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.
Money talks and electronic gaming evolves
Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.
The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.
The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games.
It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.
MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.
“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”
New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.
“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”
Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.
Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.
This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.
What is blockchain?
A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.
A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.
Each block stores:
– A number of valid records or transactions.
– Information referring to that block.
– A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.
Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.
As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.
How is blockchain so secure?
Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.
Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.
In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.
What else can blockchain be used for?
Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.
Use of blockchain in healthcare
Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.
Use of blockchain for documents
Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.
Other blockchain uses
This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.
Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.
Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.