We caught up over coffee with cousins and tech start-up co-founders, Karabo Tlhagwane and Kgotla Tiro to chat about their experiences as entrepreneurs in South Africa today and how the Accenture Enterprise and Supplier Development programme has helped them. In their own words, they share what it takes to boot up your own IT company.
Karabo: I think we would be totally depressed with the predictability of a desk job, with no room for creativity or risk. Entrepreneurship lets you test and try out new ideas until you perfect them and achieve what you set out to achieve.
Kgotla: Our family is entrepreneurial, so it’s in the blood. But while hustling was a matter of survival for the family, for us it’s a choice. The older generation were a bit concerned and tried to push us into safer professions. After all their investment into our education, there was a bit of a panic that we were going into business for ourselves, especially as it didn’t really work out for the longest time. But ultimately, they supported our decision… they had to!
Success is not about the money. It’s about the efficiencies that your services are bringing to people. About being able to create jobs. We started DV8 in 2006. Today, we have a staff compliment of 50 and operate countrywide with big projects underway in the health sector. Yet, staying afloat is still the biggest challenge. We didn’t take this route for the material benefits. We both could have been executives with fast cars. But we chose entrepreneurship for the rush of getting to the top in a non-conventional way, hence our name, DV8 and our motto, which is ‘Swerve from the norm’.
Kgotla: Learning in the trenches is tricky, but there is no other way. Textbook entrepreneurship never works. Putting your own systems in place, making them work in the long term, that’s the hard part. That, and keeping your focus on what you really want to be doing. Being in constant survival mode means you go where the opportunities are, even if they’re not aligned to your core business proposition. And that’s your first mistake!
Karabo: The conditions for innovation in South Africa continue to be a challenge. While there are policies in place meant to support entrepreneurs, it’s mostly just on paper. Funding institutions are run like banks, and continue to be risk averse, with decision-makers who punish failure with black-listing, and have no comprehension of the business of innovation.
Kgotla: Take a look at Israel, the reason they are so ahead is because they don’t shun failure. They understand the venture capital scene. Out of every ten ideas, one may succeed but it makes up for all nine losses. Sadly, we have no real venture capital here in South Africa.
Kgotla: Then you look to the rest of the continent and amazing stuff is happening. In West Africa, new ideas are coming out every day because their governments back their innovators. Their economies may not be as advanced but that means a greater opportunity to solve problems. South African startups fear to venture into the rest of Africa, but that’s where the real opportunity is. And the moment you step out of the country, you’re dealing in dollars, baba! Our experience with Accenture’s ESD Programme has given us an objective view of our business.
Ken Robinson, our mentor showed us that what we were experiencing was not unique – these are issues that all small businesses and even Accenture has had to overcome. But that there are standard ways of doing so, which he made available to us. Ken inspired us to start pursuing excellence and personal development so that we can engage potential clients confidently, as experts.
Karabo: Being exposed to the Accenture environment sparked a thought process of analysing things in greater detail. The assessment process got our own thoughts in order and brought our problem areas to light. We’ve identified the gaps and the tools we need to fill them. It’s not always about hiring the best people. It's more about having the best processes.”
Kgotla: Since we joined the programme in 2016, we have grown from 10 to almost 50. We have taken out bigger office space. We have set up our own NOC (network operating centre), and are reinvesting and expanding the business. Revenues have grown 100%. The next chapter is about building a sustainable business. We have to ask ourselves, beyond these immediate opportunities, what then?
Karabo and Kgotla’s vision is To build an expanding and sustainable business.
About the Enterprise and Supplier Development programme
The ESD programme aims to increase the participation of black-owned SMEs. The programme provides guidance in business development, implementation of growth opportunities and creating long term value for businesses. To learn about the enterprise supplier development programme (ESD) and to meet other beneficiaries of the programme, read more.