“I never stop thinking like an entrepreneur,” says Alex Fourie, the serial entrepreneur behind iFix, a South African company that specialises in repairing Apple and Samsung devices.
At the age of 27, Fourie has founded several companies, from organising European tours for South African bands to opening the first online music download store in the country. While not all of his entrepreneurial endeavours have been a success, iFix has been expanding organically from the start.
Fourie was inspired to start iFix while still at university. When his iPod stopped working he was told by specialists that it couldn’t be fixed. Refusing to throw the device away, he watched an online video and taught himself how to repair it. It wasn’t long before his friends were asking him to do the same for their devices and Fourie realised there was considerable market potential in providing the repair service. He placed an advert in a Cape Town newspaper and the following day received a flood of calls requesting his service.
What started out in a university dorm room in 2007 has now grown into a chain of eight stores across the country which employs about 85 people. In addition to offering repairs for Apple and Samsung devices, iFix has also developed its own accessory line and insurance product which Fourie describes as intra-entrepreneurialism.
Furthermore, Fourie is the founder and CEO of RiCharge, a manufacturer and distributor of mobile phone charging stations. Launched in 2011, the company now exports its machines internationally to 12 countries, including Nigeria. Fourie said the company is focusing on more solar-based, outdoor solutions to cater specifically for the African market.
While both businesses are doing well, Fourie believes their tipping point is yet to come as the market opportunities for growth and expansion are huge.
Success is 80% execution
Drawing from his successes and failures as an entrepreneur, Fourie told How we made it in Africa he believes entrepreneurial success is 80% execution, 10% idea and 10% timing.
“I think timing is key. You can have the best business plan, the best team, the best everything, but if the timing is off you are going to hit a lot of hurdles.”
For example, he said that if he had started a similar business concept to iFix in 1999, the company might not have worked. But in the last several years new smart devices have taken off so quickly in South Africa that there has been a sudden demand for repair services.
However, Fourie added that for entrepreneurs starting a generic business – such as a laundromat, where the idea is not novel and the timing is not necessarily relevant – then business execution is critical.
“Focus on making it awesome,” advises Fourie. “I see a lot of guys go into business with a ‘how can I make money’ approach. But if you go in there saying ‘how can I make something awesome’, the money will follow.”
When it comes to iFix’s business, Fourie said the company’s strength comes from executing a swift service as he realised consumers did not like being separated from their devices for long periods of time. While mobile operators do offer repair services in South Africa, customers can typically wait for long periods while their devices are sent to a large repair centre to be fixed. For this reason he wanted his business to focus on “reuniting” customers with their devices as quickly as possible.
“It’s not going to take three or four weeks, it’s going to take [about] an hour,” he highlighted.
A solid team is key
Fourie believes he has been successful in entrepreneurship because he is passionate, persistent and has faith in his idea.
His advice to other young, aspiring entrepreneurs in Africa is to invest in a good team. For example, Fourie explained that he is not a good manager because he is “way too friendly with everyone” and cannot reprimand or discipline employees. To counter this, he hired good managers to do this for him.
“Align with people who share your vision, and who are good at something that you aren’t necessarily good at,” he concluded.