Written by Dino Talotti (Founder & CEO – Varsity Vibe)
From one entrepreneur to another
The thought of starting your own business or even taking your business to the next step, particularly in these daunting times, might seem like a fearsome prospect. There are so many things to consider, the economy, the pandemic, and the political landscape to name a few. With the economy set to rebound slightly, there is an opportunity to put those fears aside and take the plunge, adapting an entrepreneurial mindset to a successful business.
We have been told many times that small businesses are the backbone of the economy and this statement still rings true. As we look to what the future holds, and as we navigate through these uncertain times, it is important, now more than ever, to adapt a steadfast mindset and ensure agility to evolve.
My journey of entrepreneurship has been eventful to say the least. I by no means believe myself to be a business guru but I have learned some valuable lessons along the way, and hope that they can assist others in similar situations. I started Varsity Vibe as a young twenty-something, driven from a determination to help fellow youngsters through my understanding that the student life and the various budgetary constraints that come with studying are extraordinarily important for many young South Africans.
When I started my business, I had just completed my studies at the University of Cape Town and saw a gap in the youth market o offer deals and discounts that made student life more affordable and convenient. It was a very different environment back then, before smart phones and the new digital era. I remember going from retailer to retailer to try and get them onboard with my vision. It was a hustle to say the least, but we finally got the business off the ground, with our tangible student discount cards, available only to students at the University of Cape Town.
The business is now ten years old and growing by the day. We no longer offer those old-school membership cards, having developed an innovative and user-friendly app that gives young people across the country, access to great deals and discounts at their fingertips, as well as a space to connect in a community-styled environment of like-minded individuals.
I say this not to gloat, but to showcase how determination and an attitude of resilience, with the ability to keep agile, has kept us alive in between big roadblocks such as the student protests/riots, global financial crisis, a sluggish economy, and the worldwide pandemic. The last three months have been one of the best periods of our business yet, despite no campus activity and remote studying; we’ve achieved record sign-ups, seen a massive uptick in partnerships that bring value and are constantly evolving to deliver what matters. Our ability to be adaptable, working consistently and constantly seeking solutions through digital innovation is what has set us apart.
It is in our shared experiences, that we can learn and grow. It is so important for both individual and societal needs. We need to support each other as we try and recover or try and start something new.
How to take your first step and make your start-up a reality
The Hustle and the Hustler
If we can look at the positives of a post-pandemic world, it has made a lot of people re-evaluate not only their lives, but their careers. There has been a shift in mindset in terms of what people want their lives to look like. In America, they’re calling it the “Great Resignation” as millions of people resign from their jobs and revaluate what they want from life. To some extent, this is happening locally too. People are stopping to think about what they are doing, and more importantly, what they want to do and achieve in life. With a scary amount of people losing their jobs in the past two years, it’s been incredible to see the number of small businesses pop up and the sheer ingenuity around what they offer, while shifting to the online space.
It is in this that we have also seen a lot of community support. People want to support each other, and this is an incredible sight to behold. Local communities supporting local business is powerful. In saying that, that business idea you had is ripe for the picking, there is an opportunity to leverage off the current environment to take your first step, to start making this business a reality.
Any entrepreneur or established owner will tell you that the hustle never ends. It certainly doesn’t, and while there will always be obstacles to overcome, cash flow and liquidity to consider, employees to think about and investors (if you’re lucky enough) to keep happy, the hustle is what keeps us going, innovating, and delivering, even when tomorrow is not a certainty.
Investing in the right people to help your business grow
Rally the troops
This is one of the key factors in creating a successful business as you move forward and grow. While it is not always financially viable to hire resources and support in the beginning stages of your business, it is vital to look forward to what lies ahead, and plan for this, investing in a strong team who share the same principles and values is perhaps the most important thing I ever did for my business. You know the saying, “No man is an island”, well this is certainly true in business.
As Varsity Vibe took off and grew from strength to strength, I needed a strong support team who brought a diverse array of skills and talent to the table. It has been working closely with them that we have been able to take our business forward, harnessing fresh thinking and new ideas to resonate with our market in what we offer and how we offer it.
The Customer Experience
Meeting people where they are
We all know how important the customer experience is, whether your business sells products or services. However, it is not just about creating a seamless customer experience for your clients, it’s vitally important to think about how your business becomes part of their day-to-day lives.
Younger generations are looking to support brands and businesses that go beyond what they offer to become an important part of their lives, the communities they are part of, and the societies we serve. Think about why you are doing what you are. How does it serve others on both micro and macro levels? How does your business operate in its ecosystem? Does it truly resonate with the people who need it most?
How to take your start-up to the next step…
Agility and the ability to evolve your business and thinking
If the past two years have taught us anything, it is to stay agile and light. The rate at which technology advances, the way in which the world evolves at an exponential rate, and the fact that life can change in an instance, are what must drive us as we hurtle towards the future. Look at ways in which you can keep costs down by harnessing remote working. Do you really need that additional asset to increase the value of your business? How does it affect cashflow? Do you need to do a round of funding to take the next step? Who is your ideal investor?
As the world continuously evolves, we need to evolve with it if we are to survive and innovate in our relevant spaces and industries. Let’s be bold in our actions and brave in our attitudes.
Varsity Vibe is South Africa’s first dedicated student discount app, available to students at universities and colleges around the country. Offering students deals and discounts that are relevant to them and their needs, this pioneering tech-based company is truly tapped into the youth market while also providing a platform/gateway for businesses to interact and engage a very niche market – our future workforce.
For more information on Varsity Vibe, please visit: https://varsityvibe.co.za/