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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.”

Lessons Learnt

Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.



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If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

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Lessons Learnt

How Reflexively Apologising For Everything All The Time Undermines Your Career

How can you inspire confidence if you are constantly saying you’re sorry for doing your job?




I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.

I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn’t really know what to expect.

Youth takes charge

I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.

I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled.

She then paused and said to me, very directly,”But you have to stop apologising. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job.”

Related: 8 Valuable And Inspirational Web Series You Should Check Out

I didn’t know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, “Umm, I’m sorry?” But instead I immediately decided to be more cognisant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologising. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.

In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue:

“To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”

Topic of debate

I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington PostTime, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologise; others criticise those who are criticising women who apologise. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I’m constantly telling the people I manage that by apologising they give up a lot of their power.

Related: Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologise for doing your job.

If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

10 Quotes On Following Your Dreams, Having Passion And Showing Hard Work From Tech Guru Michael Dell

If you’re in need of a little motivation, check out these quotes from Dell’s CEO, founder and chairman.



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There’s much to learn from one of the computer industry’s longest tenured CEOs and founders, Michael Dell. As an integral part of the computer revolution in the 1980s, Dell launched Dell Computer Corporation from his dorm room at the University of Texas. And it didn’t take Dell long before he’d launched one of the most successful computer companies. Indeed, by 1992 Dell was the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Dell’s success had been long foreshadowed. When he was 15, Dell showed great interest in technology, purchasing an early version of an Apple computer, only so he could take it apart and see how it was built. And once he got to college, Dell noticed a gap in the market for computers: There were no companies that were selling directly to consumers. So, he decided to cut out the middleman and began building and selling computers directly to his classmates. Before long, he dropped out of school officially to pursue Dell.

Fast forward to today. Dell is not only a tech genius and businessman, but a bestselling author, investor and philanthropist, with a networth of $24.7 billion. He continues his role as the CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies, making him one of the longest tenured CEOs in the computer industry.

So if you’re in need of some motivation or inspiration, take it from Dell.

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