Favorite quote: “It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, all that matters, is how many times you get up”
What is your story (tell us about yourself)?
I have devoted my career to the fintech (financial technology) space, with a tenure of over 16 years spanning the UK and South Africa. Having lived and worked in London for about 10 years, I have previously spent time working for large tier-1 investment banks such as of Lehman Brothers, Nomura and JP Morgan. A vast majority of my career was initially based within the corporate environment, and currently in the startup space as an entrepreneur. I have moved between London and South Africa multiple times, and currently based in Johannesburg.
My passion lies in the areas of the 4th industrial revolution and I have been building multiple businesses in the fields of blockchain, digital assets, cryptocurrencies and fintech. These new cutting-edge innovations are forming the basis for a new financial system, and I thrive on focusing my efforts to progress new business models and building sustainable businesses. Having worked in traditional fintech, and now in next generation and decentralized finance – I have built up skills and expertise to create a new digital financial world.
I am also an international speaker and trusted advisor, driving blockchain initiatives and communities across the world – while striving to make a large inclusive, socio-economic and technology impact.
When did you start your first business and what inspired you to start?
I started my first business with a few friends in 2017. I had a deep passion for blockchain and cryptocurrencies whilst also working in these fields, and had seen large pockets of fragmented innovation within South Africa. I was keen to bridge this gap and also promote education and networking opportunities to all who were working in startups and corporate.
What is the Key Objective(s) and Vision of your business? (Has it changed overtime or is has it always been this?)
The vision of Dark Wall Ventures is to navigate the (relatively) unknown domains of blockchain, digital assets, cryptocurrencies and fintech. Our ethos is to utilize our expertise to guide companies through their journeys within theses new and complex spaces – as the future is currently being built based on these innovations. Our focus is to provide services across the verticals of strategic advisory & consulting, technology labs, research & education, digital marketing and investing.
The overall vision of the business has not changed (as this should always be well defined), however, we constantly adapt our business model and the ways that we work to accommodate an ever-changing and chaotic world.
What challenges did you face in your journey? What’s the biggest obstacle you had to overcome (are still overcoming)?
Entrepreneurs constantly face a multitude of challenges every single day! One of the biggest challenges that is faced when starting a business is having to do everything yourself. You are responsible for everything including sales, marketing, finance, accounting, business development and much, much more, including fighting fires.
Ongoing challenges for every startup (regardless of sector) includes driving business, client pipelines and revenues. Although this is also the fun part of running a business!
How did you manage to navigate your company through this period of the Covid-19 pandemic? (What business strategies/operational adjustments have you made over this period and how has it impacted your business model?)
Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on businesses, with certain industries being impacted more than others. Our client pipeline was reduced drastically due to the lack of revenues that our clients faced, which then impacted us along the value chain.
However, due to the nature of our business, within the digital remit, we were not as severely impacted as other companies. If anything, Covid has shifted businesses to operating more digitally which also in turn, allowed us to promote our services within the innovative fintech domain.
With revenues being affected, we chose to implement cost cutting procedures to sustain the business, whilst shifting most efforts towards marketing, sales & business development.
How do you approach networking and building partnerships in your industry?
Reputation is key in any industry that you work in. At the end of the day, businesses are just people interacting with each other, and hence building brand and trust is key to the success of your business. This takes years and requires constant attention and efforts.
Networking is essential to building this reputation and meeting people who form part of your circle. This is an important aspect, not only in relation to business, but from a personal perspective as well. I constantly attend and speak at conferences, produce digital content, share my experiences & skills, and meet as many people as I can. The fundamental aspect of networking and building partnerships is to never expect anything in return, and always share value with others.
Do you have (or ever had) a mentor in your journey, and do you believe it helped (if yes, in what way)?
Having a mentor through one’s career and journey is important, as mentors have walked the path and can share from experience. I have been privileged to have a few mentors through my career, within the corporate and startup sectors.
Finding a good mentor is key as they can assist throughout the challenges that are faced. Mentors have helped me through the trials and tribulations, from a professional and mental perspective.
What is your perspective on the South African entrepreneurial landscape before and after Covid-19 pandemic? (Would you say the “new normal” context drives more or less opportunities for entrepreneurs?) How can entrepreneurial policy development aid in expanding opportunities in this new context?
South Africa (together with Africa and emerging economies) present immense opportunities to make a difference through entrepreneurship. These economies suffer with problems that are closely linked across geographies that are different to the western world – and allow entrepreneurs to tackle these head on. Many downsides do also exist in frontier markets, which pose many challenges to launching and scaling a business.
Covid-19 has pushed the world into the digital age and has brought about many new opportunities. Entrepreneurs should focus on problems faced by the population and work on solutions to solve these. More support structures are also required to assist entrepreneurs to succeed in their respective fields – coupled with a cohesive ecosystem. Launching and doing business in Africa is notoriously difficult, and defined policy would help in alleviating these hurdles and nurturing the entrepreneurs. Development of policies around the following areas will allow the startup sector to flourish: tax exemptions, funding, unrestricted flow of capital & intellectual property, ecosystem building and working services geared towards startups.
In your opinion, what are the secrets to being a successful entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship is one of the hardest but most fulling journey that one can take. Nothing will prepare you for becoming an entrepreneur, and you will have swings of ups and downs. Always have a reason for becoming an entrepreneur, together for a vision of what you are passionate about and what you want to accomplish. This will help keep the focus and drive through the tough times. Identity what success means to you, as everyone has their own version – this will help you work towards being successful in your own right. Constantly learn and upskill throughout life.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
There has never been a better time in history to start a business and a startup. As a young entrepreneur, you have the advantage of being able to test and try out many different business models. Find a niche that you are passionate about and work towards creating value in that field. Do not be afraid of failure, this should not be viewed as negative – you will fail many times in your life. Learn from it, take the lesson and get back up. Learn to become familiar with change, as this is really the only constant.