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Silk Road: Lessons in Building an Online Marketplace (and How Not To)

How to make a success out of an online marketplace.

Catherine Bristow

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There’s no denying that Silk Road is a lesson in carefully selecting the products and services that a marketplace can offer – and in the case of alleged mastermind Ross Ulbrich, an underworld type eBay, that serviced a worldwide network of dealers and users, was clearly not the way to go.

Black markets have been around for a long time but one thing’s for sure, no one out was yet to think up the hair-brained idea of creating a product offering of drugs; listings for hacking in social accounts; fake drivers’ licenses and fake passports which even included reviews and commentary.

Related: Got a Million Dollar Idea? Then Enter the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year®

But there’s something that Ulbrich got right when he created his (albeit illegal) online marketplace. Here’s what makes an online marketplace a success:

1. Curate unique product offerings

Winning marketplaces tend to disrupt industries that are generally dominated by powerful middlemen. These marketplaces match supply and demand, while attracting new suppliers and customers to the market.

Online learning platform, Udemy, is a good example of this. This company made it possible for people to access a large number of short form video classes, enhancing their skills more easily than attending a physical class.

2. Creating large value for suppliers

To create a winning marketplace you need to provide more than just access to potential customers. Disruptive marketplaces support suppliers and buyers to create a large value add for everyone.

Design marketplace, Minted takes care of printing, framing, shipping and customer service — effectively navigating the entire business operation cycle so that the artists don’t have to take up their important designing time with operational concerns

3. Stimulating  quality competition

Online marketplaces often bring new participants into an ecosystem and stimulate more competition and higher service standards from existing players, all of which ultimately benefit the consumer.

Of course it’s plain stupidity to create a marketplace selling illegal items, but with the right combinations of buyers, sellers and products your marketplace could become the next best disruptor.

 

Catherine Bristow is the online editor and content marketing manager for Entrepreneur Magazine. She brings to the mix a BJourn from Rhodes University, Honours in Psychology as well as a certificate in Accounting and Commercial Law.

Entrepreneur Today

AlphaCode Awards R16 Million To Fintech Start-ups In One Of SA’s Richest Start-up Initiatives

This R2 million scale up accelerator offers mentorship, expert guidance and support services to help these more established businesses to scale and create jobs.

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Last night, Rand Merchant Investment Holding (RMI), through AlphaCode, awarded entrepreneurial packages valued at R16 million to eight of South Africa’s most promising financial services start-ups. The entrepreneurial packages consist of R1 million in grant funding and R1 million in support, which includes mentorship, monthly expert-led sessions, exclusive office space in Sandton, marketing, legal and other business support services as well as access to the broader RMI network.

The AlphaCode Incubate initiative, in partnership with Merrill Lynch South Africa and Royal Bafokeng Holdings, identifies South African financial services entrepreneurs with extraordinary ideas and businesses that could impact the financial services industry. More than 200 start-ups applied to participate. Of these, sixteen made it to final pitch evening and eight recipients were selected.

The eight winning businesses are:

Name Description Founders Video link
Akiba Digital A gamified mobile app making it easier and more rewarding to set, manage and meet savings goals. Tebogo Mokwena and Kamogelo Kekana https://bit.ly/2yOjYoX

 

ISpani Group Provides access for insurers into traditionally under insured communities through prepaid vouchers and USSD sold by a network of spaza shop vendors. Prince Nwadeyi, Khathazile Moroe, Patrick Machekera and Louis Buys https://bit.ly/2CrgbkE

 

Jamii De-risks tenant rent default through offering tenants incentive-based discounts on food and transport and bolt-on retrenchment cover. Adrian Taylor, Marc Maasdorp and Bartek Dutkowski https://bit.ly/2ytdc8F

 

Nisa Finance An invoice financing platform that enables financiers to issue invoice-backed loans to SMEs quickly and affordably by fully-automating the application and invoice verification through ERP system integration. Thando Hlongwane, Tekane Ledimo and Sinqobile Mashalaba https://bit.ly/2yptcIW

 

Pago A low cost mobile micro payments platform for the informal sector to enable an inclusive economy by digitising remittances through the use of blockchain technology. Philip Mngadi and Noel Lynch https://bit.ly/2S1QKvn

 

Prospa A mobile savings wallet for low-income earning South Africans that makes it easy to save small amounts infrequently using prepaid vouchers. Dhanyal Davidson and Carl Ngwenya https://bit.ly/2JbwbJf

 

SELFsure Enables millennials to significantly reduce car insurance premiums by self-insuring part of the risk via peer to peer lending. Proud Chitumba, Amos Mugova and Tshepiso Shamane https://bit.ly/2J6HVfV

 

Yalu A self-service credit life insurance platform which replaces a customer’s current policy with a more affordable, simpler and rewarding policy. Nkazi Sokhulu, Tlalane Ntuli, Steve Goeieman and Life Mhlanga https://bit.ly/2PH87QF

 

The programme has disbursed R13 million in funding to 15 black-owned financial services businesses since it began three years ago. “Some have experienced exponential growth and we have been amazed at the level of traction they have received locally and internationally. The intention behind AlphaCode’s Explore, Incubate and Accelerate programmes is for RMI to discover the next OUTsurance or Discovery; we want to identify, partner and grow the future of financial services in South Africa,” says Dominique Collett, head of AlphaCode and a RMI senior investments executive.

During the event, contestants had just three minutes to pitch their businesses, with a couple of minutes set aside for questions from a formidable panel of judges. These included Phuti Mahanyele, CEO of Sigma Capital; Raymond Ndlovu, investment executive, Remgro; Nakedi Ramaphakela, finance director, Royal Bafokeng Holdings; Anthony Knox, MD Investment Banking of Merrill Lynch South Africa and Dominique Collett.

Julie Benadie, regional executive of Operations and Corporate Affairs at Merrill Lynch explained: “We believe in supporting disruptive ideas so that creative fintech solutions will emerge to address the challenges that South Africa faces. We want South Africa to become a fintech centre of excellence with its already advanced financial services infrastructure.”

The AlphaCode Incubate programme deals with common challenges that financial services startups face. All participants are early stage businesses, under two years old and at least 51% owned by black South Africans.

“AlphaCode is also now also seeking additional fintech entrepreneurs for our Explore programme. This offers a 12-month data science and business skills programme for 20 aspirant South African fintech entrepreneurs in conjunction with The Explore Data Science Academy,” Collett added.

Candidates will go through an intensive six-month data science-training programme, where they will learn how to design a 10X business along with the core digital skills needed to build a fintech organisation. This will be followed by three-months of business skills training. Interested fintech entrepreneurs should apply at www.alphacode-explore10x.club by 30 October 2018.”

In addition, AlphaCode recently selected four more established fintech businesses for its Accelerate programme: Entersekt, Livestock Wealth, Click2Sure and Invoice Worx. This R2 million scale up accelerator offers mentorship, expert guidance and support services to help these more established businesses to scale and create jobs.

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Entrepreneur Today

The Sky Is The Limit For South Africa’s Top Women Achievers

High-powered women achievers from across the private and public sectors, academia and diplomatic spheres gathered for a charged two-day conference in Johannesburg this week to share experiences about empowerment, achievement and the role that women are destined to play in a competitive global environment.

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Several hundred women attended the 15th Annual Standard Bank Top Women Conference which, with the Top Women Awards, has become one of the premier events for women on the national calendar. The objective of the gathering at the Maslow Hotel on the 17th and 18th of October, was to showcase the achievements of South African women and reignite their passion as they have major roles to play in all arenas of endeavour, says Ethel Nyembe, head of Card Issuing at Standard Bank.

“The delegates to the Top Women Conference were inspired by speakers such as Yvonne Chaka Chaka, singer, songwriter and an entrepreneur in her own right; Phuti Mahanyele, executive chair of Sigma Capital, a black-owned investment group, and political and academic stalwart Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, now Chancellor of Nelson Mandela University and other women who are playing leading roles in many of the nation’s listed blue-chip corporations.”

“The overall message is that women are playing a central role in growing all facets of our economy and are helping to build a future from which other women can benefit and, in turn, inspire others. Women, regardless of whether they are entertainment icons, professionals engaged in helping shape the minds of future generations, businesswomen or scientists are part of building a new global reality.”

Related: 13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top In SA

To inspire delegates about the breadth and depth of the future for women, the conference examined all facets of economic life from the impact that IT and scientific research is having on building businesses, through to the development of entrepreneurs and leadership skills. Insights were offered through the contributions of speakers and roundtable panel discussions in which leading women offered observations and advice gathered from their vast experience.

“Standard Bank is proud of the role it has played in enabling women achievers to reach their full potential within its ranks. The bank also recognises that women across society have a broad role to play in the future of South Africa. It is through support for events like the Top Women Awards and the Top Women Conference that this approach is made visible and tangible.”

“We expect this year’s conference deliberations to deliver insights and inspiration that will not only spur established women to new heights of achievement, but also stimulate young women starting new careers,” says Ms Nyembe.

More information on the Top Women Conference can be found at https://topwomen.co.za/ and it can be followed on the #SBTWConference conversation on Facebook and Twitter  

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The Ins And Outs Of A Good Exit Strategy

The thought of parting with a business you’ve grown from the ground up may be unsettling, but Gugu Mjadu, spokesperson for the 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, says that it is better for both your business and yourself to plan for this as early as possible.

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“The challenge that business owners often face in this respect is comparable to the difficulty that many new parents have with imagining their children grown up and leaving for university. Imagine, however, if parents did not plan ahead for the cost of their education – that would be detrimental to the future of their children. The same could be the case for your business.”

Mjadu says that a good exit strategy is about sustainability and being able to measure your business performance against the goals you have set for it. “It’s really about being able to say, ‘this is when the work is done and I can exit the business or take on a different role – this is what success looks like in terms of monetary return on investment and other business growth indicators’.

“The lack of an exit strategy could be telling of a fundamental lack of measurable business goals and this needs to be addressed,” she says.

From immediate liquidation to liquidation over time; family succession; selling to staff or external investors; the open market or another business; or the gruelling but profitable exercise of taking your company public – there are many different ways in which an entrepreneur can exit their business, but Mjadu says that whatever the process, a strong and solid strategy is essential.

She shares five key points of a good exit strategy:

1. It tells you when you are done

Mjadu says that a good exit strategy should reflect a core understanding of all the intricacies of your business and should be able to tell you when the lifecycle of your business (or of your involvement in the business) should come to an end. This is usually done by including a set of tangible measurables or objectives so that it is easy to ascertain when these have been achieved.

Related: When Do You Know It’s Time To Sell Your Business

2. It sets out the right environment within which to exit

A good exit strategy considers the economic, social and political environment at the time of your exit. Mjadu says that this is important in order to plan for a secure financial future.

“Failure to think about this could result in short-changing yourself by exiting during a tough economic climate when the risk to buyers reduces the value of your business.”

She references the case of Victoria’s Secret when founder, Roy Raymond, sold the failing business for $1m unknowing that it would later grow into the multi-billion dollar empire it is now. “While Raymond’s exit was ultimately necessary for Victoria’s Secret’s growth, he sold it in 1982 during the global recession of the early eighties – one of the world’s biggest financial crises and this influenced the selling price at his exit”.

3. It compensates those who have contributed to the life of your business

It is important to consider the impact your exit could have on investors and staff, says Mjadu. “Closing shop for example, means that your staff no longer have employment at your business. Selling could mean the same.” She adds that it is important to consider ways in which your exit could also benefit these stakeholders – for example, selling to a bigger business could mean more career opportunities for your staff, as well as continued job security.

4. It compensates you

Mjadu says that entrepreneurs often struggle to recognise their own true worth, especially when this involves attaching a monetary value to what has been achieved. “The time of exiting a business is no place to short-change yourself. You need to get out the full worth of what you put in,” she says, explaining that this means ensuring that you are financially secure before and while you go into your next venture.

“Your needs for retirement and medical insurance, as well as the maintenance of your living standard, should be met at your exit.”

Related: Want to Exit the Company? Here’s Your Shareholder Exit Strategy

5. It sustains your entrepreneurial drive

Mjadu says that while you may be nearing the end of one journey, your exit should enable and encourage you to continue to be an entrepreneur – and to look forward to the next journey. “Your entrepreneurial skills and capacity do not end when you exit your business and whatever your strategy, it should egg you on to more entrepreneurial activity including becoming a mentor to aspiring entrepreneurs.”

Mjadu says that exiting your business should allow you a good retrospective look at what you have done over the years – and so planning the strategy early on in your business lifecycle will set you up in regards to what you hope to achieve. “Upon exit, you should be able to say that you have done what you set out to do, financially and socially, and you have some energy left to do more elsewhere.”

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