Andy Higgins

The Who

Andy Higgins founded bidorbuy.co.za, Africa’s largest online marketplace. He has served on a number of boards including bidorbuy.co.za, payfast.co.za, a company specialising in online payments for South Africa and One Africa Media, which operates Africa’s largest portfolio of online classified businesses focused on Jobs, Cars and Property. Andy is currently the Managing Director of uAfrica.com, a technology company providing cloud based eCommerce and logistic services across Africa.

Andy has worked in the Internet industry since 1998 having experienced the dotcom boom and bust (and then boom again). He has been involved in Internet start-ups on 5 continents. He has a BSc in Electronic Engineering from the University of Natal, an MBA from Wits Business School and a diploma in Financial Planning from the University of the Free State. Andy has a passion for all things Internet but in particular for the eCommerce space.

The Why

The thing I enjoy most is the thrill and excitement of being involved in using technology to create something new from absolutely nothing. This is the world of tech startups.

In my experience, the single most important success factor for a tech startup is the technical ability of the founders (in other words, move over jocks - geeks rule the world now). It also turns out that the hardest positions to hire for in tech startups are good technical skills. It is therefore logical that a company has a greater chance of success if it has a very strong technical founder. So let’s make this the starting point.

For very early stage companies, the main challenge is to prove product/market fit. With out this one does not have a company. If this can be found then everything else tends to fall into place and all of a sudden raising funds and hiring other staff becomes much easier.

GeekFund therefore primarily seeks to back highly talented technical individuals to work on a product, which may currently still be in the idea stage, in the quest to find product/market fit. This however on it’s own is not enough. Such individuals also need to have at least some business acumen and be prepared to get involved in all aspects of the business e.g. sales and marketing. People with specialised skills can be hired later on but it is important that you are capable and prepared to roll up your sleeves and do whatever is required during the very early stages. In short, the lack of sales and marketing skills is much easier to fix than a poor product.

Another way to put it is I am looking for other people similar to myself when I, with limited experience, was provided funding to start my first business back in 1999. The goal is to effectively make the technical founder unemployable in the market i.e. due to the founder being a major shareholder and assuming success, it is not financially viable for another company to hire that person.

The How

We do this by being smart and frugal. While making sure that your personal needs are taken care of in the form of a guaranteed salary, we spend as little as possible for you to prove product/market fit.

This probably means working from home during this validation phase. The main expense for the business will be your salary during this time. We delay everything that can distract you and is not necessary in order to prove product/market fit. We do not register a company yet, we do not enter into any formal contracts, no formal business plan, no big partnerships or PR stunts, we do not have unnecessary meetings, we do not go to industry conferences. All we do is build a minimum viable product in order to validate the idea and prove product/market fit. You must be capable and prepared to do this.

My role is to:

  • Advise
  • Inspire
  • Support (includes providing funding to cover your salary)

Your job is to build a minimum viable product and prove product/market fit committing to this project being your primary focus and full time job.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are already well established guidelines as to what needs to be done and how to go about this in order to maximise the chance of success. For a start, Sam Altman from Y Combinator has generously made this Playbook available. I wish I could have read this before I started my first business. There are many other resources at your disposal to help you such as How to start a startup. Of course, many of these resources are in the context of a US audience but there are still many things that can be learnt and adapted to our local market.

Throughout this journey there are some things that have resonated with me and form my guiding principals. If they also resonate with you, we probably have a greater chance of success working together. They include:

  • Simplicity over complexity (KISS)
  • Speed over perfection
  • Attitude over experience
  • Integrity over being right
  • Humbleness over arrogance

Some of my hobbies are kite surfing and visting Mozambique.