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Urban Ocean: Alfonso Both & Duan Coetzee

Property development company strikes gold in Joburg’s once-decaying inner city

Monique Verduyn



Alfonso Both of Urban Ocean

Pull up outside 77 Commissioner Street and a doorman in atop hat comes to greet you. For a moment you might think you’ve stepped outonto a Manhattan pavement, but this isCornerHouse in inner city Joburg, headquarters of property development company Urban Ocean.

The once grand edifice – built in 1904 tohouse Barney Barnato’s business concerns – is one of 20 buildings in thefinancial district of Johannesburg’s erstwhile decaying CBD that have beensnapped up by Alfonso Botha and Duan Coetzee. The two, Botha a developer andCoetzee a property marketer, formed Urban Ocean four years ago withthe aim of re-inventing the concept of inner city living in line with globaltrends.“We were fascinated by the challenge oftaking on urban renewal projects,” says Botha. “What others saw as a majorsocio-economic problem, we saw as an opportunity.  We were not the first developers to move in,but we put a new spin on city development and that’s what has made our projectssuch a success.”

That new spin is about luxury andtop-quality building standards. To make an impact on the market, Urban Ocean’sfirst project had to be exceptional. It was, and the result was thatCornerHouse, comprising a limited number of apartments, a boutique hotel, arestaurant, and Urban Ocean’s offices, sold outin less than a week from its launch. Those first buyers have since been offeredprices that represent well over 100% return on investment. “Our customers arehappy,” says Botha. “We have created a lot of value for them.”But it wasn’t plain sailing. CornerHouse’stenants owed many months rent to its then owners – which they did not want topay – and they refused to move. Botha smoothed negotiations between the twoparties, making more than a thousand telephone calls to close the deal.

Urban Ocean’s projectsare mostly mixed use buildings, combining retail and residential. They areaimed at business tourists and people who work in the city. Prices range fromR495 000 to R20 million.“Public transport remains a problem in Johannesburg and peopleare becoming more prepared to pay a premium for living close to work. When youconsider that traffic is worsening every month, it’s not difficult to see why,”says Botha.He acknowledges that he expected far moreresistance from the market. “We are now a year ahead of schedule in terms ofour business plan,” he adds.

Like most South African entrepreneurs,Botha and Coetzee invested their own money in the first couple of buildingsthey bought. “The negative perceptions of the city worked in our favour;building owners were initially only too keen to get rid of their property. Butonce interest was sparked and prices rose, we had to look at more creative waysof financing the projects and attracting venture capitalists and outsideinvestors. Our first few successes stood us in good stead.”Urban Ocean’s successhas given rise to competitors, but Botha views competition as his strongestasset. “Our competitors have helped to create value for us.” When asked why Urban Oceanmanaged to make a success of an initiative that many corporate property ownersshunned, Botha puts it down to entrepreneurial versus institutional thinking.

“Companies with too much money at theirdisposal are not always able to think creatively. Entrepreneurs have to be ableto do a lot with the little they have. This makes them more inventive.”A concern that is repeatedly raised issecurity. Botha says the sense of community created by apartment living is thebest form of security. “In the suburbs, people live isolated lives. The richeryou are, the higher your wall, the more difficult it is for anyone to help you.In high-density areas the sense of community is far greater. In addition, allour developments have security guards as well as CCTV and other securitytechnology. Shops are within walking distance and entertainment and night lifeare next on the cards.”

The biggest challenge has been getting allservices and utilities to function. The company has had to work with themunicipality to tackle the culture of dirtiness that permeates the city. “Wehad all graffiti removed from the areas around our buildings, and we employadditional cleaners to support the city’s services. There is no doubt thatcleanliness helps to combat crime and uplift a district.”This co-operation, he adds, is leading to achange in mindset about the city. “Banks and other businesses, as well as thecity council, are all doing their best to improve the surroundings.”His ultimate aim: to help turn Johannesburg into a world-class city that isa tourist destination as well as a business, residential and leisure hub.

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+.


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.






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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Company Posts

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




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.


“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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