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Demographica Appeared In Entrepreneur 5 Years Ago. Today The Business Model Looks Very Different. Here’s Why

Demographica has been around for a decade, and in that time the company has enjoyed tremendous growth, quadrupling its turnover in the last two years alone, thanks to its ability to navigate some unexpected detours along the way.

GG van Rooyen

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Demographica is almost exactly ten years old now. It first appeared in the pages of Entrepreneur five years ago in 2011, when the company was riding a wave of success.

Most of its success was coming from its SA Consumer Initiative (SACI) — an opt-in database of 3,5 million users that it offered to clients looking to engage in direct marketing. Some of its clients included Shoe City, Telesure, Nissan, HP, Look & Listen, Marmite and the AA.

Fast forward to 2016, however, and the company looks very, very different. It is larger and more successful than ever, but nothing remains of the once-central SACI database.

Today, the company focuses on business-to-business (B2B) advertising and niche market advertising. It also fulfils a far more strategic role for clients, no longer simply selling a database, but playing a central role in the creation of marketing strategies.

Related: Entrepreneur BB Moloi’s Inspiring Story of Rise To Success Through Grit And Hard Work

Of course, things could have ended very differently. For every successful company like Demographica that manages to reinvent itself, there are countless others that showed tremendous promise for a brief while, but then went under. So how did Demographica succeed?

1It wasn’t afraid to pivot

Just about every start-up pivots in its first year or two. As Steve Blank, the godfather of the lean start-up movement has said: “No business plan survives first contact with customers.”

In fact, there are plenty of examples of successful start-ups that ended up being something completely different from what was initially intended. Twitter started out as a podcast directory. Pinterest was a shopping app. Android (now part of Google) wanted to create a range of smart cameras.

Pivoting in the first few years of a business is nothing special. It happens all the time. But what about more established businesses? The fact of the matter is, just about every successful business needs to pivot at some stage.

No product remains relevant for decades. And when an entire industry is disrupted, massive change is needed within a company in order to survive. Just consider Apple. If it had stuck to creating desktop computers it would probably have disappeared ages ago. Most of its money now comes from smartphones. Similarly, Google wouldn’t be nearly the behemoth it is today if it had just focused on its search engine.

Look at companies that have been around half a century or more, and you find that many started life doing something very different. For more than a decade, Starbucks simply sold coffee beans and espresso machines. Nokia (a company again in need of a pivot) started life in 1865 as a Finnish paper mill. From 1910 to 1935, Suzuki produced weaving looms.

The companies that survive long-term are the ones that can see massive disruption heading down the pipeline, and manage to react quickly and efficiently to this existential threat. Not long after speaking to Entrepreneur in 2011, Demographica founder Warren Moss realised that the company would need to change the nature of its business fundamentally.

“Things like the Consumer Protection Act and the Protection of Personal Information Act were coming into being, so I realised that a database service like ours would come under threat. If we wanted to keep going, we would have to change the business,” says Moss.

The direction that Demographica had to take was quite obvious. “We weren’t simply sending out emails. We were constantly solving problems for clients. Our clients were asking us for help, and we were starting to build a reputation as a business that could provide advice and insight on a strategic level. We realise this was an area we could focus on, and so we started to turn into more of an agency, with a focus on direct marketing.”

Related: NicHarry’s R100 Million Business Plan

2It found a niche

Warren Moss

There are plenty of advertising and marketing agencies out there, so establishing itself in this arena wasn’t easy. Luckily, though, Moss had spotted a niche that he believed was being under-serviced.

“In order to grow and dominate an industry, you need to either be very disruptive, or own a niche. The tipping point for Demographica came when it managed to carve out a significant niche for itself,” says Moss. “Since doing that, the company has grown 200%.”

This niche was B2B marketing. “None of the large agencies bothered with B2B marketing,” says Moss. “They all focused on the consumer side of things. So we decided to become the leader in the B2B space.”

Moss visited the United States and Europe and found a very healthy and established B2B marketing industry that didn’t really exist in South Africa.

“I visited all these large and established B2B agencies overseas. B2B was a large industry,” says Moss.

“So I decided to try and make Demographica the greatest B2B agency in Africa. So, as we grew into a direct marketing company, we also started to move away from B2C, and more towards B2B. It wasn’t always easy. We still get asked to pitch for large consumer campaigns, and it’s tempting because of the money, but you need to be firm. If you want to own a niche, you need to focus. Everything you choose to do has a certain opportunity cost that comes with it. The greatest advice I ever received was to find the one thing I can be the best in the world at and to focus on it. That’s how you become a market leader — not by allowing yourself to lose focus.”

3It has a unique business model

Why had other companies not tried to own the B2B space prior to Demographica? “The margins weren’t big enough,” says Moss. “Agencies could make more money by focusing on B2C.”

Demographica, however, could make money in the B2B space because it had a very different business model.

“We didn’t start out as an agency, so we didn’t really know how things were ‘supposed’ to be done. In a way, our naivety was a benefit. Instead of billing for time, which is what most agencies do, we adopted an outcomes-based model. The client would describe a desired outcome and agree on a price, and it would be our job to make it happen. This meant we could have healthy margins, provided we found an efficient way of reaching the client’s desired outcome,” says Moss.

Moss also made the decision to hire a different kind of employee. When it came to client service personnel, Demographica started hiring high-level professionals, such as lawyers and business people, instead of traditional client service people.

Related: RocoMama’s 7 Lessons To Remain On Top Of Your Game With Customers

“We decided to hire the most senior people we could find, and not necessarily the cheapest, or even those with the most client-service experience. We wanted people who could deal with pressure and deadlines, and who were used to dealing with clients at a very high level. We wanted strategic thinkers who could become trusted advisors to clients,” says Moss.

The aim was not to be just another agency, but to operate on a different level — to offer what others couldn’t.

“You never want to compete on price. You want to offer the kind of value that clients can’t find anywhere else, and that they are willing to pay for.”

With this in mind, Demographica goes above and beyond to offer the kind of insights that can’t be found anywhere else. The company is the largest employer of anthropologists in South Africa, for example, and regularly sends these experts out to embed themselves within the target demographic of a client.

“When it comes to B2B, your target audience for a campaign might be financial directors at large corporates. That’s a narrow demographic, which allows you to dig very deep. On the consumer side, you’re dealing with millions of people who are all very different, so you can’t offer the same service,” says Moss.

4It knows how to scale

Demographica

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“Expanding into Africa seems like an obvious next step for us, but every time the discussion comes up, I ask: Have we mopped up everything at home? Have we won all our home games? I don’t think it’s wise to expand and look further until you completely dominate a space. Once you can honestly say that you dominate your home market, you mitigate a lot of risk that comes with growth,” says Moss.

For Demographica, it’s all about managed growth. “Setting big targets is risky,” says Moss. “Entrepreneurs like to go for it. If they see a large target, they’re going to try and achieve it. But explosive growth can be dangerous. I like to set achievable goals.”

So far, the strategy has worked very well for Demographica. It has managed to increase its revenue without adding too much complexity to the business.

“It all comes down to economies of scale,” says Moss. “We operate successfully in the B2B space because of healthy margins, and we achieve these margins because we work efficiently. The growth of our revenue outstrips the growth of our expenses. To me, that’s what managed growth is. In contrast, explosive growth brings with it a lot of complexity. It can be impressive in the short-term, but hard to manage in the long-term.

“Technology has been invaluable within Demographica, and is a great example of how you can increase revenue without necessarily having to add complexity. I’m still involved in a lot of the sales in the business. Once upon a time, I could only manage about 15 deals at any given time, since I couldn’t keep track of any more than that. Now, thanks to CRM software we’ve implemented, I can manage 50 or 60. It shows you how you can leverage technology to scale successfully. Without this software, we’d need more sales people. With it, we can increase our margins even further.”

Related: 101 Efficiency Hacks For Busy Entrepreneurs

Key learnings

  • You’re never too big to pivot. Long-term success demands foresight and agility.
  • Find a niche and own it. Don’t allow yourself to be defocused.
  • Find a business model that works for you. Be creative. Add value, don’t cut price.
  • Don’t scale too quickly. Manage your growth and aim for long-term sustainability.

Do this

To be the best, you have to hire the best. Often the most interesting candidates come from outside your industry and bring unique skills with them.

Lessons Learnt

Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Have a plan in place for your money, no matter how much you earn.

Christopher Tracy

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Seven-figure pay cheques are enough to buy a lifetime of financial security, right? Well, not exactly. Despite making millions, seemingly wealthy celebrities often have a tough time keeping their heads above the financial waters.

Johnny Depp spending $3 million to fire Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes out of a cannon, or Nicholas Cage shelling out $150,000 for a pet octopus, are both prime examples of how lavish lifestyles can quickly lead to debt. The two A-listers are part of a long list of actors, musicians, athletes, etc. – including Floyd Mayweather, 50 Cent and Curt Schilling – who have all experienced financial troubles.

While there’s nothing wrong with celebrities enjoying their earnings, a little budgeting can go a long way. Just take a look at Tori Spelling. After failing to pay a balance of more than $35,000, the actress was taken to court by American Express. Another example is 80s movie star Corey Haim. He became so desperate for cash after filing for bankruptcy he tried to sell his own tooth on eBay for $150, which didn’t get any buyers.

Avoid falling into any of these situations by keeping a close eye on your spending. Regardless of how much you make, the following few budgeting tips promise to help you practice safe and responsible money management.

Put a plan in place

mike-tyson-tigers

Nearly everyone lose sleep over their finances. Get a good night’s rest by figuring out where your money should be going long before it’s in your bank account. Spending without a plan, even if it’s only splurging on a one-time event, can have unintended consequences.

Related: 6 Money Management Tips For First-Time Entrepreneurs

One example of this is former NFL star Vince Young – after dropping $300,000 on his own birthday party he was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Another example is Mike Tyson, who went into debt after overspending on Bengal tigers, 110 cars and a $2-million bathtub.

That doesn’t mean you can never treat yourself, but make sure you’re not spending money faster than you can earn it. Set up a series of “fun funds” each month to splurge on nonessentials. Depending on what else you have going on that month, each fund should be adjusted accordingly.

If, for example, you’re heading out to a friend’s wedding, there may be a little less left over for eating out. Stay up to date on your spending by downloading a budgeting app. The easier it is to see where you are for that month, the better chance you have of staying under budget.

Carry around some cash

Credit cards are becoming the most common payment method among consumers. The average American currently carries around three credit cards at any given time. While they may be more convenient, credit cards can easily lure consumers into a false sense of security.

After all, a simple swipe or tap is often all it takes to complete a purchase. However, it’s important to take time to research any costly items thoroughly and ensure you won’t regret them like Nicholas Cage. He learned this lesson the hard way when he blew $276,000 on a dinosaur skull that he was forced to return after it was discovered to be an illegal import.

Curb some of your impulse spending during a night out by bringing enough cash for the occasion. In addition to avoiding spending money you don’t have, you’ll also sidestep costly ATM fees at establishments that only accept cash.

Whether it means stopping by your bank on the first of every month or getting cash back at the grocery store, do whatever it takes to have a little bit of cash on hand. As you cut back on credit card purchases, your chances of falling into debt should begin to dwindle.

Lean on an expert

hugh-jackman

When it comes to your finances, take a lesson from the likes of OprahTyga and Hugh Jackman, who invest in financial and life coaches. Many celebrities, including Oprah, attribute their success to their coaches helping put them on the right path. Even celebrities are human and can find it difficult to stick to budgeting goals.

Personalised features of a comprehensive coaching programme, such as daily check-in texts and bi-weekly budget reviews, promise to provide you with the encouragement needed to remain accountable even as the going gets tough.

Better yet, a financial coach can take your individual goals into account. Say you decide to start a family or need to make a cross-country move. Instead of wondering what that might mean for your budget, you can work with a financial coach to modify your spending habits and investments long before a change comes to fruition.

Related: 15 Wise Money Quotes From Millionaires And Billionaires

Budgeting goes beyond class. No matter how much you make, responsible money management has shown itself to be a necessity. Avoid following in the footsteps of celebrities who face serious financial trouble by keeping a close eye on where your money is going.

As we’ve seen all too often, failing to do so can mean losing millions. Simple steps – including creating a spending plan, occasionally relying on cash and reaching out to an expert – can help you achieve financial security sooner rather than later.

And if you plan carefully enough, you might just end up with the funds you need for that pet octopus.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Related: 6 Habits Long-Time Millionaires Rely On To Stay Rich

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The 5-Hour Rule Used By Bill Gates, Jack Ma And Elon Musk

The most successful people on the planet are also the people likeliest to devote an hour a day to reading and learning.

John Rampton

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You just walked in the door from an exhausting day at work. You’re hungry and spent, just wanting to catch your breath for a minute. You grab something to eat and then veg out in front of the TV. Next thing you know, you’ve just binge-watched five episodes of “Jessica Jones.”

While that’s OK occasionally – we all need ways to decompress and shut down – this isn’t a healthy habit. That’s why the most successful people in the world spend their free time learning.

It’s not exactly breaking news. During his five-year study of more than 200 self-made millionaires, Thomas Corley found that they don’t watch TV. Instead, an impressive 86 percent claimed they read – but not just for fun. What’s more, 63 percent indicated they listened to audiobooks during their morning commute.

Productivity expert Choncé Maddox writes, “It’s no secret that successful people read. The average millionaire is said to read two or more books per month.”

As such, she suggests everyone “read blogs, news sites, fiction and non-fiction during downtime so you can soak in more knowledge.” If you’re frequently on the go, listen to audiobooks or podcasts.

Related: 6 Leadership Lessons From Bill Gates On His 60th Birthday

Maybe you’re thinking: Who has the time to sit down and actually read? Between work and family, it’s almost impossible to find free time. As an entrepreneur and a father, I can relate – but only to an extent. After all, if Barack Obama could fit in time to read while in the White House, what excuse do you have? He even credits books to surviving his presidency.

President Obama is far from the only leader to credit his success to reading. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk, Mark Cuban and Jack Ma are all voracious readers. As Gates told The New York Times, reading “is one of the chief ways that I learn, and has been since I was a kid.”

Breaking down the five-hour rule

The five-hour rule was coined by Michael Simmons, founder of Empact. The concept is wonderfully simple: No matter how busy successful people are, they always “set aside at least an hour a day (or five hours a week) over their entire career for activities that can be classified as deliberate practice or learning.”

Simmons traces this phenomenon back to Ben Franklin. “Throughout Ben Franklin’s adult life, he consistently invested roughly an hour a day in deliberate learning. I call this Franklin’s five-hour rule: One hour a day on every weekday,” Simmons wrote.

For Franklin, his learning time consisted of waking up early to read and write. He established personal goals and tracked his results. In the spirit of today’s book clubs, he created a club for “like-minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.” He also experimented with his new information and asked reflective questions every morning and evening.

The three buckets of the five-hour rule

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Today’s successful leaders have embraced Franklin’s five-hour rule by breaking the rule into three buckets.

1. Read: 

Self-made millionaires including Mark Cuban and Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, read between one and three hours daily. Elon Musk learned how to build rockets, which lead to SpaceX, by reading.

Besides expanding your knowledge, Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, says that “reading can give you a good head start; this is often what your peers cannot obtain. Compared to others, readers are more likely to know other industries’ strategies and tactics.”

Related: 20 Crazy Things We’ve Learned About Alibaba Billionaire Jack Ma

Even if you can’t commit to an hour or more of reading every day, start with 20 to 30 minutes. I always have a book with me so when I’m waiting for a meeting to start or in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, I can read instead of waste time on my smartphone. You could also try audiobooks during your daily commute or when exercising.

So how do they find the time to read daily? They adhere to the five-hour rule.

2. Reflect: 

Other times, the five-hour rule includes reflecting and thinking. This could be just staring at the wall or jotting down your thoughts. Jack Dorsey and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner are well-known thinkers, while entrepreneur Sara Blakely is a longtime journaler.

Focusing on the past gives you a chance to learn from mistakes you’ve made, as well as assess what you did correctly. As a result, you’ll be better suited to achieve your goals and improve your life. The University of Texas also found that mental rest and reflection improves learning.

Need help getting started? Schedule reflection time in your planner. I’ve found blocking out 15 to 20 minutes after lunch is ideal because I’m coming out of that post-lunch slump. But start small: Allocate five or 10 minutes per day, and then work your way up so you’re not overwhelmed.

Know the questions you want to ask. Stick with just two or three questions focused on that specific day. For example, if you attended a conference, ask, “What were the key takeaways?” and “How can I apply this to my business?”

3. Experiment: 

The third and final bucket is rapid experimentation. Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison became leading inventors and thinkers because of their experiments. We have Gmail because Google allowed employees to experiment with new ideas.

The reason experiments are so useful is because you have facts, not assumptions. Experiments show you what’s working. You can learn from your mistakes and obtain feedback from others. Best of all, experimentation isn’t that time-consuming. Most of the time, you’re testing through the same activities you’d perform without testing.

Jack Ma even recommends applying the knowledge you’ve learned to a real-life scenario. For example, after reading a book about collaboration and teamwork, you could take on new volunteer work to put that knowledge to use.

When you make learning a habit, you’ll be more successful and productive in life. By investing in a reading habit, you can ensure you’re growing yourself – and your company – every day.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Read next: What Elon Musk Can Teach You About Getting Funding for Your Start-up

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How Matthew Piper And Karidas Tshintsholo Launched Their First Business From Their UCT Dorm Rooms

Matthew Piper and Karidas Tshintsholo launched their first business in their first year at varsity. They found a niche, but they also realised it wasn’t as sustainable as they’d like, or solving a big enough problem. Their next start-up, KHULA, is through its proof of concept phase and proving that two young entrepreneurs can find big solutions for even bigger problems.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Matthew Piper and Karidas Tshintsholo
  • Company: KHULA
  • Launched: 2016
  • Visit: www.khula.co.za 

You don’t always hit your game-changing idea on your first take. In fact, most start-ups look very different after a few pivots and course corrections.

If you have a real sense of purpose however, and know that ultimately you want to build your own company and hopefully change lives in the process, each of those adjustments will bring you closer to a sustainable business.

Matthew Piper and Karidas Tshintsholo (both 24), have learnt these lessons first hand. The business they launched together while studying finance at the University of Cape Town is very different from the business they’re running today, but it’s the lessons they’ve learnt over the past five years that have helped them to bootstrap an 18-month pilot project proving their business model, and find a solution to a systemic problem that will hopefully change hundreds — and eventually thousands and even hundreds of thousands — of lives.

Related: Watch List: 20 SA Tech Entrepreneurs Making It Big In The Industry

University start-ups

Matthew and Karidas launched their first business, Money Tree, from their UCT dorm rooms. “We recognised the realities of South Africa and that financial inclusion is one of the biggest barriers to any kind of growth facing our country,” says Matthew. The business partners met through the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, for which they had both been selected.

They wanted to start a business that would solve a real, endemic problem. As finance students, financial literacy seemed the best fit.

“We were both studying finance and interested in investing, and the business actually started out as a hobby,” says Karidas. “We wanted to share what we were learning in class and through our own research with anyone who was interested. We started a website and posted videos and content and shared it with other students.”

Once they had the platform up and running, the budding entrepreneurs strategised how they could take it to other universities and high schools. “We wanted to monetise what we were doing instead of just sharing insights,” says Matthew.

“So, we got our friends together and created a group of about 20 students from all over South Africa. Everyone went home for the December holidays, but universities go back a full month after schools. This gave us four weeks to go on a national roadshow, visiting 50 schools, sharing financial literacy lessons with their students and adding them to our network.”

Next, the young entrepreneurs met with a printing house, and convinced them to print a magazine without an upfront payment. “Our plan was to approach financial institutions who would sponsor the magazine, which was aimed at financial literacy for students,” says Karidas.

But, the magazines arrived before the funding came through, and Matthew recalls writing his first exam and returning to boxes of magazines at his door. “We started getting calls from lawyers and people wanting their money, but we didn’t have any funding,” says.

“We needed to go all out,” says Karidas. “We were calling everyone we knew and going to as many events as possible. At one of those events — hosted at the Reserve Bank — we met someone interested in investing in us. He put up our initial capital, which was how we were subsequently able to do more roadshows and build a network of universities and high schools. We ended up with an incredible network of ambassadors and a quarterly magazine, which ran for two years.”

Lessons learnt and changes made

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It wasn’t smooth sailing though. The magazine’s margins were low, and the young entrepreneurs were aware that the concept was a hard sell: Students didn’t have money and the corporates that were able to pay did so from CSI budgets. “CSI initiatives tend to be project-based, and we didn’t want to base our whole business model on them. We knew it wasn’t sustainable,” says Karidas.

Money Tree had also done some business with Government. “We waited 14 months to be paid.”

By that stage, the business partners had moved from Cape Town to Joburg and had dropped out of UCT. They wanted to focus on their business full-time, but they knew the model needed some serious work and adjustments. Although they would start studying part-time again to finish their degrees, they first gave their business their full attention to pivot it.

So, freewheeling everywhere because they couldn’t afford fuel — or food or rent — Matthew and Karidas took their business to pieces and examined it from every angle.

“The first decision we made was that we weren’t going to pursue any more Government projects,” says Matthew. “We wanted to remove the bad stuff from the business and keep the good stuff, and we needed to be brutal about which was which.”

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

The magazine had to go — it was a lot of work for low margins with no clear revenue model. The ambassador network that Money Tree had built up on the other hand had a lot of value. “We had two ambassadors at almost every university campus across South Africa, including SRC presidents and the heads of societies — all influential people on campus,” says Karidas. “We packaged that network and started approaching banks. Banks were always on campuses trying to speak to students, but they didn’t have our network. We built a relationship with the Banking Association of South Africa with their start saver programme and closed a deal with Old Mutual. We currently run the biggest funding show and education programme across South African universities.”

The deal wasn’t the ultimate game plan, but it brought money into the business, helped the entrepreneurs pay rent and salaries, and gave them the breathing room to start seriously thinking about what they wanted to achieve.

“We started thinking about our long-term play. Financial education is good, but we were still relying on the budgets and current strategies of banks,” says Matthew. “Instead, we started focusing on what had always been our core, and that’s financial inclusion. This is our highest value, and we wanted a business that solves this challenge for South Africans.”

While they were mulling over this problem, Matthew and Karidas secured a spot on an Ennovate programme to Israel. It was on that trip that they were exposed to the fact that Africa has 60% of the world’s arable land, and yet still spends billions importing food.

“There are many inefficiencies in agriculture,” says Matthew, “and yet half of Africa’s population is dependent on small-scale subsistence farming.”

Determined to learn as much as they could, the partners approached Due Crisp to conduct a project in Pretoria. “We’re just finance guys,” says Karidas. “We needed to understand how agriculture works — and we were shocked. When you actually take the time to look at it, the problems are glaring. There are so many emerging farmers in South Africa, and yet they’re excluded from the market. They can’t fill big orders, and so they have no access to market.”

Suddenly, Karidas and Matthew had a problem they could solve — and they knew the solution would be found through technology.

Creating a proof of concept

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“If we’ve learnt one thing about agriculture, it’s that it’s impossible to solve one specific problem — everything is interlinked,” says Matthew. “Our main aim is to give farmers access to market, and we’ve developed a platform and app to help them do just that, but we can’t work in isolation.”

As a result, the entrepreneurs have partnered with the University of Johannesburg and the City Of Joburg and will continue to look for other partners who are as interested in solving this systemic problem as they are.

In the meantime however, they have launched their new business, KHULA, and self-funded and bootstrapped their pilot programme, proving their concept and solution.

“The farmers’ app can be downloaded on any phone that has whatsapp capabilities,” explains Karidas. “Most phones that can be bought for R100 or R200 work, and in our initial research we realised that farmers are pretty tech savvy.”

Related: Student Investor Built Their Business By Burning Their Ships

Farmers go to the app store, download the app and sign up. They then need to provide all their details: Who they are, where they are geolocated, what they grow, and when they expect to harvest different produce. Matthew and Karidas then do a site visit to verify

them and accept them onto the platform.

“Our pilot has been mainly focused on Gauteng and the North West, but we’ve driven 17 hours to Jozini,” says Matthew. “Some of these farms are incredible,” adds Karidas. “One of our farmers in Magaliesburg has this incredible farm in the middle of a dump site. You can’t even believe it’s there. No one knows about them though — which is exactly what we’re trying to solve.”

Through their partnerships, the system has been tweaked and honed throughout the proof of concept phase. “UJ has a farmers’ school that meets every two weeks, and they became our focus group for the app’s beta version,” says Matthew. “We had a focus group of 300 helping us fine-tune the look, feel and usability of the platform.”

The business has also partnered with government. “Government needs data on emerging farmers, but they collect it through extension offices, and it’s often old and irrelevant by the time it’s collated — our data is real-time, so this could make a huge impact to them.”

Key to the success of the platform is the ability to link farmers with customers, which is where KHULA’s key focus has been.

“We have 104 farmers on the platform, and 26 customers, including Rocomama’s, Munching Mongoose and the Michaelangelo,” says Karidas.

The solution is simple: Farmers can click on product and show exactly what they currently have available and what they will be harvesting and when. Customers can then either browse the produce, follow their favourite farmers, or put in orders that farmers can then elect to fill. In some cases, multiple farmers might fill a large order, which is one of the key solutions the aggregated platform offers, giving small-scale farmers access to large customers. In addition, KHULA has one of the biggest organic offerings available, and the platform offers complete transparency.

“Our customers love knowing exactly where their produce is coming from, and the fact that they are supporting small-scale local farmers,” says Matthew. “The entire system is geolocated, so you can put clear parameters in place. If your carbon footprint is important, you can select farmers within a 10km radius for example.”

The platform has also revealed how much high-end produce is locally available. “Elderflowers are niche and typically imported, and yet there are quite a few farmers in Joburg who grow them,” says Karidas. “Through KHULA, there is now supply and demand for this product.”

The market incentivises farmers to update their data weekly because they see orders coming in. “If they don’t update their data they aren’t able to contribute,” says Matthew.

Related: Khula SME Fund

Creating systemic change

During the pilot phase Matthew and Karidas handled packaging and collections and deliveries — going so far as to don jerseys and jackets and turn their Polo into a refrigerator with the aircon cranked up to ensure fresh deliveries.

Today they have partnered with a delivery and logistics service company on an uber-type basis. “Mospa Logistics has 30 trucks, but at any given time, ten are in the parking lot,” says Matthew. “We’ve created an app that triggers a pick-up when needed. The whole system is designed for a just-in-time service for both the farmers and our clients.”

In fact, the entire business is focused on finding solutions — for their clients, farmers, and in streamlining their solutions. “We need to mitigate the risk of non-delivery to ensure our clients are satisfied with the platform. We have had instances where a farmer has disappeared on us and we had to deliver, so we went out onto the network and another farmer in the area could fill the order. It’s important to have a large network to ensure this is possible.”

The solution is also based on a win-win-win model. Farmers, clients and KHULA all need to benefit from the platform. “From our side, we need to provide value. This means giving the farmers access to market, but also providing real value to our clients,” says Matthew.

“We have different types of clients and farmers, and it’s important to classify the produce they offer and are looking for. For example, Rocomamas chops up their jalapenos, so how they taste is far more important than how they look. The Michaelangelo on the other hand requires tomatoes that look perfect, while Spaza Sun is concerned with edible produce that is available at wholesale prices. These gradings and classifications give an added — and valuable — dimension to the platform.”

The pilot project has performed so well that in 2017 a large telco offered to purchase the platform for R5 million, but the entrepreneurs turned them down. “This is our business, and we want to see how far we can take it, and how many lives we can change,” they say.

In fact, the more time they spend in the market, the more solutions they are finding to endemic problems. “Emerging farmers often aren’t bankable because they don’t have track records,” explains Karidas. “Our system tracks everything; we send out invoices, collect payments and make payments to our farmers, which means they have banking records and a guaranteed market. This, in turn, makes them bankable.”

“Our system tracks everything; we send out invoices, collect payments and make payments to our farmers, which means they have banking records and a guaranteed market. This, in turn, makes them bankable.”


Top Tips

  1. There is nothing more important to a start-up’s success than word-of-mouth. Build your network — the more people who know about you and what you’re doing, the more people will share your story. This is particularly true if you’re solving a need. We would also suggest only relying on word-of-mouth at the beginning and not marketing — this will tell you if you’re on the right path. If no one is talking about you, you might need to adjust your business model.
  2. Partnerships lead to more partnerships. Most communities are small; the more you’re doing, the more people will hear about you. Every one of our partnerships grew from a previous partnership.
  3. Start by solving a problem. We didn’t start with an app — we started with an idea. We used paper to record everything and called farmers directly to get them onto our books. We had already traded close to R50 000 before we built the app, and by then we had some experience and knew what the app needed to include.

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