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Big Inja: Ryan Meiring

Small fish shows big pedigree with a system that takes the trade show expo market by storm

Juliet Pitman



Ryan Meiring of Big Inja

Sometimes spotting a niche is as much about realising that you can do something better, as it is about realising that you can do something new. Ask Ryan Meiring, founder of Big Inja. The industrial engineer was still a student when he first started helping a friend’s father to register visitors at trade exhibitions using an electronic bar-code scanner system.

“All the visitor’s business and contact details are captured electronically when you scan their bar-coded name badge. It just seemed like a natural progression from there to offer stand exhibitors a service to track visitors to their stand using the same system, thereby effectively doing away with the need to exchange business cards,” he explains.

But he’s quick to point out that the idea wasn’t his. “Many registration companies were offering this service already,”he says, “but they weren’t giving it the attention it required. And that’s where we saw our niche. Ultimately exhibitors are there to collect sales leads and record business interactions – it’s such a crucial ingredient that I believe can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful exhibit.We knew it could be done better and always believed that what we could offer could make a real difference to exhibitors,” Meiring continues.

Although he believed in their service offering, Meiring knew that getting a foot in the door would hinge on how successfully they could convince trade show organisers to feel the same way.“We spent a lot of time building up relationships with organisers, pitching our offering as a value-add that they could offer their clients,” he recalls.

In the end, it worked and organisors started marketing Big Inja’s services directly to exhibitors. The orders started rolling in. But in spite of his success, there was something that kept niggling Meiring. The service he delivered was reliant in many ways on the quality of the registration company’s data capture.

“If they captured visitor information incorrectly, that info was our source and we’d pass it on to exhibitors,” he says. Knowing that the business needed to grow into new areas, Meiring kept his options open by ensuring that his scanning technology was more advanced than his competitors’.

The planning and forethought paid off. The more advanced technology allowed the company to quickly exploit and establish a foothold in a new market niche. Noticing that orders were dropping off at one show in particular, Meiring realised that exhibitors at that event weren’t looking for new contacts and sales leads, but were rather dealing with repeat clientele who did the majority of their buying at the show.

But what they didn’t have was a system to keep track of the orders. “Being away from their normal order systems, they couldn’t stay on top of the orders and stock levels. And after the show it took them weeks to collate all the orders. The potential for errors and client frustration was extremely high,” he explains.

“I knew if we could come up with a usable solution, we’d really be on to something,” he recalls. What he hit on was simple, fast and brilliant. “Our scanner programmer worked out how to get the scanners to talk directly to a tiny printer, thereby eliminating the need for a computer interface,” he says, explaining how the new system allows Big Inja to upload an exhibitor’s stock lists, barcode their stand products and keep a running tab of a buyer’s order.

“We scan the buyer’s bar-coded ID tag, scan all the goods they want, insert the quantities and print out two copies of an invoice there and then,” he says proudly. Not only does this save exhibitors time and frustration but the system also allows Big Inja to provide each client with a daily summary report on turnover, best sellers and stock levels. Little wonder that it received a heady reception at its recent launch.

But while Meiring recognises that technology is responsible for his latest windfall, he knows it’s not all about fancy gadgets and whiz-kid systems. About the future of the business he says: “I want to do it properly. I’d rather have a handful of really ecstatic clients than a bunch that gets average service.” ‘Doing it better than the next guy’was where it all started and he’s determined to continue in that vein. Contact: +27 861 244 465;

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton



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Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.

To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:

  1. Livestock Wealth
  2. The Lazy Makoti
  3. Aerobuddies
  4. Mimi Women
  5. i-Pay
  6. AfriTorch Digital
  7. Akili Labs
  8. Native Décor
  9. Aerobotics
  10. Quality Solutions
  11. EM Guidance
  12. Kahvé Road
  13. HSE Matters
  14. VA Virtual Assistant
  15. Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
  16. BioTech Africa
  17. Brand LAIKI
  18. Plus Fab
  19. LifeQ
  20. Organico
  21. 10dot
  22. Lenoma Legal
  23. Nkukhu-Box
  24. Benji + Moon
  25. Beonics
  26. Brett Naicker Wines
  27. Khalala
  28. Legal Legends
  29. The Power Woman Project
  30. Aviro Health
  31. AnaStellar Brands
  32. Data Innovator
  33. Fo-Sho
  34. Oolala Collection Club
  35. Recomed
  36. VoiceMap
  37. ClockWork
  38. Empty Trips
  39. Vula Mobile
  40. SwiitchBeauty
  41. Pineapple
  42. The Katy Valentine Collection
  43. OfferZen
  44. KHULA
  45. Incitech
  46. Pimp my Book
  47. ART Technologies and ART Call Management
  48. Prosperiprop
  49. WAXIT
  50. The Sun Exchange
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How 28-Year Old Entrepreneur Adam Fine Is Leveraging The Global Phenomenon Of Five-A-Side Football

Adam Fine of Fives Futbol discusses how he leverage a global phenomenon and the value of strategic partnerships in business.

Monique Verduyn




Vital Stats

Nothing about Adam Fine is by-the-book. The 28-year-old entrepreneur describes himself as a slightly big child. He’s the CEO of one of the most exciting start-ups in South Africa, having leveraged the global phenomenon of five-a-side football to start a business that has grown almost as fast as the game itself. Not bad for a venture that was launched with the princely sum of R85 000 — Fine’s life savings at the time.

He started it in 2011, with a strong focus on corporate social investment and making a positive social impact. It was by forming strategic partnerships that Adam really managed to grow Fives Futbol. He’s opened pitches in prime locations that serve both the school and corporate markets, while still being accessible for social impact interventions in local communities.

Related: 3 Local Entrepreneurs Share Their Business Challenges And How They Overcame Them

Pivoting at the right time is key to growth

The challenge:

In the last 18 months, Fives Futbol has trebled in size, and achieved some amazing milestones — it now employs 50 full-time staff, and 80 part-timers. It’s one of the factors that drives Adam, as many of his employees support up to eight family members. It’s now also represented in four provinces and 15 locations around the country. By September, there will be 18.

Quick growth means you have to be able to pivot quickly when things do not go according to plan, and mostly they don’t, Adam says. “If things are not working you should be able to ‘pivot’, to shift your focus. And do it fast. It’s not a sign that things have gone wrong by any means, on the contrary, it means you have the insight to recognise that there is a problem with the assumptions on which you have built your business model. The decision to pivot is a big one, and not something to be taken lightly. It requires you to take a hard look at your reallocation of resources, and to do it with an open mind.”

The solution:

In Adam’s case, construction delays, councils taking their time to approve, or having to put money into rolling out sites as opposed to marketing, means the promotion of a new site will slow down, for example, because the business does not yet have a large marketing budget.

“When we run behind on the construction of a new site, R40 000 can suddenly become R100 000 — but here’s the thing: If a deal comes along that will probably harm your business in the short-term but enable significant long-term growth, sometimes you have to juggle what you have so you can make it work.”

The Lesson: Choose your investors carefully

Fine says he’s lucky to have a solid group of investors that he has cultivated over six years. “Their input is invaluable. They’ll say, ‘slow down’ or ‘have you thought of this?’, ‘have you factored in that?’ The ability to develop a good relationship with our investors has had a significant impact on the success of the company. Over and above money, they provide wisdom, guidance and connections.”

His relationship with his investors is key. While many entrepreneurs make it just about the money, Adam understood something else — he has a pretty cool brand with a great cause behind it. So, while investors are asked for money all the time, he was able to offer something more than just a business idea — alignment. He generated enthusiasm for the ‘why,’ behind the business. Like most of us, it makes investors happy to know that they are helping to make a positive difference.

And while it’s easy to bandy about the word ‘partnership’, Adam has worked hard to make that a reality. He set out to find like-minded people who are passionate about the business and the cause, which is why they are able to serve as great resources for advice and insight.

Related: Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

“The best way to ensure that you and your investors have a valuable and lengthy partnership is to make sure that everyone is aligned on the vision.”

This includes Adam’s team. The internal culture of an organisation is vital to its strength and growth. “Without our team we don’t have a business for investors to support — our people are critical to our success. They’re the executors of the vision at the end of the day.”

The Lesson:  The value of strategic partnerships

Much of the growth of Fives Futbol has been fuelled by finding the right sponsorship partners in key industries. To overcome the challenge of a limited marketing budget, Adam has secured sponsorships with big brands like Adidas, Total Sports, Debonairs, and Klipdrift, allowing Fives Futbol to use their access to communities as a marketing platform to derive income as well as scale. And it works both ways.

“Because we have a national footprint and a team of people, we run activations for our partners, which also provides us with an ancillary revenue stream,” he says. “Knowing how to join forces with other businesses has been a key factor in making the business successful. Our strategic partners have enabled the business to leverage their brand to give us more exposure. When it works well, a strategic partnership can be just what you need to speed up the growth of your business.”

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Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

The advent and advancement of the online marketplace has led these entrepreneurs to successfully build and grow their ecommerce empires.

Diana Albertyn



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South Africa’s ecommerce market is worth R10 billion per year. By 2021, the number of online shoppers is expected to have reached 24.79 million.

“Our recent research on SA shows people are browsing three hours or more on their mobile phones and 25% shop online. They trust local brands,” says Geraldine Mitchley, Visa senior director for digital solutions in sub-Sahara Africa.

These entrepreneurs have cashed in on ecommerce and launched successful online stores that have either established their dominance in the market, or are taking the e-tailing world by storm.

Here’s how these 15 ecommerce capitalists are making money using the Internet:

  1. Aisha Pandor
  2. Andrew Higgins
  3. Kerryn Tremearne
  4. David Davies
  5. Andrew Smith, Paul Galatsis and Shane Dryden
  6. Trevor Gosling
  7. Nicholas Haralambous
  8. Justin Drennan
  9. Neo Lekgabo
  10. Ryan Bacher
  11. Tracy Kruger
  12. Luke Jedeikin
  13. Tarryn Abrahams
  14. Sascha Breuss
  15. Antonio Bruni
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