Africa will not change overnight, but now is the time to invest, says restaurant entrepreneur

“I think differentiation for me is big. It makes your story so much easier to sell. If you want to create a brand, you have to [be] different and create your own niche,” said Deetlefs “Anybody can create a one-off restaurant, but if you really want to be successful, you have to open more outlets and to do that you have to offer a branded experience.”

The big goal for Deetlefs is to take Big Square across the region and even beyond the continent. “Why can’t an African brand go to America? Why can’t an African brand go to England? We would like to do this. Why not?”

As he expands Big Square, one of the biggest difficulties Deetlefs expects to encounter is recruitment and the training of staff. Finding talent, he said, is a challenge many businesses face in the region.

“You don’t have the money to employ the people you really want to employ. I can find locations, I can most probably find finance to build the shops. One shop is easy, but after you start growing into multiple units, your team becomes the biggest challenge,” he said.

Despite the hurdles that come with entrepreneurship, Deetlefs finds it fulfilling.

“If you are an entrepreneur, it’s in your blood. I have tried quite a few things in my life. Some worked and some failed. I have worked for a few companies, but what I really love is what I am doing now. It makes me happy.”

According to Deetlefs, after years of trying his hands at many things he has become better at strategic planning and learnt to work with people who compliment his strengths and weaknesses. He added that although he has learnt a lot in his lifetime, his experience has not made “the risk less frightening”.

“A lot of people don’t talk about fear and the risk factor in being an entrepreneur. There is a lot of emotional roller coasters in being an entrepreneur. I live in a foreign country; I am here with my whole family. The risk for me, I think, is even bigger. If it doesn’t work I have to pack up and go back to my own country,” he said.

Deetlefs advised other entrepreneurs to confront their fears. “I think when it comes to fear, you have to face it and just pull through.”

For those aspiring to venture into business, having an understanding of the industry they invest in is critical.

Deetlefs noted that although Africa has immense opportunities worth investing in, it will take years before things really take off. “I think the challenge is that it’s difficult to do business in Africa. It’s damn difficult,” he said.

“Africa is not going to change overnight. It will take a while. As the economies grow, the pressure to make it easier for businesses to thrive will increase. It will gain momentum quicker than it has in the past.”

These challenges notwithstanding, Deetlefs believes now is the time to invest in Africa’s emerging economies.

“If you wait another five years, I think you will miss the bus. The time is now.”