Picture: High-level Marketing Executive Nicky Swartz’s new stokvel investment firm, Spoon Money, is already making waves only months after its launch. Swartz credits Digital Skills Academy’s BSc Honours Degree programme with giving her the new skills and confidence she needed to take the plunge and launch her own business. (Supplied).

CAPE TOWN - Nicky Swartz went from being a Marketing executive of a financial services company to start her own startup company, Spoon Money. 

Swartz has over twenty years of experience in the corporate industry. Yet, she realised that the digital wave was significantly changing the sector. It was here that she decided to up-skill herself and her digital marketing skills. 

She joined international information and communication technology (ICT) organisation, Digital Skills academy and enrolled for a BSc Honours Degree programme. 

“The world of marketing has changed immeasurably. And being a traditional marketer, I decided to upskill myself in terms of digital marketing and the broader digital ecosystem. I realised that increasingly, the companies we work for are becoming digitally-empowered”, said Swartz. 

In March 2017, a month after completing her Honours Degree programme, Swartz then left her corporate job and delved into the startup world.

When asked what ultimately drove her to founding her own start up, Swartz said that it was also a dream she wanted to fulfil. 

“The corporate world is increasingly a precarious one, with job security feeling decidedly insecure and I figured it was time to become master of my own destiny. Couple this with the fact that I reached an age where I also decided that the if I were going to fulfill a dream to start a business which created jobs and served an under-served segment, then it was 'now or never'”. 

She said that it has been a notion that has been hanging around for a long time. 

When she bridged the connection between her experience of running her family stokvel for nearly 10 years and her dream to start her own business, Spoon Money was born. 

“The stokvel segment has been largely ignored since forever. There is opportunity aplenty in the space, but I think it needs fresh thinking. I'm not persuaded that the answer to igniting the potential of this segment, is simply to overlay it with the bog-standard, same old, same old financial services products.  That really won't be value-adding, and potentially, simply exploitative”, adds Swartz. 

Spoon Money, a stokvel investment firm in essence helps existing stokvels to become more successful. 

“We don't run stokvels, we join stokvels. In fact, we make a point of not interfering in the running of the stokvels.  As a participating member, we have a voice, but no more so than any other member.  Our focus is on stokvels who by their own practice act as 'micro-banks' in their communities and in much the way that the Reserve Bank may capitalise a bank, we play that role in this scenario”. 

When asked if there is a return on investment for stokvels, Swartz said that the model is designed in such as to allow stokvels to make money on the investment stokvel’s money.

“The mission is to help stokvels become more successful and for the members to be able to get better value for their contributions. We believe that this will encourage more people to start and participate in stokvels and effectively drive up the savings rate, leading to a measure of greater financial stability for people. The model effectively allows the stokvels to 'make money on our money' so yes, there is a real financial benefit to the stokvels”. 

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The startup founder also points out the challenges of starting her own firm procuring finance. 

“I couldn't find the 'how-to become an entrepreneur' manual and the bits I found didn't seem to apply to the social enterprise I wanted to create.  There's a lot of information out there, but finding the right bits is actually quite hard.  I really had to figure out what the product was clients would be willing to pay for, and that took some time.  Finding initial funding is deeply problematic - it felt like R200k was the magic number bandied about to build an MVP, and finding R200k is hard.  Also, I'm effectively doing this as a single founder and that's lonely”. 

Looking back on her years in the corporate field, Swartz says that corporate life was rewarding on so many level. 

“It allowed me to spend 11 years in the UK working in the advertising industry, it afforded me the opportunity to run an agency for 7 years and more recently working in 'big business', the experience of sitting at executive level and having a clear line of sight of creating value (both internally and externally), managing teams and building processes”. 

However, it also prepared her for her current venture. 

Swartz was fortunate enough to be given the exposure to every aspect of a business, she says.

When asked what is the first step people should take when planning to start their own company, Swartz says:

"Stay in your paying job and figure out as much as you can while still earning a salary (laughing!).  Seriously,  as Roger Norton of Playlogix often says, the only thing that counts is whether someone will buy your product.  You have to figure out how you're going to move from an idea to a revenue-generating entity - that's what makes it a business.  And then go and test it. On a personal note, I strongly suggest that people choose a business that they're completely passionate about.  There are so many dark days, that if you don't have a higher purpose that keeps you motivated, it just makes it easier to give up".  

She says that the key to business success is fundamentally having a business that adds value to an ecosystem in a sustainable way. 

On Spoon Money’s plans within the next five years, Swartz says that there is a great deal more value which she can add to the segment she is focused on and she would like to do that. 

“We want a really good, very successful, sustainable business that delivers on our social imperative.  We want to make a very real, positive impact on peoples' lives”, concludes Swartz.

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