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How Khonology Founder Finds The Best Candidates And Trains Them For Best Results

Khonology has shown that South Africa might have a skills shortage, but that’s not because of a lack of ability. Give the right people the right opportunities, and they’ll flourish. Moreover, empowering people can make good business sense.

GG van Rooyen




Vital stats

  • Player: Michael Roberts
  • Position: Founder and CEO
  • Company: Khonology
  • Established: 2013
  • About: Khonology is an African technology services company that aims to transform and empower Africa’s people and businesses. Rather than importing skills and experience from overseas, the company trains promising local talent to fulfill challenging roles. Khonology was named the Job Creator of the Year at the 2016 South African Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

Almost by accident, Khonology CEO Michael Roberts built a successful career for himself in London. He travelled to the United Kingdom in 1997, not really planning to move there permanently, but ended up spending 13 years there, working for prestigious blue-chip companies like Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank.

“The aim was always to return to South Africa,” says Roberts. “I always knew that I hadn’t immigrated permanently. I wanted to go home and start a company there.”

But there were challenges to launching a technology services company in Africa, specifically the lack of skills and qualifications.

“There’s an assumption that we have a lack of skills locally, which is why many companies import knowledge from overseas, and that ends up costing the client an absolute fortune,” says Michael.

“While there was a lack of skilled professionals locally, I didn’t feel as if this was an insurmountable problem. We had a lack of experience, but not a lack of ability. I felt confident that if we got our hands on the right people, we could teach them to do what expensive international consultants were doing.”

So, Khonology started recruiting promising STEM graduates and training them. Michael’s hunch proved correct. Over the last few years, the company has successfully upskilled dozens of young people. In 2016, Khonology was even named the Job Creator of the Year at the South African Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

Related: Running A Business Like ClockWork – The Founders Weigh In On Launch Success

Entrepreneur spoke to Michael about the process of finding promising candidates and training them on the job.

Why the focus on STEM graduates?

People who have studied in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics have the sort of logical approach to things that’s needed within a technology services company. It’s not as much about what they studied as it is about the mindset they bring to the work. Because of this, assessment tools like analytical puzzles are useful for us when it comes to recruiting. We’re not that concerned about the answer they give to a puzzle; it’s all about the way they approach the problem.

So tests and assessments are something you would recommend?

Absolutely. It’s crucial. What’s great is that you can leverage technology these days. A lot of the time, effort and complexity that comes with these tests can be reduced through technology and automation. You can use technology to build capacity.

Hiring someone is always a risk. You can never be completely certain that you’re making the right decision, so you need to find ways in which you can de-risk the process. A reliable test or assessment can be a useful tool in this regard.

Is it all about logic, or do you care about attitude too?

We care a lot about attitude, which is why we use attitude assessment tools as well. In fact, attitude is probably the most important thing for us. You can only train people who are eager and willing to learn, so we look for people who want to learn, and who are also willing to give back and pass knowledge along to someone else.

We try to create a collaborative environment where people have a passion for learning.

And how do you create that sort of environment?

It starts with you. You really set the tone as the founder, so if you want people to be excited about learning, you need to exude that. You need to create a culture that prioritises learning. It’s something that you actively need to champion. In a busy company, training and learning can quickly fall by the wayside, but the results are worth the effort, so it is something that should be protected.

We also make use of daily scrums or stand-up meetings. These tend to be cancelled when people are busy, so we believe it’s important to set them in stone. We find them invaluable, since they keep everyone connected and on the same page.

Related: AutoTrader South Africa’s George Mienie Knows Disruptive Innovation Is More Than Shifting Gears

How do you create these kinds of systems and processes in a quickly-scaling start-up?

It’s difficult to be sure. You have to accept that your systems will break as you grow. What works for ten people will not work for 20, and what works for 100 people will sometimes not work for 105. So, developing systems and processes is an ongoing activity. You’re never truly ‘done’. Also, you need to be honest with yourself when something isn’t working. Don’t just keep doing the same old thing. Stay agile and reassess things as you go.

You mentioned earlier that hiring someone is never risk-free. Have you had some bad hires?

Of course. Every company has. My advice is to admit when something is wrong and deal with the situation immediately. Don’t put it off. The issue will not ‘resolve itself’, it will only get worse. Letting someone go is never easy, but you have to take the emotion out of it. Culture is important, and a bad hire can poison the environment, so you have to prioritise the health of the business.

How important is the ‘raw material’ or potential of an individual when it comes to hiring? What can be taught, and what needs to be present from the start?

The simple answer is: You should only hire A-players. Skills can be taught, but you want people with tremendous drive and intelligence. You want to find those gold nuggets. If you hire B- and C-players, you will spend too much time and effort improving their performance.

A young company can’t afford to do that. You want to hire the people who will quickly be offered a job by someone else if you don’t make an immediate offer. For this reason, you also need to draw a firm line in the sand. You can’t let a potential employee make too many demands, as that will create issues later on.

Overpaying an employee will result in a management debt that’ll cause future problems.

The value of entering business competitions

As winner of the Job Creator of the Year at the 2016 South African Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, Khonology founder, Michael Roberts, believes in the benefits of entering awards programmes.

“We relish the opportunity to compete in competitions, as this allows us an opportunity to sharpen our offering and strengthen the pitch. The effort and work that goes into competing actually pays off, as we have to deep dive on our business and understand the fundamentals, test our value proposition and our belief for starting the business. This is an amazing validation tool for us. Secondly, and most importantly, it helps build our proverbial ‘soap box’, making our voice louder and providing amazing marketing and exposure for a fast growing company that is super ambitious to make a difference in the world of technology.”

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Lessons Learnt

Give Your Business The Best Chance Of Success

For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

Gil Sperling




In my capacity as a business owner and venture capitalist, one of the questions I get asked most often by entrepreneurs is, “how do I ensure my business succeeds?” While there’s no straightforward answer, there are important elements that I believe every entrepreneur must consider to ensure the greatest probability of success.

Firstly, no business will succeed if it doesn’t solve a unique pain point or problem for modern consumers or businesses. However, even if a business is able to carve out that niche, there’s no guarantee that growth will follow. For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

North Star metric

This principle of having a clear business vision guides all my decisions. Whenever I need to validate a choice or a change in strategic direction, or if I’m trying to determine what to focus on, I always refer back to my vision. If the two are incongruent, then I know I need to change tack.

Elon Musk is a great example of a successful entrepreneur who is guided by his grand vision. Everything he does, from Tesla to SpaceX, pertains to sustainability, both for the planet and the human race. It might be hard to make the connection when you consider his various businesses out of context, but everything he creates fits into a broader ecosystem that in some way moves the needle towards his ultimate objective. Developing Tesla cars that run on renewable energy is but a small, short-term plan that feeds into his grand vision, yet it’s also been the catalyst for the evolution of the motoring industry.

Related: The Popimedia (Mega) Success Story

Be clear, concise

In the same way, every decision an entrepreneur makes should in some way take them a step closer to realising their vision. In this regard, it is also vital that your vision is crystal clear – a murky or undefined vision will divert you off your path to success.

That’s because you’ll tend to focus on the wrong things, especially when scaling rapidly, or when running bigger organisations, because there are many tasks to complete every day. A lack of clarity also leads to poor decision-making, or, worse, decision paralysis, and that’s business suicide – I’d rather make a bad decision than no decision at all, because it prompts action. However, with a clear vision, more often than not, those decisions will be correct.

Defining your vision

So, how do you know if your vision is clear and, more importantly, relevant and consequential? The way I stress test my vision is to evaluate it every day against the decisions I take, and the direction of the business. This daily process helps to sharpen my decisions over time.

The other step is to remain open-minded enough to accept and acknowledge criticism, and take on board advice from trusted confidants and impartial experts. This is important, because you need to craft your vision based on as much information as possible, including valid criticism.

Ultimately, though, your vision for the business should align with your purpose. Forget about money and turnover as points of departure when defining your vision. These are merely metrics that can determine the strength and effectiveness of your business strategy.

For each of my several business interests, be it VC funding or ad-tech innovation, I have different visions. Each are meaningful to me, but in every instance, I don’t wake up every day with the sole ambition of making money.

While I need to make money to grow these businesses, or build something new, having purpose and vision are the ways I pull through those inevitable challenging situations. Having your vision front of mind in everything you do helps you make better decisions, and makes the hardships easier to endure. It helps you see through the turmoil, because you know where the process will lead, and you always know where the ultimate objective lies.

Read next: A Comprehensive List Of Angel Investors That Fund South African Start-Ups

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Lessons Learnt

Jimmy Choo’s Co-Founder Explains Why There Are No Small Jobs

Tamara Mellon shares the strategy that has helped her find new opportunities throughout her career.

Nina Zipkin




The co-founder of Jimmy Choo, Tamara Mellon, believes that you can find inspiration and opportunity anywhere. All it takes is determination to keep going and a keen eye for observation.

Mellon began her career in the early 1990s working as an accessories editor for British Vogue. Always on the hunt for up-and-coming designers, she came across Jimmy Choo, a cobbler working in London’s East End.

She would commission him to create shoes for fashion shoots. They were so well received by readers that the pair realised they could expand beyond one-of-kind pieces for the pages of the magazine.

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

6 Habits Long-Time Millionaires Rely On To Stay Rich

It’s a simple fact: Most millionaires have different habits than the average person. However, these habits are far from inaccessible; they improve one’s odds of finding success but can be adopted by just about anyone with a bit of concerted effort.

Timothy Sykes



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To take that idea one step further, once someone has become successful, how do they stay successful? Here, I’d like to take a slightly longer-sighted look at the habits of millionaires, focusing not just on the habits that make them successful but the ones that help them stay successful over time. By cultivating these habits in your own life, you’ll be investing in your own sustained success over time.

Here are six habits of long-time millionaires:

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