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A tech hub in South Africa’s Karoo has already attracted 20 to 30 people since launching nine months ago — including a team of developers who have developed software that handles transaction of over $1-billion a month for clients.
“They (Rubberstamp.io) are managing over a $1-billion of spend each month for companies all over the world,” says Karoo Tech Hub founder Priscilla Kennedy, of the team that is building and marketing an innovative software that helps companies control their expenses.
Rubberstamp.io is currently managing over $1-billion in spend a month for firms all over the world, says Karoo Tech Hub founder
Ventureburn asked Kennedy to tell us more about the tech hub, the challenges that she is currently facing and how the hub has changed the surrounding community.
Ventureburn: What inspired you to found a tech hub in the Karoo and how did you raise funding for it?
Priscilla Kennedy: I had been remote-working for a few years, from Argentina, Chile, US, UK and Spain. My clients are all US based, so I have always loved the idea of being able to work from anywhere. I have family in the Karoo, so when my husband, James, had the brainwave “hey let’s build a Google office in Somerset East”, I thought, hell yeah.
We didn’t raise external investment. My family owns a piece of land in the centre of town which had a dilapidated old warehouse on it, and the most beautiful view of the mountain, so that really made it all possible.
VB: What specific challenges did you face while setting up the Karoo Tech Hub and how did you overcome these?
PK: At first I thought that renovating the warehouse would be a “slap on a roof and fix the floor” kind of thing, but it was a much bigger job in the end. There were building related stumbling blocks. And it also took a lot longer than we thought it would.
So my team was squashed in a tiny office for months, with no air con and the smell of cabbage wafting through the air vents (it was next to a restaurant). But like all challenges, they are eventually overcome with time and money.
VB: In your opinion, what makes the Karoo Tech Hub stand out?
PK: The fact that you can have a world-class career in the middle of nowhere. For people who want to enjoy country life and not compromise on their careers, we are proving every day that it can be done.
VB: How many people are currently making use of the hub?
PK: 20 to 30 people. A number of people also do shift work, (because they work) with Americans and Australians, so we are (running) 24/7.
VB: What innovative projects and work are being done at the Karoo Tech Hub?
PK: Everyone working at the tech hub works in a “nerdy” space — whether it be doing design, animation, online marketing or coding. We create animated videos for brands like Cisco, Emirates, Jewish Board of New York and World Bank in Washington. I just love the idea of working with all these big overseas brands and our animation team is in Somerset East.
Then the team working on Rubberstamp.io are building and marketing their really innovative software that helps companies control their expenses. They are managing over a $1-billion of spend each month for companies all over the world.
VB: Tell us about the infrastructure in place at the hub?
PK: Our architect, Philip Loots, designed it to seat 100 people. We have the usual — phone-call rooms, a boardroom, dining area. Then we have a few fun extras, like a stocked bar, a 21-seat cinema, basketball hoop, table tennis (table) and the best “stoep” in the world with a big braai. Oh, and a “grasperk” the size of a rugby field.
VB: Do you have any partners you are collaborating with on the Karoo Tech Hub?
PK: We have two overseas companies based at the tech hub, my own and Rubberstamp.io. We aren’t really trying to rent out desk space to local people, but are more interested in attracting overseas companies who want to have a South African based office and thus employ local people. We’ve also had lots of our overseas clients and colleagues come work with us. They like coming to the Karoo to enjoy the remoteness, but still like being able to whip out the laptop and catch up on their work.
VB: You work a lot with American tech companies and startups through your production company Piehole TV, what are the key lessons and influences that you have learned that you have channelled into the Karoo Tech Hub?
PK: Americans, and tech companies have a “get sh*t done” attitude. I believe this is the South African mentality too. We like that. That’s why we have our version “’n boer maak ‘n plan” painted on our boardroom wall.
VB: How would you say you have impacted lives in the community around the hub?
PK: We have created a number of previously unheard-of jobs in this Karoo town. Many of the talented people we’ve hired would have had to go to the city to find a job. One of the guys was packing bags at the Spar, but is now working as an online marketer. We train people up completely from scratch in skills such as production management, marketing, sales, customer support.
Even our cleaner at the tech hub is doing computer lessons and can do emails and word processing. We want to show people that if you have great English, an internet connection and a can-do attitude, you can work from anywhere.
VB: What’s the most exciting development; project or innovation that has taken place at the hub since it was established?
PK: It was my dream to build a cinema in Somerset East. During the renovation when budgets were exploding, some people were making noises about dropping the cinema idea. But luckily we have it today, with popcorn machine, so there can finally be movie nights in Somerset East. I still need to do a lot more, and would like to be the one who brings fibre internet to Somerset East.
VB: What can the SA government do to help initiatives like yours so they make a bigger impact?
PK: Give us fibre! We get about 3Mb to 6Mb per second (10 on a good day). Compare that to 1Gb speeds in Europe. Currently we have a number of staff members in other countries — Poland, Argentina, Spain, Ireland. If we had faster internet speeds in the Karoo, we could double or triple the amount of people in our Hub!
Featured image: Supplied