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Startup culture one of the most powerful things one can have – Michael Jordaan


Startup culture is one of the most powerful things any society can have says SA venture capitalist Michael Jordaan, who adds startups can help solve many of South Africa’s challenges.

“I hate to say it but the Americans get so many things wrong — including their president, including gun control and so on — but what they did get right is how they view startups, how they view failure that that’s a good thing and you can learn from that and start over, how corporates will sometimes buy small startups to sometimes get the talent inhouse,” says Jordaan.

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Presenting a talk last night to representatives from corporates, startups and other organisations at the Naspers building in Cape Town, the former FNB head admits that he now sees corporates as bureaucratic, full of internal politics and high costs and the “very, very last place” he would now want to be.

The talk titled “Leadership that Accelerates Innovation” was hosted by the Creative Leadership Collective — a members-based organisation that aims to facilitate greater innovation capabilities within large corporates.

It’s more fun to be solving problems like unemployment or textbooks not being delivered than working for a big corporate – Michael Jordaan

Jordaan — who these days has invested in several local startups through his firm, Montegray Capital — says when he was young he aspired to work in a large company which was popularly seen then as a “solid” and “professional” firm.

‘Startups are cool’

But he admits, it’s startups — firms with competent small teams solving real world problems — that he now sees as “cool”.

“It’s so much more fun to be solving I don’t know — unemployment or textbooks not being delivered — than working for a big corporate,” he says.

While startups may have smaller budgets and be squeezed for cash, Jordaan believes this to be a good thing because it forces one to be innovative. “They’re leveraging tech to an amazing degree. None of them are tech (firms) to the first degree, you just use tech to do things,” he adds.

Jordaan however still sees a role for well capitalised big businesses with well known brands. “Now imagine if you can get startup thinking into corporates and corporates were to work better with startups, which they don’t do in South Africa,” he says.

He says corporates can address the startups trend by either by starting new startup units linked to their businesses, infusing startup culture in their firms, or by partnering with startups themselves.

“Why I’m pretty positive is that I think we went through a very bad decade and the last 10 years have been pretty tough… I think the next decade is going to be pretty spectacular, there’s a lot of confidence returning.

“I think a whole lot of businesses that haven’t taken the decisions they should have being taken, they are more likely to take now because there’s a more stable economic environment,” he said.

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