Re-Inventing the Corner Store

Q&A with Busi Radebe

Busi is the founder of iShipa, technology that will allow small business owners in South Africa to keep track of their sales and inventory management information.

What was your inspiration?

When I started working on this project the focus was pretty much from a South African context, but when I looked at the request for proposals, it gave me the view that the problem I’m trying to solve is not unique to South Africa. It’s actually a problem that’s common throughout the world. Being able to submit a proposal through Harvard University and WEF, for me, that kind of elevated the conversation to be a global conversation as opposed to being just localized.

How do you define success?

I come from a country where there’s quite a lot of unemployment. And my own observation of small businesses is that they were either shutting down or showing very limited growth, so what I wanted to achieve with this is to turn that around. Technology can play a significant role in enabling these small businesses. I felt with the implementation of technology, we can be in a position to turn these businesses around so that we make them more competitive, but we also allow them to be the core of all the other businesses’ ecosystems within these communities, so we can have a small business that is now integrated with all the local suppliers in the community, therefore creating value beyond the small businesses.

What challenges have you faced?

One of the key things that we need to be successful is partnerships. So you cannot take away the role that is played by the whole sellers, for example. You cannot take away the role that is played by the manufacturers of products that are sold in these businesses. So we want to be able to have partnerships with these key stakeholders so that they are integrated in this entire platform, and then with that level of integration, we should be in a position to optimize the entire supply chain. We’re also looking at partnerships with business associations to which these small businesses belong. Because if want to scale this, we don’t want to have to go to each and every business owner.

The last thing that I will touch on is around the facilitation of payments, because the efficiencies we are trying to build on this platform, they have a huge dependency on the ease of payment. We don’t want the delivery of goods to be delayed because the manufacturer or the wholesaler is waiting for funds to reflect in their account. So it will be quite key for us to be able to partner with players that can help us drive, or streamline, the whole payment process.

One of these key challenges, why we need these partnerships with the business associations, is to try and deal with that level of resistance and also assist in the education of these businesses so they can understand the real value that can be derived from this platform.

What did you takeaway from this event?

My experience in this symposium has been outstanding. It kind of played the role of energizing, to make one realize that the problem you are trying to solve, there are other people who actually care about solving the same problems. So you are not alone in trying to address this problem.

The input that we got from the panel and also the questions coming from the audience, they actually made us think… in my case there was one question asked about the payment of checks … that is something that kind of says go and think about this because it’s something that, in other parts of the world, might be a deal breaker for what you are trying to achieve.