- Player: Stuart Minnaar
- Company: Yappo
- What it does: Yappo is a mobile payment solution company that turns a smartphone into a wallet.
- Launched: 2009
- Visit: yappo.co.za
Building a great business doesn’t always happen on the first try. When Stuart Minnaar launched Studentology.co.za, his idea was to create a digital platform for students to interact with each other – a Gumtree for campus, instead of the traditional noticeboards that everyone used.
“Within two weeks we had 13 000 users,” says Minnaar. It seemed great, but unless you can monetise what you’re building, you don’t have a business.
“We had a user base, so now what? Trying to get businesses close to the UCT campus to advertise wasn’t easy – we couldn’t convert the sale, because there was no guarantee that students would see the advert and follow through.”
Minnaar’s first pivot was a student discount card. 125 stores came on board. Stores were now able to track conversions, and Studentology charged a once-off fee of R90 for the card. “It was quick and provided easy cash to keep the business going, but we knew there was no longevity in the model.”
Minnaar used the time and income to evaluate what he had. “Here was a captive audience with spending power, and we were gathering an incredible amount of information on them, particularly on their spending and point-of-sale habits.”
Knowing When To Pivot
Understanding when to pivot is vital to overall start-up success. Entrepreneurs should always be careful not to be too enamoured with one idea – instead, pay attention to the market, and keep adjusting your offering to suit market needs in such a way that you can also make revenue, and maximise the data, skills and growth potential at your disposal.
“At this stage I was looking for the best way to service students, but also monetise a business. I started investigating if students could use their phones to pay for things in and around campus.
I was very focused – there are one and a half million students in South Africa. It’s a captive market. They’re on campus.
It’s a contained space. They’re quite a homogenous market – they all have similar needs, and best of all, they’re tech savvy and tend to be early adopters, so it’s a great space to play with something new.
“I had also recognised a few key points. First, students have money. There are roughly two groups: Students with disposable income from their parents, and students with bursaries. Students spend around R24 billion a year, including food, clothing, accommodation and entertainment.
I number crunched, and realised that on average, students spend R3 500 a month. A mobile wallet would make a lot of sense for them – the money would be easy to send and receive, and they could spend it at all participating stores.
“Then there was the social element. Bursary students get their money in lump sums and they tend to transfer some to their families, and spend the rest. They end up under financial stress and then academic stress. Too much money is given all at once and then not tracked or managed.
“We saw an amazing business model in the high levels of student spending that could also play a social role. We could measure, manage and track spend – it’s an app, so it can do reports, and allocate funds to categories. For bursary students, certain amounts could be allocated to food, entertainment, rent and so on – and once you’d reached your budget, the app wouldn’t let you spend any more at those stores. We could help students control their spending. Yappo mobile payments was born.
“The idea was strong, but the mobile payment space is very regulated. The banks were all working on their own solutions, and didn’t want a partner. Any requests for collaboration were shut down. “So where did that leave me? I needed two things: Contacts, and money.”
Getting Immersed in the Industry
Minnaar recognised the benefits of getting active in the tech and entrepreneurial space.
“In those first few years I did a lot. I went to every event I could find, tech, start-up, mobile, payment solutions – I wanted to know what was happening in South Africa and abroad, and make connections.
“I heard about SAB Kickstarter and entered. We won the regionals in 2010, and the nationals in 2011, which came with a very welcome R250 000 in prize money. Any income went towards development of the app and platform. I’m not a tech guy. I had the vision, but the development was outsourced.
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“The game changer was being selected as one of 12 entrepreneurs at a Silicon Cape event, called Pitch London. We were invited to pitch to a panel of angel investors in London. They all had ties to South Africa and wanted to invest in local businesses. It was an amazing opportunity, both for the experience and the chance to pitch to real investors.”
It’s All About Networking
Minnaar is candid about the importance of getting out there, and finding as many platforms, associations and events as possible.
“I secured investment in London, but what I didn’t realise at the time was how important the investors would be to my business in non-financial ways. They’re connected. They open doors. For example, I spent months trying to get a meeting with Cape Union Mart, and one phone call from one of my investors, who knows the director, and I was in.
“The same thing happened later when I joined an organisation called the Power of Youth, a UK network of young entrepreneurs. They have a partnership with the EY Vantage Programme. Through the programme I was paired up with an international EY consultant for six weeks. He came into the business and made me realise how much I didn’t know – legalities, admin, finance, the list goes on.
But he also opened doors for me. On my own I’m a small start-up, but once you have people vouching for you, you’re no longer a small guy – there’s incredible power in a referral. I’ve learnt the power of networking, and getting into amazing programmes that give you access to business people with strong networks that they’ve built up over the years.
“It’s just such powerful advice: Build up your own network, attend events, get out there, and find a mentor. There’s no such thing as too many connections, especially well cultivated connections.”
Minnaar’s first foray into securing funding was the Silicon Cape initiative in London. “We did a practice pitch in Cape Town with one of the investors before we travelled to London. The feedback I received following my practice pitch wasn’t good.
“One of the mentors told me that I wasn’t ready, and that I wasn’t clear on what my product was. His feedback really bothered me. I asked him if we could meet. He then helped me to get clear on how to pitch my idea. It was a real eye-opener for me. Just because you understand what you do and why it’s important doesn’t mean anyone else will. You need to really create a picture in their minds, and tap into something that they care about.
“Once in London, the actual day of pitching was in a massive boardroom, Dragons’ Den style. There were 12 of us, and we started at 11am. By 7pm I still hadn’t pitched. I was last in the queue, and cocktails had started being served. Everyone was tired, and I knew I wouldn’t have anyone’s attention.
“Just before my pitch, the cocktails were being pushed past me, and I knew I needed to be different, maybe even crazy, if I wanted to be noticed. I decided that I would draw a picture on a flipchart, no fancy presentation and no video, and that it would take me two minutes instead of the stipulated 15 minutes.”
Longer Isn’t Always Better
“Everyone else in the room had fancy presentations and suits and ties. They also had the right words. I didn’t want to compete with them in terms of suits and presentations. I wanted to compete on the viability and scalability of the business.
It’s not that I wasn’t taking things seriously, I just wanted to be noticed for the right reasons. I also knew that despite my strong desire to secure funding, it had to be with the right person. Someone who didn’t want to work with me because of the fact that I dressed in jeans and a shirt, isn’t someone I’d want to work with.
“I approached the pitch head-on, and was short, quick and to-the-point. When they asked me what language the code was written in, I said it’s written in English. My point was that I’m not the tech guy – I’ll find or hire someone for that. I’m the big picture guy.
“I was the only company they invested in. The investors made me an offer for a 24% equity stake. I didn’t want all the money upfront, but staggered. On the way back to South Africa, one guy stared at me, as if to say, ‘I don’t understand how you got the money. You’re just mucking about.’ I didn’t understand either. I felt so free, knowing that someone else bought into my vision and what I was trying to do. But I think there’s also value in being yourself. Don’t try to be what you think an entrepreneur is. Just be yourself, it’s so much easier.”
One of the reasons Minnaar asked for staggered finance was because his issue wasn’t lack of finance, but managing what was going to happen once the money was invested in the business. “I knew that I needed to be coached, guided, and managed through the process. I didn’t want to make any mistakes.
“I had three investors. The first only wanted an update every three months. The second told me to contact him if I needed more cash. The third became my mentor. Without him, I wouldn’t have managed what I did. Too often we think that money will solve all start-up problems, but that’s not the case. Money can facilitate you, but so can networks, and people who can open the right doors for you.
“An outside perspective that can help you critically evaluate your business and its gaps is also so important. I could do it all again in half the time now. I’ve learnt so much.
“The head of acquisition of a large multi-national approached me to discuss a possible buy-out. I’m not out there convincing buyers to come and look at me. There’s interest and a lot of that comes from putting the right foundations in place. When I was chosen for the EY programme, I knew that I needed to get the most out of it. And so my starting question was: How do I wrap this business up so that it’s attractive enough to sell? You have to think about the exit and find a company that will buy your database and tech.
“Since securing investment, I’ve been working on proving the concept, making sure it works, and then scaling it. The tech needs to integrate into point of sale systems in South Africa, and we’ve partnered with WiGroup to do this.
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“We’re integrated into their systems at Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Famous Brands and a host of other franchises. There’s solid integration now – and that sells itself. If you take care of the foundations, the rest will follow.”
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
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