- What are the biggest lessons you have learned along the TallOrder journey from start-up to the point of hitting a serious level of investment and eventually scaling?
Put a lot more effort into getting the right people on board. A very large part of a startup’s cash flow goes into people and the wrong people always cost the company a lot more than may initially be obvious. Focus more on getting a broader customer base going from the start and depend less on a few large customers or partners early on. Large companies change their priorities fast and often which may leave you having allocated a lot of resources to a dead-end partner. Ensure that one clearly understands the MVP (minimum viable product) and who that will appeal to and then focus on the customers who need the MVP vs the ones who want all the features you don’t have yet.
Over the years I have learned that recruitment is more than getting the right people on board but rather the best people on board. Working in a startup you face numerous unexpected challenges that you need to be prepared for. In the corporate world you have various HR (human resource) staff specialised in recruiting the best candidates but in a startup world you, yourself are HR or maybe, if you are lucky, one or 2 people dealing with HR tasks and responsibilities. Recruiting the best people in their areas of speciality allows them to help your business make informed decisions depending on the nature of the challenge you are dealing with. Being the COO of the business, together with the CEO you won’t always have the time to make informed decisions immediately, therefore investing in your staff members will definitely benefit you in the long run. As our business is expanding we will be able to invest in an HR team.
- What were some of your biggest challenges along the way, specific to the tech arena, and how were these overcome?
There is quite a serious shortage of highly skilled developers in SA. There are many job-hoppers who hop as or before they get caught out for their poor productivity. The country really needs to encourage more high school students to enter the tech world and coding is an essential part of the puzzle. This problem is made worse by (1) the number of talented young people who leave the country (2) the number of foreign companies recruiting local talent to work remotely at salaries that are difficult for the local startups to match. We are still dealing with this issue and part of the answer may well lie in also hiring more remote workers in other countries where the right talent is more available. VC funding in SA has been minute vs the likes of VC funding in Israel, India and other developing markets like Brazil. Without enough funds, it is hard to hire the best employees out there and that makes it tough to compete against startups in other countries where funding levels are much higher. The VC landscape is changing at present and Africa is becoming much more interesting to investors looking at the next frontier. Hopefully, this will become less of a challenge in the near future.
- What, if anything, would you do differently?
Draw a harder line around the MVP and plan the feature set roadmap so that one can focus on meeting specific customer needs and then build on that MVP feature set steadily vs trying to please too many prospects too early in the process.
- Why do you believe that it is important to remain 100% local from an IP perspective?
We used to believe that as a software product company it is essential to control all of the IP completely. Given the shortage of great developer skills and salaries that a startup can afford here, it is becoming clear that we will have to consider developing certain contained parts of the solution elsewhere. I think this is just inevitable as the world gets more and more used to a remote knowledge worker model. That being said, the product, vision and values of TallOrder will always be driven by a local knowledge base.
- Why is it important to design technology-driven solutions with the local context/environment in mind?
The local context is very important in the tech space especially when the top leaders in horizontal applications dominate quite rapidly and it becomes impossible to compete with the deep pockets of the global giants. Eg who would take on Zoom or Slack now? The local context can provide moat opportunities to exploit. In our Point of Sale world there are 2 important local (Sub Sahara African) aspects that we focussed on:
Powerful offline capacity is required for the African Internet and thus cloud. Our internet is slower, more expensive and less reliable than the developed world internet. Applications that assume the internet is fast, cheap and always on don’t play well here.
Local integrations are vital. The big overseas companies are not keen on building lots of integrations for our relatively small market. They prioritise the integrations required in their large, primary markets. We have worked hard to build an integration to a wide range of the local payment, reward, hospitality and accounting systems.
- Can you shed some light on TallOrder’s plans for the future?
For 2022 the focus in on accelerating our rollout in Sub Saharan Africa by building a great network of channel partners, both in terms of geography and industry focus. Partners are critical to scaling out and our competitors are mostly direct sellers who are not partner-oriented. Longer-term, our vision is to build big data out of our merchant’s small data sets, so we can help them compete more effectively and build better businesses, based on data insights and intelligence. At the point of sale, we get deep insights into the operational data of our customer base. By sharing those insights and learning, the SMEs will be able to leverage collective learning.
- Do you have some advice for other tech entrepreneurs looking to start a venture or those who have just embarked upon the journey?
Buckle up and sit tight! Building a startup is a lot harder and takes longer than one ever expects. Curved balls like the Covid-19 pandemic and its lockdowns, has hit companies in our target market very hard and slowed our growth for the past 2 years. It took a lot of perseverance and belief to get to the point where we can focus on growth again!
As published on smetechguru.co.za