Inana Nkanza, MD of iLAYO Software Solutions, found a career in IT by mistake. He did a diploma in programming to bide his time while making plans to go to university.
When he was approached by then IT giant Q Data to work on its helpdesk for a few months, he thought that would give him something to do while he waited for the academic year to begin.
Three months turned into a three-year contract, exposing Nkanza to almost every aspect of the IT world. Along the way, he discovered that he was a natural born salesperson. He was subsequently employed by the sales division of Computer Associates’ South African distributor, which was later acquired by CA when the company returned to South Africa.
“I was the only black salesperson on the team at the time,” say Nkanza. “I thrived in the sales environment and became CA’s best performing salesperson.” After three years he moved to Software Futures. “From an American multinational, I joined a small but very energetic business that had started operating out of a backroom.
My experience with Software Futures showed me that it was possible to create and grow a company.” In 1998, Software Futures was acquired by CCH, which was itself acquired by MGX, one of the biggest IT companies in the country, in 2000.
“I was aware of the fact that I was one of the few black people in the technology business, and I decided that I wanted to build a company that could focus on developing black talent in IT.”
He used his savings to launch iLAYO Software Solutions in 2002, focusing on infrastructure management. Nkanza bemoans the lack of funding for start-ups in this country. “Funding bodies finance infrastructure, but not intellectual property, and that was all I had.
Because the business was self-funded, we had a short window of opportunity, but I was fortunate that I had built relationships with many large corporates while I was employed. Our first deal came through Telkom.” iLAYO has experienced double digit growth every year during its first five years, with 25% growth in years one and two, followed by a period of stabilisation in years three and four.
The company is anticipating double digit growth again in 2007. “There were only four of us in the company to begin with,” he says, “but we forged a partnership with MGX, so we were able to walk into large organisations with confidence, unlike typical start-ups.”
iLAYO encountered certain pitfalls along the way. “The demise of MGX resulted in a number of new competitors entering the market,” says Nkanza. “We countered the competition by leveraging our solid relationships with international suppliers.”
Among the challenges he has faced, Nkanza names the ability to fund growth as the biggest. “A small business tends to live from hand to mouth in the beginning. That is why partnerships are so important. Another key element is brand management – if you can get the market to trust your brand, you will have succeeded in fast-forwarding your business growth.
Our business is skills intensive, and it’s sometimes difficult for a small company to hold onto experienced staff, but our people are drawn to the fact that we have such a strong brand.” Nkanza is quick to point out his belief in the power of public relations.
“Many companies claim they cannot afford to do PR; my belief is that we cannot afford not to. Our growth has been about relationships and our core customers have always stood by us.” He stresses that it is important for business owners to identify where they want to go early on and drive towards that goal.
“Everyone wants to grow their company, but growth must not happen at the expense of quality. It’s one of the things you have to bear in mind when you are chasing deals. In a highly competitive market, relationships, reference sites and a solid track record are what pave the way for sustainable growth.”
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.
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:
- Livestock Wealth
- The Lazy Makoti
- Mimi Women
- AfriTorch Digital
- Akili Labs
- Native Décor
- Quality Solutions
- EM Guidance
- Kahvé Road
- HSE Matters
- VA Virtual Assistant
- Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
- BioTech Africa
- Brand LAIKI
- Plus Fab
- Lenoma Legal
- Benji + Moon
- Brett Naicker Wines
- Legal Legends
- The Power Woman Project
- Aviro Health
- AnaStellar Brands
- Data Innovator
- Oolala Collection Club
- Empty Trips
- Vula Mobile
- The Katy Valentine Collection
- Pimp my Book
- ART Technologies and ART Call Management
- The Sun Exchange
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.
- Player: Adam Fine
- Company: Fives Futbol
- Est: 2011
- Visit: www.fivesfutbol.co.za
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.
Pivoting at the right time is key to growth
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.”
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.
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“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.”
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.
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:
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