- Players: Anish Shivdasani and Shafin Anwarsha
- Company: Giraffe
- Established: 2015
- Background: Giraffe is a fully-automated mobile recruitment agency service that enables businesses to recruit medium-skilled workers quickly and affordably.
- Visit: giraffe.co.za
Most start-ups would kill for the sort of trajectory Giraffe has enjoyed over the last 18 months. Since launching early in 2015, the company has enjoyed solid growth and traction, received some great PR, walked away with an international award and managed to secure funding from a Silicon Valley VC firm.
This is all incredibly impressive, and there’s no doubt that most start-ups would love to emulate Giraffe’s success. So how have company founders Anish Shivdasani and Shafin Anwarsha managed to get the whole world talking about Giraffe? Here’s their advice on attracting VCs to your start-up.
Solve a real problem
“We looked at the South African landscape and identified unemployment as a real problem. Then we asked ourselves how we could use technology to address and remedy the problem in the short term, if not solve it,” says Anish Shivdasani.
“We did this for two reasons: Firstly, we felt that there was a certain obligation to try and solve a real problem that the country was dealing with. Secondly, we realised that by looking at an emerging-market problem, it was not something that Silicon Valley start-ups would be looking at. We wouldn’t be competing with large and well-funded companies.”
So what does Giraffe do? Essentially, it allows jobseekers to upload a CV to the company’s mobi site for free. When employers need to hire, they simply submit a staff request at www.giraffe.co.za and algorithms sort through the thousands of CVs in the database and automatically identify, contact and schedule interviews with relevant candidates.
“We wanted to make the hiring process as easy and hassle-free as possible, both for employers and jobseekers. This meant coming up with an innovative solution. We created a system that allowed a CV to be completed quickly, but that didn’t require a lot of text. The system navigates a jobseeker through various options, ascertaining his or her skills and experience. So you don’t need to deal with hard-to-understand text,” says Shivdasani.
Lesson: Come up with a truly innovative product or service, and you’ll find that funding isn’t nearly as hard to come by as people often say. Build a solid company that addresses a real problem, and funding will find its way to you.
Bootstrap as much as possible
Unless you’re a hot Silicon Valley start-up with unicorn potential, you’re unlikely to attract funding until you’ve shown some traction.
Shivdasani and Anwarsha didn’t even think about funding during the early days of Giraffe. “We were focused on getting the platform and the business going,” says Shivdasani. “We had put our own money into the business and managed to give ourselves 12 months of runway. For that period, we didn’t give any thought to VCs and funding.”
“We also found that VCs will usually be reluctant to invest if you haven’t bootstrapped for a while,” adds Anwarsha. “They want to see that your company has some traction, and they want to see that you’re invested — that you’ve put your own money into the business and that you are committed to making it work.”
Lesson: Bootstrapping your business is a good idea. The best way to build a sustainable company is to spend as little money as possible up-front and get cashflow-positive as quickly as possible. Depending on funding for survival is risky. What if the money falls through? Create a business that can sustain itself. Rely on funding only for scaling.
Let the money come to you
“While we bootstrapped early on, we also met with investors. These were mostly people we had been put in contact with via our own personal networks,” says Shivdasani. “Importantly, we never asked for money. In fact, to this day, we haven’t asked for money. We simply introduced ourselves to investors and placed Giraffe on their radar.”
By introducing potential funders to the company, but not asking for money, the founders of Giraffe let the company’s performance speak for itself.
“We simply stated our intentions when we met with investors. When we saw them again six or twelve months later, we could tell them that we had followed through on our plans. We had attained some real traction, which made us worth investing in,” says Anwarsha.
Lesson: It is a stark reality of the start-up scene that the companies without much of a need for funding are usually the companies that attract it. This is hardly surprising. Investors want to fund companies with growth potential, not start-ups struggling for survival. So, focusing too much on attracting investment can be counter-productive. Instead, get the fundamentals right. Build a sustainable business. If you do that, the money will eventually come to you.
Don’t underestimate the value of PR
“While working together in the boardroom, I received an email from SeedStars to take part in the South African leg of its global start-up competition,” recalls Anwarsha.
“Anish told me to forget about the mail and get back to work. We were very careful not to be distracted from our primary goal of building the company, but I was keen to give it a try. Anish said it was okay, but there was one condition: Make sure you win.” Anwarsha did win, and it had a profound and immediate impact on the company.
“Until that moment, we had underestimated the impact that good PR could have,” says Shivdasani. “I was interviewed by John Robbie on 702 for a few minutes. Suddenly our servers were being overrun with new jobseekers and employers. It made us realise that entering things like start-up competitions is a good idea because of the PR it can generate.”
Lesson: Marketing can be useful, but nothing compares to great PR when trying to introduce your start-up to the world. Winning a start-up competition — of which there are no shortage these days — is a good way to do it. Another is to contact media houses and pitch your story. It’s important, though, to focus on the problem you are solving. Journalists are particularly interested in companies that are either innovative, or working at solving social issues.
Don’t just take the money
It’s very hard to say no to VC money, but before you grab anyone’s cash, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the long-term implications.
“It’s important to get on with the people who will be investing in your company. You need to be able to work with them. We were approached by another investor as well, but we ended up going with Omidyar Network — who had approached us after we won the local SeedStars event — because the firm was asking the right questions. They grilled us hard, but we realised that as an impact investor, they could bring value to the business,” says Anwarsha.
Giraffe has also been careful in how much investment it has actually accepted.
“After winning the local SeedStars competition, I travelled to Switzerland to represent Giraffe in the global event,” says Anwarsha. “To my complete surprise, I won. It was a surreal experience.”
The prize came with a maximum investment from SeedStars of $500 000, but Giraffe was reluctant to take it.“We had already closed a round of funding and had enough runway for at least 18 months,” says Shivdasani.
Lesson: Equity in a start-up can be cheap, and many founders have kicked themselves for giving away too much too soon. That’s why it’s important to keep operating with that bootstrapping mentality, even if you’ve received some investment. You want money to last as long as possible. The less money you need, after all, the less of your company you need to give away.
If no one is willing to invest in your idea, you should take another careful look at it. Focus on solving a real problem and the money will usually follow.
3 Top Tips SMEs Should Be Aware Of When Accessing Funding
Darlene Menzies weighs in on the top three things you should consider when accessing funding.
1. Applying for credit facilities
Apply for credit facilities (such as a bank overdraft or revolving credit facility) when business is going well, which is when a bank is more likely to approve it. This also means you will have the money immediately available if you hit a cash flow challenges. Don’t wait until the business has hit a cash cliff to apply, as you will be less likely to qualify or be in a position to negotiate the best rate/terms.
2. Have critical documentation easily available and kept up-to-date
Create a secure electronic folder, preferably stored online, that house all of your statutory and financial documentation that funders will request from you when you apply for finance.
This includes up to date copies of your company registration documents, shareholder agreement and register, certified copies of member/director IDs and marriage certificates, tax certificate, signed customer contracts, business plan, latest financial statements, up to date management accounts etc. SME lack of finance readiness (i.e. having their documentation available for funders) is a key constraint to being able to access funding.
3. Know your credit score, both your personal credit score as the business owner and your business’s credit score
Our report shows that 61% of entrepreneurs applying for finance don’t know their credit score, yet this is one the primary evaluation components used by funders to determine the risk of lending money to the business.
It’s important that SMEs request their credit scores and address any issues that are negatively affecting them. You are permitted one free credit record per annum from the Credit Bureau. Take time to learn about how the credit system works.
Access to finance
“There are a number of research studies that confirm the link between access to finance and business growth, showing that increased access to funding increases revenue and job growth in SMEs.”— Darlene Menzies, founder of finfind.co.za
Taking A Business Public Can Unlock Its Full Potential
How can business owners continue to create shared value and drive growth beyond the venture capital funding rounds to attract new investors and customers, and unlock the inherent value in their business?
In the context of entrepreneurship, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the start-up phase of a business. But what happens beyond that?
Listing on a stock exchange is often the best way for a business to realise the next phase of its growth ambitions and create opportunities for shareholder and investor diversification.
Listing a company provides a more effective tool to access capital and enhance liquidity than private equity markets, as there is a much larger investor base to tap. Importantly, this pool will also include institutional investors, such as pension and investment funds, most of which are mandated to only invest in listed entities.
Reasons to list
Raised capital can be used to fund expansion or research and development, or meet other capital requirements for acquisitions. Listing creates exit opportunities for founders, shareholders and early-stage investors, and helps to spread the risk of ownership. Other growth opportunities become accessible as lenders can more accurately determine a company’s market value to determine loan-to-asset ratios.
Valuations for potential mergers or acquisitions are more objective. In this regard, a share issuance can be offered as a suitable exchange of value, rather than using cash to make a purchase or acquisition. Listing a business boosts its credibility and brand equity, which is beneficial from a customer perspective.
It helps to attract and retain the best talent from an employee perspective through the implementation of an employee share incentive scheme.
But before a business lists, it is important to consider the commercial benefits and, consequently, if this is an appropriate next step. In this regard, the leadership team must first review the strategy and agree on where the business is in its lifecycle, and where it is going. For any business to be successful, the shared beliefs and purpose of its leadership team must align and there must be consensus among shareholders that the time is right to list.
Consider the trade-offs
Once this point is reached, consider the implications of taking a private company public. Firstly, business owners must understand that they are effectively giving up control of their company. They must also acknowledge that the transition from a private to public company can be difficult, with increased compliance and transparency.
Listing on a stock exchange also raises the public profile of the company. This includes greater oversight from external stakeholders, with strict reporting and disclosure requirements required by the exchange and regulators. These aspects are mandatory to ensure greater transparency, which translates into greater protection for investors.
Meeting compliance requirements
Arriving at this decision therefore requires a thorough due diligence process. This entails meeting financial reporting and minimum regulatory compliance requirements, which have potential cost and administrative implications that can prove challenging, particularly for smaller businesses.
However, it’s imperative to meet these requirements, as this ensures the business will stand up to market scrutiny and that the entity delivers exactly what it promises to investors. It also ensures the business meets the exchange’s corporate governance requirements, complies with the Companies Act, and operates in line with industry best practices.
This due diligence process is also vital if a company hopes to adequately demonstrate value to investors in the open market. This will help listing advisors and sponsors, whose job it is to market your company to potential investors, to more accurately determine if there is appetite for your business.
Institutional and retail investors will use this information to interrogate the business’s value proposition to ascertain the potential for growth following a listing, and determine whether the business model will deliver adequate and sustained returns over the medium to long term.
Need Funding For Your Vision? Give ‘Tasteful Persistence’ A Try
Zuko Tisani’s Legazy is a company that plans six international immersions for mainly start-ups, executives and members of the public. He has managed to grow his business from floundering for funding, to attracting large corporate investors. Here’s how your business can follow suit.
Legazy was launched with the aim of playing a leading role in the South African digital economy by stimulating the trade on African innovation. Legazy is well on its way to increasing the success rate of entrepreneurs through exposure to market access, partners, media and investors. “Before we were consumers and bystanders of industry 4.0,” says founder Zuko Tisani.
“We work with large corporates and Government, speaking their language by understanding what is important to them and not promoting what we think is important,” Zuko explains.
“Our narrative is tailored to fit the specific corporate we speak to. A lot of companies make the mistake of shooting in the dark and send a generic proposal to as many people as possible.
“We also realised the return on investment for content was huge. We are well documented visually and with the corporates that sponsor our projects it makes it easier to get funding because we can tell a unique story, a big story and an emotive one that goes hand-in-hand with our proposal and separates us from others.”
Zuko offers these top tips for start-up funding success:
How do you get people to care enough about your idea to invest?
1. Be very clear about how assisting you benefits them
Human nature is selfish. Win-win is not enough. Think more 51% to 49% — give more than you get. How is your sponsor going to be the winner of the day by supporting you? Always bring it back to the bottom-line. Whether it’s tax benefits, market exposure or adding value to their supply chain, be careful not to oversell because it can close an opportunity before it even opens. Do your homework to find gaps to fulfil or to enhance existing projects. Once you have emailed a specific request, lay out end-to-end how you will use the money and how it will benefit them.
2. Be persistent not pestering
Sending mails to busy stakeholders without response is a norm — try to find other stakeholders, who are more junior and would also have an interest in your project, to assist. Tasteful persistence is mostly rewarded — be delicate but direct in what you want; keep demonstrating you can add value and deserve the sponsorship.
3. Make the vision big and the ask small
It’s important to gain and build trust so take what you are given and build on that.
What steps can your start-up apply when approaching corporates for funding?
1. New is hard to sell and often has tentative buyers in the beginning
However, it’s worse to enter an over-saturated market where differentiation is difficult to see. A lot of entrepreneurs focus on the complete market and say things such as, ‘It’s a $10 billion industry’. Can you skew your value proposition to make a buyer believe it’s unique? And can you capture an upcoming market such as Generation Z (the coming economically empowered generation) in your offering?
2. Paper trails
If you are looking at partnering with a corporate find out where they have put their money before, and what it took for the start-up to gain access to those funds. Also look at the companies similar to yours that are succeeding — where is the money in your sector? This will also inform where you will be wasting your time.
3. It’s all seasonal
Keep a tight watch on when budgets are allocated. A lot of companies will inform you that they’re not in a good position to allocate money. Find a non-financial resource that you can be offered and leverage their partnership to gain financial support with another sponsor.
4. Know the lay of the land
The winner is the one who has the most information. If you are trying to tap into being a supplier for a corporate, know the decision-makers; know the key influencers. Your business is reliant on relationships.
As connection with anyone becomes easier, it’s easier to create solid relationships with decision-makers who can help your business with a signature. But always ensure your proposal offers the greatest value and that you do not only know the decision-maker, but everyone else who is part of supporting the sponsorship.
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