South African Duran de Villiers was in his early 20s when he founded his first business, a media production company called Motion Pixel. A few years later he started an online retailer of photographic lighting equipment, which he then sold to focus on his third company, SteadiDrone, in 2012. He was just about to turn 27.
SteadiDrone manufactures and sells small unmanned aerial systems (or drones) for both recreational and commercial use. Drones are increasingly being used by various industries – such as mining, agriculture, mapping, logistics, nature conservation, film and media – to gather aerial data and conduct research. And in 2014 the Knysna-based company recorded over R14m (about US$832,500 today) in revenue.
How we made it in Africa chats to De Villiers about his entrepreneurial journey and the growing business of drones.
Have you always known you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Nope. I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, even when finishing high school. I did not particularity excel at school, but naturally found a knack for business. I’m passionate about the things I do, or want to do. I like to think that’s the ‘drive’ behind being successful: falling in love with whatever your hands find to do. There is something exciting and interesting in almost everything. The key is to see it, and use it.
So what inspired SteadiDrone?
How did you finance the company?
Generally speaking, who are your clients today?
Where do you import your parts from, and what effect has the weakening South African rand had on business?
How competitive is the industry in South Africa?
The drone industry is hotting up in South Africa, but still has a long way to go. SteadiDrone is, as far as our research shows, the longest standing and largest commercial drone developer and manufacturer, apart from the defence guys like Denel and so on. I look forward to new competition locally.
The best decision you have made to grow your company?
What’s the one thing you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
I’m actually very grateful that I had no real traditional business experience or background, especially the traditional thinking behind the entrepreneurial “start-up” movement. As mentioned before, there is a lot you can learn from it, but getting down to work and doing it with what you have, right now, is what matters. The rest will follow.
If you had one piece of advice for an entrepreneur just starting out, what would it be?