After ten weeks in the Netherlands, UJ BCom Honours Strategic Management student Mr Kingsley Wax is convinced of the power of practical learning in setting up new businesses.
He returned to South Africa at the end of January after an internship with the international business accelerator for start-ups Venture Lab at Rijks University Groningen (RUG), as a student of the University’s Department of Business Management (Faculty of Management).
See the article before he left for the Netherlands here.
“I loved the professionalism that they put into their work in the Netherlands,” says Kingsley Wax. “We were doing a university course during that time, but Venture Lab also got actual investors to work with us and coaches to coach and mentor us through our group entrepreneurship project.”
Wax and his team mates had to come up with a business idea, which they then had to pitch to the business coaches at first, and then do a final pitch to investors. After that they went out and set up interviews with people, to test their business idea.
Wax was one of four in the group project, which included a guy from England and another two guys from the Netherlands.
“Our pitch was to provide virtual property management to small entrepreneurial landlords. We focused on landlords that have day jobs, who own two to three apartments and who don’t have the time to deal with tenants’ complaints, or find contractors to solve the tenants’ issues,” he says.
“We would act as an intermediary, and offer a service to resolve complaints on the landlords’ behalf. One of our ideas for the service was to provide an online trouble-shooting service for appliances in apartments. So if a tenant does not understand how a washing machine works, there is no need to call the landlord, they can simply scan the QR code which would direct them to a simple explanatory video.”
This start-up business pitch was all about removing tenants’ hassles of things that don’t work in their rented apartments, as well as removing the landlords’ hassles of resolving tenant complaints.
In addition, the business idea would also assist landlords by removing the hassle of finding independent tradesmen such as plumbers and electricians to do repairs properly.
“Most landlords are not experienced in finding good tradesmen. Some are scared that they’re not being charged the right amount,” he says.
In their interviews with some tradesmen, the Wax’s group of students found out that tradesmen also prefer to work in certain ways with landlords.
“For example, most tradesmen don’t like to wait until the end of the month to get their money. They want to be paid within a week or as soon as they do the job. We also spoke to tenants and asked them what typical complaints they have. They wanted the convenience of the landlord taking care of their problems as soon as possible. When we spoke to landlords, some felt that some tenants have unnecessary problems because they don’t know how things work. So they phone their landlord. That discussion is where the idea of this service came from.”
Once the students had interviewed tenants, landlords and tradesmen, they wrote contracts for each kind of business party.
“We got advice from legal experts. They checked our contracts to see if these protected us in business. The resources Venture Lab put into this program was astounding. It was an academic course that we were on, but it felt as if I’m out there in the real world,” says Wax.
Within the group, two were comfortable in English, while the other two spoke Dutch and English. So the group allocated tasks to two people who speak the same language.
The three months passed pleasantly in the ‘cute city’ of Groningen, he says.
“It is bright, small and the people are friendly. Most people commute to work on a bicycle or by public transport. Their public transport systems are very good, always on time and tells you exactly how long it will take to your destination. Their education systems are very practical which offers you great experience in the real world.”
What would he say to someone else thinking of qualifying for Venture Lab?
“The whole experience of talking to people, finding out what they think and building on that was so useful. Even if they say negative things, it helps you to turn that negative into a positive for yourself.
“Establishing relationships with people is important. Also, you learn another way of thinking. I learnt that it is good to secure yourself legally through written contracts, because verbal agreements are so difficult to back up nowadays, especially in a court of law. If everything is in writing, you have proof.”
In the first few weeks, he got lost three times in Groningen on a bicycle. One day, using a phone as a GPS turned into an adventure when the phone battery ran dry. He cycled for an hour and a half through the city trying to find his way back.
“It helped me to see a lot of the city. Another reason I like it so much,” he chuckles.