How unemployment led to a startup

Howard Blake - HR

Johannesburg – Howard Blake chats with IOL about what he believes is needed to start up a company.

Q: Is Blake Holdings your first startup?

A: No this is the holdings company that houses 6 startups that range from 6 months old to 26 years years. Over the 26 years, 3 startups were sold and one stopped trading .

Q: What gave you the idea?

A: I was working in a firm of attorneys and noticed an opportunity to create a more efficient process in the collection of debt. This ultimately developed into software which predicted debtor behaviour . From this grew the services and products the group now offer. The products and services span multiple business sectors and countries. We have always disrupted the established way of doing business to introduce innovative and relevant products and services

Q: How is it doing?

A: From a singularity the business has grown into a multi-disciplined enterprise employing in excess of 1 200 people covering 3 continents. We are firmly entrenched in the new digital economy .An aspect that will guarantee our relevance for years to come.

Q: Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?

A: No, I was happily employed until I landed up unemployed with a young family to feed.I then put the innovation to work that I had been thinking about. Necessity is the mother of all invention!

Q: What made you choose this career path?

A: No business plan, just urgency and an unstoppable desire to survive the situation I was in. The ability to see an opportunity to offer the services that would change the way business manages its accounts receivables [debtors]. From this one service to one client, the business grew to provide services to the majority of South African Banks, retailers and financial services businesses .

Q: What's next on your list?

A: With a 26-year-old enterprise, we are busy redefining some of our services and products. The really exciting project we are busy with, is taking migrating our legacy business into the digital economy . We have launched 2 new digital products that are gaining some global interest and traction. This is a whole new world for us that is very exciting as a South African business to gain the attention of international markets. We will have our first Australian revenue go live in the second quarter with some really relevant projects going live in the southern hemisphere. We also in advanced discussions regarding the North American markets too. Our African footprint is looking to grow out in the third quarter. We have a really exciting year ahead of us!

Q: What would you say to someone who wants to be an entrepreneur? Don’t second guess your ability to succeed . If you can think through your idea persevere. Remember the difference between a great idea and a business is revenue. If you have one customer no reason why you can’t have a million or more. So don’t be afraid to start. If you don’t run onto the field, you can’t score any goals! Just do it!

Q: Would you say you need a degree to get started?

A: No . While it may help in specialised areas .The most important quality way beyond anything academic is perseverance, and you going to need lots of it!


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