Monday, November 12, 2007

Calling all the real players in SA - put your money where your mouth is!

Forgive my departure from the norm here, but ENOUGH IS ENOUGH... SOMEONE HAS TO SAY SOMETHING!

I don't like writing this - it pains me to do so, but I'm sick and tired of our very own "successful entrepreneurs" doing precious little to share even a tiny bit of their success to spur others here on to the same [and higher] levels.

The topic is always a touchy one - funding for new businesses [here's a ThoughtLeader article that had lots of people up in arms]. Although this happens in all industries, in this context, I'm referring specifically to new tech and web development opportunities where SA has some amazing talent just waiting to be unleashed on the world, but instead these guys and girls sit trapped in a 9 to 5 job with no room to breathe, let alone move, and their awesome ideas sometimes never see light of day or get given a chance to grow to their full potential

We often ask "How can it be that young creative entrepreneurs struggle to find funding?" Okay, so we can't expect government to help [too much else to do]. Or banks [too much risk]. Or private equity players [too much effort]. Or seemingly even venture capitalists [exactly what is their problem?]

So I thought that if we could count on anyone, it would be guys who have already walked that road. It incensed me recently, no... UTTERLY OUTRAGED me to hear that even these guys have turned their backs - thinking rather of their own wallets and 'safer' opportunities. They are perfectly positioned to help [experience, contacts, cash, understanding] but just couldn't be bothered to make a difference! Even going so far as to put down the country for its lack of progress and "global" opportunities!? Excuse me? Then get off your backside, put your money where your mouth is and do something about it!!! Yes - you know who you are guys. Don't stuff around blogging about facebook and other useless trash or building mediocre businesses that have about as much potential to change the world as the Teletubbies have of restoring peace to Zimbabwe.

Think of magnesium: an amazing catalyst when placed in water - and the hydrogen it creates, seemingly out of nowhere. Guys, if you want to be a catalyst - DON'T sit around waiting for the perfect glass of water - just jump in the water you've been given, with the tools you have - and help make some magic happen.


Put the fun back in funding!

I think the reason why VC's shy away is because to them, its all about the tangible cash returns. And our local "success stories" I'm talking to here have somehow managed to pick up the same terrible thought-pattern [this is what kills innovation and vision]. Can I say this - big picture view for anyone even remotely interested in making a difference - while its all about the money, its actually got nothing to do with the money!!!

So what if it takes a few hundred thousand or even a million bucks to pour into a small innovative company with some amazing minds - and just let them run with the horses for a year, why not do it? Just think what could happen if it works! And even if its a write-off in financial terms - so what? That's not a lot of money to you, is it? No. But imagine the learnings, the publicity, the contacts... what would the rest of the world say about you, your company, our country, and our deep desire for success at all cost? This could change the nation!

If you don't know any people like this to invest in [and I know you do] then please contact me and I'll give you a few good starting points.

You have all the tools and resources... you've already overcome the fear of failure in getting where you are. Why not dare to defy comfort and convenience! Step out and take a chance! What are you really afraid of losing?

There are some things more important than just money, aren't there?

If this post has offended you... GOOD! At least that means I'm starting to get through to you. I've written this with good cause, and I know there are many others out there who feel the same way [and who can't write this for various reasons]. So before you think I'm just mouthing off, sit back and think about it for just a moment, and then try tell me I'm wrong.


Justin Hartman said...

I'm with you on this. I grow tired of hearing that we don't think global enough when I truly believe that localising is a part of our future growth on the net.

It will be interesting to see if anyone actually responds to this or not.

Darren said...

Thanks Justin. Yes, I'm also hoping for some constructive comments that can help bridge this great divide, or at least bring a better understanding of it.

The Colony said...

Darren, I agree with you in principle.

However to play devils advocate here- As Justin has pointed out localisation is the future of the web, however is the local online environment in SA at a point where there is enough revenue opportunity to warrant investment on the scale you are talking about?

On the point of entrepreneurs stuck in 9-5 jobs stifling ideas. This is a point I have had many heated discussions on. Many entrepreneurs use this excuse and it really gets to me. "All I need is some VC so I can quit my job and focus on my project"- rubbish. VC money won't replace your salary, and many VC's I've met only allow for a small subsistence to ensure the entrepreneur doesn't starve (literally). If you want people to invest in you, you need to demonstrate an equal commitment. Goodbye nice car, you'll need to use those repayment 'holidays' on your bond, in fact you'll have to trim your lifestyle down completely. Quite simply... goodbye life. This is not the dream scenario investment seekers were looking for.

Devils advocate over.

Personally I'm of the opinion that VC should be a last and final resort. As much as I'd like a bunch of cash to get my ideas out into the open, it's not at the expense of handing a fat percentage over.

Christopher said...

I have a great idea for a website, but have no idea who to turn to. Will my idea be stolen, would someone bother investing, would I be exploited?

The same questions over and over. I sit in a 9-5 job, which I do love, but I would love to have more time to run with this project, but I cannot afford to hire a designer and a developer :(

Thanks for the post!

Darren said...

You make a good point Grant. Thanks for noting the VC perspective [being profit/money driven] and as much as I can understand it, I can see also see why it can't work. But that's where I propose a new solution is required [its not all about the money] - one which is feasible but where the people who are currently able to do it just aren't bothered.

If I have a couple of million to spend on a new M6 [my M5 is showing its age with a whole 4,000km on it] why not rather 'spend' the cash on young talent and let them just go for it. Sure, the structuring can be an issue [% ownership] and so can the feasability [generating any sort of revenue] but both can be addressed fairly sensibly and with a little bit of creativity.

Sadly, though, still no takers.

Anonymous said...

I have a more pragmatic approach on the issue. If there is a viable opportunity for investors they will invest. Period. The same argument as yours – and maybe even more compelling – can be directed at the local marketing and advertising industry which is not willing to throw money at local websites despite it being the most cost effective opportunity available to them.

SA has tremendous online opportunities, but most of these do not need money. Develop the site/project, put it online and market it cheaply. If it takes off you will get money in no time. If it does not take off I doubt that a bag full of cash will make much of a difference…

Darren said...

Christopher - I hear you on the time and skills side of things. All the best with your idea - don't give up the search... there is strength in team!

Anonymous - you tell it like it is, and I can't argue with that - again, bottom line in that scenario is profit/money for me right now, forget the intangible benefits on a bigger scale. My point is that in order to improve the current status quo - to create an environment where these things can flourish [are they right now? Personally I don't think so] we need to change things up a bit. As for the bucket of cash... that's tangible cash, which is all most people understand - what about the intangible value [but still REAL value] being lost everyday through lost opportunities or genius being squashed into submission by corporate red-tape and 'people who know better' - and I'd venture to guess that the lost value for SA would far outweigh any tangible financial losses suffered to date.

Welligtons said...

I am sorry but this seems like a whine, no-one will help. If you really really wanted to do it - late nights and plenty of hard work will get you a lot closer to funding than this kind of thinking.

I do understand what you say and i do agree with it, i just feel that this without funding we are fooked attitude is a bit negative.

Never forget that bean counters don't care unless it gives them more beans to count.

Sad but true

Darren said...

Wellingtons - thanks. FYI I am writing this more from an observational perspective - I used to be what you call a "bean-counter" [my technical skills leave much to be desired] and I'm not looking for someone to fund my projects.

This is my independent observation of the state of affairs - so how come it takes an "outsider" to get upset about the way things are when it just doesn't make sense?

What I was hoping to get out of this was some creative solutions [come on, would someone at least try?] - as I said this is not about one "little" business opportunity, its about someone doing something insanely different to make the world sit up and take notice!

The Colony said...

Darren- It's not exactly a creative solution but not many people are aware of them- business incubators... they offer more than just VC, they bring processes and infrastructure to the party. At a cost of course.

Darren said...

Grant - thanks for revisiting with some valuable info! That's a good link and much appreciated, as we're trying to find solutions here.

tlc studio said...

There is a paradox, to gain, succeed you need to appeal to the local people if you start a business.

But to be really expand and grow you need to go global. That is what an African web startup faces