8 Entrepreneurs That Had A Stellar 2017 And The Valuable Lessons They Taught Us

Updated on 19 December 2017

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Although 2017 was an all-round tough year with factors such as downgrades and high interest rates creating a difficult climate for businesses in general, there are several entrepreneurs who have had an amazing run this year.

From huge funding rounds, launches and awards for some of our foremost entrepreneurs and their startups, there is a lot that we can learn from the wisdom they shared during the year.

Here are some of the entrepreneurs who had a great 2017 and the lessons we can learn from how they do business.



Why 2017 Was A Good Year: Billionaire, Patrice Motsepe’s highlight of the year is his company, African Rainbow Capital‘s (ARC) listing on the JSE main board in September, and according to Business Day, its assets have grown nearly 50% in the three months it has been listed.

ARC also announced a few acquisitions including a substantial stake in leading enterprise and supplier development firm, Edge Growth, states an SME South Africa article.

ARC also acquired 10% of Tyme, a Johannesburg-based lender that allows customers to access funds through their mobile phones, with the hope of disrupting South Africa’s financial services sector.

Motsepe was this year included among the best business brains in the world in Forbes’ 100 Greatest Living Business Minds. He was also honoured with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Sunday Times Top 100 Companies Awards, according to Bizcommunity.

The Lesson: Work For A Win-Win Always
“After I completed my first significant transaction, buying mines that were closed or about to close, with a demotivated workforce of 8,000, who for years had been told, “Guys, you’re not cutting it,” people asked if I was mad. But we ran our business differently and it worked – we paid our workers based on profitability, with bonuses based on aspirational targets that, if achieved, created money for the mine workers, the company and its shareholders alike.”


Why 2017 Was A Good Year: Venture capitalist Vusi Thembekwayo sold a majority stake in his management advisory and growth consultancy business Motiv8 Advisory to United States-based Watermark Advisory LLP for an undisclosed amount, according to an SME South Africa article.

He launched his mentorship programme, #Top40 as part of MyGrowthFund (MGF), an initiative to discover and nurture high-growth black entrepreneurs through funding, incubation and enterprise development platforms, states another SME South Africa article.

This year, Thembekwayo also took his motivational talks to the world with his 2017 Global Inspiration Tour making stops in cities such as Las Vegas, Stockholm and Dubai. He also recently launched his book on entrepreneurship, The Magna Carta of Exponentiality.

The Lesson: Aim To Build Legacy Businesses And Consider The Greater Good
“[We need to create] a culture of delayed gratification, that says build it, but build it for the next 10 years, next 15 years, shape generations, send young people through to varsity, create innovative structures and platforms and processes that will allow ours to build a different continent, but whatever you do, delay your gratification.”

THISISME (David Thomas and Juan Furmie)

Entrepreneurs That Had Stellar YearThisIsME


Why 2017 Was A Good Year: One of the biggest highlights of the year for David Thomas and Juan Furmie, co-founders of South Africa’s fintech FICA specialist, ThisIsMe was taking part in the Gartner Aspiring Innovators Programme 2017 which forms part of the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo. It highlights innovative providers of enterprise technology and showcases best-in-class IT solutions, according to SME South Africa. The symposium is said to be one of the world’s most important gatherings of CIOs and senior IT executives.

This year, the team reached the 1 million verifications milestone, states TechFinancials, with their service being used by 85 merchants, including some of South Africa’s largest financial services businesses.

Their startup was named joint best fintech company of 2017 together with Easy Equities at this year’s  Africa Fintech Awards. ThisIsMe also claimed the Innovative Banking title,  according to Disrupt Africa.

In addition to winning the African Fintech Awards, ThisIsMe has been selected as one of three finalists in the Accenture Innovation Index Awards and was also ranked one of the best global Regtech companies by the CB Insights team in 2017.

The Lesson: Consider The Right Collaborations In The Digital Economy
“The digital economy allows for, and often requires, a lot of collaboration – the Finance Indaba has no shortage of potential partners and suppliers. The event is filled with thought leaders, decision-makers and inquisitive potential suppliers. Similarly, as with the Gartner event, we engaged with potential partners who possess the power to accelerate our growth locally and abroad.

Our goal was to meet at least 10 new clients and again we were able to surpass this goal as the event catered perfectly to the identity and compliance solutions that we’ve developed.”

YOCO (Bradley WattrusKatlego Maphai, Carl Wazen and Lungisa Matshoba)

Entrepreneurs That Had Stellar Year


Why 2017 Was A Good Year: The Yoco team are also on the list of entrepreneurs who had a busy year. The fintech startup, led by CEO, Katlego Maphai, successfully concluded a foreign funding round from U.S-based Quona Capital and Velocity Capital of the Netherlands, according to an SME South Africa article. Although the amount of the funding remains undisclosed, the article states that it has been earmarked to expand Yoco’s footprint and services. The company reached more than R1 billion in transactions per year, the article further adds.

Mastercard in October announced a collaboration with Yoco to roll out 15,000 mobile Point of Sale (mPOS) devices to small and medium-sized businesses by the end of the year while educating them on the benefits of going cashless.

Yoco also partnered with entrepreneurship network platform, BrownSense, which will see entrepreneurs on the BrownSense database receive discounts on Yoco’s payment services, according to SME South AfricaMaphai and Matshoba are also members of the exclusive network.

The Lesson: Leverage Your Access To The Right Network
“Intentional networking is incredibly effective; the opposite holds for aimless networking. I learnt down the line in my career that experts like to be engaged in their subject matter areas. They get energised by it and are often happy to share in abundance. Your ability to clearly define your problem or question and find the right person to engage is crucial. LinkedIn is a powerful tool for this. Unlike before, you now have a catalogued database of global expertise you can access instantly. The ability to ask the right person, the right questions yields great results.

More often than not, this is how we found our first advisors and even some members of our initial team. We engaged them as experts and built lasting relationships off this.”


Entrepreneurs That Had Stellar YearAisha-Pandor


Why 2017 Was A Good Year: Aisha Pandor, is the co-founder of SweepSouth, the online platform providing on-demand and regular home cleaning services on the African continent, together with partner Alen Ribic.

This year, SweepSouth concluded its Series A financing round. The investment is led by Smollan, the international retail solutions company as well as Draper Dark Flow, the Silicon Valley VC Fund for Africa established by Tim Draper, and also includes a new incoming private investor, DJ Black Coffee, states an SME South Africa article.

Another of Pandor’s achievements this year was being named one of Africa’s Breakthrough Female Tech Entrepreneurs of 2017 by the World Economic Forum, according to TechFinancials. She was also among Glamour magazine’s Glamour Women of the Year. According to IOLPandor was part of a group of women being honoured for making a significant difference in their respective fields.

The Lesson: Know Your Space
“There’s being tech-savvy and then there’s knowing how to code. It’s a plus having a coder/being a coder as a founder of a tech startup, but it isn’t essential. On the other hand, being tech-savvy is non-negotiable. You need to embrace the ecosystem your business is operating in and not only understand but at times be able to forecast tech progress and trends.”


Why 2017 Was A Good Year: Finfind, an online aggregator of lenders and a solution for access to finance for small businesses, which was founded by Menzies, this year secured an undisclosed “large investment” from Kingson Capital, states ITWeb.

The platform also partnered with MTN Business for their MTN Business Digital Entrepreneur Masterclass which was held in Cape Town, according to another ITWeb article.

Menzies was also named one of the World Economic Forum‘s 2017 Five Top Female Tech Entrepreneurs in Africa.

The Lesson: Find The Right Mix In Terms of Partnerships and Employees
“Two key lessons from my failures – the wrong partners will kill your business or emotionally kill you … you have to find the right mix between what they offer as far as financial investment is concerned, plus what doors they can open access to market-wise and importantly if you can work with them/enjoy working with them.

The other expensive lesson I learnt was how to choose the right team. Building a team is key to scaling but it’s also the most difficult, expensive and draining part of growing your business.

A mistake I used to make was trying to help anyone and everyone who needed a job – the quickest way to sink your business is trying to ‘create positions’ for people who need jobs rather than employing the right people for actual gaps in the business.

Nowadays, when it comes to building my team, I focus on my strengths (product innovation, sales, business development) and I employ for my weak areas (operations, technical, support, financial management, HR, etc.).”

ENTERSEKT (Dewald NolteSchalk Nolte and Niel Müller)

Entrepreneurs That Had Stellar YearEntersekt


Why 2017 Was A Good Year: Endeavor entrepreneurs, Dewald NolteSchalk Nolte and Niel Müller, who are founders of Entersekt, an authentication and app security company, broke boundaries this year by becoming Silicon Valley-based Endeavor Catalyst’s first-ever South African investment, according to SME South Africa.

The Stellenbosch-based company also won an award for Best Mobile Security Technology in the 2017 Banker Africa Southern Africa Banking Awards. This is the second year it has received the honour, states fintech club and accelerator, AlphaCode.

The Lesson: Nurture A Culture Of Excellence And Innovation

“We appoint entrepreneurial people, and we try to foster innovation throughout the organization. I don’t think you can make innovation the “job” of a specific team in the company – every division has to constantly try to do things better. We have, for example, structured the company in such a way as to ensure that the product team has a lot of exposure to customers and their needs, which allows them to solve real-world problems. Innovating for the sake of innovation could result in things we couldn’t necessarily use.”


Entrepreneurs That Had Stellar YearMichael-Jordaan


Why 2017 Was A Good Year: Investments and ventures have kept the former FNB CEO, Michael Jordaan, busy this year. Since the launch in 2014 of his VC firm, MonteGray Capital, which invests in lean startups with disruptive technologies and business models, Jordaan has backed 21 companies so far, according to MyBroadband.

One of the more significant of his latest ventures is LTE-A network operator, Rain, of which he is director and shareholder.

This year the startup secured investment from Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital (ARC), which acquired 20% of the business, states TechFinancials.

The startup also scored two more key hires with OUTsurance CEO Willem Roos poised to take up the CEO role, states ITWeb, and Gareth Tindall, whose experience includes 15 years as sales and marketing director at Dimension Data, as Rain’s chief operating officer, according to a MyBroadband article.

The Lesson: Don’t Forget The ‘Human’ Element In Business

“I’m a humanist in the sense that I value human beings individually and collectively, as well as the critical thinking that comes with it. I look for very high competence but with an X-factor such as a problem-solving attitude and a sense of humour.

I’m pretty sure some tests can be very helpful and that big data will be hugely revealing, but I still go for the basics which involve time, discussion and debate, as well as observation when things get tough.”

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