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Innovation

A Short Cut For Corporates To Digital Innovation: Start-ups

Charlie Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Rogerwilco shares his advice for turning to start-ups for solutions.

Charlie Stewart

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If there is one anathema in corporate culture, it is failure. With profit to be made and share prices to increase, failure is simply not an option. And yet, when listening to stories about success in the digital space, failure is there to put one on the right path to success. The phrase ‘Fail fast, Fail often’ is often bandied about, and innovation can be seen as a constant process of iteration, test and failure, repeating this until a well refined service or product is on the table.

Many corporates are waking up to the uncomfortable fact that at a structural level, the type of innovation required to grow in today’s digital landscape, is out of their reach, at least when trying to come up with it internally. So what to do? Charlie Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Rogerwilco shares his advice for turning to start-ups for solutions.

1. The start-up solution

Corporates comfortable in the digital space – Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon – have been buying startups for years, and now companies are realising that when it comes to Blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning, they need to turn elsewhere. And they are. Matt Garratt, Vice President of Salesforce Ventures noted that of the roughly 1500 tech acquisitions Stateside in 2016, half of them were bought by non-tech companies, showing that buying a start-up is a quick way to acquire new technologies, skills or patents.

Related: Why Optimism Isn’t Enough – You Need To Also Accept The Brutal Facts

But purchasing a company with a fully developed product can be an expensive and often risky play. Instead we are beginning to see a trend where corporates are framing agile startups as solution providers, offering them seed funding to come up with answers to digital headaches.

In the US, defence contractor Lockheed Martin has turned its investment strategy around, focusing on young startups instead of more mature companies. In the region of $20 million was ploughed into startups in 2017, helping Lockheed Martin to get a slice of the pie in fast moving spaces such as cybersecurity, autonomous vehicles and nanotechnology.

2. Outsourcing the problem

For corporates turning to start-ups, there are two benefits. Firstly, by doing so companies are casting their net a bit wider, with not only more eyeballs on the problems but, importantly, without the restraints of the corporate boardroom. There is more out-of-the-box thinking involved, no internal politics to worry about and far less of a threat of somebody’s career being jeopardised.

Secondly, if a start-up comes up with a solution, investing in the fledgling company can be cheaper than purchasing one with an established solution. If a buy-out is on the cards, it is less risky too since the due diligence process has been worked through and cultural challenges have been ironed out.

But not all start-ups actually want a buy-out. Some rather prefer access to market and skills transfer, especially around the commercial side of business. Yes, they do need investment, so companies can provide them with a proof of concept to take their idea forward, or potentially a more structured form of investment in their business. 

3. Cape Town: the start-up hub of Africa

Locally, Cape Town can be seen as the tech start-up hub of Africa, and is certainly a good place for corporates to start sniffing around for that digital innovation golden ticket. Events such as last year’s AfricArena conference proved that Cape Town can be a fruitful hunting ground. 80 start-ups from across Africa attended the inaugural event, and were tasked to find solutions to problems provided by corporates beforehand. Air France, for example, was looking for innovative mobile solutions, the City of Cape Town wanted to see how technology can be used to improve the tourism industry, while RCS asked for a loyalty programme to match a new credit programme.

Related: 7 Ingredients Of Small Business Success Online

By all accounts the event was a major success, connecting start-ups with corporates and investors, both attending the event and dialing in. The winner of Air France’s challenge, mobile payment solution provider WeCashUp, received multiple offers of investment and the project has moved on to the proof-of-concept phase.

4. The start-up lifeboat

Many companies need to face up to the fact that the current corporate structure they are working within does not allow for the type of innovation required to adapt to, never mind thrive, in a digital world. South African companies were perhaps sheltered from the digital tsunami that has eviscerated the analogue business world, but the wave has hit our shores. If it is innovation that is needed, it is time to turn to agile startups, far better adapted to a sink-or-swim digital environment, to come up with the solutions.

Charlie Stewart is the CEO of the award-winning digital marketing agency, Rogerwilco. It specialises in SEO, B2B marketing and Drupal web development and represents many international brands and organisations as well as local blue-chips. Along with Mark Eardley he co-authored Business-to-Business Marketing: A Step by Step Guide, published by Penguin in early 2016.

Innovation

Why Smart Business Growth Means Smart IT Budgeting

(…And how to do it)

Colin Thornton

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For any business today, no matter its size or sector, getting the IT budget right has become a critical part of success and sustainability.  The difference between a three-device network and a fifty-device network has significant ramifications for your IT spend and your overall budget outlook.

Let’s take a closer look at several potential costs and how to plan for them…

Network: The driving force

Essentially, the network is the backbone/core of your IT infrastructure. It needs to be reliable, fast and efficient. Often, a young and growing business will have a piecemeal network in place, bolting on new sections over time. This can lead to the network becoming inefficient and slow.

The important thing to note is that when you have reached capacity on your current network, is it’s sometimes better to start from scratch and also leave room for expansion down the line (rather than adding to the existing network as a quick fix).

While it may appear more costly (and scary), the end result is a reliable network that you won’t have to worry about revamping for many years.

Related: How Dial A Nerd Managed To Dial Up Profits

Licensing: Pricey but critical

Software licensing often comes as an unexpected (and unpleasant) cost to many business owners and their financial teams. Indeed, purchasing legal software can be pricey if you aren’t prepared for it (and don’t understand how it all works!). However, if you buy software licenses in bulk, or commit to a longer term, they can cost far less…so again, budgeting intelligently for your business growth can save you money in the long term. Also remember that many software licenses nowadays can be rented on a per user per month basis so its flexible and always up-to-date.

Maintenance: Be realistic

As the business grows and expands, so too will your IT maintenance needs. The key factor to note is to carefully consider the potential costs of IT failures and hardware issues. You need to take into account that you will undoubtedly have to spend money on maintaining your computers and overall network – and breakdowns can be extremely costly in downtime and lost productivity.

Some businesses find that it makes good financial sense to employ someone to be an IT technician in addition to taking on other responsibilities – but this person may not have the right expertise and experience to manage everything. The other increasingly popular option is to outsource your IT management.  With flexible pricing options now available to businesses, this is becoming a viable and often much more flexible route to take.

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Company Posts

Think Beyond The Box

With a holistic view of your business finances and admin in place, Sasfin’s new digital banking platform is engineered to help you grow your business.

Sasfin

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Welcome to the banking platform designed to support your banking needs. In response to more than 50 years of financing and supporting SMEs, Sasfin has launched a digital banking platform, B\\YOND, to help address the pain points and pressures that business owners face in South Africa.

“We’ve spent decades understanding what makes SMEs succeed or fail, and a lot of it begins with how well a business owner understands their finances,” says Sasfin CEO, Michael Sassoon.

“Failed SMEs often tend to either neglect or become completely consumed by their finances and admin. We wanted to create a platform that could help them take control of these factors, and give them a full 360-degree view of their businesses.”

B\\YOND was built to enable businesses to attend to their finances and admin seamlessly, thereby ensuring that entrepreneurs can focus on their clients — driving revenue and enhancing their products and services in the process.

Related: What To Consider When Investing Your (Hard-Earned) Money

Everything you need on one platform

According to Sassoon, entrepreneurs on the B\\YOND platform will never need to set foot in a branch again. The sophisticated technology incorporates many value-added services at no additional cost, including:

  • B\\YOND online applications: Businesses with multiple shareholders and directors can apply online, by uploading documents and signing the application digitally.
  • B\\YOND payroll: A simple-to-use and SARS-compliant payroll function enables business owners to perform their own payroll management.
  • B\\YOND invoicing: Businesses can create and send personalised quotes and invoices directly from the platform.
  • B\\YOND insights: Smart dashboards generated through clever account and transaction classification and tagging helps manage revenue and expenses, and keep track of projects.
  • B\\YOND integrations: Direct-feed integration into Xero ensures that small businesses and their accountants can safely and seamlessly connect their Sasfin Bank transactional data with Xero, the fastest growing cloud-based accounting software provider in the world.

Serving the entrepreneur

While there is much in store for the next versions of B\\YOND, the platform currently offers business leaders the basic tools they need to run their businesses smoothly in one place at no additional cost, with the ability to bank at their convenience.

“Sasfin has always existed to serve the entrepreneur and investor, the two key drivers of the South African economy and it bothers us that there is such a high failure rate of entrepreneurs in our country. We have spent the last three years building B\\YOND — a future-fit digital banking platform to help these entrepreneurs,” says Sassoon.


Engineered for success

Sasfin has gone above and B\\YOND to bring you a new digital banking platform that gives you the tools to make managing your business simple and profitable.

B//YOND is a value-add to all Sasfin Transctional Banking clients

Bank outside the box

The Sasfin Transactional Banking Business Account is designed for SMEs who want to focus on what they’re most passionate about — their business — while their banking platform not only sweats the small stuff for them, but helps manage and grow their business.

  1. Do you spend unnecessary time on banking?
  2. Does your bank pay you market-leading annual interest rates?
  3. Does your bank give you easy cash management in real-time?
  4. Would you like to manage your payroll and invoicing from your bank account?
  5. Does your bank help you keep track of your cash flow, manage your admin, and provide you with the set of tools you need to help run your business successfully?

Sign up today and have access to a whole new world of banking better for your business.

Visit: www.sasfin.com/bank/byond/

Call 0861 SASFIN for more information.

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Innovation

How Amazon Is Keeping It Lean

Amazon spends a lot of money, but it’s also surprisingly lean. Here’s why even successful companies that are scaling quickly should be doing their best to save money where they can.

GG van Rooyen

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Amazon makes an astonishing amount of money. For instance, its third quarter earnings for 2017 was $43,7 billion. But the margin for an e-commerce site like Amazon is notoriously small. Not only do customers demand low prices, but the costs associated with fulfilling these orders are very high. Because of this, the company’s profit during the same period was only $347 million.

On top of this, Amazon also spends a tremendous amount of money on growth and expansion. Its third quarter revenue of $43,7 billion represented growth of 34%, but its profit dipped 40% from $575 million to $347 million. Yet, despite this drop in profitability, Amazon’s share price increased by 7%. Why is this? Investors know how and why Amazon spends money.

Since its inception, the company has focused on three things:

  1. Low prices
  2. Customer service
  3. Long-term success.

And it hasn’t been afraid of spending money in pursuit of this. It took Amazon six years to turn its first profit, and even after that it was rarely profitable. Only since 2015 has the company become consistently profitable.

Related: Why You Should Scrap Writing That Business Plan And Become a Lean Start-Up

This is not because the business model doesn’t work — Amazon would make a fortune if it squirrelled away every cent it earned — but because it is sacrificing immediate profits for long-term success. The only reason its profitability took such as dip in the third quarter of 2017 was because the amount of money the company was investing in growth had quadrupled year on year.

Yes, Amazon spends a lot of money, but here’s the interesting thing

The company is also exceptionally frugal. The important thing to focus on is the nature of Amazon’s spending. It will spend millions (even billions) to improve a fulfilment centre, and it will even slash its profit margin to offer customers better prices, but it won’t waste money on things that don’t improve the company in the eyes of the customer.

Frugality is even one of Amazon’s core ‘Leadership Principles’. “Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense,” the company document states.

When it comes to day-to-day operations, few large organisations run as lean as Amazon. While Google builds funky offices and gives away free food, Amazon does the opposite.

“Bezos enforced strict frugality in Amazon’s daily operations; he made employees pay for parking and required all executives to fly coach,” wrote author Brad Stone in a book on Amazon called The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.

As the years have passed and Amazon has become more financially secure, things haven’t changed much when it comes to frugality

“Evidence of the company’s constitutional frugality is everywhere,” Stone writes about the current state of the company. “Conference room tables are a collection of blonde-wood door-desks shoved together side by side. The vending machines take credit cards, and food in the company cafeterias is not subsidised. When a new hire joins the company, he gets a backpack with a power adapter, a laptop dock, and some orientation materials. When someone resigns, he is asked to hand in all that equipment — including the backpack. The company is constantly searching for ways to reduce costs and pass on those savings to customers in the form of lower prices.”

Related: How You Can Keep Your Start-Up Expenses Lean (For Better Business Survival)

It’s impossible to scale without spending money, but it’s important to pay close attention to exactly what money is being spent on. Scaling means more people, bigger offices and better equipment, but everything you spend money on should result in a better customer experience. Don’t be afraid to spend money on things that will improve the company, but don’t waste money on things customers will never know or care about. Even if you’re scaling quickly and making money, you should be treating expenses like a lean start-up. Don’t accept an expense without questioning its usefulness. That’s just good basic business practice.

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