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Xarra Books: June Josephs-Langa & Khanyiso Mguni

Newtown bookstore lays the foundation for a reading nation.

Monique Verduyn

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June Josephs-Langa of Xarra Books

South Africa is not a nation of readers.Low education levels and poor access to books have played a major role increating a non-reading society. It hardly seems to make sense, therefore, toopen an independent bookstore in Newtown, Johannesburg, the heartof the old city.

But that is exactly what June Josephs-Langaand her business partner Khanyiso Mguni did, their goal being to promote areading culture and to provide access to African literature.Xarra Books, the name comes from the Sanlanguage /Xam and means “united in diversity”, opened its doors in August 2005,having been three years in the making. As part of their research into the bookbuying market, the two spent four months sitting outside bookshops andrecording customers’ buying habits.Josephs-Langa, who has a master’s degree indiplomacy from the University of Westminster, and 10 years’ experience in internationalrelations, says a passion for reading, a love of books and a belief in themarketability of African literature drove her and Mguni to take a risk that fewothers would.“We spent three years researching the bookproduction, publishing and retail value chain,” she says. “On one side thepublic was saying there was nowhere to buy African books, and on the otherpublishers were saying there was no demand for them.”They decided they were best placed to makean intervention at retail level. The result is an ultra-modern, lively andengaging space – shared with a Kaldi’s Coffee shop – where people can buy theliterature, art and music of Africa.“We chose not to go the library or NGOroute, because I believe you value what you pay for,” says Josephs-Langa,calling herself a social entrepreneur. It’s an apt label: social entrepreneursseize opportunities others miss to address social problems and create newsolutions that change society for the better.

But she is also a pragmatist who knew thatadvocacy on its own was not going to create a book-buying public. In tandemwith the launch of the store, they developed the Reading Nation campaign, whichaims to grow the reading market at three levels: for adults, the store hostsregular book launches, readings and discussions; for the young adult market,Saturday afternoon poetry readings and chill out sessions have become astandard; and for children, regular storytelling events are held to inculcate alove for books.“This forms the basis of our marketingstrategy,” explains Josephs-Langa. “Xarra Books has become a compellingdestination; people come here to participate in events, they see our books andthey buy them. It was vital for us to find a way to bring customers here, givenour location. We also take the longer-term view that by contributing to thecreation of readers, we are growing our own future market.” To illustrate her point, Josephs-Langanotes that teenagers are buying books from the store on lay-by, kids arenagging their parents for more stories, and adult readers come from as far asPretoria to find what they are looking for.The two applied to a number of banks andempowerment financiers for funding but were turned down by all because theconcept was new and untested. Finance was eventually secured from Absa’sIncubator Fund, which put up the cash and will remain a minority shareholder inthe business until it is paid off. The store reached breakeven this year. AXarra Books loyalty card has been launched, and discussions are now underwayfor a second store in Cape Town. The website, which went live in December 2005,will soon have online shopping functionality.

The business has experienced steady growthsince its inception, enabling the negotiation of more favourable terms with publishers.“That’s been a key enabler for our development, and it’s also helped us tomanage our cash flow better. Publishers are now confident that we are here tostay and that we can service our accounts.” To cement the store’s future, the partnersare also developing vertical markets and have secured the contract to supplyGauteng’s libraries with African literature. Jospehs-Langa sources not only Africanbooks, but also international bestsellers, business titles, and books onalternative lifestyles, philosophy, history, and current affairs. She is alsoproud of the selection of children’s books on offer. “Asmuch as we are a niche store, we have also had to take into account the needsof the broader market to keep the traffic coming,” says June-Josephs.In terms of location, she likes to seeherself as a pioneer. “We believe in the revival of the inner city, and it’sexciting to see how many businesses are moving in.” Contact: +27 11 832 3069; www.xarrabooks.com

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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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.

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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