“Innovation is a seed to economic development. You have direct jobs being created by entrepreneurs and startups – and these contribute significantly to our GDP. One of the things that don’t get factored in is the indirect jobs and the new markets that they create.” – Daniel Novitzkas.
Without a doubt one of the most experienced young entrepreneurs in the country right now, Daniel Novitzkas is the founder and Managing Director of Specno – a group of innovation specialists, who assists founders with turning their ideas into industry-leading companies. Recently recognised as one of South Africa’s top app development and user experience agencies, they have scaled from two to thirty employees within two years.
As part of the Young Minds series, USB-ED spoke with Daniel about his journey. He shares: “After taking a trip to Silicon Valley and realising you know how much innovation was coming out of a small 25-mile radius, I began to look at what the key ingredients were that made up the valley – and recognised that South Africa has so many of those key ingredients here. We have the potential to start high-level growth tech ventures. But I think one of the main things that we’re missing is the knowledge gap and then obviously the execution gap that comes with that. And so, Specno is what I like to call a venture capitalist where we essentially help entrepreneurs start their ventures, and then have built-up frameworks for success that take them from A to Z.”
When asked if there is a step-by-step formula to creating a successful startup, Daniel acknowledges that “There’s no cookie-cutter approach, but there are certain patterns that you can pull out when looking at what makes a successful startup.” Within Silicon Valley, Daniel says he noted that, for the most part, it operates in a “fail-fast” approach. “They’re pumping a bunch of money in and they’re seeing what the founders can do with that growth. Then they’re giving their attention to the ones that show the most potential. But if you can capture those lessons along the way and open-source them, then I believe that you can set up guidelines for success. Ultimately, it is on the founding team to ensure that the thing will be successful. You know, people like to say there’s no such thing as a bad idea – but it’s really the team at the end of the day that will take an idea, and pivot it until they find a product-market fit. And then from there, you should be able to build a company.”
When asked what role companies play in shaping the future of our country, Daniel sagely states: “Innovation is a seed to economic development. You have direct jobs being created by entrepreneurs and startups – and these contribute significantly to our GDP. One of the things that don’t get factored in is the indirect jobs and the new markets that they create.” Using Apple as an example, Daniel shared that he sees them as just a high-growth tech startup. Illustrating the impact that such startups can have, he reminds us of the hundreds to thousands of people who were employed by them to create the iPhone when it was developed.
Not only was there job creation, but there was also market creation – something that meant that millions of developers, all over the world, could create a business from their garage to tap into. “In the past, people were scared that this whole Fourth Industrial Revolution was going to destroy jobs. But it’s disrupting jobs, it’s creating jobs, all the time. If you rely only on corporations, some factors are slowed down by bureaucracy, and you’re going to see tiny amounts of innovation being released. But entrepreneurs move at a different speed, and so they’re able to leapfrog over problems, barriers to entry, and regulations. Most of the time entrepreneurs release innovation.”
“Until you actually launch to the market, everything is just an assumption,” shares Daniel. “But the more information that you can gather before you launch, obviously, the better the design solution is going to be. And then after you have that down, then it’s a case of how quickly can you build out an MVP or a prototype to actually test this traction – while at the same time, realising that after you’ve proven your traction the only way you’re going to succeed in a high-growth tech venture is to have your next steps already planned out. With each step of the way you almost need to be thinking of the next leg of the journey.” Utilising this frame of mind, Specno was able to grow from a team of two, into a team of approximately thirty employees in a very short space of time – a mere two years.
“I would contact my biggest competitors, I would speak to their CEOs and I’d be like, ‘Look, I’m really struggling, can you give me some pointers?’ I’m always blown away by what people are willing to share with me, even knowing that I’m a competitor! I think people are incredibly generous with their knowledge, especially when it’s just like older-mentor versus younger-apprentice. From that perspective, age is certainly a door-opener that you can definitely use to your advantage.”
“Another one of the major things was finally picking up a book,” he shares. “I had gone through my whole life without ever being willing to read a book. And then, when starting out, I realised how much I don’t know. For the first time, I was like ‘Wow! Reading is amazing!’ I can figure out so much about the future just by reading about what other people have gone through. The books were allowing me enough context for an engaging conversation with somebody, which was teaching me how to grow a company. Before I started, I never picked up a book and never read anything.”
“Then when I was starting, one of the big things was that I moved in with my co-founder. At that point, typically, I was a bit of a late-riser. I would go to bed after midnight and I would typically try to wake up after nine. My co-founder convinced me that we should be hitting the gym at six, so that we can get to the office by seven, and then we can do our graft before any of the other staff come in. That way we would have some quiet time that could be put towards learning or doing some work. Waking up at six became a key part of my learning and my routine because I would search for a sort of a topic that I was wanting to upskill in and learn about – typically it would be an area of business that I was nervous about. Due to my inexperience, it meant that I was going to make mistakes. So before I even started the book, I knew that I wanted to listen to the book – I’d read the summaries, and so that morning routine became part of the information I was consuming. So either at the gym, or in the evening while I was washing the dishes, I realised that that was when I could plug in and listen to content.”
Feeding your mind, and continually learning is something that Daniel advocates strongly for. Ultimately, knowledge is power. By increasing your knowledge, you are able to create steps to turning your business idea into a real business. Coupled with asking for assistance to ensure that you surround yourself with the right support, you set yourself up to turn your entrepreneurial dreams into your reality. The USB-ED Young Minds’ Programme is tailored to help you create your own career opportunities, with guided life direction, while equipping you with the necessary business skills required to become a highly successful entrepreneur. To find out more about this programme, click here.