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Inter-Active Technologies-Brendan van Staaden

Quick thinking and visionary leadership lead to phenomenal growth for call centre specialist.

Juliet Pitman

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Bredan van Staaden

Brendan van Staaden is a man who knows where he’s going. “We want to be a billion rand business in three years’ time,” he answers, without hesitating, when asked about plans for Inter-Active Technologies’ five-year future.

It might sound like a bold ambition for a business that’s only six years old, but Inter-Active’s growth track record shows that this isn’t entrepreneurial pie-in-the-sky. Started by Van Staaden in a single room of his house in 2004, the company has grown its revenue from R400 000 in the first year to close to R116 million in 2009, and its staff from one to over 500. A specialist call centre and communications business, Inter-Active was initially created for the purpose of a management buy-out of Phillips Business Communications, where Van Staaden was working. “The deal never happened so I eventually bought my partner’s share, shelved the business and went back into employment,” he says.

Taking the leap

But the idea of forming a professional call centre services company niggled and refused to go away. Van Staaden tried to sell it to his then employer but the idea never took off and he grew frustrated with waiting for things to happen. “My opportunity eventually came when someone told me they needed the services I was thinking about and suggested I go on my own,” he relates. With nothing more than a promise of an order worth R400 000, Van Staaden left his job and took Inter-Active off the shelf.

“Happily the client was true to their word and placed the order, but that was only the first hurdle. I then had to make the thing happen,” he says. Fortunately making things happen is Van Staaden’s strong point – he describes himself as “passionate about creating something out of nothing.” The job was delivered and in a short time the business had grown to include a small call centre of 20 people.

Quick thinking

“I make decisions quickly and that helped me in those early days,” he says. Short response times and on-the-spot decisions allowed the business to pick up big-name clients quickly – by way of example, Van Staaden relates how he came to set up a call centre for MultiChoice.

“I was having dinner with another client, MTN, one Friday night when MultiChoice, with whom we had a small maintenance contract, called to say they needed help with a large volume of overflow calls their inbound call centre was receiving.” On the strength of their positive relationship with Inter-Active, MTN offered to help and by the next morning Van Staaden had 100 agents working in a call centre that MTN had made available together with a routing number for overflow calls.

Tipping point

It was a turning point for the business. “On the strength of that MultiChoice asked us to build them an overflow centre, so we moved to larger premises, set up a server room, started training agents and piloted the concept. It was all done on risk but it worked and two and a half years later is still running,” says Van Staaden.

Over time, the company has refined the overflow call centre model and now has two contracts for similar services waiting in the wings. It’s also expanded significantly into the outbound call centre space and today has in excess of 800 call centre agents. “We’ve also experienced tremendous growth in the activity-based costings arena and developed software to deliver this service, which helps clients determine their real costs and true profitability,” he adds.

Challenges and success factors

Van Staaden attributes Inter-Active’s phenomenal success in part to its ability to predict market trends. “We try to think a couple of steps ahead of the customer so we can reasonably anticipate what they are going to need next. It’s about understanding the market sufficiently so you get ahead of it,” he says. But while the journey has included heady highs, Van Staaden is quick to point out that he’s had his share of low points too. “It certainly hasn’t been without challenges, the biggest probably being financial. My wife and I have funded this business ourselves from day one and everything we make we’ve put back into its growth,” he says.

Investing in people

People are the other big challenge, but on that score Inter-Active is winning – the company has a staff turnover of less than 3%, almost unheard of in the call centre industry. “My biggest disappointments probably come from people I bet on, not delivering, but then my biggest joys come from people exceeding expectations too,” Van Staaden explains. He believes strongly in accessible leadership and investing in people. The company recently invested in a staff wellness centre complete with free Internet café, entertainment area, gym, spa and canteen. There are also countless examples of developing people from the inside – a security guard who showed initiative by asking for a computer to be set up in the guard’s hut is today a fully operational call centre agent.

Looking to the future

“Stories like that – the tenacity of the underdog – inspire me to do more,” says Van Staaden. That ‘more’ includes growth into Africa, where the company has set its sights, and acquisitions. And of course there’s that billion rand goal, but if anyone is up to the task, it’s this man.

Inter-Active Technologies
Players: Brendan van Staaden
Est. 2004
Contact
0860 000 IAT(428)
www.inter-active.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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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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Vital Stats

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.

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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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