, which will ultimately speak for themselves.”
- Players: Alasdair Muller and Chris Masters
- Company: ShortBlackMocca
- Est: 2012
- X-Factor: A strong focus on passionate teams is fueling a start-up without funding.