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eDreams: Zane Zietsman & Ryan Bakos

Two young entrepreneurs are building SA’s biggest online megastore

Monique Verduyn

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Zane Zietsman & Ryan Bakos of eDreams

In 2003, long-time friends Zane Zietsman and Ryan Bakos wanted to start a mail order company. Zietsman, who had been in the office automation business, had had enough of the corporate world. Bakos, with years of experience in the furniture retail sector, was ready to try something different. “The idea was to import new and interesting consumer products from overseas,” says Zietsman.

The first product they brought into the country was an audio-visual baby monitor that enables parents to watch and listen to their baby while it sleeps. “We were the first local company to sell this type of monitor and it proved to be a huge success,” Zietsman recalls. “We supplied all the major baby ware retailers.” Both employed, they started moving product as a pure “by night” business which they ran from Bakos’s home in Johannesburg. They also took out advertisements in baby magazines, which led to a spike in individual demand. “We had to find a way for people to place orders and pay by credit card because we could not answer phone calls all day long,” he adds. “The obvious solution was to create a website so that people could shop and pay online, and so eDreams was born.”

Following the uptake of their first product, it made sense for them to expand their offering to an entire range of baby products.

“One of our first challenges was bankrolling the business,” says Bakos. “We were buying products from overseas, which we had to pay for upfront, but the retailers would take anything up to 120 days to pay. Setting up an e-commerce -enabled website helped us to overcome that problem.” Once the website had been established, Zietsman and Bakos agreed that their aim was to sell everything online, and to sell well. There were several infrastructure imperatives: they wanted to set up an attractive one-stop online shopping portal, provide sophisticated functionality, and give shoppers all the information they needed about the various products. They spent 18 months developing the current website before going live and today it is able to handle thousands of orders at any given time. “Anyone can set up an e-commerce-enabled website for a few hundred rand,” says Bakos. “What we wanted was to create a masterpiece. Today it is the only one of its kind that sells just about anything, from appliances and electronics, to sports and outdoor equipment, and the product range continues to expand.”

Their formula is working. eDreams was nominated for six South African e-Commerce Awards in 2006, winning Best Electronics Store, Best Kids & Baby Store, and Best Sports & Outdoor Store. Zietsman says the awards have helped to drive more traffic to the website. But eDreams’ biggest marketing drive has been search engine optimisation. “We designed and created our website so that it would rank high in the search engines and help potential customers to find it easily. Selective magazine advertising, word of mouth, viral campaigns and Facebook have also proved successful,” he adds. eDreams clients range in age from 20 to 45 and represent various Living Standards Measures (LSMs). “We cater for everyone, from parents who want to buy nappies, to people who want to buy a new set of golf clubs,” Bakos says. He attributes some of eDreams’ success to the fact that the company is not a “middleman”. “We carry a huge range of stock and we handle all supplier warranties. Because we function as legitimate retailers, customers know they can buy from us with confidence.”

Dedication to the customer is a top priority. “The website is really easy to navigate and you literally trip over the products you are looking for,” says Zietsman.Turnaround time is anything from 24 hours to seven days, with 80% of orders delivered in two to three days. The partners never took a loan, but they did mortgage their homes. “We suffered in the beginning and we seldom paid ourselves a salary,” says Bakos. “Even now, we continue to plough money back into the company. As our turnover increases, so we increase our staff to ensure that we can fulfil our orders.” Internet access has been a challenge but the decreasing cost of broadband bodes well for eDreams. Zietsman and Bakos say they aim to build the company into the biggest online player in the next five years. It’s not an unrealistic goal, given that the business is experiencing 50% to 100% growth every month.

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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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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