Stick to your purpose, double your profits
There are many aspects in South Africa that keep the gap between our haves and our have-nots pretty wide, the most notable of which is education. A young tech business, StellieTech, are finding out that continually reengineering how technology-centric learning is done is both rewarding and lucrative, if done better.
The fact that you’re reading this, either in your email program or browser of choice, means that you are more tech-savvy than about half of South Africa’s population. Just consider how limiting that must be for the other 30-odd million people… In a world where more traditional, physical forms of communication, research, learning and interaction have all but been replaced by email, Wikipedia, Udemy and Facebook, being unable to use the technology we access them through is a frustratingly huge barrier.
This is something Stellenbosch University student Andrew Forte realised when glancing around his information systems class four years ago. You would assume, as he did, that kids, who are a part of the tech generation, studying IT would have at least a basic grounding in computers, this was not the case. To his amazement, many of his classmates were struggling with something as simple as opening a Microsoft document. Right there, amongst his peers, he realised there was a business that needed to be started to get them to a level we all take for granted.
Without a rudimentary understanding of computers, how would you find information? How would you create and send out your CV? How could you browse potential job placements? And how could you be expected to be accepted for that placement if you cannot even check the basic blocks that make you hireable?
He had the idea that this was something he could fix, and StellieTech was born. By tutoring others in the basics of PC literacy, as well as the more complicated processes behind Excel, Word, PowerPoint and email, he could very quickly bring people into our decade, so they can compete with the rest of us.
Through the website he built with a friend, he was able to reach out further, and offer his services to corporates and organisations with staff who hadn’t just fallen behind the curve, but had never made it onto the curve in the first place. The face-to-face classes quickly brought their clients up to a 21st-century speed.
That was in 2014. The business’ proof of concept was sound, but it was difficult for Andrew to put the required nights and weekends into it while studying. Fortuitously, a long-time friend of Andrew’s, Dylan Evans, saw the potential, and how busy Andrew was teaching, and hitched his wagon to the young business, adding fresh eyes, and fresh insight. Since[AF3] [AF4] then, the business has grown through a series of small, but intentionally meaningful steps.
To service more trainees, they pestered (successfully) the Stellenbosch University LaunchLab for space in which their training could take place. The connections, expertise and environment of the community was a critical part to formalising their training regime, and the business grew. A year after this, they started implementing video tools to supplement the courses, which helped them reduce the manual workload, and then hired additional trainers to maximise the value of that human interaction.
The addition of video materials proved to be hugely successful – they were finally creating their own content. As they built more and more courses to suit the South African public, they stopped repurposing the information that was already out there (which was particularly poor quality and scattered) and started developing their own.
As it stands now, the StellieTech team is training almost 1000 people, and almost doubling their revenue, every year. Both numbers are expected to double again in 2019 as more of their course material becomes available online, which means they can expand exponentially, without having to take on the correlating exponential costs, like infrastructure and staff. They are pushing the power of digital to further lower barriers to entry – so much so, in fact, that they are developing all their online courses that allow you learn these expensive software applications without even owning them.
Most recently, they were awarded a tender, and are now the trainers for Stellenbosch University, as well as the creation of custom course material for corporate clients with specific needs (the usage training they’re doing for point-of-sale providers, Pilot, is proving to be a huge success).
Both Andrew and Dylan both come from entrepreneurial families, so their dream of building businesses is genetic. But it isn’t just the business itself that’s important, but what its purpose is – and that is solid education. So, unlike many so-called ‘eLearning services’ they haven’t just dumped physical material.