While South African start-ups have the talent and drive to operate and compete in the global market, the failure rate of start-ups within their first year is truly staggering. The fundamental question therefore remains, what does it actually take to make it, asks DANIEL SCHWARTZKOPFF of DataProphet.
Daniel Schwartzkopff – Commercial Director and Co-Founder of Cape Town-based start-up and machine learning specialists, DataProphet – refers to the 2016 report, ‘The Small, Medium and Micro Enterprise Sector of South Africa’. Commissioned by the Small Enterprise Development Agency, the report highlights the growing concern related to risks that threaten the existence of SMMEs.
“This threat is supported by multiple reports and statements by leadership such as that of South African Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, who in 2013 noted that five out of seven new small businesses started in South Africa fail within their first year.”
“The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) also found that the survival rate for start-ups is low and that opportunities for entrepreneurial activity appear to be at their lowest in developing countries.”
Schwartzkopff, who was just 19 years old when he first became involved in the establishing successful start-ups, notes there are a number of local and international hurdles entrepreneurs need to be prepared for on their journey.
His biggest piece of advice is to have a defined goal and a revenue strategy from day one.
“While selling the potential of your dream may open a door or two, having solid figures and a realistic plan to back it up will get you far further.”
He says, “Luckily, age is not as much of a barrier as it once was. There were times when young founders and directors would be quickly overlooked for their more experienced counterparts.”
“There has been a really positive shift in this regard, especially in the international start-up environment, where successful young business owners and entrepreneurs are recognised as being on top of their game and able to hold their own in a room full of clients or investors – sometimes double their age.”
If you have your sights set on entering the international playing field, Schwartzkopff – who spends part of his time in the US working with DataProphet’s Silicon Valley-based clientele – emphasises that the most difficult thing really is to get your foot in the door.
“Taking your start-up to a global level means that you have to make connections and get new clients from a region which may be completely new to you.”
“This is one of the hardest things you can do considering that this requires a permanent presence and a clear strategy of how to compete with existing competition who have already made a name for themselves – this takes time and can definitely not be rushed.”
“In addition, you need strong planning and networking skills as well as the ability to sell yourself, your business and the innovation which you are able to offer,” he says.
DataProphet, which was founded in 2013, recently entered into an investment partnership with one of the country’s top global investment and private equity groups – Yellowwoods Capital Holdings.
Schwartzkopff notes that, “Not only is this investment testament to the team’s hard work but it still allows us the freedom to do what we do best.”
He explains that while local tech start-ups are “up there” with the best in the world, it is difficult to find a potential investor and even more difficult to find the right one. “Spending a bit more time and effort to ensure the right fit however, is definitely worth it.”
“A priority for many upcoming start-ups, securing investment is often a source of frustration and worry. The landscape is limited in South Africa and it is easy to be tempted to accept your first offer,” Schwartzkopff explains.
He advises that entrepreneurs spend some time talking to others who have been in the same position and set out a clear vision of what is needed from an investor including their level of involvement in the day-to-day running of the business and their cultural fit with the organisation.
“Do your investors share your vision? Do they understand your business and your brand? Cultural fit should be a major deciding factor when considering an investor,” he says.
Building Africa’s Century
The 4th industrial revolution will be on the agenda of this week’s Gartner IT Symposium in Cape Town. Doug Woolley, GM of Dell Technologies South Africa, ponders its meaning for Africa
Is this Africa’s Century, as President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the recent WEF on Africa gathering? I believe so. The event made solid headway in charting a course forward for African-centric solutions to our challenges.
Technology featured often in discussions and the 4th Industrial Revolution was a central theme. Many of the outcomes also tied to a more connected digital world. But those are the broad strokes. What happens next?
An important avenue can be found in all the individual investments made inside societies, such as broadband. The spread of connectivity is in part due to telecommunications firms being mandated by the Government to reach rural and under-serviced communities. But the major momentum behind broadband stems from demand. From individuals to enterprises, a hungry broadband market has helped South Africa become much more connected.
This paradigm applies to other technology investments as well. All of them add up to support the ideas and advancements that were discussed at WEF on Africa. The need for better services and performance through technology stokes the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s engine. Every network, every datacentre, every smartphone is a piece of the puzzle that will create Africa’s Century.
We are further along the curve than most people realise. If I can judge a country’s potential based on how digitally mature its organisations are, then South Africa is not in bad shape. Earlier this year, the annual Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index ranked South Africa in the top ten, ahead of most developed nations. The investments made by the Public and Private sectors are taking root.
It may not make headlines, but all these individual ambitions pointing in the same direction are building the change we all want to see.
This brings me to the Gartner IT Symposium Xpo, the business-technology event taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from 16 to 18 September. If WEF on Africa challenged for solutions at a high level, then the Gartner Symposium is where those individual investments come into play.
The nitty-gritty of the 4IR era will be on the Symposium agenda. Research by World Wide Worx on the uptake of 4IR technologies among South African enterprises will be presented tomorrow (Tuesday) by one of the company’s data analysts, Bryan Turner.
I also anticipate discussions about multi-cloud. Cloud has grown tremendously as African organisations saw the progress that came with investing in it, connectivity and data – the core ingredients of the 4IR era. Now they are looking ahead to what can be done next: that multi-cloud is on the agenda shows how Africa’s technology capability is growing.
Unified workspaces will be another good conversation topic. What happens in the office doesn’t stay in the office. Our technology habits follow us home and, more often, our home habits follow us to the ofﬁce. This makes perfect sense, because 4IR is primarily about people being empowered by technology. Our workplace technology habits are microcosms of our overall use of technology.
Multi-cloud is the ‘infrastructure’ of the 4IR conversation and the workplace is where these technologies deliver some of their value. Considerable buzz is growing around unified workspaces, which make office environments more manageable and secure while reshaping them to fit the needs of modern employees.
Stop by the Dell Technologies stand and see how we’re helping create that momentum with multi-cloud, unified workspaces and through many other channels, including skills development and supporting SMMEs to grow.
How do we create Africa’s Century? Through those individual investments that collectively stoke the engines of our country and continent. It’s not just for the big players: 4IR can provide for every organisation regardless of size. Those investments are investments in the future of Africa.
PayPal pictures how the future will be won – or lost
By AAYUSH SINGHANIA, director of Commercial Operations for PayPal Cross-Border Trade Markets
There’s no doubt that technology has already re-shaped the way the world thinks about buying and selling. Who would have thought twenty years ago that people would be shopping on their phones?
Despite the huge changes to the shopping experience in recent years, it’s important to understand that we are only part-way through this journey. We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, and as technologies continue to advance, and we as a society adapt our behaviours, new opportunities and risks will present themselves to merchants of all sizes.
Here is where I see the future of commerce being won and lost, as we continue on this technology journey:
Meeting ever-increasing demand for personalised experiences
We’ve already witnessed the transition of commerce from brick and mortar to the web, and then from the web to mobile. The next phase of internet-connected devices will make commerce even more contextual whereby anything you can interact with can be a platform for commerce. Imagine being able to point your phone at your best friend’s shoes, and almost instantly they are in your shopping cart, ready to be delivered to your home?
Mobile has already made shopping an “all the time” activity and has given us a taste of what it’s like to have hyper-personalised experiences. While a consumer walking into a retail store is limited by physical space, the online world offers an unlimited shelf for merchants to deliver tailored customer experiences. Looking ahead, innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning hold great promise to further deliver on this hyper-personalisation, by being able to learn about who a consumer really is as a person and their individual preferences.
As a result of this evolution, customers have moved from being surprised and delighted by personalised experiences to expect them in every context. Many customers, for example, now get frustrated when they receive advertisements for products that they’ve already bought, or have no interest in. This shift has made it critical for merchants to avoid delivering homogenous experiences to shoppers who demand personalised interactions across all contexts. In doing so, it’s important that merchants find a balance between personalising their offerings and ensuring consumers don’t feel their privacy is being invaded. Shoppers want to feel like a brand understands them, but isn’t stalking them, particularly in the wake of several high-profile data breaches.
Closing the consumer fulfilment gap to deliver seamless experiences
With new advancements in technology comes the ability to create seamless customer experiences that narrow the gap between customer desire and fulfilment. Gone are the days where shoppers decided to purchase an item and they were happy to wait a week to receive it – for many, two-day shipping still isn’t quick enough. The invention of the internet meant people could shop from home, and recently we’ve seen this evolve further where consumers prefer to shop on-the-go via mobile.
The big question is, what’s next? We’re already seeing the growth of commerce through technologies like AI-enabled voice assistants and virtual reality, so it’s critical that merchants keep pace with innovations that enable them to close the gap between desire and purchase in a delightful way.
At the end of the day, businesses need to remember that the act of filling up a cart and the process of checking out is not the fun part of making a purchase – these are points of friction – and technology is the answer to removing these frustrations for customers.
Managing customer reactions to technology disruption
Every tech disruption in its early days delivers excitement, fear, anxiety and doubt – not necessarily in that order. We all go through a phase of tech humanisation, because technology grows as we do – and we help shape the development of new solutions.
Technology has been used for good and bad, and technology that causes eye-raising experiences at the start will generally normalise in time. Remember the first video cameras on phones? As people learned how to use the technology, content got posted that shouldn’t have. Everything from the telephone, to radio and the television all caused concern and were initially criticised when first introduced to the public, but with time they’ve become part of our everyday lives. As technology evolves, companies learn from it, and the acceptance and humanisation of technology will take place for both consumers and merchants as new innovations are applied to the world of commerce.
Merchants need to have a mindset that’s focused on being a customer champion, while recognising that customers need to adapt to new technologies in their own time. To do this, businesses must leverage technology to build the right features that aren’t intrusive, but geared towards helping people, and respect the customer’s choice to turn technology on or off.
Technology innovation will continue to re-shape commerce in the years ahead, with the potential to deliver new growth opportunities for merchants, and offering customers more choice, convenience, value and instant gratification. In a broader sense, these innovations can also help promote employment by breaking down traditional barriers to buying and selling. For merchants, the opportunities will arise, they just have to know how to take advantage of them in the right way.