Visionary Entrepreneur Series: Innov8tiv presents the best and brightest early stage entrepreneurs from Tiphub’s Diaspora Demo Summit. Tiphub is a mentorship driven accelerator that supports early stage businesses and social impact ventures in Africa and the African Diaspora.
Like many first time parents, Vije Vijendranath and his wife Shan, didn’t have a clue about being a parent. “We would spend too much money on various things, said Vijendranath. We had no advice on what we needed to do but we also saw this as an opportunity to help other parents with advice, like how to find what they needed as first time parents, so we created You, Baby and I.”
Since 2014, You Baby and I has evolved from a blog to an award winning startup in South Africa. We created the company to target moms because they are primarily responsible for purchases in the family, said Vijendranath. Beyond being an inspirational platform for parents about the journey of motherhood, the company also helps companies connect better to moms and even involves moms in the product design and experience process.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Sri Lanka and I moved to South Africa when I was a child. I studied my schooling in South Africa and I qualified as a Computer Engineer and an Industrial Engineer.
What are your top 3 accomplishments?
- In 2004, I was selected as one of the entrants for the Microsoft CSIDC (Computer Society International Design Competition) for the design and development of elderly care management system developed for the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.
- Designing and developing the parenting company called You, Baby and I. It’s one of the first companies that had a reach throughout Africa which brought a lot of influence and revenue.
- Becoming a professional photographer without any formal training and being recognized for my work in the country.
Tell us about the “AHA” moment that inspired you to open your business?
After I qualified in engineering, I worked for several years in the corporate world and I saw how monotonous the working life is. I also realized I cannot shift change in large organizations that are too bothered with process than making a difference. While I was working, I tried my hand at photography and I understood my love of doing things directly with customers on my own terms. Not to mention the flexibility of being able to have your web domain and invoice customers when I did a great job. My real “AHA” moment was when I had a meeting with my colleagues and my managers. We were so fixated on the process and not the goals and his words resonated with me when he said “if you do the process, then no one would question you and it would be ok if the end results were not being met”. That was my cue that corporate life was not my calling.
What has been your greatest challenge? How did you overcome it?
The greatest challenge is we are a commercial company based in South Africa and most of the funding programs/initiatives are either based in the USA for US-based companies or if the funding is in Africa, they look for social impact projects which leaves us at a disadvantage in startup competitions and funding rounds. We are still faced with this challenge and we forging ahead by using debt financing as well as self-financing with the revenue we generate.
Tell me about a time you failed in business. What did you learn from your mistake?
One of my first initiatives was to create a software development company and I developed it with 2 other people. My company didn’t last long as both people decided to leave and focus on other ventures. I have learned that finding co-founders is the hardest thing to do. One must learn to work with people long before entrusting them with the company’s development. I now work on small projects with people, build trust and offer them positions as co-founders. It’s not about the money but to entrust them and help them with their own personal goals. If I help them, they will help me as well.
Many people have a “secret sauce” that has defined his or her success. What are the top three ingredients that have enabled you to succeed?
The qualities that has brought on success is trust and to let go of autocratic control. If you need the help of people, you must hire people better than you and trust them to help you. If they indeed want to help, give them equity and not be emotional about money when you first start the company. Top 3 ingredients:
- Find friends outside of the corporate world. If you are going to run a company, you need help from those who run their own. They are the best at giving you advise and will understand your difficulty in getting through.
- Does the company you want to start align with your personal sense of self? It means that if you want to start a bakery, have you doing bakery yourself? Are you passionate about it? This is essential as if you start something that’s not in your field or passion, failure will turn you away quickly.
- Get co-founders and choose them carefully. When your company first starts, your choice of co-founders will be the difference between success and failure. Make sure they are as passionate about it as you and compliment you too! If you’re good at business, get someone super technical or vice versa.
What is your advice for people trying to create a brand?
Brands are created because people see WHY you do something and not the product/service itself. Therefore, if you want to create your brand, let people see from the onset why you do it and invest in your marketing as much as your product.