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An 'uneducated' CEO's lessons for success

Oct 10 2014 07:00

Cape Town – Being in the corporate fast lane has changed a tech entrepreneur’s idea that people don’t need higher education to succeed.

Paul Brown, who is the chief executive of DigiCash, an innovative payment processors company that specialises in debit orders and EFT payments, now feels that no one should be deprived of the richness that such an experience would bring.

When asked whether or not a formal education was necessary to succeed in business, Brown said: “If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have emphatically disagreed that it was necessary, but the truth is that there are famous entrepreneurs who’ve succeeded with and without formal education.

“I am a little torn on this now, as I’m busy completing an Executive MBA through UCT, and am having so much fun doing it that I’d be a little hesitant to suggest someone deprive themselves of the journey.

“Ultimately I don’t think it can be prescribed how a would-be entrepreneur should go about it. The recipe for success is universal in my opinion, and to paraphrase Lori Greiner, you need to be prepared to work 80 hours a week, in order to avoid working 40 hours a week.

“Of course it’s more than just working hard, I think it’s important that you are able to change your mind and/or strategy based on new information or dynamics that come into play, you need to be able to accept failure as an option, and when you’re wrong, you need to be able to admit it quickly and adjust it accordingly.

“All of these are personality traits as much as they are skills that you can develop. I truly believe that if you can get these right, you’re able to call yourself an entrepreneur.”

Profile of a tech entrepreneur

Brown he has grown DigiCash in just three years to process more than R600m in collections and payments every month – not bad for a man who, with no prior business training, decided to start his first company at the tender age of 23.

Brown, now 38, recalls that his first company was Tangent Systems, a specialist IT services and training company in which he and his team implemented and maintained servers for their customers, including consulting to well-known ISPs and corporate companies.

“We had business straight away, which obviously solved the immediate issue of cashflow. I learned a lot about the realities of running a business then.”

Interestingly, it seems that Brown had an intuitive understanding of how to add value and make money, and he later sold Tangent and was able to pursue additional start-ups that interested him.

In 2009, Brown became an investor and director of a Stellenbosch-based start-up that would become known as Legacy Parks, a company that specialises in the growing interest of green burials. Rather than people being interred in a typical cemetery, one can be buried in a beautiful parkland area.

“Apart from the fact that this project could allow people to remember their loved ones with dignity, it is also quite a clever business model,” he said. “By dividing a property into thousands of burial plots, you actually make the property exponentially more valuable.”

During this time, Brown founded two companies, Iperion Billing and DigiCash.

Brown resigned from Legacy Parks in 2011, to focus more on their growing needs. While both companies were involved in the payment space, Brown is careful to point out that “identifying and refining business models is what excites me”.

“While both of these companies are in the payment space, their business models and target markets were very different. I’m not a banker; I’m quite simply an entrepreneur who is passionate about identifying and extracting value”.

Iperion Billing has catered to South African behemoths such as Telkom and Bidvest, and was sold earlier in 2014.

- Fin24

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