Jaco Maritz, CEO of Maritz Africa, was recently interviewed by Colin Don Schouw on the Business LIVE radio show. Below is a shortened, edited transcript of the conversation.
COLIN: Now I am chatting to Jaco Maritz, he is the publisher at How we made it in Africa. This is a digital magazine where they share insights into business in Africa. Now Jaco started in 2010 as the publisher of this award-wining pan-African business publication known as How we made it in Africa. So Jaco Maritz, thank you so much for joining us.
JACO: Thank you, great to be here.
C: Thank you for taking the time to come and chat with us. Before How we made it in Africa there was Jaco Maritz. If you don’t mind just taking us on that journey – who is Jaco Maritz?
J: I’ve always had a passion for two things. One is the gathering and distribution of information. And the other one is business. One the information side, I’ve always been involved with publications like the church magazine, or the school newspaper, later the university newspaper. I started out in photo journalism and then it transitioned to written journalism. And after university I worked at Media24 and after that at a Nigeria-focused business publication.
On the business side, I’ve always had some kind of venture going on. I think my first business was as a teenager selling soft drinks on the par three by the local golf course. The par three is where the people usually wait for the group in front of them to finish, so they had some time to buy a Coke and often times they would throw something a bit stronger in there.
So I would say How we made it in Africa is a marriage between those two passions – the information part and the business part.
C: Is there a growing interest in Africa as an investment destination for foreigners?
J: I would definitely say so. About 10 years ago when I started writing about the rest of Africa, there was great enthusiasm from overseas investors to enter Africa. I think one of the downsides of that was a lot of people were a bit too enthusiastic. They were desperate to get a footprint in this last frontier as quickly as possible and sometimes neglected the business fundamentals. I mean look at South African companies like Woolworths or Tiger Brands, they burnt their fingers in places like Nigeria. And obviously over the last two, three years, the downturn in commodity prices and oil prices also negatively impacted countries such as Nigeria and Angola.
But on the other hand commodity prices have slightly recovered. I think what we are seeing now is that foreign companies are becoming a bit more realistic about Africa. They are more cautious, which I think, over the long run, is better for the continent’s sustainability and the sustainability of these companies’ operations.
C: Tell us more about How we made it in Africa?
I’ll give you an overview of how we started. So I worked for a South African company that published a print and online magazine focused on Nigeria called TradeInvest Nigeria. And how it worked is that the publication’s clients were state governments in Nigeria and we basically promoted the business and investment opportunities in their states. So as part of that I travelled to Nigeria and spoke to government people trying to gather information for the publication. This was about 2007, and I found it very exciting and interesting to travel to places like Nigeria: In Lagos I almost got arrested one day for taking pictures; while I almost also died in a car accident driving from Ilorin to Abuja one evening.
I’ve always loved the American business publications like Fortune, where it is more about the personalities behind the business than stock prices. I thought there was an opportunity to do something similar for Africa. So I quit my job and started How we made it in Africa.
C: When we look at entrepreneurship in Africa or in South Africa, why is it that we still have such a high start-up failure rate in the country?
J: My personal opinion is that I think money is a scarce resource. So there is not enough money going around compared to demand for it. And I think in every country, around the world, people complain that there is not enough support for start-up businesses and that too many businesses fail. But I think the way the capitalist world that we live works is that it is hard to get money and that’s why only the strongest and fittest survive. So in a way the system is designed so that not everyone can succeed.
But on a less philosophical level, I think to improve the success rate in South Africa, education is really key and we cannot boost economic growth without education because undereducated people will find it much more difficult to add value in a company if they are an employee, and they will certainly find it much tougher running their own business.
C: What are some of the other projects that you are working on apart from the publication?
J: We have diversified into two other areas. Our Maritz Africa Intelligence arm is a research and content marketing agency, where we produce thought leadership, white papers, case studies, reports, surveys and things like that for clients. And then we’ve also recently invested in a new PR company called SVW Communications. It is headed by Sanri van Wyk. She runs it completely independently, but we are an investor in the business.
C: Jaco welcome back to the show this afternoon. On this platform we pride ourselves on bringing guests that are inspirational, that are influential and they can share their journeys with our listeners, so they can take something from the show and implement it in their lives. Now if you could time travel back to day one of your start-up or starting this business, what would you tell yourself?
J: Something I would’ve done differently was to start the business with a business partner. I think we could’ve grown a lot faster if I had a partner, just because entrepreneurship gets quite lonely sometimes and you feel in a way like it is just you fighting against the world.
But on the other hand, the reason why I didn’t have a partner is, was when we started I had no idea how big this could be. I knew there was a good chance that I would be able to pay myself the same salary as the job that I left paid me, and the idea was to then take it from there and see what opportunities present themselves.
C: Oh wow. And now it has become a publication that’s recognised both in the country and in the continent. What are some of the habits that’ve helped make you successful?
J: I am not sure if it is a habit, but something that definitely helped me in the beginning was that I could do a lot of the things to start the publication myself. I could write; I knew a little bit of web-coding, which meant I could set up the website relatively cheaply; and I could do image editing. So being able to do all those things myself in the beginning definitely helped in saving costs. As you know we didn’t have a big investor or anything like that – we bootstrapped. I started it from my bachelor flat and from there me and another guy moved to a small office in Shortmarket Street in Cape Town and then as we grew, we moved to Woodstock.
C: How do you define ‘entrepreneurship’, based on your experience and journey?
J: I once heard someone say an entrepreneur is someone with the ability to get others to part with their money. This sounds very greedy, but I like it for its simplicity, because these days there are so many entrepreneurship and business advice manuals and things around, that I think people sometimes lose focus of what they are really busy with.
C: Of course, of course – I love that. And then, before we wrap up this segment and I am pretty sure listeners are going to go and check out the How we made it in Africa online publication. But before we get there, Jaco, what is your advice for entrepreneurs. Guys that are listening – they have an idea or they have got the passion, but they just haven’t started. What is your advice to them?
J: For someone starting out, I would say first make triple sure that you’ve got a viable business idea before quitting your job or risking your life’s savings. Start small; with technology these days, it is easy to test ideas or start something on the side in the evenings, while still holding a full-time job. And then as soon as you start to make money I would advise to ensure that your taxes and the accounting is handled properly by a professional. And I am saying this from experience. At the time it doesn’t seem like an issue, but if you are three years down the line and you need to pay back-dated VAT and things like that, you’ll be sorry that you didn’t.
C: I love that. So there you go, some very solid and wise advice on the show this afternoon. Before we let you go Jaco, how can we get hold of you after the show – how can listeners get in contact with you?