Wow! That is the first word that comes to mind when I try and think how to explain this book. As a South African who has had almost every privilege and opportunity and support I am flabbergasted that people with the very antithesis of my upbringing are absolutely destroying me in the business world.
With such a dramatic opening paragraph I hope I have enticed you in, and before you leave thinking “ag, this must be a lot of clickbait k@k” let me tell you that if this book is telling the truth (and I can’t prove that either way) the author is saying there are people selling things like sandwiches, donuts, and things like that and making R20-30,000 per day in revenue!!! That is a decent salary for most people in this country, in fact I think the median salary is around R14,000/month and the top 5% earn something like R20,000/month and up. Don’t quote me on that, I sourced those numbers from the back of my online reading memory, and online news in South Africa isn’t always the most fact-checked stuff.
Anyway, back to the book, it was incredibly encouraging reading this book – even though it was embarrasing to think these guys selling donuts make 50x what I do in a month, and I have the degree from UCT, the postgrad in marketing, two supportive parents, a great business network, private transport, access to so much information, and ample opportunites, ease of accessing capital/investment – and yet they are killing it, and I am just trying to grow a little.
It really made me want to pack it all in and start selling something small like sandwiches. But, here is the light at the end of the white man in South Africa tunnel: I’d still love to help these entrepreneurs, even though I write like they don’t need help and I am the one who does. I’d imagine things like bringing tech to their workplace, introducing them to an investor, helping them with marketing, to expand, to get a loan, to sort out their finances, help with safety, help them plan for retirement, help them hire, and mostly: help them be compliant with SARS and CIPC! I am almost certain they all operate with cash alone and the benefit is they likely pay zero tax, the problem is that sheer admin of it, and risk of being robbed – no amount of money is worth losing your life for it.
Perhaps my role could be in convincing government to help regulate these guys with a really appealing incentive – their safety, admin, finances are well looked after and improved, and they can go digital without paying more than 5% business and/or personal tax. A pie in the sky dream but hey, who doesn’t like a nice steak and kidney pie? Chicken and mushroom? You vegan? We have the cornish pastie, coming right up. You laugh at my pie jokes? I laugh if a guy selling pies is making R100k/month more than you.
Step back a little. Our country has 30% unemployment (give or take about 10% based on how impossible it is to know anything in this land), we need to get more people to become tax payers, we need more tech solutions to make everyone’s lives easier, we need people to be incentivised to start businesses and find them easy to manage, we need to take away all the admin and issues with the above. The solutions are out there, it’s just a matter of moving “from the real to the ideal” – don’t try have some idealistic, perfect system from day one. Start by just getting people to sign up to a “government assisted small business incubator” programme and for 1% of revenue everything is taken care of. Then, as you partner with them, over the years you add more services, by solving problems (not adding to them with more random, irritating admin) that come with a small fee per problem you solve.
I’m sure the way to do it would be have the private sector lead a lot of this. Yoco, Snapscan, those kind of guys who get this type of thing right would be instrumental in rolling it out and iterating as months go by. End goal? Getting tech into the taxi industry in such an appealing way that they would all sign up, and we’d be able to get that revenue into the country’s system, too. Plus, somehow tracking all their mileage, and speed, and traffic violations… but that is a pipe dream!
So, should you read the book?
Yes, it’s eye opening for any person in business in South Africa.
And if I don’t have time, what does it say?
Basically, people in hard circumstances, with very little are crushing it with super simple businesses – and good on them.
I am so grateful for reading it. It literally changed my worldview.