Ex-Kalahari.com CEO discusses his health e-commerce venture

Gary Novitzkas

Gary Novitzkas

Juniva is a South African based e-commerce platform, founded by Gary Novitzkas, former CEO of the now defunct online retailer Kalahari.com that was merged with Takealot.com. Juniva sells health and wellness items such as vitamins and supplements, as well as sports nutrition and weight management products. Launched in 2014, Juniva says it is different because it helps buyers make informed decisions when purchasing products that may differ in efficacy according to an individual’s physiological traits and exercise regimes. Novitzkas answered How we made it in Africa’s questions.

What was the inspiration for starting Juniva?

As users of many of these vitamin, supplement and sports nutrition products we felt there was a shortage of quality unbiased information in the market available to us. The logical next step from there was to look at the best vehicle to provide these informed choices, and thus Juniva.com came into being.

What need is this platform addressing? Why would people purchase through Juniva instead of bricks and mortar stores?

Walking into a store sometimes leads to walking out of the store with products that you don’t need or even worse, products that won’t provide the solution you are looking for – all because the sales rep was incentivised to move a particular product, or was not informed enough to provide the best solution. Our customers know if the product is available through Juniva it is a trusted product, has been reviewed for efficacy and taste profile, and in some cases tested to ensure the label science is accurate and the claims that it makes can be backed up. In addition, we understand that the products we sell ultimately run out and are inconvenient to replace – and therefore offer our “repeat and save” option where our customer’s products can be delivered every month to their home or office.

Who is your competition in the market?

To some extent we compete with traditional retailers who also sell online. We compete because we use data to better understand our customers’ current needs and future requirements, and thus provide a more tailored solution to them. We also provide convenience, education and very competitive price points.

How are you driving traffic to Juniva?

We generate traffic through the traditional digital channels like SEO (search engine optimisation), SEM (search engine marketing), display [advertising], affiliates, retargeting, social and mail, etc.

Is the company profitable?

The business takes two years to become profitable due to the upfront infrastructure requirements of an online retailer.

How would you describe the fitness supplement and sports nutrition market in South Africa?

The South African vitamins, dietary supplements and sports nutrition market is estimated at R7bn (US$527m) and is predicted to grow at 6% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) – which is slightly ahead of international growth rates, although obviously off a much smaller base.

Do you plan to expand into other African countries?

Not at the moment.

What are some of the major challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur?

The biggest challenges tend to be around the market opportunity, and does it exist the way you think it does? I have found that the best way to do this is to find someone not related to you to part with his or her cash based on your prototype. Get customer feedback and use it to build your solution from there. The second challenge is to watch every cent you spend, especially on customer acquisition and understanding how that number relates to the life time value of that same customer. This will help you understand if you have a financial model that can turn into a business.

Having been involved in multiple ventures, including Kalahari.com, what lessons can you share regarding setting up an e-commerce business? 

There are a lot of similarities between e-commerce principles and traditional retail – and often this is forgotten when setting up an e-commerce operation. Managing stock, margins, and inbound and outbound supply chain are all critical components before you can begin taking advantage of traditional e-commerce cost benefits, like customer cost of acquisition through digital channels, community management via social channels and user behaviour-based business decisions.

How would you define entrepreneurial success?

Success for me would be enjoying what I do, and enjoying how I do it.