What do you do when you’ve got roughly 16 ideas for an app that could change people’s lives, but no technical support, and little clue where to even begin?
That's what Karabo Kgaphole was thinking when he stumbled upon Accenture's ESD programme. The founder of N8tiv Tech could have shrunk back down at that point, but instead opted to pitch his heart out to win the chance to dive headfirst into rapid app development in collaboration with some of Accenture’s brightest talent. In his own words, Karabo shares his twisted tale of app-ortunity lost and found.
I was born in Pretoria, but we moved a lot because my father was a regional surgeon. From early on, I aspired to be a pilot, but my dad insisted on university before flight school. First Year Civil Engineering was much tougher than I’d anticipated, and I dropped out. But after some soul-searching I went back, realising the world owes me nothing and I’ve got to work for what I want.
I ended up finishing the four-year degree, and started at an engineering consultancy in Pretoria in the public-sector project designing, of all things, dams! In fact, I only resigned yesterday to take on my tech start-up full time!
I registered my tech company in 2015 after conversations with a friend of mine, a mobile developer who made me see that the opportunities were endless. After a heavy night of drinks, I got up in a fever of inspiration and started writing lists of the possibilities and problems that could be solved with mobile apps.
While my goal was mobile development, I found it was prohibitively expensive in terms of skills and the multiple platforms you have to build for. In the beginning I was funding the company with my civil engineering salary, so starting with web dev made sense at the time. I also started networking proactively, attending any and every industry event, handing out business cards and chatting up a storm.
Somehow that paid off because I got a mysterious call from the DTI. I’m not sure how they found me but the guy on the other end said there’s a multinational company looking for small IT companies to partner with. Am I operational? I wanted to say, it’s just me and a guy who helps me out with websites but then thought, what the heck, let me take the chance. I had a friend join me in the company, to help me prepare for the series of interviews and Dragon’s-Den style pitching before a panel, and doing a lot of the admin I couldn’t get to during my full-time job.
Pitching before the panel was very intimidating. Everyone else pitching seemed like serious players, and there I was, just a random guy with my ideas. After the pitch I wasn’t too confident, but I’d given it what I could and learned to pitch in the process. I was thrilled, and not a little surprised, to get the email that I had been accepted into the programme!
David Hamilton, a senior director at Accenture, and our mentor, said he believed in us. But that we had to pick one of the ideas. Which would be most feasible? A mobile app for Rea Vaya sounded good. We had a couple of engagements with the City of JHB, for which our mentor made sure we were well prepared. The deal fell through in the end, after many rounds of talk, but we learned a valuable lesson: it’s not done until they sign on the bottom line! And about the importance of knowing who to speak to… finding the decision-makers.
"The deal fell through in the end, after many rounds of talk, but we learned a valuable lesson: it’s not done until they sign on the bottom line! And about the importance of knowing who to speak to… finding the decision-makers.”
The fall-out of all of this was that my business partner quit, and it was back to riding solo. I spent some time at a loss, until my mentor reminded me that I’d had 16 ideas, this was just one. He urged me to take a break and that we’d regroup after a month or two.
I selected another of my ideas, developed a business case for it with a lot of help from my mentor, who arranged that the various business units at Accenture, UX and marketing help me develop a design prototype. All this while I am planning my exit from work to pursue the start-up solely.
Now we are at the stage where we have the Android and the IOS version almost complete. We have also secured office space at the Innovation Hub. We are still waiting for the trademark but we are much further down the road than we could ever have been without help from my mentor and Accenture.
Back in 2016 we had nothing but guts, now N8tiv is a real company with a real location and a real product. In just over six months, we have bounced back from failure and have launched a completely new idea and the pace of progress is astounding.
“The importance of failing fast and getting back up with another idea. Responding to the market, being able to pivot from one sector to a completely different one is key in the app dev game.”
The number one lesson for me is the importance of failing fast and getting back up with another idea. Responding to the market, being able to pivot from one sector to a completely different one is key in the app dev game. I also learned that an idea is just an idea unless you invest the time and effort required to take it all the way. And even then, it can bomb! What goes into making a successful app? A lot more than you would think. Time, testing, money, legal counsel, patience, perseverance. But I want to show people that anything is possible, when you reach out and accept help. Keep knocking on every door!”
Karabo's Vision: To show people that anything is possible by successfully launching the Android and IOS apps that N8tiv have created.