Executive Insights

Advice from a successful tech CEO: Start your business in Joburg, and don’t wear shorts

Business Insider SA
Shafin Anwarsha, head of product, CEO Anish Shivdasani and Bradley Cowie, head of development at Giraffe.
  • The recruitment app Giraffe places large numbers of medium-skilled workers, who earn between R3,000 and R15,000 a month.
  • The company has just completed another funding round, and counts the founders of eBay and Nando’s as some of its investors.
  • One of its founders believes its success is due to its disciplined approach.

Six years ago, Anish Shivdasani and Shafin Anwarsha left their hometown of London and solid jobs as consultants at the global investment firm Delta Partners to launch a start-up in South Africa.

“We saw an opportunity for medium-skilled job seekers to use their cellphones to find work,” says Shivdasani.

The result was Giraffe, a successful digital recruitment platform, which now has 600,000 job seekers registered on its app. Through algorithms, Giraffe sources and screens the best candidates, and automatically sets up their job interviews with its corporate clients – within 48 hours.

Giraffe received funding from the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to help finance its expansion in 2016, and has just completed a second round of funding, led by FirstRand’s Vumela Fund. Omidyar and the Nando's founder Robbie Brozin’s Forever Young Capital participated in this round.

While it took twice as long (and needed a much bigger developer team) to establish Giraffe than Shivdasani initially thought, he believes they did a couple of things right.

“Many tech firms opt for Cape Town, but we decided to establish Giraffe in Johannesburg because we wanted to sell our product where the businesses are. This has paid off.

“Another thing that we did right was to retain the discipline of our previous careers, and take a serious approach in everything we do.

“Even though we are a tech start-up, we don’t wear flipflops or shorts. When we walk into a meeting, it is clear that we run a proper business.”

The third key to Giraffe’s success was its policy of only hiring the best people, he adds. “We have strong culture where we only recruit people who are passionate about solving social problems like unemployment.

To keep the “creative juices” flowing, the Giraffe’s team of nine people take part in a weekly discussion about innovation, whether in blockchain or solar energy.

But apart from these factors, the most important thing for any tech start-up is to have a product that is truly remarkable. “It really needs to be sexy and fresh enough to make clients pay attention,” says Shivdasani.

Unlike recruitment firms, Giraffe’s clients don’t pay commission on each individual placement. Instead it charges a bundled rate for a set number of placements. “This works out to be extremely cost effective when hiring large numbers of staff.”

There are also no data charges for job seekers who use the app, thanks to deals with Vodacom, Cell C and Facebook. “We tried to remove all barriers to access,” says Shivdasani.

The app targets medium-skilled workers, with salaries of between R3,000 and R15,000 a month. Among its biggest clients are Metropolitan, Standard Bank, Clientèle and a number of call centre operators.

The Giraffe app

Shivadsani expects strong growth in South African large call centres, and thinks Australian, American and European companies will increasingly expand their operations here thanks to SA being an English-speaking country with low wages, and in the same time zone as Europe.

Financial services also continue to grow, with insurance companies looking for field salespeople to market insurance and loans.

Giraffe is eyeing recruitment for ecommerce, which is starting to boom in SA with plenty of delivery jobs available, says Shivadsani.

Giraffe is also considering expanding abroad, but – as always – its approach will be very conservative, he added.

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