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How Digicape Was Built From A Love Of Apple Computers And Just R5 000

Robin Olivier launched his first business with two partners and R5 000 between them. He had a wife, a bond and a baby on the way. He also knew that he and his partners had more guts than sense, but they were determined to build their own destinies. They weren’t going to let the fact that they didn’t have a degree between them hold them back. Within ten years they’d built a R140-million

Nadine Todd

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Vital stats

  • Player: Robin Olivier
  • Company: Digicape
  • Position: Co-founder and MD.
  • Launched: 1999
  • Turnover: R240 million
  • What they do: Apple Premium Reseller and customised business solutions provider
  • Visit: digicape.co.za

From a young age Robin Olivier knew he was going to be an entrepreneur. He’d grown up in a single-parent household, and although there was always food on the table, there wasn’t money for luxuries. Robin’s mother had managed to get him into a local semi-private school, and although she wasn’t always able to cover his school fees, he received a good education and a clear view of life on the other side of the fence. Then and there, he promised himself he would make something of his life. And that would be through business ownership.

The problem was that he knew nothing about business. His mother couldn’t share business advice with him, and he didn’t have a father to mentor him. He also didn’t have a business idea. Surfing was his passion and he competed for Western Province.

“I instinctively knew that I didn’t have enough life experience. Passion is critical, but without an idea and some understanding of business, I knew I needed to go out and learn from other people who were running their businesses,” he says.

This is exactly what he did, putting his hand up for any job that needed doing, or skill that needed to be figured out. Robin had one goal: To prepare himself for business ownership. Along the way he not only picked up those skills, but also a passion for Apple computers. By the time he was 29, he was ready to take the plunge with two partners he’d managed in their work servicing Apple products. He had the idea, he knew what he was passionate about and he’d acquired skills. What the three partners didn’t have was money, but they more than made up for that with bravado.

Robin’s only obstacle was convincing his wife, who was six-months pregnant, that it wasn’t a harebrained scheme, and that they would still be able to pay for their bond each month. “I promised her that we were investing in our future. It wasn’t completely honest; I had no idea what would happen. But I worked tirelessly until I made it true.”

And so, with R5 000 between them after their bills had been paid, Robin and his two partners, Ashley Legg and Roberto Ferreira,  launched Coza Digital in 1999. They bought a hard drive, which they needed to back up and service client machines, and a toolkit each. They needed to make enough to each pay their bills by month end. And so, they got to work.

For the love of Apple

apple-products

Today Robin Olivier is the MD of one of two Apple-certified resellers and repair centres in South Africa. Robin’s high school had a computer lab, which meant he was one of a small percentage of South Africans in the late 80s who had some computer skills — but he hated computers.

“Computers didn’t make sense to me. I found them brutal,” he recalls. His first exposure to Apple Macs would be a completely different experience. Coming out of 18 months of mandatory service in the Navy, Robin couldn’t afford university. A friend was studying graphic design; it was 1991, and the course was based on Apple Macs. “I was nervous, because my experience with computers wasn’t great, but I needed to do something, and I didn’t have any better options. Plus, this sounded like fun.”

Robin soon discovered that he loved Apple. “They were easy and intuitive. A whole new world opened up to me.” And even though his first job was in Port Elizabeth as a designer, it was the Apple Mac he worked on that got his attention.

“There were only two Apple Macs in PE at the time. If something went wrong, you were forced to figure things out, and so that’s what I did. I started understanding how the system worked — and it made sense to me.”

Soon, Robin became known as the ‘mac’ guy, an in-house guru who others called for advice. “I ended up being head-hunted by a company that sold and serviced macs. There was a serious shortage of Apple Mac technicians in South Africa, so they picked up anyone who understood the product.”

Robin hadn’t forgotten his earlier ambition to run his own business. He prepared himself for that goal by learning as much as he could about all facets of business. “I recognised that no-one was going to hand me my dream, or the skills I needed. I had to make it happen for myself, and so I put my hand up for everything. I was fearless in that way — I still am. I jump into everything with both feet and then figure it out — that’s how you learn. I spent a few years at the same company, and learnt about tech, sales processes, and how to sell products as solutions. It was never about moving boxes, but walking a path with our customers. The lessons and insights I gained are integral to our business model and sales strategy today.”

By 29 Robin thought he had learnt enough to blaze his own trail, and he found two partners with similar ambitions. “We were cocky, arrogant and ambitious — all we saw were dollar signs,” he says. “We would have taken on the world. We had no idea how tough it would actually be.”

And it was tough. Robin learnt first-hand what he’d always suspected — that without passion it’s difficult to push through the tough times. “We were earning enough to pay our bills and hire a receptionist and book-keeper, but there were months where things were touch and go, and we had to make trade-offs about which bills to pay.

“We had secured a good relationship with an Apple distributor while we were employed, and they were looking for more resellers and partners. If we were prepared to go for it, they would back us to a point. No one asked us for a business plan — thank goodness, because we didn’t have one — and they agreed to give us kit on consignment, which we could pay for when our clients paid us. Without this relationship, we wouldn’t have survived the first six months. We were servicing clients, but we couldn’t afford to provide products that required upfront payment.

“We worked hard to make enough money to pay the bills. We knew our customers would support us because we were skilled. It also helped that in those days everyone was a digital immigrant.”

Curveballs and growth curves

Curveballs and growth curves

Coza Digital’s first big growth curve happened in 2000. The business had been operational for over year, and an opportunity arose to merge with another firm.

“It was a very similar business to ours, focused on Apple support. The owner wanted to exit without abandoning his team. By merging with us, he ensured their job security. The merger doubled our turnover, but it also increased our costs. We now had 15 employees, and their livelihoods were linked to our own. It was a lot more responsibility.”

In 2001, Apple approached Coza Digital and suggested the business merge again. “Apple had launched the iPod — a complete game changer. They wanted the brand to be more mainstream, not only an underground brand for creatives. They launched their first retail store in San Francisco and were focusing on more exposure and presence in international markets.

“In South Africa, businesses that offered Apple support were small and fragmented. There were no big players, and Apple saw this as an issue. They wanted our businesses to grow and be more impactful, and one way to achieve this was through consolidation.

“We started a conversation with Syntech. We were mirrors of each other: Same service and product offerings, similar annual turnovers and staff complements.”

Both companies saw the benefits of merging, and in December 2001 Digicape was launched. “We saw the merger as like for like. Neither of our brands was strong enough to justify keeping the name, so we created a new brand.”

Within weeks they were questioning the move. “While our combined turnover was R8 million, in our first month together we made only R350 000. December is a quiet month, but this was a disaster. What had we done?” On paper, the deal looked good. Both Coza Digital and Syntech had separate and secure client bases.

“We needed to look forward. We had a bad month; it happens. It’s not the best foot to begin a merger on, but it doesn’t mean you throw in the towel.”

Coza had come into the merger with three shareholders, and Syntech had four. But you cannot have seven decision-makers — not if you want an agile, successful business. “We made the decision that there would be two managing partners, one from each business, myself and Graham Greathead Graham, a CA with an MBA — and the only shareholder with a business degree — was MD and I headed up marketing and sales.

“We agreed that being a shareholder didn’t guarantee employment, or a managerial role. Every decision would be for the good of the business, not based on previous positions or current shareholding. Graham and I managed the business and this allowed us to be nimble and swift in our decision-making.”

With these foundations in place, rapid growth started three months into the merger. “We had recognised that we couldn’t bring our old cultures into this new business and expect success. We needed a new culture, and although it took longer than three months to develop and entrench across the organisation, the foundations we were laying stimulated that early growth.

“By the close of 2002 our combined turnover had almost doubled to R14 million.” The growth and change of culture was not without consequences. One of Coza’s founding partners exited. “We had entered a period of hockey-stick growth, and he didn’t want to be in that type of growth-focused environment. We now had six shareholders instead of two blocks of shareholders from the businesses that had merged.”

Wins and losses with the move into retail

digicape-logo

One year into the merger, Digicape entered the retail space. Apple had recently launched its first retail store in San Francisco, and the model was untested in South Africa. “We had a lot of bravado,” admits Robin. “But we understood it was a risk we needed to take if we wanted to continue on our growth curve.”

Robin and his partners recognised that they were selling time. Their value was based on expertise and customer service, but ultimately they were limited by the hours in a day. This is one reason why service-based businesses struggle to increase their margins when they scale — more work equals more hours equals a higher salary bill.

The solution is to also sell products. “We could make the same revenue as six or seven hours of tech service time in minutes with the right sale,” says Robin. In its first month of opening the store, Digicape’s turnover doubled. But, product sales can quickly become commoditised, and Apple product margins are low. This means you need high volumes, and superior support service as a foundation. Time might be limited, but the margins are better, and the barrier to entry is much higher. “Our foundations remain in consulting,” says Robin.

“We understand the importance of our relationships with our customers and the service we provide them. The investment in computers is high, particularly if you run Apples. Downtime is also expensive. As a one stop shop, with a skilled team and support service, we offer exceptional value.

“We also made the decision to invest in Apple accreditations. This is costly and the courses are tough. We send people overseas for training, and pay for them to write their accreditation exams. Apple has deliberately set the bar high. Sometimes it takes two or three attempts to pass an accreditation, and you pay for each attempt.”

The result is that Digicape is one of only two organisations in South Africa that can do warranty repairs on Apple products.

The move into retail also had its downside. In 2008, Digicape opened its first retail store in Johannesburg. The bottom had dropped out of the market, the store’s location was wrong, and it cost the business millions.

The result wasn’t just the loss of millions, but an organisation that was becoming rudderless. At the time, a decision was made to keep all employees on, despite the losses.

“We made the decision rather to work through the challenge. It was an emotional decision and not the best for the people in the business, even though at the time we thought it was.”

The cumulative result was an unhappy, toxic business. Employees were leaving, Graham retired and Robin was voted MD by his fellow directors. He realised Digicape urgently needed to address company culture.

“I wanted to feel energised and happy at work. If we could create a company we wanted to work for, our employees would want to be there too, making magic happen.”

Changing a company’s culture does not happen overnight, particularly when you are a R140-million organisation with 110 employees, and no HR manager.

Building a business to last

robin-digicape

“The old school way of thinking is that you get a salary in exchange for work,” says Robin. “That doesn’t work today. Talented people expect more.

“Customers benefit most when your employees are empowered and engaged. And happy customers are loyal customers, willing to pay more for the value they receive. That benefits the business.”

How do you get employees more engaged and empowered? That’s the question so many business owners struggle with.

“We had to make promises we could deliver. Our people are our biggest assets — it’s a cliché, but for a reason. We needed to make it a promise: You are the most important thing in this business, and we value you. We will show you how much by providing a culture that is healthy and allows you to make mistakes and learn from them.

“It was a big change for us. We needed to be transparent right down to financial performance. It took two years to see a real shift, as trust is built over time and has to be top down. We had to give first, so that our people saw us delivering what we promised.”

For Robin, the aha moment came when he read Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers. “The biggest lesson was that leadership is not about having the best answers. It’s about having the best questions and letting people answer those questions themselves.

“As MD, I had taken on the responsibility of being the person with all the answers. But once I understood the principles behind multipliers, I found that you can empower people to be better versions of themselves, and lessen your burden as well. When leadership coaches and mentors, people respond well and manage themselves. This realisation shifted our business.”

By 2015, Digicape experienced its most profitable year. This was tripled in 2016. The bottom line speaks for itself.

The Success Formula

Robin has a simple formula for success. He calls it the Temple of Success. The foundation is organisational culture. This is the organisational DNA, values and core purpose. Resting on this foundation are three pillars: Finance, strategy and data.

Finance is critical. “We’ve been through cash flow situations. We operate on thin margins. 90% of our product is Apple, and there’s very little room for error. We need to be extremely good at forecasting and targets because cashflow is the lifeblood of our organisation and requires attention and investment in resources.”

Strategy is essential. “Understand the difference between your strategy and your goals. One is the roadmap, the other is how you’re going to get there.” Data pulls it all together.

“One of the things that put us back on the growth path in 2010 was transparency — but in order to achieve this we needed measurement tools to check performance. We were managing accounts after the month ended — you need to do this first. You need to focus on lead indicators, instead of lag indicators. Look forward — not only backwards and where you went wrong or right. What is measured improves, and so you need to ensure that you monitor your business and key metrics. We do this hourly, across the organisation. This means we can react fast and deal with things as they arise — not three months down the line.”


Key insights

In business, learn by looking backwards, but grow by looking forwards

Not everything will work out as planned. After their first merger, Robin, his partners and their new co-owners found themselves with a much lower turnover and higher costs than anticipated. If they’d allowed this to derail them, the business wouldn’t have survived. Instead, they looked forward, focused on integrating the businesses and managed to achieve hockey-stick growth three months later.

Sometimes, bravado beats experience

Throughout Digicape’s launch and growth, Robin and his partners have made bold decisions to move into new spaces without necessarily having the right back-up or experience. They’ve taken the chance, and worked hard to achieve their goals.

Leadership is about letting others be the best versions of themselves

Leadership is not about having the best answers. It’s about having the best questions and letting people answer those questions themselves.


Lessons learnt

  • The Navy taught me to be attentive to detail. I wasn’t a neat freak when I went in, but I was when I came out. That attention to detail has been invaluable in everything I’ve done, particularly with Apple and retail.
  • The Navy also forced us to recognise our faults, which helped me to internalise my strengths and weaknesses. You don’t need to go to the Navy to learn this, but it is a valuable skill. As a business leader or manager you will never be good at everything. If you recognise that, you can focus on your strengths, and delegate the things you aren’t good at to others.
  • If you’re serious about personal growth, put your hand up for anything and everything. I’ve always been fearless in that way. I jump into everything with both feet and then figure it out — that’s how you learn.
  • You have to be passionate about what you do. Passion gets you through the dark times, and there will be dark times. Why are you doing this? Without passion you can’t answer that question when you need it most. Profit is the ideal outcome, but should never be the goal.
  • Make decisions for the majority, not the minority, and don’t allow pride to cloud your judgement. We’ve needed to make difficult calls, but not making them has hurt the business more. We needed to consolidate. It took us too long to realise that, but once we had, the business and our employees were far better off. Putting off the tough choice just made things tougher for everyone.

Listen to the podcast

matt-brown-podcast

Matt Brown interviews Robin Olivier and discusses how DigiCape was launched, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, how entrepreneurs can become better leaders and the steps to building a large-scale organisation. To listen to the podcast, go to mattbrownmedia.co.za/matt-brown-show or find the Matt Brown Show on iTunes or Stitcher.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

6 Lesson Gems From Appanna Ganapathy That Helped Him Launch A High-Growth Start-Up

Twenty years after first wanting to own a business, Appanna Ganapathy launched ART Technologies, a business he aims to grow throughout Africa, starting with Kenya thanks to a recently signed deal with Seacom. As a high-growth entrepreneur with big plans, Appanna spent two decades laying the foundations of success — and now he’s starting to collect.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

Like many entrepreneurs before him, Appanna Ganapathy hadn’t even finished school and he was already thinking about his first business venture. A friend could secure the licensing rights to open Nando’s franchises in Mozambique, and they were very keen on the idea — which Appanna’s mom quickly dampened. “You can do whatever you want,” she said. “As long as you finish your degree first.”

Unlike many other entrepreneurs however, Appanna not only finished his degree, but realised that he had a lot of skills he needed to develop and lessons to learn before he’d be ready to launch the business he wanted.

“We launched ART Technologies just over two years ago. If I had started any earlier, I don’t think I would have been as successful as I am now,” he says.

Here are six key lessons that Appanna has learnt along his journey, which have allowed him to launch a high-growth start-up that is positioned to make an impact across Africa.

1. You don’t just need a product – you need clients as well

Business success is the ability to design and execute a great product and solution, and then be able to sell it. Without sales, there is no business. This is a lesson Appanna learnt while he was still at university.

“I was drawn to computers. I loved figuring out how they worked, playing computer games — everything about them,” he says. “My parents lived in Mozambique, and during my holidays I’d visit them and a friend who had a computer business. I helped him assemble them and thought I could do this too while I was studying. I convinced my dad to buy me a car so that I could set up my business — and never sold or assembled a single computer. I delivered pizzas instead.”

So, what went wrong? The simple truth was that at the time Appanna had the technical skills to build computers, but he lacked the ability to sell his product.

“If someone had said, ‘I’ve got an order for 30 computers’, I would have filled it — but to go out and get that order — I didn’t really even know where to start.”

2. Price and solution go hand-in-hand

As much as you need the ability to sell your solution, you also need a market that wants and needs what you’re offering, at a price point that works for everyone.

In 2007, Appanna was approached by a former supplier whom he had worked with while he was based in Mozambique. The supplier had an IT firm and he wanted to expand into South Africa. He was looking for a local partner who would purchase equity shares in the company and run the South African business.

“I loved the opportunity. This was something I could build from the ground up, in an area I understood well,” says Appanna. The firm set up and managed IT infrastructure for SMEs. The value proposition was simple: “We could offer SMEs a service that they could use for a relatively low cost, but that gave them everything an enterprise would have.”

The problem was that although Appanna and his team knew they had a great product, they were competing on price with inferior products. “If we couldn’t adequately unpack the value of our solution, an SME would choose the cheaper option. It was a big lesson for me to learn. It doesn’t matter how good the solution is that you’re offering — if it’s not at a price point that your target market accepts, they won’t choose you.”

It was this understanding that helped Appanna and his team develop the Desktop-as-a-Service solution that ART Technologies now offers the SME market.

“While I was developing the idea and the solution, I needed to take three key things into account: What do SMEs need from an IT infrastructure perspective, what is the most cost-effective way to offer them that solution, and what will the market pay (and is it enough to cover our costs and give us a small profit margin)?”

Appanna’s experience in the market had already taught him how cost-conscious SMEs are, and so he started developing a solution that could deliver value at a price point SMEs could accept. His solution? A unique Desktop-as-a-Service product that combines all the processing power and Microsoft products a business needs, without any capex outlay for servers or software.

“It’s a Cloud workstation that turns any device into a full Windows computer,” Appanna explains. “We hold the licences, and our clients just access our service. A set-up that would cost between R180 000 and R200 000 for 15 users is now available for R479 per user per month.”

It took Appanna and his partners time to build the solution, but they started with the price point in mind, which meant a solution could be designed that met their needs as well as the needs of the market.

“Too many businesses set everything up, invest in the solution, and then discover they can’t sell their product at the price point they need. My time in the market selling IT and infrastructure solutions gave me invaluable insights into what we needed to deliver on, and what we could realistically charge for our service.”

3. Get as much on-the-ground experience as you can

appanna-ganapathy-art-technologies

The time that Appanna spent building the IT firm he was a part-owner of was invaluable. “I started as a technical director before being promoted to GM and running the company for three and a half years. Those years were very, very important for me. They’re where I learnt everything about running a business.

“When I started, I was responsible for sales, but I didn’t have to actually go out and find clients, I just had to meet them, compile quotes and handle the installations. Everything I did was under the guidance of the company’s CEO, who was based in Mozambique. Being the guy who did everything was the best learning ground for me. It set me up for everything I’m doing today. In particular, I learnt how to approach and deal with people. Without people and clients your business is nothing.”

Appanna didn’t just learn by default — he actively worked to expand his understanding of all facets of the business. “At the time I wasn’t planning on leaving to launch my own business,” he says. “I was a shareholder and I wanted to grow that business. That meant understanding as much as possible about how everything worked. If there was something I wasn’t sure of — a process, the numbers, how something worked — I asked. I took personal responsibility for any errors and got involved in every aspect of the business, including areas that weren’t officially ‘my job’. I wanted to really grow and support the business.”

4. Stay focused

Interestingly, while the experience Appanna has accumulated throughout his career has allowed him to build a high-growth start-up, it also taught him the importance of not wearing too many hats as an entrepreneur.

“I’m glad I’ve had the experience of wearing multiple hats, because I’ve learnt so much, but I’ve also learnt that it’s important to pick a lane, not only in what you do as a business, but in the role you play within your business. I also race superbikes in the South African Kawasaki ZX-10 Cup; through this I have learnt how important it is to focus in the moment without distractions and this is a discipline I have brought into the business.”

“If you’re the leader of an organisation, you need to let things go. You can’t be everything to everyone. When I launched ART Technologies, I knew the key to growth would be the fact that although I’m technical, I wasn’t going to run the technical side of the business. I have strong technical partners whom I trust, and there is an escalation framework in place, from tech, to tech manager, to the CTO to me — I speak tech and I’m available, but my focus is on strategy and growth. I believe this is the biggest mistake that many start-ups make. If you’re wearing all the hats, who is looking at where you’re going? When you’re down in the trenches, doing everything, it’s impossible to see the bigger picture.”

Appanna chose his partners carefully with this goal in mind.

“All the partners play a very important role in the business. Ruaan Jacobs’s strength is in the technical expertise he brings to the business and Terry Naidoo’s strength is in the support services he provides to our clients. Terry is our technical manager. He has the most incredible relationship with our customers — everyone wants to work with Terry. But there’s a problem with that too — if we want to scale this business, Terry can’t be the technical point for all of our customers.

“As partners we have decided what our blueprint for service levels will be; this is based on the way Terry deals with clients and he is developing a technical manual that doesn’t only cover the tech side of the business, but how ART Technologies engages with its customers.

“Terry’s putting his essence down on paper — a step-by-step guide to how we do business. That’s how you build a service culture.”

5. Reputation, network and experience count

Many start-ups lack three crucial things when they launch: Their founders haven’t built up a large network, they don’t have a reputation in the market, and they lack experience. All three of these things can (and should) be addressed during start-up phase, but launching with all three can give the business a valuable boost.

Appanna learnt the value of networks at a young age. Born in India, he moved to Zambia with his family as a young child. From there he moved to Tanzania and then Mozambique, attending boarding school in Swaziland and KwaZulu Natal. At each new school, he was greeted by kids who had formed strong bonds.

“I made good friends in those years, but at each new school I recognised how important strong bonds are, particularly as the outsider.”

Appanna’s early career took him back to Mozambique, working with the UN and EY on various projects. When he moved to South Africa, as a non-citizen he connected with his old boss from the UN who offered him a position as information officer for the Regional Director’s team.

His next move would be to the tech company that he would run for just over three years — also the product of previous connections. “Who you know is important, but how you conduct yourself is even more so,” says Appanna. “If your reputation in the market place is good, people will want to do business with you.”

Appanna experienced this first hand when he left to launch his own business. “Some key clients wanted to move with me,” he says. “If I had brought them in it would have settled our business, but I said no to some key customers who hadn’t been mine. I wasn’t ethically comfortable taking them with me.”

One of those multinational clients approached Appanna again six months later, stating they were taking their business out to tender and that they were hoping ART Technologies would pitch for it. “Apart from the Desktop-as-a-Service product, we also provide managed IT services for clients, particularly larger enterprise clients. Due to the client going out on tender and requesting for us to participate, we pitched for the business and won. The relationship with this client has grown, allowing us to offer them some of our services that they are currently testing to implement throughout Africa.”

“I believe how we conduct ourselves is essential. You need your own personal code of ethics, and you need to live by it. Business — particularly in our environment — is built on trust. Our customers need to trust us with their data. Your reputation is key when it comes to trust.”

Interestingly, although Appanna and his team developed their product based on a specific price point, once that trust is built and a certain standard of service is delivered, customers will pay more.

6. Start smart and start lean

Appanna was able to launch ART Technologies with the savings he and his wife, Kate, had put aside. He reached a point where he had ideas he wanted to take to market, but he couldn’t get his current business partners to agree to them — and so setting up his own business became inevitable.

Although he was fortunate to have savings to bootstrap the business, it was essential for the business to be lean and start generating income as quickly as possible. This was achieved in a number of ways.

First, Appanna and Kate agreed on a start-up figure. They would not go beyond it. “We had a budget, and the business needed to make money before that budget was reached.” The runway Appanna gave himself was only six months — highly ambitious given the 18-month runway most start-ups need. “Other than my salary we broke even in month three, which actually extended our runway a bit,” says Appanna.

Appanna had a server that he used to start with, and purchased a second, bigger server four months later. He also launched another business one month before launching ART Technologies — ART Call Management, a virtual PA services business that needed a PABX system, some call centre technology and two employees.

“I’d been playing around with the idea for a while,” says Appanna. “We were focused on SMEs, and I started noticing other challenges they faced. A lot of entrepreneurs just have their cellphones, but they aren’t answering them as businesses — it’s not professional.

“In essence we sell minutes — for R295 you get 25 incoming calls and 50 minutes of transferred calls. We answer the phone as your receptionist, transfer calls and take messages. How you use your minutes is up to you. For example, if you supply the leads, we can cold call for you. ART Technologies uses the call management business as a reception service and to do all of our cold calling. It’s kept the business lean, but it’s also brought in an income that helped us with our runway.” In 2017 ART Call Management was selected as one of the top ten in the SAGE-702 Small Business Awards.

The only problem with almost simultaneously launching two businesses is focus. “It’s incredibly important to know where you’re putting your focus,” says Appanna. “The call management business has been essential to our overall strategy, but my focus has been pulled in different directions at times, and I need to be conscious of that. The most important thing for any start-up is to know exactly where your focus lies.”


Into Africa

Thanks to a distribution deal signed locally with First Distribution, ART Technologies was introduced to Seacom, which has available infrastructure in a data centre in Kenya.

“It’s a pay-per-client model that allows us to pay Seacom a percentage of every client we sign up,” says Appanna. “First Distribution will be our sales arm. They have a webstore and resellers, and we will be opening ART Kenya with a shareholder who knows the local market.”

From there, Appanna is looking to West Africa and Mauritius. “We have the product and the relationship with Seacom gives us the foothold we need to grow into East Africa.”

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Kid Entrepreneurs Who Have Already Built Successful Businesses (And How You Can Too)

All over the world kids are abandoning the traditional notion of choosing a career to pursue until retirement. Gen Z aren’t looking to become employable job-seekers, but creative innovators as emerging business owners.

Diana Albertyn

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Do kids have an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to starting and building a company? It depends on how you look it. Juggling school, friends, family and other aspects of childhood and adolescence comes with its own requirements, but perhaps this is the best age to start.

“Being an entrepreneur means having to learn, focus, and connect to people and these are all traits that are valuable throughout life. Learning this when you are young is especially crucial, and will set you up for success and to be more open to other opportunities,” says billionaire investor, Shark Tank personality and author Mark Cuban.

Here are some of the most successful kidpreneurs who have cashed in on their hobbies, interests and needs to start and grow million dollar businesses borne from passion and innovation:

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Entrepreneur Profiles

30 Top Influential SA Business Leaders

Learn from these South African titans of industry to guide you on your entrepreneurial journey to success.

Nicole Crampton

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Entrepreneurship is said to be the answer to South Africa’s unemployment challenges and slow growth, but to foster entrepreneurship we ideally need business leaders to impact grass root efforts. Business leadership is vital to improved confidence and growth. These three titans of global industry say:

  • “As we look ahead, leaders will be those who empower others.” – Bill Gates
  • “Leaders are also expected to work harder than those who report to them and always make sure that their needs are taken care of before yours.” – Elon Musk
  • “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” – Steve Jobs

Here are 30 top influential SA business leaders forging the path towards a prosperous South African future.

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