The Superbalist (Citymob)/Wantitall deal was big news in the tech space. A team of entrepreneurs attracting such a big equity partner is the ultimate dream of many start-ups.
And yet Luke Jedeiken, a co-founder of Citymob (today called Superbalist), says the deal wasn’t about funding, but rather finding a partner whose expertise complemented their own.
“Too many start-ups think that finding funding is the be-all and end-all of a successful business,” says Jedeiken. “Spending money on bad IP – or no IP – doesn’t solve the problem of not having something customers want.
“That’s where you need to start: What do we have that people will pay for, and how do we make the experience as effortless as possible for our customers? When we started we were three guys working out of an apartment, taking on huge competitors.
“We bootstrapped the business and it worked because we had something people wanted. The deal with Wantitall isn’t about funding, although that’s available. It’s about both businesses increasing and fine-tuning our offerings.”
What was Superbalist when you started out?
It was 2010 and we came across the story of a small start-up called Groupon that had become the darling of the Internet. We all wanted to start our own business, and we kept coming back to that idea: Online, group buying of vouchers — we didn’t need start-up capital because we wouldn’t be purchasing product.
We just needed a great site and vouchers that we could email to our customers. We worked from an apartment, and lived off our savings while we got the business off the ground.
Was it a competitive market?
We had inadvertently joined the biggest online bun fight South Africa had ever seen. We weren’t the only company that had heard of Groupon’s success. There were multiple players with big corporates behind them. Groupon itself even joined the fray when it bought Twangoo.
How did you stand out in this saturated market?
Well, it wasn’t really saturated. Sure, we had a lot of competitors, but online buying in South Africa is relatively new, so we didn’t need to steal market share, we needed to create a market, and we were good at that. We differentiated ourselves by focusing on quality. And when ‘deal fatigue’ set in, we changed our business model. Quality was all we had to differentiate ourselves; if we lost that, we’d be dead in the water.
So what changed?
It was such a commoditised market, we wanted to pivot into something else. Group buying eliminates a lot of the risk of e-commerce: You don’t have to worry about couriers, loss, theft, warehouse space or even purchasing products. But there are also no barriers to entry.
By July 2012 we had earned our online stripes and wanted to move into a space where we could create barriers to entry. We looked at how online apparel buying is taking off around the world, but didn’t want to go into a market that is also highly commoditised, and will probably be the next big bun fight to hit SA’s online space. We needed something different.
And that was design?
Yes. Design can be anything, as long as it’s artistic, unique, different and not commoditised. We’ve kept things open and flexible, but our customers know they can expect a level of quality, style and uniqueness from us. We offer both local and international products.
We love supporting local designers and giving them the same platform as international talent, but we also didn’t want to limit ourselves to local.
Many South African designers run small, niche businesses, and they can’t scale from 50 pieces a month to 500. We aim to really grow this space, and we needed to ensure we would have the products to do that.
Where does Wantitall fit in?
Once we decided to make a move from group buying to a product-based business, it was also time to start networking within the tech space. There are incredible initiatives happening in Cape Town, but we were working so hard we didn’t come up for air.
One organisation in our network was Wantitall. It was a match waiting to happen. The original founders (two brothers and a school friend, just like us) still run the business, and their values align perfectly with ours. We both value integrity, and we’re all obsessed with innovation. We’ll call each other five times a day discussing something new or exciting we’ve just seen or heard about.
What does each company offer?
We’re a product business, but our logistical side was weak. In December 2012 we had a 300% increase on the site. We had more traffic than Kulula and Instagram, and we couldn’t cope. We had a complete logistical failure.
Wantitall is an efficient, streamlined business because it’s good at logistics.
Their back-end is head and shoulders above anyone else in this space, but their model is fulfilment-focused as opposed to product-focused. They’ve been a commoditised online retailer. We bring a quality brand, website, user experience and products to the table, and Wantitall brings their mastery of logistics. It’s a perfect match.
- Players: Luke Jedeiken, Matthew Goslett, Claude Hanan and Mikael Hanan
- Company: Superbalist
- Est: 2010
- X-Factor: The ability to differentiate from competitors and find the right partner to take the business further
- Connect: www.superbalist.com