Google-Funded Business On Why SA Is A Great Place To Launch

Don't underestimate the opportunities that operating in South Africa affords you, says Riaz Moola. The country is a great place to start a business.

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Julian Carelsen

Hyperion Development was founded in 2012 as a freelance cooperative aimed at helping people develop crucial computer science and coding skills. Pretty soon, though, founder Riaz Moola realised that there was an opportunity to turn the idea into a sustainable social enterprise that makes money while also doing good. 

By offering free tuition to 85% of its users, and charging the 15% that can afford to pay for the service, Hyperion Development could actually be profitable while doing good. The idea struck a chord. The company now boasts partners such as Google, Facebook and Cambridge University. 

I studied at Cambridge and worked for Google in Switzerland for a short time. Spreading your wings and seeing how the rest of the world does things is something I would recommend to any entrepreneur. It allowed me to build solid contacts and get a better understanding of the global business landscape, but more importantly, it opened my eyes to the opportunities that South Africa offers. 


South Africa is a great place to start a business

I’m based largely in the UK at the moment, and the fact of the matter is, it’s practically impossible to start a business here without substantial funding. Everything is so expensive here — labour, rent, etc. — that you just can’t bootstrap. In South Africa, however, bootstrapping is doable. You can start a business and fund it yourself. 

Moreover, we have the knowledge and infrastructure needed to offer a world-class service, and the cost of doing business is quite low. You can start a tech business in Cape Town or Johannesburg, for example, and have clients all over the world. Few people realise, for instance, that Amazon has a significant presence in Cape Town and does a lot of business from there. 

People have this inaccurate belief that you either need to be a social enterprise or a for-profit business. The fact of the matter is, the best opportunities can be found in the middle. You need to consider how you can create a business that manages to both — make a social impact and make money. These are the companies that attract funding and that are sustainable in the long-term. 


Securing funding from Google and Facebook

We’ve managed to get funding from both Google and Facebook, for example, because we are a sustainable social enterprise.  We’re bringing technology to Africa — which is something these large organisations are very interested in — but we’re not a charity. We’re making money. Just look at an investment firm like Omidyar Network. It is interested specifically in social enterprises that can turn a good profit. 

Basic coding and computer skills have become a must-have for any entrepreneur. You have to be able to, for instance, create your own website. The good news is that this isn’t hard to do any longer. Technology now makes things easier than ever. You can create a website without knowing how to code, but having some coding skills is useful. I would say that computer knowledge is becoming as important as basic business knowledge. Nowadays, just about every business is a ‘tech’ business in some sense. 


It's important to realise that you can compete on a global scale

Many South African entrepreneurs simply think too small. We live in a connected world, so we can operate and compete on the global stage. People often can’t believe that we got funding from Facebook. The fact of the matter is, there’s no reason why a South African company can’t get funding from a massive international operation. It can be done. It’s not necessarily easy. We had to work very hard to get it. But it’s not impossible. You just need to start thinking big.