Pioneer Nation

Yesterday was one of those days that re-ignited my hope in the entrepreneurial space for South Africa.  And that is damn exciting.  I was lucky enough to attend the Pioneer Nation Festival in Braamfontein, an event sponsored by Levi's which brought 40 South African entrepreneurs together to provide short talks (similar to TED talks) about their business journey with a goal of inspiring and motivating the next generation of South African entrepreneurs.

Having attended many of these sorts of events before, I was somewhat skeptical of the value proposition.  Such events often lend themselves to being over-sold and often fall well below expectation.  This one was different however.

The 40 entrepreneurs provided talks in 4 separate venues running simultaneously, so I didn't get to hear from everyone and had to curate my day quite carefully.  But included below are the salient points that I took away from the speakers that I did see.

I hope it provides you with some value!

Black Coffee - DJ and Producer

Black Coffee is a well-known South African DJ and producer who has made an incredible splash with his music all over the world.  However, what is more impressive than that is the way he has been able to grow an international brand for himself, hailing from a country which has traditionally  been but a mere niche market in the world music scene.

In expanding his global influence he described how in the early days he would license his songs to any record label that would take them - so that he could get a foothold in those markets.  Instead of being precious with his work and trying to control everything, he realized that the important thing was actually to get played in the clubs over there and once he was in the local scene, then he could look to build a brand.

Don't be precious with your work.  Collaborate and grow awareness.  Brand from there.

Vusi Kunene - Restaurant Owner - The Blackanese

Vusi has a wonderful rags to riches story where he moved from waiting tables at restaurants in Cape Town to opening his own restaurant here in Johannesburg.  He told the story of how he fell in love with the Japanese culture and sushi especially, even though there were no black sushi chefs at all in his neighbourhood.  He didn't let that stop him though and he manifested his goal of bringing sushi to Johannesburg with his uniquely African spin.

 Engage in the culture and tradition of the cuisine.  It's not just about the food, it's about the experience.

Davide Gumede and Lesego Legoale - Car Restoration & Customisation - White Wall Boys

David and Lesego told a simple story of how they turned a love for cars into a small customization company - revitalizing the cars that people love.  Their unique proposition is the willingness to merge old-school design with modern technology - to provide a totally unique machine.

Mike Sharman - Social Media Creator - Retroviral

Mike's company provides online marketing solutions to brands to enable them to engage and interact with customers intimately through their social networks.  By organically seeding content, the company aims to provide wide reach for their client while minimizing advertising spend.  This is a market which I think we are barely scratching the surface - definitely lots to watch for in this space.

Don't let financial fears stop you.  There's always a way.

Kolawole Olajide - E-Learning Innovator - Funda

Kolawole's company provides IT solutions for academic institutions enabling them to offer credit-worthy online courses for virtual learning.  His main advice was to focus on your strengths whole-heartedly and to cover the rest of your bases, find the right team.  The team is everything.

Misha Teasdale - Social Enterprise Advocate - Greenpop

Greenpop is a fascinating business which plants trees.  It's as simple as that.  So far they have planted over 47000 trees across the world - doing their bit for the environment.  However, as Misha expertly articulated, their mission is much, much more than that.  It's a mission to encourage people to be active citizens and to get their hands dirty.  Too many of us are apathetic when it comes to tackling macro societal problems - it's always a belief that someone else will do it!

Greenpop doesn't take this preconception lightly and are actively fighting against community complacency.  If we want things to change - we have to be willing to get down on our knees and work at it.  Get involved.

Andre Hugo - Serial Entreprenuer - M4Jam

Andre worked at Deloitte for 18 years (moving up to the rank of partner) before jumping to form his own company - Money 4 Jam.  M4Jam is a micro-jobbing platform developed off the WeChat social media network which matches micro-jobs offered by brands (Market Research, Brand Activation, GPS Mapping, etc.) with "jobbers" who complete the jobs in under 10 minutes on their  smartphones.  Together with their micro-payment system development this is a very interesting business tackling the marketplace idea - which technology has enabled.

No one is going to do things for you.  Phone everyone in your network.  Hustle.

Musa Kalenga - Digital Marketer - Nedbank

Musa heads up an innovative business within Nedbank, tackling many different marketing campaigns and approaches for the bank.  He spoke about the concept of 'friend-zoning' your failure which really resonated with me!  The key idea was to make failure your friend so you remove its power.  Once it is just your friend, and is in that dark black hole, it stops defining how you see yourself but rather becomes something you learn from, moving forward.

 It is crucial to be able to articulate your vision.  If you can't express it, it doesn't matter how good it is.

Lebogang Rasethaba - Film Maker

Lebogang is a well known film maker who has been in the industry for around 9 years so far.  He spoke about how when he lived in China for 6 years, it gave him a real appreciation of the raw beauty of Johannesburg.  He espouses that Johannesburg is exciting, on the cusp of a real urban revolution.  That's why he wants to be here - to feel the energy and the vibrancy.

 Focus on honesty and integrity, rather than technical brilliance.  That what sticks with people.

Uno de Waal - Online Marketer - Between 10 and 5

Between 10 and 5 is the leading online showcase for South African creativity, which Uno built for years as a side project before it made any money whatsoever.

He describes the four P's of creativity as follows:

  • Passion.
  • Purpose.
  • Play.
  • Proximity.

Engineer the random collisions, to crest your own luck, your own opportunities.

Ludwick Marishane - DryBath Inventor - Headboy Industries

Ludwick's talk was the one I was most excited for, having encountered him and his idea before.  He's a young man with an insatiable drive - something that I really respect.  His invention, DryBath, is a bath-substitution gel that serves as a convenience product to fight body odor.  Regardless of what you think of the idea, the mere fact that he got a brand new product like this off the ground and into production at such a young age is incredibly inspiring.  From doing all his research and writing his entire business plan on his old Nokia brick, he has come a long way!  He is definitely a name to follow in the future.

Bluff!  A pair of balls beats everything.

Learning is important, but formal education is a choice.


So all in all, it was a great day out.  The venue was a great choice and the energy that ran through the place was contagious.  It's definitely an event that I hope becomes an annual one - because we need all the collaboration we can get here!

Until next time.