Johannesburg - Matthew Swart, CEO and co founder of SafariNow speaks to IOL about his first startup.
Q: Is SafariNow your first startup and what gave you the idea for the business?
A: Yes, I had qualified and was working as a land surveyor before starting SafariNow. At the time, I was thinking about ways to create something, ideally internet based, that created income potential even when I was not at work. Having met a couple who ran an online business offering rental cars to Germans visiting South Africa, I saw the potential for creating something similar for accommodation.
Q: How is it doing?
A: SafariNow has been successful and it has been an exciting journey. We are the leading accommodation site in the Southern African market, with the largest supply of accommodation options and more than a million users per month. We were also named one of the top eCommerce companies in the 2015 South African eCommerce Awards.
I think I knew early on that it was going to be a success and I am very grateful for what it’s achieved, but there were hard yards along the way. I am also conscious to never let the current success make me complacent. There are always going to be new challenges and tough times, but for me, it’s about constant reflection and renewal.
Q: Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? What made you choose this career path?
A:I actually wasn’t sure what I wanted to be; I was good at a variety of things but never focussed on one in particular. My parents encouraged me to study as a way of learning how to think and I graduated with a degree in Engineering and became a land surveyor. Becoming an entrepreneur was more of an evolution than a decision; moving away from traditional employment was important for me to follow the lifestyle that I enjoy which includes activities like windsurfing and kiting. I always say that I’m not very employable and it became clear to me that entrepreneurship was the only way for me.
Q: What's next on your list?
A: Although SafariNow is well known, the aim is for it to become a household name and then possibly even launch our product globally. We are also always conscious of the lifecycle of a business and are constantly renewing and making sure we are on the right path. This has led us to our upcoming office move which will take us back to our roots - moving to Muizenberg will bring us back into the holiday and leisure space that we work in, and our new workspace will be even more conducive to our “let’s go surfing” attitude.
Q: What would you say to someone who wants to be an entrepreneur?
A: I would say: give it a go. It’s easier than you think and even though there is lots of competition, there is also plenty opportunity. You just need to find a way of adding value in a local way.
It’s also important to create your own presence. Don’t rely on social media to promote or build your brand; rather build something yourself, something that you can own and where your content can always live.
Q: Would you say you need a degree to get started?
A: Not at all, having a degree is certainly not a requirement for being able to start a successful business. But I do believe that a degree (or any kind of studying) can help you take your business beyond a certain point.