“Never do a deal with a bad person” quoting my idol Warren Buffett, is exactly the sentiment I have used to ground my career, companies, teams and personal relationships. Although my wealth or success cannot measure up to Warren Buffett as yet, it has been a great adventure over an aggressive 10 years since leaving university. To be honest, my ambition far outweighs my talent – yet, since the age of 7 I have been a go-getter, overachiever and outright nerd. This attitude of abundant success enabled by a steadfast work-ethic and tirelessly creative mind, has provided for countless opportunities both in South Africa and abroad in top firms. I have been very fortunate to work with great teams, companies and leaders.
However, initially geared with a millennial expectation to walk into a dream job. With my BCom and two Master degrees (one from Stellenbosch University of South Africa in Economics – Maritime and the second in Corporate Finance & Law from Johann Wolfgang Goethe University), I was surprised when, as many others, I started as a glorified filing clerk and a small basic salary. I also took extreme steps of courage to venture into a bank with no appointment to see Human Resources after months of tedious online, no-success job applications. This reality quickly brought me back to humble ground whilst being a good reminder that we all need to start somewhere, and work for it!
After earning my stripes and proving my excel modelling capabilities in “not my job description” extra efforts, I was promoted from mundane KYC (know you customer) client services of HSBC bank to analyst, the role I had hoped I would have secured initially. Thereafter I survived the intense and challenging interview process of management consultancy firms Mckinsey and Boston Consulting Group, nearly failing the final case study at BCG due to pure exhaustion of 18 hour banking days, finishing a thesis and studying for CFA. Fortunately, partner Stefano Niavas had compassion and gave me a second chance. Needless to say, I then embarked on a journey of development, growth and exploration as a consultant. I was fortunate enough to work with leading teams, executives, brands in Africa and Switzerland improving processes, unlocking savings and innovating business models. Although many question the value consultants bring to companies, I have never doubted the impact our projects brought to management via enabling a clearer strategy and often enabling them to shine as rockstars.
Check your own pulse
In 2016, after an emotional December of disappointment and over-ambition, I resigned from BCG and joined a niche strategy and investment firm named Singular Group. At Singular, under the mentorship of Lorenzo Tencati I was given immense autonomy with the taste of entrepreneurship and a health scare. Within 6 months I resigned to attempt to launch a platform I believed could create purposeful impact paired with profits in a legacy driven industry calling out for disruption; logistics.
During my consulting years and on many holidays, the topic of inflated transport costs to absorb the empty haul was prevalent. It is estimated that ±30% of total transport costs can be reduced by reducing empties with significant environmental positive impact too. This mismatch in demand for space and supply thereof burdened me, and I decided to find a better solution. I started developing an algorithm, similar to online dating, to better match cargo to space moving in a direction. This algorithm paired with an innovative platform-driven business model enabled by digital was the creation of the EmptyTrips platform. Since launching the enterprise orientated marketplace in April 2017, we have won numerous accolades, persuaded clients to try new things, and systematically changed the way big goliath companies think of innovation and technology.
Make a plan, and then have fun
To fund an idea was harder than I expected. I always say that the economy of ideas is thriving, yet the currency of execution is feeble. As such, we endeavored to prove we had the execution capability, and not just a great idea. To fund the journey, I relied on the one skill I trusted in, strategy consulting. Being a creative that is deliverable orientated often ensured that executives enjoyed working with me on their goals, company strategy or even simply independently sound-boarding. Seedpitch Innovation Consultancy was created to fund Emptytrips through its development phase until we could earn revenues to “bootstrap”, grow and then attempt to raise venture capital. VC is not a strategy, it is a tactic to growth after all.
To date Seedpitch has assisted executives across Mauritius, Dubai, Saudi, Kenya, Tanzania, Switzerland and South Africa to recalibrate growth strategies, and operational turn-arounds. It has been daunting juggling two roles, but I have fun doing it with such a winning feeling when I see a client succeed off a practical but bold roadmap we developed together.
Aspire to share
EmptyTrips foundation principle is filling spaces to places, this is only possible by enterprise sharing of data (securely) and asset capacity of course. Personally, the concept of the sharing economy goes beyond that of the platform. I have been so fortunate over the past 10 years to learn, grow, travel, build, launch, fail and win. Teachings I willingly share with those who ask for help. Sharing is caring, I can only encourage all of us to “pay it forward”.
About the Author
Benji Coetzee is the Founder of award winning freight matching marketplace EmptyTrips and Managing Director of Seedpitch Innovation Consultancy. She is an evangelist for purpose-driven business. She was recognized by Forbes in Top 60 woman in technology ’18, a Top50 Woman to watch by Entrepreneur Mag ’18. In addition she was also the winner of the Global Impact Challenge ’18 of SingularityU Ventures Africa and of SA Innovation ’17.