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April 5, 2022

Founder’s Insight: Alex Procter’s 5 Steps for a Successful Startup

DigsConnect is the largest student housing platform on the African continent. We're optimising the use of pre-existing assets to ensure that every student has a home. So far, we've connected nearly 90,000 students and landlords in our four years of operation. 

Today I’m sharing five steps we took to build our disruptive startup that you can take on board when building yours.

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Written by

Alexandria Proctor

CEO at DigsConnect

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1. Find the Disconnect

 

Successful businesses solve problems. If your business solves a problem or fills a gap for your target market, your business will always have customers. 

 

DigsConnect is all about solving a disconnect, or problem. When I was on the Student Representative Council at the University of Cape Town, I noticed a huge problem where students were unable to find accommodation yet landlords were struggling to find students.

 

DigsConnect is our solution to connect unhoused students with already available accommodation in the private sector. 

2. Define the Mission

 

Defining your mission is incredibly important because it gives your work meaning and purpose. The mission is why you get out of bed every day and why the late nights are worth it. 

 

At DigsConnect, our mission is to give students a sense of stability through housing. 

 

We often talk about jobs being important to the economy. But I disagree with that, I think it's about housing. You can't find a job if you haven't got a home and you can't reach for the stars if you don’t have somewhere to sleep every night. You also can’t build a community if you haven’t got a physical location where you base yourself. 

 

That’s why I believe that building a strong economy and a strong community comes down to housing. 

Housing is more than just where you sleep at night, it's also your stability and safety. It's a sense of belonging. I think it’s really cool that we can help students find a sense of stability at such a vulnerable time in their life while they’re moving away from their parents and not knowing where they’re going to go.

3. Build the Team 

 

I met my partner, Greg, on the SRC so we had already run projects together and knew that we did business in the same way. He’s a phenomenal business leader and he’s one of my best friends. It's good to look for partners in your social places because it means you have common interests from the start. We both really enjoyed politics so we both joined the SRC. 

It's important in a partnership to be on the same page in terms of business ethics and work ethics. But also, you want to have different skillsets and strengths. Greg is very organised, he’s an operator — you can set your watch by his schedule. Whereas I’m more chaotic with bursts of great ideas that will push the business 10X and then periods where I cool down and Greg implements the ideas. 

To find a partner, make yourself attractive by doing the work, showing up on time, and having something to show for yourself. Be the partner that you want to find so that if someone finds you, you’re ready to get to work. 

4. Make Friends with Other Founders 

Community is everything - no man is an island. We all have different strengths and finding a network of brilliant people you can lean on and get advice from is invaluable. It's no different for founders. I owe so much to the network. 

Louis, the CEO of The Delta, and I founded The Chapter which is a collective of Cape Town-based tech CEOs that pool resources and know-how to launch ventures for local and international markets. 

At first, it was a joke where we thought it would be fun to get together to organise poker games for founders. And then we decided that there are so many overlapping interests between founders that creating a network made sense. 

I’ve also found that South African founders and CEOs are great at responding to younger, less experienced founders asking for advice. If you feel lost, don’t be afraid to reach out to a business leader you look up to and ask for a meeting. The worst thing they can do is not reply.

5. The Secret to Starting a Business is Starting 

 

The best piece of advice I can give to future founders is this: Don’t wait for permission.

At school, you’re taught the opposite. You stay seated, put your hand up, and wait for someone to come and help you. But the startup world is different. You can always ask for help if you need it, but you’re not always going to get it so don’t wait around for it. Once you start a business, you’re on your own.

Just start and figure it out as you go. It’s going to get messy but you just have to go for it. 

You’ll need radical self-responsibility, radical self-reliance, and radical self-encouragement. But most importantly, you’ll need to get started. 

BONUS: If You Think You’re Too Busy to Start a Business… 

I started DigsConnect while I was finishing my honours so it seemed like a busy time to start a business. My advice for anyone who feels like they’re too busy would be to start today because realistically, you’ll never not be busy. 

When I feel like I don’t have time for things, I check the screen time on my phone. If I’m spending three or four hours a day scrolling, how can I say I’m too busy to chase my dreams? So I’d recommend you swap your screen time for dream time and limit friends and family time to evenings and weekends. 

I would also recommend setting an end date so you put in the work for a hard three months or so and then go back to doing the fun things. 

 

If you’d like to get in touch with DigsConnect, go to digsconnect.com. My Twitter, @AlexProcter101, is the unofficial DigsConnect stan account so that’s also a great place to see our news and get involved. 

If you’d like to work with the venture builder that supports founders like Alex, talk to The Delta here

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