Controversial or not, these SA entrepreneurs launched or invested in a startup this year [Updated]

UPDATE (27 December 2019):  In this article we initially had it that SA entrepreneur Eran Eyal, who was convicted of fraud earlier this month in a New York court, had a stake in US online dating company Aligned Signs. We were subsequently contacted via email by the company’s CEO and founder Jessica Baker who said Eyal is no longer involved with the company.  

“Eran started to assist me at Aligned Signs in 2016, where he helped me with many aspects of the business over time.

“Recently, Eran stepped down from his involvement with Aligned Signs, and gave up his earned shareholding to protect the future of the company,” Baker said.

This year, 2019, was full of drama — some of it involved various well-known faces launching their new startup. They include two sports stars, a SA tech entrepreneur convicted of fraud in the US and “Sushi King”, Kenny Kunene.

Ventureburn lists five big names that either launched startups this year, or announced that they had invested in one.

Next year this list may include one more big name — that of venture capitalist and former FNB CEO Michael Jordaan, when his digital bank, Bank Zero finally launches.

In November the bank announced that it’s closer to launching operations to the public, after having completed its core value proposition and having gone live with its debit card.

The bank said in a statement in March that it expected to launch in the second half of 2019. Jordaan put the delay down to a decision by he and his colleagues to “build the entire IT software stack ourselves” (see this story). Fair enough.

In the meantime check these five guys out:

Gil Oved and Ran Neu Ner

Late last year news broke that former Vodacom executive Romeo Kumalo and one time Shark Tank presenter Gil Oved planned to launch LLH Capital, a $200-million tech fund (see this story).

As of August this year the fund had concluded two deals, but Kumalo and Oved won’t reveal who they’ve invested in (see this story).

In October it emerged that Kumalo and Oved were at the centre of a legal battle, in which the pair’s former business partners allege that the two cut them out of a multi-million rand Vodacom deal (see this story).

The allegations form part of an ongoing legal dispute launched against Oved and Kumalo in November last year by Oved’s former business partner, Creative Council co-founder Ran Neu-Ner (pictured above, right with Oved), and Kumalo’s former friend, former Supersport CEO Happy Ntshingila (see this story).

While LLH is named in Neu-Ner and Ntshingila’s affidavit, Kumalo and Oved claim that the “LLH” the two refer to in their affidavit shouldn’t be confused with the brand name LLH Capital which they are currently raising capital for using the registered entity King Supreme of which Kumalo and Oved are the only directors. “It’s an operating entity while we raise capital for LLH,” explained Oved at the time.

Eran Eyal

While it emerged earlier this year that convicted fraudster, SA entrepreneur Eran Eyal is a shareholder and co-founder in a new US dating website, Aligned Signs it has since emerged that he is no longed involved with the company.

Eyal, the former founder of Springleap and Shopin, was earlier this month convicted in a New York court of defrauding investors of millions of dollars through three investment schemes — including a $42.5-million initial coin offering (see this story) run by Shopin.

While he won’t serve jail time, he will have to pay back $600 000 to investors he defrauded, among other penalties, including having to step down as CEO of Shopin.

In August Eyal detailed the new startup in a blog post and in November spoke about the startup, along with co-founder Jessica Baker, on a show on LA Talk Radio. Aligned Signs uses the Myers-Briggs assessment and astrology, to best match couples.

It’s not clear what stake Eyal has in the startup,which is listed on Crunchbase as being founded in 2012 by Baker. Eyal is listed on Crunchbase as the startup’s director of strategy, having joined the company in March 2016.

However Ventureburn was contacted via email by Baker who said Eyal is no longer involved in the company.

“Eran started to assist me at Aligned Signs in 2016, where he helped me with many aspects of the business over time.

“Recently, Eran stepped down from his involvement with Aligned Signs, and gave up his earned shareholding to protect the future of the company,” Baker said.

Meanwhile, earlier this month Eyal had new charges laid against him, by the US’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for defrauding investors in an initial coin offering (ICO) that raised more than $42-million from hundreds of investors (see this story).

If convicted of these new charges, he will be banned from serving any management role in any US company. It’s not clear how this will affect his investment in Aligned Signs.

As part of the charges, the SEC alleges that Eyal misappropriated investor funds for his personal use, including at least $500 000 used for rent, shopping, entertainment expenses and a dating service. It’s unclear if the dating service is connected to Aligned Signs or not.


Jean de Villiers and Dylan des Fountain

Former Springbok rugby captain Jean de Villiers and former Lions rugby player Dylan des Fountain (pictured above, far left and far right, respectively with fellow founders Wouter Lombard and Dylan’s wife Joy) earlier this year launched their new startup MyFanPark.

The startup’s platform, which went live in May, allows fans to receive video messages from local sports stars and celebrities (such as comedians and musicians, among others) via messaging platform Whatsapp.

For example, fathers can use the service to send a video clip of their son’s favourite sports star before their son is about to play a big match.

Presently 181 celebrities and sports stars have registered active profiles, Des Fountain told Ventureburn last week (also see this earlier story).

It’s been quite a year for Des Fountain. In June, two years after revealing that he and a team were preparing to launch another new startup, Slipztream — his app (which he launched with his wife Joy) finally went live (see this story).

De Villiers is currently also involved in another startup called Faces on Numbers, together with his brother Andre-Louis. The logo was carried on the Springbok jerseys at the World Cup.

For the past 10 years he’s also held a stake in Safe-T which also holds equity in Truck Assist. The company sells tracking services, which includes a hardware component.


Rob Paddock

After exiting his education platform GetSmarter for over $100-million to US company 2U in 2017, Rob Paddock is back with a new startup — an entirely online high school. And he has big aims — to educate 100 000 students over the next 10 years (see this story).

Getting Getsmarter ready for exit was no easy thing. Earlier this year Paddock told Ventureburn how he “burnt himself into the ground” on his way to closing one of the biggest deals ever in SA’s tech startup sector and scaling the company he started in 2008 with his brother Sam (see this story).

His latest endeavour — Valenture Institute, which he began working on in December last year — is an entirely online school for high-school students (grades 9 to 12) which is aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The company’s marketing site was launched on 3 September and the school was expected to open applications for 2020 admissions in September.

The first cohort is expected to start in January next year, with learners initially drawn from the UK, South Africa and neighbouring countries. Classes will for now be conducted in English. The school aims to educate 100 000 students over the next 10 years.

Kenny Kunene

In April SA businessman and former “Sushi King” Kenny Kunene was in the news again — this time over a new ride-hailing startup he’s invested in.

This, after he announced in March that he had invested an undisclosed amount in Johannesburg based Yookoo Ride, a firm that was founded in 2017 by Temesgen Tesfay. At the time the Ethiopian told Ventureburn that he’d netted R20-million from investors for the startup.

Kunene is listed on the startup’s website as the company’s managing director.

When speaking to Ventureburn at the time, Tesfay then let slip that he is embroiled in a legal dispute which involves a kidnapping and theft of the company’s intellectual property (IP).

He said he had taken the firm’s former Ethiopian and South African business partners to court, alleging that at beginning of last year they kidnapped him and forced him to hand over the firm’s IP to them, by forcing him to provide them with passwords to his web platform, among other things (see this story).

Kunene isn’t worried. When approached for comment at the time, he said he remained confident in the ride-hailing startup he’s invested in.

Editor’s note (27 December 2019): We updated this listicle to include MyFanPark’s latest number of celebrity sign-ups, a figure provided by the startup’s co-founder Dylan des Fountain to Ventureburn last week.



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Ventureburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.