NASTASSIA ARENDSE: Every Wednesday I have what I call the Wednesday Conversation. This time I spoke to Natan Pollack and Dan Brotman from En-novate. En-novate is a company that believes South African SMEs and business professionals need to start becoming more globally competitive, and they tell you how they are doing it in partnership with Investec.
DAN BROTMAN: En-novate is a company that Natan and I started two years ago. What we saw happening around the world was the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Things are changing rapidly with the kind of industries that are suddenly emerging. Two years ago we really felt that South Africa needed to be ahead of the curve and it needed to really understand the global trends that can be brought back home in order to start great companies here.
So what we do is we take South African professionals and entrepreneurs all over the world to look at the future of their industry, to look at what type of business opportunities and technologies can help enhance what they do here.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: Natan. how did the two of you meet because you started the business a couple of years ago?
NATAN POLLACK: We were actually both involved in tuition of non-profit organisations. I was the head of the South African Union of Jewish Students, and Dan was the head of an organisation called SAIF – the South Africa Israel Forum – and we collaborated on a trip together. Actually not in the entrepreneurial space. Through our journey together, we realised that Israel was one of the high-tech leaders of the world, and we started doing more stuff in the entrepreneurial space there.
But we very quickly realised that there is a whole world of innovation out there and we wanted to try and find which countries or cities we believed led in specific sectors. Our goal was to connect people from those sectors in South Africa to global best practice around the world.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: So Dan, in the early days of the business, do you remember what it was like? Was it tough, was it easy?
DAN BROTMAN: In the early days of the business, we really needed to prove concept. Being so far from the rest of the world, a lot of people in South Africa said why do we need to go overseas and see the latest technology. We can just go on YouTube and we can just read about it.
But something we kept reiterating is that the real world happens in the real world. In order to build meaningful business relationships with people in different countries you really need to go see what they do, meet them in person and look how you can collaborate. So proving the concept was definitely I think the biggest challenge in the beginning, in convincing people that it was worthwhile taking that time out their busy schedules to go…industry.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: Speaking of collaboration, you are partners with Investec. How did that deal come together, Natan?
NATAN POLLACK: Investec were the original people who backed the idea of taking South Africa’s top emerging entrepreneurs out of the country. As I said, we started the programme in Israel, and we had done a couple of these Israel trips before Dan and I realised we wanted to really globalise the product.
And so naturally we went to them and told them about our idea. We went straight to the CEO, Stephen Koseff. I believe he is really visionary in his approach to the working world and he loved the idea. And so Investec and EDT, the Entrepreneurship Development Trust, were a shareholder in the business and they started it with us.
So we are based in the building, we are working very closely with them, both with the CSI portfolio doing these entrepreneur trips, but also I’ve now started doing stuff internally and for their top clients.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: Dan, what about the partnership with Natan makes you two the ideal partners in the business? How do you leverage off each other’s personality, background, skills, etc?
DAN BROTMAN: I think that in terms of skill sets we have complementary skills. Natan is a big ideas guy, so Natan is able to look really into the future and envision what things can look like. And then I’m very much in the micro. Now, what are we going to do to get there?
So Natan is bigger picture, I’m a little bit more micro. Natan has a finance background, I have much more of an operations background. So I think that our skills sets are definitely complementary.
But what I do think we definitely, definitely share is a passion for the world. When we look at opportunities, we look at a map of the world. There’s almost nowhere that Natan and I aren’t willing to go to visit. When we visit new countries we do whatever it takes to meet leaders in respective fields. We knock on their doors, we wait outside their offices. We have crazy stories about the types of people we were able to meet on our various adventures.
So I think that Natan and I show the term “chutzpah”. We are willing to do whatever it takes to build a great business and to help people look to the future.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: Natan, because Dan is based in Cape Town and you in Johannesburg, and people who are friends and partner together most of the time butt heads and you don’t agree on each other’s strategies or ideas. How do you guys make sure that the relationship still remains tight professionally and on a friendship base, even though the two of you are far from each other? How often do you guys talk?
NATAN POLLACK: I think what’s really important is to understand that through a business partnership you often are going to form quite a deep friendship. You spend a lot of time together and travel together. For sure, Dan has become one of my best friends through this venture. But what we found actually worked really nicely is to lay out almost like a code of conduct. So when you are switching between friendship and business, what are the rules of engagement for business? So we, as simply as that, wrote down the ten things that are really important to us to govern our relationship. And that’s really helped us govern our relationship.
It’s natural that you are going to have flare-ups now and then. We are very passionate people about what we do and we have strong opinions. But you’ve got to just understand people’s limits and understand that you are never doing anything with intent to harm the other.
For the full interview, listen to the second podcast at the head of this transcript.