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Get Creative with Cargo with BENJI COETZEE
The founder of EmptyTrips, Benji Coetzee, is disrupting the cargo transport industry.
Elevator Pitch: Who is Benji Coetzee?
When the conversation veers towards her profession, Benji tells people that she’s a techie who aims to do good business. She has an online marketplace where they have digitised an old-school industry – the supply and demand for cargo transport. Benji also works as a consultant.
Benji calls herself a “nerd at heart” with a Masters in Maritime Economics and Law from Stellenbosch as well as a Masters in Corporate Finance and Law from Goethe University in Frankfurt. She initially wanted to pursue investment banking as a career and joined the HSBC team. After a year she was approached by the Boston Consulting Group. She used her years there as an opportunity to learn as much as she could about running a company. Benji hails from a conservative Afrikaans family where the importance of a good, stable job was always accentuated despite her entrepreneurial spirit. Her mother advised her to first build a buffer if she wanted to bootstrap her technology business. While building the online marketplace, she realised that she was in actual fact building 3 businesses at once: you build a demand for the product, the supply thereof as well as the portal to facilitate the service.
Find the Gap
Benji’s consultancy background definitely helped create the idea of EmptyTrips. She didn’t have any experience in logistics at that stage. The different puzzle pieces came together and they lauched EmptyTrips in April 2017. They have even incorporated online auctions in order to get corporates to start behaving differently. Different tools are used to get people to act more aware and competitively online.
Bootstrap the Business
It’s important to get your minimum viable product (MVP) out as soon as possible. Do not attempt to create the perfect product at first. They interviewed close to 20 freelance developers before finding the right candidate, Herman, who is now the CTO. She sourced potential candidates from online discussion portals, Google Meetups and even contacted universities. Benji identifies new products and grows the business, while Herman is responsible for the technical side. Their team has also grown significantly since inception. After a while they added cargo insurance to the services they offer. Benji suggests reading The Lean Startup for excellent ideas to launch a business.
In the near future EmptyTrips will partner with a JSE-listed company. This is an essential step for them to grow the company as venture capital is scarce in South Africa. In this instance, getting large corporates involved may take 6-8 months. Prior to investment you should anticipate to fund your own business for up to 18 months and still not turn a profit.
Negotiate a Partnership
Benji was approached by many venture capitalists who asked for 70-80% stakes in the company. She was adamant, however, to never give away more than 20% of the company. She was completely transparent on what the money would be used for from the get go. Before you enter these types of negotiations you need to decide what percentage of your company you are willing to give up.
Rounds of Funding
During each round of funding you raise capital for the next step in the company’s growth. The company releases a certain amount of shares with each round of funding. That can either mean a new investor or an additional investment from existing investors. Each round of funding is based on the previous round as well as the traction gained in that round. All capital raised goes directly to the business.
Build a Network
Benji attributes some of her company’s success to the network she built as a consultant. Being referred carries a lot of clout. The network has taken her years to build and was hard work. Always deliver on your promises. She doesn’t underestimate the power of media and marketing – winning awards, speaking the right lingo and being professional. Benji used an array of different opportunities to build her network and professional relationships.
Reset Button: If you had to start over in a different industry, what would it be and why?
The idea of peer-to-peer financing and digital banks fascinates Benji. She is also intrigued by gamification – to gamify mundane, day-to-day administrative tasks. There’s a multitude of positive impacts including making work more satisfying, increasing productivity and decreasing human error. You initiate some friendly competition between colleagues. Benji also feels that there’s nothing wrong with a good trading business.