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For Dhanyal Davidson leaving a successful career in finance and accounting to start a financial literacy platform was a no brainer — but it still leaves him wondering just what he got himself into.
“It was sort of now or never in my mind,” says Davidson (pictured above) who founded Digest RSA in June last year.
His company — which offers a free weekday email newsletter which selects, summaries and explains key financial news — is part of the SA Media Innovation Programme (Samip), from which the company was able to get an undisclosed grant from in January.
The $4-million three-year initiative aims to accelerate digital media innovators and to support new entrants and is funded by the Open Society Foundation of SA and Omidyar Network.
Digest RSA was named by Fast Company SA as one of 2017’s most innovative companies
But while his startup was named by Fast Company SA as one of 2017’s most innovative companies and is also part of the UCT’s Graduate School of Business Venture Incubation Programme — Davidson declined to disclose to Ventureburn just how many subscribers his newsletter has. He claims only that the newsletter reaches “thousands” of subscribers.
The startup, he says, currently generates revenue by consulting for financial services companies “who are trying to attract a millennial audience”.
‘Began as email to friends, family’
Davidson says his platform started off as a “very simple email being sent out to friends and family”.
“We used the first few months to refine our voice and brand personality as well as test out different visual formats and approaches. At the beginning, we were just two part-time employees — myself and our editor who still works on (the) Digest today,” he adds.
Davidson believes that financial news is “littered with jargon that can make it really unapproachable and overly complex” and says his family members would often ask him to explain what the news actually meant to them.
“I realised that this problem was something most South Africans experience. So, Digest began with intention of filling this gap by making financial news accessible to people via its simple and quirky style,” he explains.
Davidson initially funded the company with his own money. “When we started, I was still working fulltime as an equity analyst at PSG Asset Management. My salary there allowed me to cover most of Digest’s expenses — we operate very lean and our writers create content for the love of it,” he says.
The startup’s writers, he says, all work within the financial sector and are all “equally passionate” about democratising financial information and empowering South Africans’ financial decision making. “Digest gives them an avenue to do that, to some extent,” he says.
‘SAMIP put me in network’
He says having no background in journalism, the SA Media Innovation Programme (Samip) helped him to “understand the nuances of the space” and introduced the startup to the journalism network. “It’s been a guiding light for us as we grow,” added Davidson.
Commenting on the grant the startup got through the programme, Davidson said his startup was selected from a pool of about 200 media startups.
“The funding has given us runway to operate for two years and grow our presence in South Africa,” he said.
In a bid to grow his user base, Davidson is running a referral scheme which offers lucky readers vouchers from Superbalist and EasyEquities for sharing the newsletter with friends.
In addition, the company is looking to expand to other African countries, he said.
“We’re now building relationships with writers who can cover content specific to other African countries. This will allow us to appeal to a wider audience and relate our content to people wherever they are on the continent,” he explains.
But he says he still lies awake at night wondering just exactly what he has got himself into, starting his own business.
“I often fall into a trap where I feel as though I’m falling behind in my career. On top of that, I think any entrepreneur will at some point or another ask themselves ‘what have you gotten yourself into?’ Some days that question is louder and more anxiety-provoking than others,” says Davidson.
Featured image: Digest RSA founder Dhanyal Davidson (Supplied)