Cape Town – One of the most influential players in the
United States’ Silicon Valley and in companies like YouTube, PayPal and Google
is a South African.
Technology entrepreneur Roelof Botha was in the country last
week to receive an honorary PhD from Stellenbosch University.
Naspers chief executive Koos Bekker calls Botha one of the
world’s most important seekers of promising technology projects.
Botha is a partner at Sequoia Capital – the most important
venture capital company in California’s Silicon Valley.
About 20% of the market capitalisation on the Nasdaq stock
market in New York represents companies in which Sequoia has invested. These
include huge firms like Apple, Cisco, Yahoo and Oracle.
Botha selects new technology companies in which to invest
and his investments have led to the rise of companies like YouTube and LinkedIn.
Enterprises in which Sequoia has recently invested include
two South African companies, Nimbula and Clickatell.
Botha is the son of the economist Dr Roelof Botha, a former
winner of the Sake24 Economist of the Year competition, and the grandson of
former minister Pik Botha. The musician Piet Botha is his uncle.
Together with Elon Musk, also a South African, he founded
the PayPal electronic payment service.
Botha considers the most exciting new technology in which to
invest mobile technology (such as smartphones and tablets), cloud
computing services and bioinformatics (such as investigating the human genome).
In his speech at the graduation ceremony he advised South
Africa companies and investors to take more risks when investing in
In Silicon Valley, he said, failure is part of the culture.
People who fail often go on to establish successful companies later.
Of the companies in which Sequoia invests, 35% to 40% fail.
People in other countries are overly worried about losing money. If you fail,
you lose your money once but if you succeed, you can eventually increase your investment 50-fold, he said.
He believes so strongly in the value of failure that he
suggests that South Africa alter its laws about bankruptcy to make it easier
for people to start new projects.
There has never been a better time to start a technology
company, he believes.
Thanks to services like Apple’s App Store, open-source
software and free or inexpensive programming packages, things are easier than
ever before for today’s technology entrepreneurs.
“And thanks to the growth of the internet your audience is
far, far bigger than it was only 15 years ago.”
His advice to entrepreneurs? “Think of yourself as the
central point of a network.
"Who are the people you are going to ask to work
with you, or serve on your board? Are there local research institutions that
could invest in you, or perhaps have a good idea?”
There is little to prevent South Africa from establishing
its own Silicon Valley. The talent is here. The knowledge is here, says Botha.
For more business news in Afrikaans, go to Sake24.com.