My Christmas wish is for South Africa to be a startup nation

The end of the year is here and I’ll admit it – I am experiencing my annual dose of feeling a little emotional about “something” coming to an end. It is a time of introspection for me and I find myself asking tough questions as things quieten down. On top of my list of tough questions: What am I really passionate about?

Now let me say this upfront, one can have many passions. But here is one of mine: I am passionate about helping small businesses. If there is one thing I have learned over the last few months it is that I like working with entrepreneurs. These guys – and with that I mean male & female – are the modern day cowboys of our society. Less bullshit and a greater focus on what matters.
My love for the small business goes hand in hand with a deep realization that in South Africa we are actually held back in many ways by companies that have become too big for the local pond. In short – we need less big business and more small business.

I travelled to Israel earlier this year to participate in a business case study competition with fellow students from my Wits MBA class. We were up against some stiff competition against some really top schools – UCLA, Cambridge, Yale – to name but a few. It was a truly fantastic experience. But what stood out for me was the actual time spend in Israel – a country also known as “Start-up Nation”, as termed by Dan Senor and Saul Singer in their similarly titled book.

An introduction to their book reads as follows:

“START-UP NATION addresses the trillion dollar question: How is it that Israel– a country of 7.1 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources– produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK?”

After the USA, Israel has the second most technology companies listed on the tech heavy NASDAQ exchange. The Tel Aviv skyline makes Johannesburg look like a small town. For me the attitude was best displayed in how the Israelis drive: there they don’t blow their car hooter because they are angry or frustrated. Nope, they blow the hooter because they are coming through – and you better get out of the way, for your own good. Hooting is a threat – not a warning.

I am firmly of the view that South Africa should be the start-up nation of Africa. We need to lead innovation throughout the continent.

With an election coming in 2014, plenty of racial tensions doing the rounds and enough party political kak to keep our country’s newsrooms going for the foreseeable future, I have a simple Christmas wish:

I wish for South Africa to be the start-up nation of this continent. 

One can look at this wish in many ways, measure it in various highly clever ways, such as number of company registrations, number of billionaire entrepreneurs and number of companies getting bought out by the Googles of this world. But the little boy in me measures it in simpler terms. I want South African cities to have the tallest, most modern buildings on the continent, the biggest airports, the fastest trains and the best roads.

In short, I want this country to just ooze a sense of progressiveness.

For me, the way I can help South Africa achieve this is my key challenge. How can I help this country to become the start-up nation of Africa?
I believe the answer lies in helping small businesses get of the ground and win. And this is where the power of the brand come into play. You cannot win, if people don’t know about you, about who you are, about what makes you different and why you are the best to meet their needs. Too many small businesses, stay small because they neglect their brand.Ultimately, the biggest companies in the world all started small and grew over time. Crucially in my view, is that this growth does not primarily happen on income statements or balance sheets, but rather in the hearts and minds of the target market.

This is the power of branding. It can be the Firejuice for helping small companies make it big!