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How Tech Can Close The Gap In Africa

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In the latest Africa’s Investment Destination Index released in April, Nigeria was ranked 19 out of 54 African countries. In effect, if a foreign investor was to make a choice in which economy to do business, Nigeria would be their 19th choice. It is a steep fall for a country, which not so long ago was ranked as the third-fastest growing economy in the world.

For much of Africa, the ‘Africa rising’ slogan is wearing thin. A big problem is that many African economies are rentier states. In effect, when there is a boom in the sale of natural resources, the economy looks healthy. At best, this creates a superficial climate of prosperity; at worse it fosters complacency. The revenues from such booms are largely frittered away by the political class. Little effort is ever made to close the infrastructural gaps that could aid SMEs.

According to the index, some economies are steaming back to life. Zambia is a clear case in point, in fifth position. Egypt’s economy stands third; a clear sign that it has put the political turmoil of the last few years firmly behind it. This strengthens my belief in an Africa that is capable of rising above its challenges, an Africa that has the resources to courageously confront the future. At the same time, there is a sadness that some African countries are not focusing on their economies enough to become favorable destinations for foreign direct investments.

More African countries need to start paying attention to changing economic and investment realities. When we understand how money and investment works on a global level, we can better understand how to attract it. The digital takeover is the new conversation, and start-ups that have found brilliant and effective ways of simplifying daily life are the new magnets for venture capitalists.

Is China Really Helping Africa?

Previously, governments shaped the economic focus in African countries. Now the private sector has more opportunity to drive growth, even against the backdrop of infrastructural and institutional gaps. Nigeria’s tech incubator, the Co-Creation Hub, which is solely private sector driven, appears more vibrant than the Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH), which is piloted by the government. The former attracted the attention of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, culminating in his first visit to Nigeria.

At the Forbes Under-30 Summit in Israel, in April, where I was one of the selected speakers, venture capitalism and foreign direct investments in emerging economies was predictably top of the agenda. Since I featured on FORBES AFRICA’s 30 under 30 list in 2016, I was fortunate enough to attend the Forbes Under-30 Summit in Boston, USA, in October last year. It gave me the opportunity to interact with investors and entrepreneurs. These events create opportunities for young African entrepreneurs, like myself, to find ways to shape the future of our own businesses and economies, in collaboration with important global capitalist actors.

The discussions at the summit in Israel touched on new frontiers for investment. Interestingly, Africa hardly features in this conversation. There are investors with money to spend, but the continent is yet to position itself to welcome these opportunities.

This is where tech incubators can act as catalyst for economic growth. Zambia and Côte d’Ivoire are showing promising signs in attracting this sort of FDI, but Nigeria has the potential to attract much more if there is a policy to develop spaces for tech incubators to thrive. Tech incubators can generate ideas to solve economic, social and even governmental problems, while also attracting foreign capital.

Private Money Worth Its Weight In Gold

In Nigeria, BudgIT uses charts and infographics to explain government revenues and remittances. Initially, investment group Omidyar Network injected $400,000 in BudgIT. Less than two years later, it won a $1.4-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. BudgIT proves start-up ideas can plug governance gaps and attract foreign capital at the same time.

This is not to suggest that every tech company has to solve governmental problems. Tech incubators can be used for economic and social needs, while making a profit. Every round of funding an organization receives puts it in a position to scale up its activities.  This is one way the private sector drives growth in an economy.

Tech incubators, and other spaces for technology-driven solutions, are urgently needed on the continent if we are to join the global business train. Currently, Africa is still stuck on the platform at the station. – Written by Obinwanne Okeke, a FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 alumnus

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Fashion, Fame and Finances With SA Designer, David Tlale

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How would you say the African fashion market is growing?

We are starting to understand the business of fashion; how to create brands that are custom-made in Africa, which is what we need to be doing and I think more than anything else, we need local customers supporting local designers. Another thing we need to start seeing is retailers supporting proudly ‘made in Africa’ or ‘made in South Africa’ products because that’s the only way for us to become game-changers in the fashion industry. When you look at big brands in the US, Europe or anywhere else in the world, they work very closely with their local designers.

Your most expensive indulgence?

Fabric! When I go to a fabric store, locally and internationally, I am like a kid in a candy store. I would rather buy expensive fabric different to whatever is available locally [South Africa], to make sure I can still sell that to my clients. When it comes to fabric, I go all out.

David Tlale. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

What do you mostly spend your money on?

Shoes and handbags.

How have you maintained your brand over the years?

The only way for us a brand to grow is to continue reinventing ourselves every season. As a designer or as an artist, you are only as good as your previous collection. Also, don’t try and compete with anyone, but do and believe what ‘brand David Tlale’ stands for. It happens that from time to time we keep serving them the same thing, like the white blouse. Our customers also want it, but the question is, how do we reinvent it for the next season or the next collection?

The significance of grooming young African designers…?

It is realizing they are the future…the ones going to take the fashion industry to the next level making sure we still have brands from Africa to the global markets…It is important to expose them to the business of fashion because when I grew up, no one took me by the hand and said ‘David, this is how the business of fashion is’. We were told we have to showcase at fashion week but beyond that or before that, what happens? Now we understand that.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

I was a lecturer at Vaal University for four and a half years, just before I graduated. I was able to buy my mom new furniture and I bought myself some sewing machines. I am proud to say that my investment into that machinery has made us who we are as David Tlale. We now have a studio and a brand that is growing.

How do you diversify your investments?

What we have done as David Tlale, over the years, is to build the brand and invest everything into this brand. We are now starting to look at other investment portfolios so we are able to get different sources of income, not only from clothing; making sure we invest in the brand, as a lifestyle brand, it be accessories, handbags or perfume. We are working on a lot of things because we want to ensure that in the next few years, David Tlale is a holistic fashion brand.

READ MORE: Lessons To Learn From The Rich And Famous

What is your most recent acquisition?

A printing machine. It is a huge investment we have made for our business making sure that we are able to look different in the industry and can print our [own] fabric.

Your worst investment decision?

To believe in someone who did not believe in my brand…I suffered dearly from it but today I am better. We are on the journey to reposition David Tlale, ensuring we become a luxury brand proudly made in South Africa by South Africans [and selling to] the international markets.

 

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Investment Guide

A Serious Investment For A Funny Man

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How do you keep the crowd interested in your comedy?

Be honest, because they need to realize you are one of them.

What is your business strategy?

You need to be open to what is going on in the industry. There was a time where we were able to plan a year in advance, but we can’t do that anymore. Social media platforms are evolving so fast. You can’t drop the same images and messages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You have got to do it differently… So stay current and on top of things. It is also more than just about the technology; there are networking opportunities springing up.

What is your investment philosophy?

I am a conservative investor. I go for short-term investments rather than long-term investments. I would like to keep it to the medium range of risk.

Financial discipline means…?

Knowing when to say no, no matter how good it feels.

How do you remain financially disciplined?

I struggle a lot.

How have you diversified your investments?

I own a couple of classic cars. I also have a couple of properties.

Your most recent acquisition?

I bought a piece of property on Long Street, Cape Town.

You most regrettable financial blunder since you entered the industry?

Starting the comedy club! It was difficult making a concept like a comedy club work in a conservative space five years ago when I started.

However, it became the best decision I ever made. At the time, it was a huge investment of energy and time to get it started. On one or two occasions, I remember thinking this was too hard. It has been a very bitter-sweet thing but in the end, the advantages are huge and the disadvantages just as staggering…The theory of business is basically failure till you reach the point of success. But failure is a very important part of success. You can’t have the one without the other.

Kurt Schoonraad. Photo by Casey Bertie

How do you decide your fee?

My personal fee is affordable. I think it is important to stay within range. It is very easy to price yourself out of the [market]. We need to understand that the universe has not made all comedians equal. My fee is about R35,000 ($2,600) for a 45 minute-to-an hour set.

How much is it to start a comedy club and what does it entail?

More money than you know how to come up with but you figure it out. It is [just] one of those things. There was no comedy club in Cape Town yet there was one in Johannesburg. It is a no-brainer that comedy needed a home in Cape Town…I had to sell one or two classic cars and my partner also invested heavily in my business. It is at the V&A Waterfront [in Cape Town] so the rent is extremely high. It was worth it because at least 30 percent of our audience is not from Africa. We would have not been able to call on that market had we not been situated where we are.

How do you strike a balance between being an entrepreneur and a comedian?

This must be the thing I am struggling with the most. By just opening up the comedy club, people assumed you have taken up the other side. In the early stages, I found out that there are very huge demands on the business side of things. I work during the day and I perform at night.

Money or fame?

Most definitely, fame.

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Investment Guide

Me & My Money: Izak Smit

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What is the one investment you wish you had made?

One of the best investments anyone can make is to invest in him or herself. There are the formal qualifications, yes, but in my experience the real important one is the informal personal development throughout one’s life. It takes effort and discipline. There are so many excellent books that I have read, and courses that I have attended later in my life, on strategy, innovation, leadership, selling and persuasion, presenting, time management, and a host of other soft skills that I wish I could have made earlier in my life.

What are your investment tips for 2018? 

The biggest tip of all is to first create the capacity to invest. Open a gap between what comes in and what goes out, and the tip here is not to focus on the income side, which is often, over the short term, not so much within your control, but rather on limiting expenses and waste, which is much more controllable. Try to find your happiness outside of consumption, instead of trying to buy bliss.  There is no independence quite as important as living within your means. Then, focus on building a fund that will preserve your lifestyle for life. This is a firewall that should ensure that you are not one day old and poor.

What do you invest in and why?

My investments have mostly been in boring, diversified unit trusts in retirement fund vehicles. But over time it starts accumulating when compound growth starts doing its magic. Luckily I am not much of a wheels person, I have only replaced cars twice in my life, although I do have a motorbike and have made some sizeable ‘investments’ into road and mountain bikes. I have never sold a property in which we have lived, so we have three now, renting out two, but from an investment perspective it has performed very poorly. I believe the house in which you live should rather be seen as a lifestyle possession, not an investment. I do ‘invest’ quite a bit in the liquid asset category called wine – but find that it does not last that long in the cellar before it is consumed. Another investment that has eroded quite a bit of our family’s lifestyle preservation fund is travel and experiences.  I would like to believe these are investments with internal value – these adventures bond families and shape character.

What investments have worked best for you?

One of the best things one can do is to make full use of retirement funds and other tax free vehicles. The state does not tax you when you make the investment, there is no tax on interest, dividends or capital gains, no estate duty, and some of the withdrawals might even be tax free. It is also difficult to touch it, which is a good thing; it protects you from your short term gratification weaknesses.

What investment strategy do you recommend? 

It is often said that the best investment is to pay off debt. I agree, but only after you have first made contributions to hedge against catastrophes and after you have made investments in a diversified portfolio of quality financial assets. I have seen too many people who have paid off debt first, throughout their lives, and ended up with still nothing in an investment portfolio in their fifties. Then make sure that the risk-return trade-off of your portfolio allows you to sleep well.

READ MORE: Me & My Money – Dion Shango

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