The Purpose Behind iXperience: A Startup with Global Impact

iXperience interview

This week we did coffee in style at the Cape Town V&A Waterfront Workshop 17, office to the dynamic iXperience team. A team of twelve, led by two inspirational dudes with a passion for purpose and the stamp of Yale on their LinkedIn profiles.

Now, given the size of waves this business is making in the startup world, they probably don’t need much of an introduction. You probably already know that they originally started as a coding bootcamp with an added internship experience. You also probably know that today they connect with students from top universities in the world, like Harvard, Yale and MIT.  

And if you’ve chatted to Aaron Fuchs or Rafi Khan before, you might even know about their massive plans for the future, including international expansion, a global campus, and the new base they set up in Lisbon, Portugal this year.

So we’re here to tell you what you don’t know. The inside scoop on the real purpose behind iXperience, what drives their leadership, what challenges they face, and how they feel about strategy in a startup.

Now you’re hooked!

From “What” to “Why”

iXperience started without a grand vision. They had no idea what they would look like three years in, and it took them a while to discover their purpose. But what they did know, was that they were doing something epic.

“In the early days, our team didn’t have a concrete vision of what we were building, but everyone knew why: we wanted to create a life-changing experience for students. We wanted to bring students here and change their lives through education, connecting with people, and building an inspiring community”

You see, they’d identified a gap, a need, that wasn’t being met. A need that resonated with them as university graduates themselves. Students at top universities were getting very elite, very expensive education, but leaving without the skills that would impact them in the workplace.  

Ba-dum-chhh. Their purpose was crystal clear. To create epic journeys of growth that unlock students’ potential.

“The idea is really to help people discover something about themselves that they didn’t previously know. The time they have here, and the person they get to be and become while they’re here, is transformative. The people they meet, the culture they experience, the idea of connecting with an inspiring environment and really being pushed out of their comfort zone, is something that I think a traditional university performs abysmally.”

This, of course, is incomparable with many of the other advances in the education industry, too. Like MOOCS, which are, well, massive, meaning that they’re about distribution and dissemination of knowledge. Not exactly the kind of personalised experienced that’ll leave you teary-eyed and sniffling on completion.  

Not even kidding! Many of the students who get the iXperience-experience shed a few tears as they leave Cape Town International Airport, knowing that the journey (or at least this part of their life’s journey) has come to an end.

How They Did It

So, how did they do it? How’d they become so successful in such a short period of time?

The natural answer would be, “A solid strategy”. But it wouldn’t be the truth. Because Rafi has some unconventional feelings on strategy in a startup, and they make a lot of sense.

“I have mixed feelings about strategy in a startup. There’s a saying I like, which is ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. The idea being that building a team that’s aligned around a common mission is far more effective than spending that same time planning the perfect strategy.”

But, while strategy wasn’t the divine answer to growth for iXperience, they did share some of the most important practices and experiences that helped them to move forward:

  1. Access to Market

On first launching the business, Rafi and Aaron found themselves staring straight into the nasty face of their first challenge – access to market.

“Just getting people to believe that what we were doing was good was a very, very difficult thing.”

But, fortunately, Rafi and Aaron are both Yale alumni, so having existing connections at top universities in the U.S. was a big foot forward (and not something that many other South Africans can leverage).

Initial traction came with visiting universities, connecting with students, being able to understand their journeys, and selling them Cape Town as the destination.

“Our market is very far away. It takes an incredible amount of time, and 2 to 3 trips to America each year to foster those relationships and keep building a community.”

Community is an integral part of the programme, and a powerful way of reaching (distant) future students. The community of iXperience alumni are activated to connect with other students on campus, and to share their stories, ultimately creating a network effect in countries beyond South African borders.  

  1. Data, Data, Data!

iXperience leverages data to continuously improve the customer experience, make better business decisions, monitor quality, and refine their marketing approach.

“We believe in the power of data, and the power of technology, to really transform business.”

iXperience boasts an impressive revenue/employee ratio. Why? Well, because they have 12 madly-skilled employees who are invested in their purpose, and the rest is left to tech.

They use Google, Facebook, and Instagram to reach a global audience through digital marketing. They have an impressive website that’s easy to navigate. And they use a complex system of surveys and qualitative and quantitative interviews to get feedback from students.  

“We’re obsessed with tracking every single part of our business, to the point where we know every link that’s clicked, and every professor who opens our email. We base our decisions on this information.”

This tracking enables them to monitor who loves them, who doesn’t, how to improve the experience for those who don’t, and how to activate those who do love them, to do more for them.

  1. People Are Everything

According to Rafi, the people are everything. Both in terms of how you connect with your customer, and how you phrase your vision and purpose to others on the team.

“People buy the who and why, instead of the what. You have to be honest with yourself about why you’re doing something,  truly believe in it, and then hold yourself accountable to finding others who believe in it for the same reason.”

[bctt tweet=”People buy the who and why, instead of the what.” username=”iXperience”]

This is why iXperience feels that the best thing they ever did was to find a group of people who really, really, REALLY cared about the same cause.

“A players hire A players. B players hire C players. So to attain high talent density over time, you have to be rigorous with your recruitment.”

Now, iXperience will be the first to admit that they’re not perfect at this yet. They have about a 50% success rate at hiring, but they’re learning, and getting better at knowing what it is they’re looking for. Today, they have an 8-step hiring process, and discuss personal growth plans right from the onboarding phase.      

But what really makes them unique is their hardworking, passionate and self-driven culture. A culture where people hold themselves accountable as a team, because they share the same expectations of success. Finding other people who connect with this culture is the challenge.

“You’re not here to be busy, you’re here to get results. This resonates with a certain person, but it’s not for everybody.”

As Rafi says, a culture actually has to be exclusive, for it to be a culture.

“It doesn’t really matter what the culture is, as long as it’s authentic. I find culture isn’t something you can say. It has to be discovered over time.”

[bctt tweet=”It doesn’t really matter what the culture is, as long as it’s authentic” username=”iXperience”]

Rafi on Entrepreneurship

We asked Rafi to share some personal insight on his experience of entrepreneurship. After all, the guy could be working at Google, where he’d have a boss whose job it would be to make sure that he succeeds. As it turns out though, Rafi chose the startup road for some very cool reasons, like freedom and ownership of his own growth.

“For me, freedom has been the best and the worst thing. It’s amazing to be able to hold myself accountable to results, but, I have to hold myself accountable to results! That means that I have to be the one reading the books, I have to be the one reaching out to people for feedback. That takes a certain amount of discipline.”

From what we can tell, Rafi is pretty freaking good when it comes to discipline. So the question is, does he ever get time to do human things like eat, sleep, and watch stupid series?  

“My personal philosophy is to work hard, and then take epic holidays.”

iXperience is changing, growing, and making an impact every day. Watch their space as they move into the future, by following them on Facebook and LinkedIn, or checking out their website.

How Neural Sense Grew From a Kitchen Cupboard to Become African Leaders in Neuromarketing

startup growth

Three years ago, Neural Sense didn’t have a single client. Today, they’re boasting business with giants like Coca Cola, Telkom, Old Mutual and Liberty. So we chatted to co-founder, Mark Drummond, to find out how they did it.

Neuro-What?

Neural Sense is a consumer neuromarketing consultancy. Actually, they’re the only full-service neuromarketing consultancy on the African continent. Sounds impressive. But what does it mean?

Well, they use biometrics and other neuroscience technologies and research techniques to better understand consumer behaviour. This is a huge innovation that fills the void left by more traditional research approaches, like self-report surveys.

You see, these surveys are susceptible to bias, misunderstandings, and just plain old fibbing. Sometimes we answer in the way we think we should, rather than how we truly feel. And even then, how many of us even know how we truly feel?

So, Neural Sense is pioneering a marriage between technology and research to access people’s subconscious responses. This means a true understanding of how consumers feel emotionally and cognitively during an in-store or online experience, while alleviating those nasty biases.

Every Second Counts

Now, the question is… why is research so damn important, anyway? According to Mark, it’s all about making smart decisions, based on accurate information, so that you can catch the attention of an easily distracted audience.

“A lot of businesses don’t take the time to weigh up the pros and cons of the decisions they make. We’re currently in an environment that’s very output driven. There are targets to meet, and we’ll do whatever it takes to meet them.”

This results in businesses taking quick action. Action that’s not always the best way of moving them toward their goals. In fact, without enough thought and research, businesses can sometimes (unintentionally) take actions that lead them away from their objectives. This could be launching a new product without fully understanding the demand, or targeting a new market with ill-suited advertising.

So, Neural Sense conducts research that provides businesses with real insights for smart decisions. These insights not only help them to understand consumers’ in-store experience (like what grabs their attention, or how they navigate the space), but also the online user-experience, and how to optimise it.

This brings with it a host of exciting things, like AI, and figuring out how chatbots can be more emotionally engaging with users.

“There’s so much clutter. We get bombarded with digital messaging. Our attention span has reduced from 12 seconds five years ago, to 8 seconds today, with some people saying that you have only 5 seconds to make a hard sell. So every second counts.”

Neural Sense focuses on providing more than just data. They provide measureable, actionable insights that translate into better business decisions, and better consumer experiences.   

“We’re in such a tough economic environment at the moment, and often the first thing that gets cut is marketing budget. If your marketing mix isn’t optimised at every single touch point for the consumer, you’re going to miss out on opportunities.”

[bctt tweet=”If your marketing mix isn’t optimised at every consumer touch point, you’re going to miss out” username=”#NeuralSense”]

Oh, What A Journey

So, how did this unique startup, offering such an innovative solution, come to be? Well, in the beginning, there were three.

Around three years ago, Mark joined two guys who had been working on the idea of a neuromarketing consultancy. When Mark came on board, the business officially launched.

When picturing these early days, try to envision Mark Drummond working out of a kitchen, and then a cupboard, until 6 months later they finally invested in an office. This is around the same time that Neural Sense secured their first client – Telkom.  

“You essentially create value from nothing as a startup. So having that recognised with money coming into your account is a huge thing. Because it’s your blood, sweat and tears that have achieved that.

But as big as this achievement was, the team had other hurdles on the horizon. About one year in, a difference in expectations about the direction of the business and risk tolerance led to Mark and his partner, David, buying out the third member of their team.   

This was a tough 6 month process, and if he could go back, Mark would do things a little differently. Like being more open, honest and upfront with each other, and really understanding each person’s comfort levels with risk.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in startups, and this can cause tension. Make sure that you are very clear on everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and what your expectations are of each other. Unless there’s a page, you’re not on the same page. Draw up a contract, put it down on paper.”

Today, Mark’s experience in business and marketing makes a great compliment to David’s clinical psychology background. They work with a range of consultants specialising in astrophysics, engineering, and a bunch of other areas, as and when they need them on projects. This helps to keep costs down when there’s no work on the go.

Take It From Mark

It’s not hard to believe that through this startup journey, Mark has learnt a lesson or two. And lucky for us, he’s big on sharing.

Lesson 1: Get Friendly with the Competition

Neural Sense began with a clear strategy: To be a challenger brand. They were one of a kind, they were doing things differently, and they were offering research in a whole new way. They, were going up against the competition – traditional research companies.

“We quickly learnt that we actually needed to partner with them.”

Soon, Mark began to approach established research firms as partners, rather than competitors. This meant access to their client bases, and their stamps of authority. A strategic move that paid off.

“As a startup, you think it’s you against the world. But you need to be quite strategic about who you partner with. Leverage your competition, rather than wanting to have nothing to do with them.”

[bctt tweet=”Leverage your competition, rather than wanting to have nothing to do with them.” username=”#NeuralSense”]

Lesson 2: Plan Less, Do More

Brace yourself for this unconventional tip! If he had to do it all again, Mark would spend less time drawing up business plans. That’s right. Mark reckons that time can be wasted on too much planning.

“Planning is great. It’s important to have goals and vision. But the chances are your plan is going to change a hundred times.”

So, eventually you just have to get down to it, and get in front of clients. Mark is big on learning by doing. This includes experimentation in the real world. Test, learn, and test again until you get it right.

“As the saying goes: A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. And it’s the same with starting a business.”

Lesson 3: Ask for Help (Sooner)

Okay. If you’ve been following the Coffee@8 interview series, you might just be tired of hearing this one. But hey, if it’s been mentioned by just about every ass-whipping business that we’ve interviewed, then it’s got to be important!

“Ask for help sooner. A lot of people don’t realise the support structures available to them, and how willing people are to help. A startup can be a very lonely place.”

Draw on stories, tips and experiences from those who’ve done it before, and done it well or done it badly… learn from them. The fact that you’re reading this means that you’re already off to a good start!

Toward the Future

What lies in-store (pun intended) for Neural Sense? Many, many exciting things!

To start with, they’ll be making some changes to their team structure, by adding a new team member to take on some of their marketing and field work so that Mark can focus on new business.

“We’re still growing. Currently we’re only operating at around 40%, so we’ll be spending time looking for new business. It’s important to keep hunting for new business everyday.”

They’ll also be making a shift away from project work, and toward a retainer based business model. But the real, long-term goal is to sell the business in the next 5 to 8 years.

The thing is, it’s hard to sell people’s time and skills. So, they’re creating their own exciting technologies, like 3D environments, virtual reality, and desktop-based software applications that help identify the implicit associations people hold with brands.

But that’s not all. Neural Sense is looking to expand into Africa, and leverage the unique consumer landscape that yields huge growth prospects for brands and businesses. To do this, they’re partnering with research houses, establishing their name through networking, and have become a proud sponsor of the Neuromarketing World Forum.

“It’s also an excuse for me and David to go overseas.”

But for now, Mark continues to enjoy the flexibility, autonomy, challenge and purpose that come with being his own boss.

 

Follow Neural Sense on Facebook and LinkedIn, or check out their website.

Reimagining Recruitment with Startup Legends: OfferZen

Valoro OfferZen Interview

If you’ve ever been to their offices, read one of their social media posts, or met one of their scarily loyal fans, you’ll know that OfferZen brings an unfamiliar element of ‘funness’ to the world of recruitment. Of course, if you are one of those fans, you’re probably wearing one of their badass unicorn tees as you read this.

OfferZen Interview

But this story gets a lot more interesting than wizard pandas and rainbow-farting sheep. Because OfferZen was founded by two of the sharpest kids on the startup block: The Brothers Joubert!  

No. We’re obviously not talking about “those two guys who wrote fairy tales about exciting and unimaginable things”! But we are talking about the guys who actually made (and continue to make) unimaginably cool things happen.

Philip and Malan Joubert have a track record of startup brilliancy, with MixIt, SnapScan, Pondering Panda, BitX (the old Luno), and Journey Apps, to name but a few. Sure, they had to move back in with their parents once or twice, and might have spent the first two years of varsity surfing… but so do most geniuses, right? We’re not shocked. We’ve seen that movie before. So here’s one you haven’t seen…

Sit back, crack open a Cola, and find out how the culmination of their past experiences led these brothers to what is known and loved today, as OfferZen.

Changing Lives within 30 Days

Philip Joubert will be the first to tell you that recruitment is not a sexy industry. And while there are a few strong recruiters out there, it’s hard to deny that the industry is saturated with anybody’s and nobody’s trying to make a quick comm. This is bad for the hiring company, bad for the new employee, and a reputational hazard for recruiters with more meaningful motivations.

So how is OfferZen bringing sexy back? Simple. Their intention is to change people’s lives. And to do this, they’ve reimagined recruitment.

“OfferZen is based on the idea that traditional market dynamics don’t work for the recruitment of IT skills.”

It’s Eco’s 101, you see. There’s a greater need for the skills of developers and software engineers, than the number of developers and software engineers actually available in the market. Demand exceeds supply. This gives the developers, well, options.

So, instead of applying to jobs, OfferZen has flipped the scale and created a marketplace where (the best) companies can apply to developers. They’ve curated a tech-skilled marketplace filled with only the top companies and developers by setting a quality bar. Meeting the standards means making it into the club, and becoming part of something awesome!

But, curating their own marketplace isn’t all that makes OfferZen different. They provide upfront salaries on every job (Shut the front door, right?!), so that developers can avoid wasted time on interviews with companies who can’t meet their financial expectations… not to mention those awkward “I need more money than that to leave my couch” negotiations we all hate.  

Learning from Mistakes Doing It Right

Philip has more startup experience than most can conceive of, and with that, has probably encountered more mistakes than all my years of teenage frivolity combined. And yet, he took me by surprise when he disagreed with my generic statement that “we learn most from our mistakes”.

So far, OfferZen has expanded their team to such an extent that they’ve had to move offices – four times! Their online marketplace has welcomed over 650 quality companies, and they’re helping more than 2 developers a day to level-up with new job opportunities.

These are small numbers in terms of where we want to be.

Philip feels that he’s learnt more from each of these wins than from most of the mistakes he’s made before. His first lesson? The importance of remaining focused.

“Broadening your service, product or target market slows you down. That’s why we focused on one city, only startups, and only full-time software developers.”

This focus has allowed Offerzen to grow strong, before it grows big, and has allowed the team time and mental energy to deal with problems properly when they arise.

Philip also has an obvious passion for everything that OfferZen does, and can still do. A passion driven by the impact they can make on people and the world, rather than fame and fortune.

That’s why he says things like this, “Your job determines  a significant amount of your happiness” and this “People achieve 10% of what they’re capable of in their lives”.

So, OfferZen is constantly chasing bigger dreams, and the opportunity to make a greater impact. And with this comes a growing team of inspired, driven, Mensa-level people (trust me, I’ve met them) who want to make that same impact.

How OfferZen Plays Their Own Game

Still, OfferZen is a startup. A startup characterised by hard work, ambitious goals and innovative thinking. This team seems to do the impossible with grace and ease, because the excitement of proving the world wrong is just too hard to say no to.

But, this bunch of unicorn-loving, tech-savvy superheroes isn’t your average collection of people. They’re high on talent, big on brains, and glued together by a culture akin to that of Silicon Valley.

“We’re trying to emulate a Silicon Valley startup, in South Africa. Our ambition level is to compete with Silicon Valley.”

So, how does OfferZen find the right people to join their journey, and harness a culture of continuous awesomeness? To start with (and this should come as no surprise), they’ve implemented a solid recruitment process for their internal team – and it’s made a big difference.

“It’s mostly about finding the right people – they are excited by incredibly challenging situations. Of course there is another side to that – the expectation on you as a leader is incredibly high as well.”

Drawing on wisdom from the book, Who: Solve Your #1 Problem, OfferZen continues to go to the ends of the earth to get the best people on board their high-paced ship. They wrote their hiring process as a blog post, which some people saw, and liked, and sent to their friends who also liked it. And so the applicant funnel grew.

But despite having no shortage of applicants, and despite the constant supply of fan love, OfferZen is steadfast in their transparent approach, and has never become arrogant about hiring for their own team.

A Winning Team

Now, having the right people, and keeping them all aligned and motivated, are two separate (but connected) things. Especially in a continuously evolving startup environment.

“Working in a startup means that you’re often expecting a lot from people. We know that everything is going to change.”

Much like NetFlix, OfferZen is built on a culture of a professional sports team, rather than a family. This means that they’re metrics-driven, goal-driven, data-driven, and super high on self-improvement… all necessary ingredients for coping with change.

“We go far beyond what’s reasonable to achieve our goals. With startups I’ve found that there is often a threshold effect and you need to give unreasonable amounts of effort before you start seeing any results. We wanted to bake that attitude into our culture.”

But the core team isn’t the only team, because OfferZen recognises that advice is accessible – so they use it. As Philip says “People want to help”.

Having no prior experience in recruitment, the OfferZen team decided not to waste time, effort and resources on trying to figure it out themselves, which would have slowed them down. Instead, they found someone with a wealth of knowledge and experience in recruitment. And they continue to draw on the insight of advisers when they feel they need a little help.

Chasing Rainbows

Quick! Put on your shades, because the future’s looking bright for OfferZen. Instead of exerting effort on competing with mainstream recruiters, OfferZen is paving their own way, and focusing on creating high quality and happy experiences for their valued customers.

And just recently, they’ve been able to share this experience with even more customers by expanding their offering to other tech team roles, like UI and UX designers, QA testers, SCRUM masters, product owners and data scientists.

In Philip’s words, building a startup is “90% pain, 10% feeling on top of the world.” But that 10% makes it all so worthwhile!

Follow OfferZen on Facebook and Twitter, or check out their website for opportunities in the tech space.

Flickswitch: An IoT Business with Global Reach and Local Impact

startup interview

The chances are that you’ve heard of Flickswitch before. Because this SME is no stranger to the digital flashes of the online press. They’ve made appearances on Ventureburn, Silicon Cape, TechMoran, IT News Africa and BizTech Africa – to name but a few!

Why all the attention? Because they’re making waves in Africa and doing super cool things, like launching the first business SIM management service in Kenya.

Now, don’t feel bad if you’re scratching your head and asking yourself, “What the %#$! Is SIM management?”. We asked Kees Snijders, Managing Director at Flickswitch, to explain.

“We help companies by building easy local solutions on top of local telco infrastructure. Our clients are global, but the requirement we meet is for local connectivity.”

Flickswitch services a bunch of different SME’s who provide products requiring GSM connectivity. Their clients are usually engaged in some IoT (that’s, the Internet of Things) or M2M (that’s, machine to machine) vertical, like asset-tracking, metering, or some form of sensor-based monitoring. This can mean anything from 10 to a whopping 10,000 SIM cards!

Managing the Certainty of Uncertainty

Now, it’s obvious that Flickswitch has been around, made its mark, established its name in the tech industry. But this startup journey was intense, and the story is downright inspiring! Here’s why…

When asked to describe their greatest challenge as a startup, Kees spoke specifically about uncertainty.

“The most challenging aspect of building something from scratch is constantly dealing with a large degree of uncertainty. We’re ten years old now, it’s been a roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs along the way, but there is a distinct before and after journey in every business.”

According to Kees, a business is viable once it’s achieved product-market fit, and a large enough and steady enough cashflow to cover overheads. Before that, the biggest challenge is convincing customers, suppliers, investors, employees (okay fine, everyone!) that you’ll get to a stage of viability before the fuel, money, and enthusiasm runs out.

After the business is viable, the challenge is maintaining momentum and defining the next purpose or goal that you’re working towards. Because the one place that you don’t want to go, is nowhere.

“Mistakes are inevitable and much easier to identify in retrospect.”

Three years ago, Flickswitch decided to diversify their service offering and market reach. But not everything went according to plan.

“We took a two-pronged approach. 1. Expand to other markets and replicate the SIMcontrol model. 2. Partner with a client in a JV to build an IoT platform. The first is panning out just fine, but the second failed spectacularly. It was a bridge too far.”

But, Passion and Perseverance!

We all make mistakes, even Flickswitch. But it’s not the mistakes that matter. It’s how we deal with them, learn from them, and avoid making them again. And Kees and his team do this skillfully! Enter: Passion and Perseverance.

We would have gotten nowhere without those qualities

Kees’ journey as a startup founder and entrepreneur has been taxing, to say the least. In their second year, Flickswitch experienced a critical juncture. They had a few customers, and they’d launched SIMcontrol, but it still required a lot of manual work and TLC. Then, on the personal front, Kees was up against a whole different set of challenges.

“We were bootstrapped and had almost run out of our startup capital, my 3rd child had just been born, and I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.”

Kees took three months off from work, and when he returned, knew that it was time for some critical decisions. So, he consulted with close friends and family, and decided to take the plunge to invest more money, double down on effort, and give it another go!

“Passion and perseverance were pivotal, perspective as a cancer-survivor also played a part (alliteration for the win!). We grew closer as a founding team as a result of riding out the tough times together.”

Finding and Leading Talent for a Growing Team

For Kees, his team at Flickswitch is of utmost importance. And as they’ve been growing, expanding and succeeding, they’ve needed to find more people (the right people) to join their journey.

But, talent costs money. And despite advances in bio-genetic modifications, money still doesn’t grow on trees. That’s why knowing when and how to hire remains one of the shadiest, grey-lined decisions faced by small business owners. So how did Flickswitch do it?

“Most people have come on board through our personal networks. As for the rest, we’ve tried to hire slowly and only when things started creaking.”

But sometimes, the need to hire slaps you through the face in a far more obvious way…

“The relocation and expansion of our Dev Team was necessitated by two technical co-founders deciding they wanted to leave the business and emigrate to Canada. This coincided with the hire of a new Head of Engineering. We went on a concerted recruitment drive and were fortunate to find a number of top quality technical staff, locally.”

Flickswitch is still small, so the founders play an active role in recruiting.  

“We try to sell new hires on the distinguishing features of working for a small company versus a monster corporate.”

But, attracting and hiring the most kick-ass team is only the beginning. Because a team needs a leader. And boy is this team blessed with the best. If you don’t believe us, just ask one of the Flickswitch developers. Or, take a peek at this list of top 5 South Africa IoT Executives You Need to Know (or, if you’re too lazy, take our word for it that the name Kees Snijders appears).

What’s his secret?

Well to start off with, he’s a people-person. He cares deeply about what they do, values relationships with suppliers, customers and staff, always tries to lead by example and to surround himself with people who are good at the things that he’s not.

“In dark moments the greatest opportunities to lead present themselves. We’ve had our fair share of crises over time. The key is to stay calm, communicate clearly and, as much as possible, do what is right… If you screw up, say sorry and move on.”

[bctt tweet=”If you screw up, say sorry and move on.” username=”#Flickswitch”]

It’s All Worth It in the End

With passion, perseverance, stellar leadership, and one helluva team, Flickswitch has arrived. And they continue to pioneer the SIM management space and make an impact on African businesses.

“In Peter Thiel’s words, it’s the 0-to-1 thing that is the most gratifying. Building something of value, that makes a dent in the world. It’s intensely rewarding to know that what we do makes a difference to our customers.”

And the future continues to look even more exciting for these guys. They’re currently focused on Africa, but envision expanding to other regions over time.

“We want to be the market-leader in connectivity-management in the developing world. We hope to convince some more mobile network operators to white-label our software. And we hope to expand our product to incorporate other metered modes of connectivity (like LORA, NBIOT, Sigfox, Satcom, etc.).”

The Best Part Is… You Can Do It Too

Kees believes that there are plenty of problems that need solving, and that where you are in the world doesn’t define your potential. What he means, is that you can start, grow and drive your own business, too.

“Lack of access to easy capital is sometimes a good thing. Read a lot, there is wisdom in them books. Step away from the computer and go talk to your customers, don’t build what you think they want, go ask them.”

[bctt tweet=”Go talk to your customers, don’t build what you think they want, go ask them.” username=”#Flickswitch”]

Of course, the legendary “killer idea” or x-factor that guarantees success, probably doesn’t exist. Kees reckons that luck and timing play a part, but that hard work, grit, and perseverance to the point of foolhardiness are the real ingredients for building anything of value.

“There will be many detractors, don’t listen to them. There’s truth in the saying: If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. But that said, be realistic and make sure that you’re doing what you’re doing for the right reasons. If your number one ambition is to get super-rich, stop now and go work for a salary.”

And because I don’t believe that anything I write now could beat that last line right there (and I’m out of coffee), we’ll call it a wrap!

Find Flickswitch on Facebook and LinkedIn, or check out their website.

What Success is Made Of: How Jaryd Raizon Takes Startups from Good to Great

startup interview

When asked to describe himself, Founder of Trusted Talent, Jaryd Raizon, responded: “a driven, analytical executor with a strong focus on innovation, systemised procedures and the marrying of humans and technology”.

But that’s a lot of words. Really, Jaryd can be summed up in just two: Entrepreneurial Force!

And this entrepreneurial force has one helluva story to share. So unless you’ve got something MUCH better to do, keep reading for your daily dose of startup thunder and tips that touch home.

Setting the Scene

It’s 2005. Jaryd is distributing flyers around school. His product? None other than the classic flash drive!

That’s right. Jaryd has just launched his first business, Raizon IT, a computer hardware and software supplier that runs in lunch breaks and after class. He’s seen the demand for storing mp3s (remember those), pictures and school documents among his friends, their families, and his teachers, and decides to act.

Now, this might sound cute, except that it’s not. Because within a year, Raizon IT is supplying a full range of IT products, from custom-built PCs to laptops, projectors and screens, to his peers, other SMEs, his school, local Government departments, and organisations within UCT.

And if that’s not impressive enough, two years later Jaryd launches an internet services provider called Easy Does IT, where he uses the Raizon IT client base to market their services. By his first year as a Business Science student at UCT, he merges the two businesses to offer a holistic, full turnkey service under one (literal) roof in Observatory.

But we’re not done yet! Because varsity life also sees the rise of Lank Productions, a sound, lighting and entertainment service provider offering full turnkey entertainment solutions for private events.

“Within two months of starting Lank, we merged with Nomad Productions who were industry leaders at the time. I drove the redesign and relaunch of the Nomad brand and in our first year, we provided services for 50+ events. 8 years later, we are a team of 8 DJs and a sound engineer, and have probably done close on 1000 events.”

Fast forward to 2013. Jaryd joins a young tech company fresh out of varsity to help them drive business development and systemise operations.

“I led the business alongside the founder and in four years we grew the business in excess of 500%.”

(And yes, amongst all this, Jaryd still manages to graduate with a BBusSc in Finance and Accounting!)

Entrepreneur With a Big Heart: Taking on Siyaya

Now, Jaryd clearly has a head for business. But he’s also got a heart for making an impact in other people’s lives. That’s why he joined Siyaya, a social entrepreneurship organisation at UCT.

“We ran a year long programme where, as consultants, we would go to Khayelitsha every Friday to meet with currently unemployed and hopeful entrepreneurs, to take them through the process of starting and running a business.”

Jaryd mentored a young entrepreneur named Lucia. He describes this inspiring lady as being a shy, but incredibly smart, driven and all-round wonderful human being. With Jaryd’s help, Lucia launched a successful second-hand clothing business, and complemented this with selling baked goods at Church on the weekend.

After 4 months, Lucia expanded her second-hand clothing operation to the Eastern Cape, where she empowered her cousin to make a living, too. Through this, Lucia managed to make roughly four times the monthly minimum wage – a much needed income to fund her studies in primary health care nursing, where she is currently excelling.

“Lucia is undoubtedly one of the most inspirational people I’ve had the opportunity to work with and I was hugely grateful for the privilege of working with her.”

“Why I Work a 9-to-5” – Said Jaryd Never

With all this talent, drive, and good intention, you might be wondering why Jaryd never tried the well-trodden path of full-time employment. I mean, can you just imagine the potential for working that corporate ladder!? But…

“I’ve never had a normal job. I love building businesses and when I’m involved in one that excites me, I give it way more than 9 – 5 because that’s just who I am. If something doesn’t excite me, I give it little to no attention.”

Jaryd’s career path has been driven entirely by one thing – passion! And along that path, he’s found entrepreneurial opportunities. So while he’s sure there are corporates or companies out there that he might just enjoy working for, right now he’s making the most of the freedom that comes with following his passions, being responsible for his own decisions, and working on projects that will have a greater impact.

“Don’t start a business purely for the commercial gain. If you don’t really believe in it, your passion flow will be as much of a breaking point as cash flow.”

[bctt tweet=”If you don’t really believe in it, your passion flow will be as much of a breaking point as cash flow” username=”@jarydraizon”]

Property, People and Technology

So, what does the ‘here and now’ look like for Jaryd Raizon? Well, obviously he’s focusing on three of his favourite passions: property, people and technology.

Property and Tech

On the property side, Jaryd’s building a niche residential property fund called Happy Flats, and has some super cool and innovative plans for this venture.

“We’re growing slowly and organically following a stringent investment mandate, but we’re using tech to innovate and disrupt small things along the way.”

But startups rarely come without a learning curve or two, and Jaryd’s had to learn some lessons along the way.

“I probably engaged with 500+ sellers or estate agents before I could purchase my first 5 flats – that’s not the prettiest conversion rate, but the learning gained and relationships built in those first 500 interactions were crucial to testing the mandate and adjusting our model accordingly.”

People and Tech

When it comes to people, Jaryd is growing a boutique talent agency called Trusted Talent. Now, as Jaryd will tell you, this is not just another crap recruitment agency, because no one likes those! In fact, these guys are so confident in their ability to make the best possible match, that they’re offering a year-long money back guarantee!

“Our major differentiation factor is a 12-month guarantee on all talent, and this is game changing. ”

They’re really betting on their ability to make the perfect match, and they’re not doing that blindly. Trusted Talent uses lessons from industrial and organisational psychology, combined with technology, to add crucial steps to their filtering and due diligence process. Jaryd believes this enhanced matching process gives them a more robust and holistic understanding of the needs of both client and talent.

“It’s benefiting all parties involved: the hiring company, the talent, and us.”

But the recruitment industry is no easy entry, because it’s saturated and it’s not well liked.

“This makes it difficult to build relationships. They rarely give you the time of day, and I don’t blame them.”

But as strange as this sounds, Jaryd’s limited experience as a recruiter has made him the best kind of recruiter. Here’s why.

Jaryd’s time spent growing businesses has often meant that he needed to hire new team members. For this, he often turned to the dreaded recruiter. As a hiring manager, he’s been through the hair-pulling frustration of being sent dozens of unqualified CVs by recruiters, only to be harassed by their follow-up calls.

“I’m using every experience that made me weary of working with recruiters, and every piece of insight I  gain from industry experts, as inspiration towards a differentiated business model.”

Getting Real About Strengths

It’s clear that Jaryd has done a lot of things right. But, his journey upwards and onwards hasn’t been without its occasional hiccup.

“My biggest mistakes have all been related to mismanaging my strengths and priorities. Starting a business means being prepared to do as many things in-house as you can, otherwise you’re paying someone else to do it. And the reality is that cashflow is king, so unless you’re lavishly funded (and even then it’s not an excuse), you have to watch every cent.”  

One of Jaryd’s recurring challenges has been knowing when to insource, and when to outsource. This means asking for help when you don’t have the time or expertise to do it right on your own.

“The Power of Proximity is real. Surround yourself with experts in areas that you are not. Now I know to suck up the cost and get professional advice when required.”

“Take it Out Your Head and Onto the Streets!”

It’s your time. Why do tomorrow, what you can do today. It’s now or never. You get the point. But when you do get started, and as you grow, remember these pearls from Jaryd Raizon:

  • Nothing happens until you sell something.
  • Cash is king.
  • Be disciplined enough to know that you’re not going to be running your business yourself forever. Take the time to put in systems and processes, and do things properly.
  • Always look to the future and critique your differentiation points to factor in technology developments. If there’s a high probability of robots being able to deliver on your unique selling point, and you can’t capitalise on this to your benefit, differentiate or find a new business — otherwise you’ll become redundant.

Check out Jaryd’s current ventures: Trusted Talent, Happy Flats, Nomad Productions and Entertainment

Finding the Gap and Adding Value with Simple Creative Marketing

Startup Interview

The path to success isn’t always a smooth ride.

Some people may have a great idea from the get-go and run with it, but the success stories tend to be few and far between, and let’s be honest, not something that’s easily relatable. The more realistic success stories are paved with lumps and bumps, dead-ends paths, some trial and error, and lots of learning along the way.

This week we’re going international. While looking far and wide for some really inspiring stories, we couldn’t help but to think of Anfernee, an Aussie with a pretty inspiring story.  

Who Is Simple Creative Marketing?

The year was 2012. Anfernee Chansamooth (who also goes by Anf) had left his corporate career and had been volunteering abroad for a few years. Now, he was back in Sydney and rearing to go, where he and a co-founder decided to start a Facebook marketing business.

As I said, most stories about successful entrepreneurs aren’t that simple. It’s usually not smooth sailing. After struggling to make the Facebook business profitable for two years, they parted ways and Anf got a full-time job (again).

By 2014, he was the Marketing Manager for one of Australia’s largest co-working communities. One of the responsibilities of this job involved writing a lot of the company content, with some input from a team of 12 staff across Australia (most of them were not writers but asked to contribute on top of their already busy full-time jobs).

Despite working with the team, something started to niggle. Anf found that the company always seemed to be struggling to get content out consistently.

And that was the lightbulb moment!

If a team of that many employees were struggling to get content completed consistently, imagine how many others are struggling with the exact same problem. Right then and there, the idea to create a freelance writing service for other small businesses was born.

Right before leaving his full-time job in 2016, Anf launched Simple Creative Marketing in an entrepreneurial tale second to none. Originally called ‘Blogger Mates’ (see, rebranding is possible!) the company was launched as part of a 7-day startup challenge. With the challenge being to take your business idea and get a paying client within seven days.

“I got my first two clients within the first week. So I knew I was onto something.”

And just like that, Simple Creative Marketing was born.

So what exactly do SCM do? Well, they simplify marketing for growing startups in Australia, USA and South East Asia.

“We provide digital marketing strategy, outsourced management, plus quality content writing and publishing for time-poor business owners.”

Being a keen marketer, Anfernee knew how important content marketing as part of a broader marketing strategy was. He made it his mission to let others know just how important content can be, how it can set your business apart and how you can use it to expand your reach.

“Without content, SEO and social media don’t really work. They all tie in together.”

With their current customer base typically consisting of growing startups and online businesses, SCM understands that content marketing is a very cost-effective way for a small business to communicate with their target audience and be found easily in search engines.

“The key with content marketing, like any form of marketing, is consistency. Sadly, most small businesses give up on content too early, or they lack a proper strategy that marries business objectives with the type of content they put out.”

This is where Simple Creative Marketing saw their gap in the market. They understood that small business owners are typically more concerned with the daily operations of the business than with writing and publishing quality content. And if they do happen to be producing content, they’re lacking the consistency.

A Unique Team of Global Freelancers and Solid Values

Beyond running a successful business, Simple Creative Marketing has something that makes them just a little bit more unique. There’s a core team and then there’s a whole team of outsourced, freelancers working around the globe. Anf found that working with freelancers helped them to avoid a lot of the costs and lengthy regulations associated with full-time employment.

Working with a remote team is not without its challenges, if you’re looking to learn a bit more, check out this interview where Anf discusses their team dynamics and the challenges they’ve faced in getting to where they are today.

Beyond their remote team, the core team of SCM are guided by 5 values: openness, quality, efficiency, trust and fun. A major win for SCM was growing their core team this year.

Anf’s wife, Cindy, took over an active role heading up the business operations and finances and a virtual assistant, Mei, was hired. Streamlining processes and delegating tasks has helped to take about 15 hours of administrative work off on Anf’s weekly to do list.  

Profit First and Accepting a Helping Hand

All startups face challenges. The key is knowing where to find help to overcome your challenges. Anf’s biggest challenge was starting his business without a profit-first mentality, meaning that he didn’t pay himself a salary from day 1. Having a profit-first mentality helps to ensure that your business is sustainable right from the beginning. Building this mentality is his number one suggestion for all other entrepreneurs.

“If you’re not building your business sustainably and looking after yourself, you’ll crash and burn.”

It’s also not the end of the world to admit that there is something that you might not know. Anf suggests that “if you’re not great with financials (like me) then get a mentor, coach or consultant who can help you work it out.” Bringing in a consultant helped SCM to restructure the business in a way that made it both profitable and sustainable.

“Don’t underestimate the value of having an external consultant review what you’re doing and giving you suggestions on how you might improve your business and marketing strategy.”

Looking To the Future

So what does the future hold for SCM? Some pretty big things.

Currently, they’re working on building strong strategic referral partnerships and making sure that their monthly profit is consistent. With that completed, the next step is to creatively scale the Virtual Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) side of the business, making a bigger, more meaningful impact in the world.

Anf will also be expanding the reach of his podcast, Authentic Influence, which launches on iTunes this month. The podcast goes behind the brands, personalities, business models and strategies of successful influencers and entrepreneurs.

“We explore personal journeys, struggles, moments of courage and break-through, and lessons from life and business so that listeners can be inspired to take action to discover their own purpose and live it.”

You can find Anfernee and the Simple Creative Marketing team on LinkedIn, Facebook and the Authentic Influence podcast.

Studio Bolland’s Story: How a Side-Hustle Became a Startup Studio with Global Reach

startup interview

What makes a successful startup? We’re willing to bet that the first thoughts popping into your head right now don’t include “full-time job” or “one guy and a couch”. But good things start in mysterious ways…

Recently, we had the pleasure of sitting down over a hot cuppa coffee with Jake Waldron and Simon Van Wyk from Studio Bolland – an illustration, animation and motion graphics studio based in Cape Town, South Africa.

Studio Bolland kicked off about three and a half years ago, when founder Richard Bolland decided to throw in the towel on his full-time gig and make something more of his sideline. He’d realised that his freelance work was growing too big, too quickly for him to handle part-time, so he got his friend Jake on board and BOOM, Studio Bolland came to be.

“To negate the temptation for Rich to work in his underpants, they got an office and the rest built from there.”

Today, Studio Bolland focuses on creating clear and engaging communication for big and small companies across the globe. From startups in Estonia, NGO’s in England, tech giants in America, and advertising agencies here in South Africa, Studio Bolland produces a wide variety of content for a wide variety of people.

Cool content like this…

and this…

But the question still begs, how did they do it?

We Don’t Have A Secret, We Just Have Our Story

Now, the team of Studio Bolland might humbly (and humorously) suggest that they have only a story to tell. But that story is packed with insights that touch home, and lessons that we can relate to.

“Our key to our success is that every morning, during office yoga, we visualise our spirit animal hunting it’s prey… But really, I don’t think we have a secret, we just have our story.”

To start with, Studio Bolland avoided the oh-so common trap of trying to meet the needs of too many customers, in too many ways. Instead, they understood their talents and what they could offer, and then they matched that talent with a particular market need that wasn’t fully being met.

“We started creating content for a fairly unique market. There aren’t many local companies solely focusing on explainer videos, so when we fill that niche well, our videos stand out and do the marketing for us.”

The Role of People In and Around Studio Bolland

Whether it’s a fellow colleague, client or intern, Studio Bolland is interested in people. A friendly team dynamic inspires colleagues to work hard and thrive, giving helpful input to interns enables them to have a positive influence in the industry, and a genuine care for clients creates loyalty and repeat business.

“This might sound cheesier than a four cheese pizza in a Nicholas Sparks movie, but we care a lot about the people in and around Studio Bolland.”

It’s probably no surprise, then, that their culture is largely shaped by relationships. Friendships within the team keep the studio a fun place to be, and fostering respectful and warm relationships with clients means that projects are guided by realistic deadlines and helpful feedback processes.

“The biggest perk you could give an employee is actually caring about them – money can only increase an employee’s work and happiness levels so far – it’s only genuine concern for your employee and a desire to see them grow that will keep them productive and happy.”

[bctt tweet=”The biggest perk you could give an employee is actually caring about them” username=”StudioBolland”]

The Studio Bolland culture is built on the assumption that having caring and respectful relationships with both colleagues and clients will naturally make it easier to avoid over-time and meet deadlines, without sacrificing quality of life or work. And this applies to their freelancers, too.

The Studio Bolland team work with freelancers when it doesn’t make sense to employ an extra person (i.e. when the timing isn’t right). In their experience, freelancers are a great way to collaborate with new people, gain fresh perspectives, and reach talent that they don’t always have available in-house.

“Our industry is often marked by companies that have unrealistic expectations of their employees, fueled by unbalanced relationships with clients. We do our best to go against the grain by shifting our focus back to people.”

All Fun and Games?

We already know that Studio Bolland is serious about work-life balance. So it’s no shocker that at their office in Woodstock, many lunches and late afternoons are spent playing games. And now, they’ve started to dip their toes into the fun-filled pool that is game creation.

As Simon says (yes, that just happened), it’s still too early to tell where the experimentation with games will lead them, but at the very least, it could give the team an extra game to play in their lunch breaks!

“We’re still at the start of our journey, so we certainly don’t have all the answers, but we can share what seems to have worked for us. Unless the nature of your business demands a big start, try begin small and expand slowly. Avoid debt and hiring higher than you can afford.”

Follow Studio Bolland on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!

Coffee@8 | The Interview Series You’ve Been Waiting For!

interview entrepreneur

You’ve seen the teaser videos. You’ve heard the rumblings that something new is happening.

And now, it’s my pleasure to introduce to you – Coffee@8! This is a project that we’ve been working on for quite some time now, and we couldn’t be more excited to finally bring it to your screen!

What Exactly is Coffee@8?

In a nutshell, some incredible stories from like-minded startup and SME owners that’ll leave you feeling excited and invigorated to get your business on track.

To give you a somewhat longer answer, we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some of the most inspiring startup and SME owners to discover more about what makes them tick. We’ve asked them to reflect on their entrepreneurship journey, what drives them, what they’ve learnt, and where they’re still heading. We wanted to make sure that we got the best of the best, and boy are you going to be excited! (No spoilers just yet, so keep an eye on our social media pages for the big name reveal!)

The best part is, these entrepreneurs started out much the same way that you did.

You can expect inspiring stories from those who’ve done things wrong, then done things right, and have grown their businesses to become key players in a variety of innovative industries. 

[bctt tweet=”Coffee@8″ via=”no”]

We wanted to give you different perspectives from a bunch of industries, so we’ll be hearing from startup and SME leaders in animation, neural marketing, IOT, recruitment, and experience design, to name but a few. Better yet, we’ve expanded beyond South Africa and we’re including stories from Australia too!

We’ve got stories of success, but not forgetting the stories of failure, struggle and sacrifice to get there. You’ll also be in for some  jaw-dropping, “why didn’t I think of that” tips and tricks, straight from the mouths of those who’ve done it before. 

The Meaning Behind the Name “Coffee@8”

Why Coffee@8 you ask? Well, us folk over at the Valoro team pretty much run on coffee (and sheer entrepreneurial drive, of course). And let’s face it, how many of us are actually productive at 8am? So what better way to start the mid-week crunch than with a hot cuppa coffee and valuable read first thing in the morning?

Ok, time to get down to the nitty gritty. We want to make sure that you know exactly when you can expect your weekly dose of fresh, new content. Get those diaries out folks, because a new Coffee@8 interview will be released every Wednesday morning at 8am, for 8 full (glorious) weeks! Starting on the 25th of October, you’ll have a newfound reason to look forward to Wednesday mornings.

Why We’re Running this Campaign

So why are we at Valoro choosing to spend time and energy running the Coffee@8 campaign? Well, there’s a number of reasons, really. At it’s heart, Valoro exists to help startups and SMEs. We want to work with them, learn from them, offer value to them so that they are enabled to grow and expand beyond their dreamiest of goals. By sharing the stories of startups and SMEs who’ve achieved (and are still achieving) success, we’re hoping to inspire you and to give you some helpful tips from people who’ve faced similar challenges before.

So, beyond an interesting read filled with humour, creativity and intellectual stimulation, we’re hoping to give you a story that will invigorate you for the day and leave you feeling positive and ready to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead. In short, we’re doing this to give you, our readers, something that we hope you find value in.

Throughout the 8-week period, we’ll be running some pretty great competitions that you’re really going to want to get involved in. (Trust me on this one!) But, we like to keep you guessing. So keep your eyes peeled across the Valoro social platforms, which you can find on LinkedIn, Facebook and of course our website.

You’re free to comment on the posts shared each week, and let us know what you think. Maybe you recognise your own successes or failures in one of the interviews? Maybe you’ll find some great tips that can help your business reach its full potential? Who knows, YOU may just be one of the successful entrepreneurs featured in our next Coffee@8!

About the Author: Caitlin Ferreira, Director and Lead Marketing Consultant

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