Entrepreneur Tom Raviv: From Silicon Valley to Silicon Cape
The story of Hiifi began during a family vacation to Mykonos in 2012. As a traveller, I realized how precious Wi-Fi is to stay connected (especially coming from South Africa with data roaming prices through the roof). I was out one night and wanted to 'check-in' to my location using Facebook. The problem was that I could not get access to the Wi-Fi, the place was too crowded and the Wi-Fi was blocked by a password. This seemed illogical to me. I wanted to socially market this place through Facebook, but they prevented me from doing so by blocking off the Internet. It was through that frustration that Hiifi was born.
After our Greece vacation, I continued my travels to San Francisco with my brother. My time in San Francisco was multi-purposed. My brother was in pursuit of his own startup, so I wanted to help him in any way possible. This presented me with the opportunity of getting exposure to the Valley's unique ecosystem at its ripest time. I have always been extremely passionate about tech, so I was very excited. I had also been working on a previous idea - based on social couponing - which I wanted some help with from experienced guys in the Valley. As soon as Hiifi came to mind, it took priority immediately. I was put in touch with some developers, and they helped me create a solid and simple foundation. When I returned to South Africa, I had assembled an amazing team, and Hiifi slowly went from idea to action. Our tech mafia team consists of; Allen Huang, Federico Lorenzi (both of whom are exceptionally talented in coding), and myself. Since then, we have launched Hiifi in several locations around Cape Town, and continue to do so. The feedback we get is great, and the increasingly competitive industry keeps challenging us and requires us to continuously innovate and execute. Not easy for a startup, but that's what makes it exciting.
In the beginning of this year, I was fortunate enough to return to San Francisco, and for the majority of my university vacation, I interned at the largest angel network in the world, the Keiretsu Forum. Through my work experience, I was at the centerfold of startup growth. I was exposed to the entire vertical integration between investment and seed funding, learning what investors were looking for, what made these startups unique, what worked and what didn't. During my time, I had attended events headlined by some of the world's leaders in tech; watching the next billion-dollar startups pitch to the most experienced tech investors and venture capitalists in the world. What was even more amazing was that these events were happening on a daily basis. On any given day in the Silicon Valley, you have a choice of more than 20 startup events to choose from. The entire atmosphere breathes technology, innovation, creativity and disruption. An entrepreneurs dream.
Nonetheless, the Silicon Valley is no recipe for success. Taking your startup there does not guarantee anything. An entrepreneur's pursuit will be faced with as many challenges as any other, wherever they are in the world. South Africa is no different.
We are at an interesting time in political history in South Africa. The inequalities of the past are slowly wearing away and are now becoming economic necessities that should be addressed by sustainable capital allocation. We have seen certain regulations enforced within our country to correct the imbalances of equal education and opportunities, and although discomforting to many at first, the long-term affects are beginning to show brightly. All young South Africans have been given the opportunity to access quality education, resulting in greater awareness and an active flow of informed decision-making. As a student at the University of Cape Town, I see this first hand. I am lucky to engage with incredibly bright, talented and proactive young people on a daily basis. As our generation of mass-educated youth grow older and enter the working world, I believe that we will undoubtedly see South Africa maximizing its potential in every sphere, from politics, to healthcare, technology and entrepreneurship.
When projecting these variables onto South Africa's entrepreneurial ecosystem, it is easy to understand why we are only at the beginning of our Silicon Valley-like culture for innovation and disruption. There is no doubt that South Africa's entrepreneurial culture is growing incredibly. Younger minds are pursuing world-changing startups. We are beginning to see the establishment of startup incubators and accelerators in several cities. Large corporates are allocating large funds solely towards developing entrepreneurship in our country by investing in entrepreneurial initiatives driven by our youth. Slowly but surely, we are seeing an instilled belief in young South Africans that anything is possible. Elon Musk, a fellow South African (and I believe the greatest entrepreneur to have ever lived), speaks true to that in every sense.
Nevertheless, our startup culture is at its infancy. Not because we lack the mindset (we definitely don't), but because our support system is not developed enough. A support system needs to provide young entrepreneurs with the right resources, knowledge and understanding of how to take their ideas and turn them into businesses. I do believe that we are working toward this. We have all the tools and key players to establish such a system, and it is essential to continue to pull it all together. It is also a case of relaxing our risk-averse mindset within our corporate culture. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that with more time; a strong backbone for South African entrepreneurship will emerge.
My early pursuits and my realization of the lacking support system for young entrepreneurs in South Africa encouraged me to take action with initiatives that would cultivate youth entrepreneurship beyond the bottom line. It is for these reasons that 8 of us went on to establish The Akro Society. I then was fortunate enough to become Regional President of the The Kairos Society South Africa. Both of these societies aim to foster entrepreneurial growth in the youth of today; Kairos on a global scale and Akro on a local scale. Through these organisations, we are able to deliver on our vision and aspire towards becoming an 'entrepreneurial engine' for the youth, fueling entrepreneurs and their startups by presenting opportunities to learn, network and leverage off each other's knowledge, resources and passion.
On a personal note, I will continue to develop Hiifi in every way possible. Our aim is to expand throughout our country and deliver on our core value of making Wi-Fi free and easily accessible to everyone, from our townships to our CBD's. Internet accessibility is a vital component in connecting South Africa to the world, and the world to us. On a larger note, I am extremely optimistic about South Africa's future. I look forward to seeing our youth making their mark on the world, and allowing South Africa to live up to its limitless potential.
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