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Dial-a-Nerd: Colin Thornton

In an industry known for its competitiveness, Dial-A-Nerd stands out as a leading light

Entrepreneur

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Colin & Aaron Thornton

The story of Dial-a-Nerd starts just likemany other companies in the IT industry: two friends, Colin Thornton and StuartCullender, who met during their studies at Wits, discovered they had a knackfor technology and set to work fixing computers for their friends and families.However, that’s where the similarities end: while many IT start-ups founderalong the way, Dial-a-Nerd has experienced mushrooming growth, leading to theestablishment of branches in Johannesburg and Cape Town and, ultimately, thefounding of Nerdworks (Pty) Ltd.

How did it all happen? “When Colin andStuart first established the business in 1998, they worked out of my parents’garage, fixing computers as and when needed,” recalls Aaron, Colin’s brother.One year later, demand for the company’s services – along with new customersrequiring PCs and upgraded components – had grown to the extent that formaloffices were required. It was then that Aaron joined the company on a part-timebasis, and the Dial-a-Nerd trio continued to make waves. By the end of 2002, it had taken on fivetechnicians and moved to larger premises in Parkhurst, Johannesburg, and while still servicing itshome-based clients, Dial-a-Nerd’s business clientele was growing steadily.Shortly thereafter, Stuart left toconcentrate on his studies, while Aaron decided to join the company as afull-time member. More exciting changes were in store: having grown its staffcomplement to seven technicians, two of Dial-a-Nerd’s employees – Andrew Burnsand Xavier Nel – put forward a proposal to establish an arm dedicated tocorporate clients.

With expansion already on the cards, Colinand Aaron received a call from Roberto Caprio and David Collins, partners in aCape Town-based company called Orange Dot, who were interested in bringingDial-a-Nerd to the Mother City. The new branchopened its doors in 2003 – but the company’s growth did not end there. A fewmonths later, software expert David Tayler joined Dial-a-Nerd to focus on itssoftware division.“We decided to capitalise on the strengthand profitability of the brand by filtering it into other business,” Aaronsays. And so, in the latter half of 2003, Nerdworks (Pty) Ltd was formed.Colin, Aaron, Andrew, Xavier, Roberto,David Collins and David Tayler are all partners in the business, which todayincludes Software Nerds, Network Nerds and, of course, Dial-a-Nerd. The groupnow boasts offices in Parkhurst, Bryanston, Cape Town and Tokai. It employs more than 50people countrywide.

While the rapid growth of the company maymake it sound like an entrepreneur’s dream, Aaron admits that it has not beeneasy. “In our early days, we were badly hurt by issues like fraud and debtors.”Even now, as the company continues on itsever-upward trajectory, the partners are faced with the challenges ofmaintaining the unique Dial-a-Nerd culture and ensuring that all branches countrywideshare the same ethos. How has the company overcome these challenges?“For a start, we’re a great team,“ Aaronmaintains. “My background is in the restaurant industry, so I’ve always placedgreat emphasis on delivering flawless service. That’s become the foundation ofa culture dedicated to service and delivery. Colin, on the other hand, isexcellent at formulating strategy and making sure we’re all working towards thesame goal.”

At the same time, the company is notprecious about who does what – if there’s a problem, the managers will quicklystep in to sort it out. “We’ve remained very close to the business.”Dial-a-Nerd has also gained a reputationfor trustworthiness. Unlike many IT companies who discard their smaller clientsas soon as bigger fish come on board, Dial-a-Nerd has never lost its focus onhome users and small companies. Because of this, the company’s technicians areable to gain a thorough understanding of their clients’ needs. As Aaron putsit: “We’re looked upon as trusted consultants. We’d never sell technology forits own sake; rather, we look at what the client needs and advise themaccordingly.”Of course, the quirkily distinctiveDial-a-Nerd brand helps too. Aaron reports that Colin first registered thebrand in 1998, primarily as he liked the idea of a nerdy face being thecompany’s representative icon.

While the brand has been refreshed sincethen, with the icon made to look more professional, it remains a core featureof Dial-a-Nerd, one that clients respond to. “Despite this, as many as 80% ofour clients have been attracted through word of mouth rather than marketingactivities,” Aaron reveals.What does the future hold for Dial-a-Nerd?“We’d like to see the company rolled out on a national level, using the samebusiness model,” Aaron says.Meanwhile, the company will concentrate onimproving its processes. “Because our growth was so rapid, we have tended to bemore reactive than proactive in our functioning. If, in an ideal world, we weregiven a large cash injection, we would use the money to tighten up processesand see where we’re losing money and where we could make improvements,” Aaronsays.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

CEOwise

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

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

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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