Q&A: Cape Town entrepreneur Lorraine Steyn laments shortage of women in tech

lorraine steyn

Software development is a well-paying career and more women should be involved in the sector, laments Cape Town entrepreneur Lorraine Steyn.

“I’m very sad about the falling number of women in software development, particularly. It is a well-paying career, requiring creative and analytical skills,” says Steyn co-founded software development company Khanyisa Real Systems (KRS) in 1987.

Steyn, KRS’s CEO, will be in conversation with Guillaume de Smedt tomorrow at the next Startup Grind event, Women in Tech, in Cape Town at Workshop 17.

Lorraine Steyn says she’s sad about the falling number of women in tech

Ventureburn caught up with Steyn to pick her brains on a few issues on entrepreneurship and trends on the startup scene.

Ventureburn: You co-founded KRS, then called Real Systems, with Steve Mabbutt back in 1987, what was that like? How did you raise funding and how has the journey been from then to what the company is now?

Lorraine Steyn: Back in 1987 desktop PCs were pretty new and exciting! KRS was (and remains so now) an early adopter of useful technology for business solutions. We quickly built a small team of young developers, and bootstrapped the company with our own funds.

VB: What would you say are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and with KRS, how have you managed to overcome them?

LS: A big challenge for any entrepreneur is learning all the skills that are needed to run a successful business. We were really good at developing software, but didn’t know much about building a company in the early years!

VB: Tell us more about Fun Nearby, what inspired that idea?

LS: KRS has a number of products that we’ve developed for ourselves, and that we support and sell in various vertical markets. We were looking for a consumer product to grow our skills, as we mainly do B2B (business to business) projects.

My advice to any entrepreneur is to look for solutions that you personally wish existed, and as a mother, I wanted to find activities for children. So we built FunNearby as a kids events listing platform, with social media integrations, and (we) have built up a very loyal following of parents in the cities we cover.

VB: There has traditionally been a lower number of women entrepreneurs in the tech-startup scene in South Africa. What do you attribute this to and how can we best address this?

LS: I’m very sad about the falling numbers of women in software development, particularly. It is a well-paying career, requiring creative and analytical skills. Women are excellent in the field, and we must look at grass-roots projects to give girls (and boys) access to technology at the school level. We also need to ensure that businesses actively root out sexism in the workplace, so that we keep the women who do enter the field.

VB: Would you mind telling us more about the internship programme that you have at KRS and what projects, work or companies have graduates gone on to take part in?

LS: The KRS internship is run annually, and is the lifeblood of our organisation! We find 12 to 14 aspiring young developers, through a vigorous selection programme, and put them through two months of intensive training.

We work with a number of Cape Town companies to ensure that all our interns get placed as junior developers after the training. Those that are placed within KRS join one of our project teams, and are assigned a mentor. It is fantastic to have a group of youngsters joining every year, as they bring an energy and fresh outlook to their teams that I feel sets KRS apart from many other software development companies.

VB: Looking at the current economic climate and the high youth unemployment, what opportunities would you encourage young entrepreneurs to look into and pursue?

LS: I’m on a bit of a rant about data costs. We can’t expect our youth to become tech entrepreneurs when they don’t have cheap, reliable, internet access. The cellular networks are not playing their part in providing opportunities for our youth. The best advice I have is for the youth to get involved with one of the tech incubators, like Capaciti in Cape Town, where they will get guidance as entrepreneurs and practical support with infrastructure and skills.

VB: What key startup or entrepreneurial philosophies do you adhere to or believe in?

LS: There are two key aspects to becoming an entrepreneur: having a good idea, and being able to eat! Watch your cashflow above all else — most good ideas fail because the entrepreneur has underestimated the effort required to bring their idea to market.

Keep your expenses as low as possible, and follow the principles of Lean Startup. This is about testing your idea or product as early as you can. Don’t spend a year building something, only to find out that people won’t pay for it. Get out to your potential customers with the smallest, cheapest version you can, and test constantly that you are on the right track by making early sales.

VB: Lastly, blockchain, what are your thoughts on this? Where do you see it going?

LS: I love the blockchain. I think there are many applications that will still emerge for it. However, just because something is a hot topic, I don’t think entrepreneurs should necessarily jump onto the bandwagon.

Being an entrepreneur is hard work, so make sure that you are doing something that you love. Blockchain technology is just another tool that might be useful, but it isn’t an end in itself.

Featured image: Lorraine Steyn (Supplied)

Daniel Mpala


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