- Players: Gavin Simoen and Dr Fred Tyler
- Company: Swopinfo
- Current territories: Russia, China, Honduras, UK, US and South Africa
- What they do: Online business, marketing, file storage and networking platform.
- Launched: 2015
- Visit: www.swopinfo.com
Despite its power in the digital age, the network effect is not new. Consider the telephone. The real value of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention came as more and more households owned phones.
Each phone added to the network made the whole network more valuable because the reach of each individual phone was that much larger.
But the network effect in action has never been clearer than with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, he instinctively understood that the more people who joined the platform, the more valuable it would become to its current users.
In other words, when a network effect is present, the value of the product or service is dependent on the number of people using it.
Local entrepreneurs Gavin Simoen and Dr Fred Tyler are building their start-up, Swopinfo, with the network effect firmly in mind.
A platform that successfully taps into the network effect has two inherent values: Users derive value from the use of the product, and they derive value from other people’s use of the product.
In order to create a community of Swopinfo users, Simoen and Tyler first needed to create a platform that adds value to its users, despite how many other people are on the platform. They then needed to build the importance of sharing the platform into the business model. The more people on the platform, the more valuable it becomes — but you have to give people a reason to be there.
In an age where there’s not only an app for that, but a platform as well, the entrepreneurs wanted to create something that solved some of their personal pain points, but also became a valuable business model.
“As an urologist who speaks at hundreds of conferences and has thousands of presentations stored on hard-drives, I needed a secure space where I could store my presentations in the cloud, but also give others easy access to them,” says Tyler.
Google docs, dropbox and iCloud are all online storage facilities, but you’re not just going to give anyone access to your data. These are personal file storage sites.
“This was the seed that became Swopinfo,” says Simoen. “We wanted to create a file sharing site that was completely secure, would upload all normal formats, and allow others to see, view or download your documents without having access to your private account. As the account holder, you can choose which files are available for public viewing, which can be downloaded, shared, reviewed and so on.”
As the idea developed though, Simoen and Tyler began working on the business model. They wanted to create a site that had unlimited (or at least a very large capacity cap), and that was free, or as close to it as possible. This meant the idea needed to be monetised in another way.
Finding The Money
A captive audience is extremely valuable from an advertising perspective, particularly if you’re able to segment that audience even further. Targeted and niche advertising is becoming the way of the future, and platforms that can offer that to advertisers are golden.
Geo-location technology means that Simoen and Tyler can then sell advertising that targets users by their geographic locations, interests and businesses.
Getting Everyone On Board
In order for any of this to work though, the networking effect is vital. As the concept has developed, and Simoen and Tyler have conducted hours and hours of exhaustive online research, the capabilities of the platform have grown.
“We realised that businesses and individuals need a way to market online through content sharing that is targeted, specific and valuable to their clients. If you can do everything from one platform, then that platform not only becomes integral to your business, but it becomes an online business community where users can cross-sell, support each other and invite other members into the community.
“Our research found a number of tools focused on new business acquisition, but nothing that actively supports businesses to look after and communicate with their current client bases,” says Simoen. “We’ve therefore focused on shaping our platform into an interactive remarketing tool.”
Swopinfo has three channels: Personal, business and conferencing capabilities that include a live streaming function.
“Businesses pay a minimal annual fee that allows them to open a business profile, link to all other social media sites, upload catalogues, marketing material, videos, brochures and digital business cards, all in one place, and all sharable at the click of a button.”
This functionality means that businesses are encouraged to invite clients and suppliers to follow them, so that they can easily share content with them.
“We’ve created an opportunity to actively market your products to your followers. In addition, you can go into your profile, manage information, share it and push it via other platforms into a time-line based medium.”
For example, if you own student accommodation and you’re targeting students in July who are starting six-month courses, you can create a package outlining your offering. It includes a video presentation, a pamphlet, some referrals, and you can send out a targeted campaign to student sites and social media sites with specific hashtags. Anyone interested can then find all that information on one platform, without having to Google it.
“There are a trillion websites and only ten spots on Google’s first page. This eliminates the need for excellent SEO.”
Sales executives can use the platform in a similar way. As they grow their personal databases, they can send product updates, specials and targeted content marketing to their clients. People can also create closed groups to share files, for example, recipe groups or arts and crafts circles, and self-publish downloadable books for free.
“We believe this is the future of trade,” says Tyler. “In ten years’ time, everyone will be trading from one platform. You need to be able to interact with clients, accept payments, and share information from one place.
“We’ve focused on high functionality on a simple-to-use platform. You can send a presentation to your phone via whatsapp, and then play it through a mini-projector. “We want our platform to be an invaluable tool that you share with everyone.”
The Power Of A Network
Ultimately however, the platform only works if enough users are on the site, and so their core focus, over and above developing functionality, has been to get people to join Swopinfo.
To help spread the word, Simoen and Tyler have created a network of agents who can recruit and train users so that they get the full benefit of the site’s functionality.
“Agents teach people how to use our platform in exchange for a great commission. We understand that the more businesses and individuals understand how to use the platform, the more likely they are to use it and stay on the site, get the benefits and attract others onto the site.”
Simoen and Tyler are offering the platform for free for educational purposes as well — users just need to register to download the information.
“We want the whole world on our platform eventually. We believe that there are two key components to achieving this aim: A platform that offers real value to business owners, and a business model that requires users to sign up before they can engage with each other, download information or use the storage facilities.”
Understand where the value in your business idea lies, and then create a business model designed to unlock that value. What will customers pay for? And who needs to use your product to make it valuable?
Watch List: 11 Teen Entrepreneurs Who Have Launched Successful Businesses
These teens are proving that you don’t need a driver’s licence – or the ability to vote – to create and execute a successful start-up.
In South Africa youth entrepreneurship is encouraged as the best way to build the economy. Teens are no longer relying on tertiary education to jumpstart their careers, as many high school students become budding entrepreneurs. From make-up to confectionary and tech-centred ventures, youth entrepreneurship is taking the business world by storm.
“It’s easier than ever to become an entrepreneur, and technology has a lot to do with it. You’re a tech-savvy millennial, and Internet and mobile technologies make it easier to connect and identify with people, based on shared values and ideals,” says Michael Freestone, founder of the MJF Group. “All entrepreneurs wonder if their companies will succeed, but you don’t really know until you try. So, do it while you’re young and have little or nothing to lose.”
And that’s exactly what teenagers across the country are doing. While being a teenager is stressful enough, without worrying about marketing and your bottom line – these young entrepreneurs thrive on success, which must be their secret sauce to their winning business ideas.
10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets
The future of entrepreneurship has never looked so bright…these young entrepreneurs share their wisdom around building a successful business.
Natural Talent Can Become Your Success
Thabo Khumalo – ToVch
“I learnt to design and sew while assisting my mother who was a seamstress, and that is when I realised that I had a talent to create,” Thabo Khumalo explains. “But I never knew I was an entrepreneur.” Thabo Khumalo started his company ToVch in 2010 and has since appeared in South African Fashion Week, Soweto Fashion Week and Mpumalanga Fashion Week.
Khumalo has a small but engaged audience, who he communicates directly with. “The brand has a dedicated audience, and the social media presence also allows me to continuously scan the fashion environment to keep up with external forces.”
One of the most challenging aspects of launching his businesses was marketing the brand with limited funds. He used social media and word-of-mouth to market. “On social media, people share your brand with others simply because they want to,” says Khumalo. “It’s a powerful platform, and it does not cost anything.” Khumalo built up his company using support from a strong online network, which became his marketing strategy.
For Founder Of National Tekkie Tax Day Having A Higher (Business) Purpose Keeps Her Driving Forward
The NGO space isn’t easy. It’s a constant uphill battle to connect scarce resources with the vulnerable. Annelise de Jager has persevered in this space because she’s tapped into her personal purpose and values.
- Player: Annelise de Jager
- Initiative: National Tekkie Tax Day
- Launched: 2013
- Visit: www.tekkietax.co.za
Use your purpose to drive you forward
Connect your purpose with what you do, and you’ll find untapped reserves of perseverance and the discipline needed to achieve your goals.
Purpose before profit is not a new concept in business. In fact, it underlines the motivations behind some of the most successful entrepreneurs. It’s also not reserved for social enterprises alone.
However, it is in the social entrepreneurship and charitable spaces that living one’s purpose first found a foothold, mostly because without a strong purpose, the work would just be too hard, and many would give up.
Annelise de Jager, founder of National Tekkie Tax Day, unpacks how she’s used living her purpose to drive her forward, even when she’s faced almost insurmountable challenges and disappointments.
Make ‘living a life that matters’ intrinsic to everything you do.
“I was lucky in that I didn’t ever need to sit down and say, ‘I want my life to matter, so I need to do x, y, z’,” says Annelise. “It was intrinsic for me. However, in the past five years I’ve become acutely aware of it, and I’ve seen how important the ability to look beyond oneself is when you’re facing disappointment and challenges.
“It helps you look beyond the now, find a solution and keep pushing on, because there is a bigger goal at stake. The biggest revelation for me has been that anyone can figure this out and use it as a tool to achieve their dreams and purpose — you just need to trigger your intrinsic motivators.
“Figure out what’s really important to you, and then align this with what you’re doing, in both your business and personal journeys. Robin Bank’s Mind Power and Shaping your Destiny courses are a great place to start.”
Don’t be afraid to ask what’s next
Critical to Annelise’s journey has been the realisation that when goals are met, we need to ask ourselves: What’s next? “Too many people achieve their goals and then feel adrift. You should meet your goals. Your ultimate vision should change. That’s growth, and it’s critical if you want to keep moving forward.
“Our experiences inform our knowledge base and world views, and so as you live and run your business, that view should be changing, bringing with it new challenges and perceptions. Don’t be scared of it; embrace it.”
Annelise went to Potchefstroom University to study social work where she joined the university’s musical revue group, the Alabama Student Company. “Alabama was given the opportunity to tour Taiwan, but I was about to graduate. Travel is high on my personal values list, so I started a second degree in communications to stay in university — and — in Alabama.”
New experiences can be the source of great ideas and strength
Studying communications opened Annelise to a new discipline that she loved. “Marketing and communications are so filled with energy — an energy social work didn’t possess. I loved both, and I wanted to find a way to meld them together. This would ultimately shape my business, The Marketing Team, after I’d been a social worker for a few years. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plans based on new experiences; they can be the source of our greatest ideas and strengths.”
No experience is ever wasted
“We spend too much time trying to plan exactly what we should be doing, where and when, instead of following our hearts and instincts,” says Annelise. “No experience is ever wasted. Once I discovered my love for communications, I questioned whether I’d wasted four years studying social work. I hadn’t.
“Both disciplines became the bedrock of how I would assist the charitable space in South Africa. Experiences open our eyes, our hearts, and our understanding. They give us empathy and patience. They allow us to view things from other perspectives. If you want to really make a difference in other peoples’ lives, these traits are invaluable.”
Be open to finding answers in unexpected places
“By 2004 I felt rudderless,” says Annelise. “I’d been running my own business, handling communications and marketing for NGOs, developing campaigns and even assisting NGOs to run more as businesses than under-funded organisations, but it didn’t feel like I was doing enough.
“Part of the problem was that you can only give people the tools to work with, you can’t make them use them. Another problem was under-funding. Corporates spend billions each year on CSI projects but they don’t like to fund salaries and basic operational expenses.
“It’s frustrating because volunteers can’t do what needs to be done — most households need two breadwinners, which limits the availability of volunteers to assist.
“I was looking for a way to add more value. Should I start my own NGO? Where could I make the biggest impact? I’d been offered an excellent coaching position, which would allow me to walk away from the problems this sector deals with daily. It was tempting, but it wasn’t what I wanted.
“At that time I attended the Global Day of Prayer in Argentina on behalf of a client. It was at that conference that I had an almost supernatural experience. I left knowing exactly what my purpose was.
“How these realisations come to you is less important than the fact that you’re open to them. Deep down I knew what I wanted and needed — I just needed the courage and fortitude to follow my path. My experience in Argentina gave that to me because I allowed it to.”
Always find the strength to persevere.
Nothing worth doing is ever easy. In the NGO space, this is particularly true. “I developed the idea for National Tekkie Tax Day because NGOs constantly asked me to help them develop funding campaigns. I developed this fundraising model when I launched Casual Day and ran the project successfully for 18 years.
“But I also believe the NGO space can benefit from a more unified mindset to overcome donor confusion and fatigue. This is my new focus, but it’s difficult to get organisations to shift their mindsets. National Tekkie Tax Day is a step in this direction.
“It encompasses 12 national NGOs and 1 000 regional organisations across five categories — but there’s one product and one national marketing drive. Donors can choose a category to support.
“I’ve needed to persevere to help NGOs see the benefits in working collaboratively, and corporates to see the benefits of supporting the operational costs of NGOs.
“I don’t have a high profile job at a top company. People don’t call you back in my world. And yet you need to keep pushing forward against incredible headwinds.
“I wake up each morning and repeat the mantra that my success helps everybody; my failure helps nobody. There won’t always be easy wins, but with the right purpose you can persevere. You can make a difference.”
Support National Tekkie Tax Day on 26 May 2017
12 national charities | 1 000 local charities | 5 sectors to support
Animals, Bring Hope, Children, Disability, Education
Available at Toys R Us, Clicks and Babies R Us or online at www.tekkietax.co.za