TUMISANG NDLOVU: In this week’s SME Corner by Moneyweb we speak to chief executive officer at Justpalm, Patrick Palmi.
PATRICK PALMI: Thank you very much.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: First let’s talk about your business. What exactly do you do? What is involved and entailed in Justpalm?
PATRICK PALMI: We are a mobile marketing agency and our reason for existence is very simple. Today everyone carries their mobile phone with them. It’s becoming a device that we cannot survive without. Sometimes when we leave home without it we feel so bad. This device has become such an important tool in our daily life that, as marketers, we have to learn how to use these devices to communicate with consumers and help them convert to becoming real customers. So that’s our reason for existence as an agency.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Interesting. How then did you land up in this particular space and grow as fast as you have, and put your fingers in many different countries?
PATRICK PALMI: I think the creativity has been one of my innovations. My background is in engineering so, strangely enough, I went from engineering to marketing. But marketing has always been something that I’ve loved, even when I was growing up. My father’s friend was a marketing director of a big company and I used to learn a lot from him out of curiosity – why marketing and why the existence of marketing? He used to teach me a lot.
So out of a passion I ended up working in marketing. But my background is engineering, so the creativity and the marketing side basically helped me to build this business, understanding from a marketing point where the gaps are and how to create solutions for that space.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: And the transition from engineering to marketing, how did you find that?
PATRICK PALMI: It’s been hard, I had to train myself. It wasn’t easy. I had to train myself to become a digital marketer, so I had to certify myself before going full-blown with the business. But I think it’s a learning and out of passion I think we do things a lot better when it’s done out of passion than going to school and learning something. So I think this is a typical case of a real entrepreneur who has learnt the hard way to build this business by passion.
Determination, despite initial failure in business
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Speaking of entrepreneurship, what did it take for you to start your own business?
PATRICK PALMI: My goodness, what a pain [laughing].
TUMISANG NDLOVU: [Laughing]
PATRICK PALMI: I had to “pay the school fees” for it. It’s a long story, my father funded my very first venture, which was a Wi-Fi marketing business. We would go into student residences at universities and install Wi-Fi with the hope of making money out of subscriptions from students. But that very first business failed.
So I “paid my school fees” and had to go back to my dad and say, Oops, this business failed. He said you have to make it happen; it doesn’t matter where exactly you lost it. So over a period of time I landed on digital marketing. That’s where my passion lay and we’ve built it from there.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Now, growing into a space where entrepreneurship is somewhat still a bit foreign to many people, what do you do? I own my own business, this is what I do, how did I land here? How has the market received you and your innovative ideas?
PATRICK PALMI: I think it’s been a tough ride. I must admit that we’ve been in business for seven years and successful for four years, so it took us three years of “school fees” and really preaching the gospel to get one big fish on board. I think innovation was the main element that literally opened up the door, the very first big door for us.
Since then we’ve learned the art of digital marketing. It’s been a rollercoaster, because we’ve been innovating all the time to stay on top of our competitors. But it took three years to get at least one big client on board.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: So what’s there to be said about patience in this game?
PATRICK PALMI: Indeed. And without that you can’t survive in this space. I think you have to have patience and you have to have the nerves to accept failures. I’m a big motivational speaker on social media as well, and I always tell people that you have to love what you do and you have to be patient with it and you really have to believe that one day it will definitely happen. A lot of people drop out along the way and I think this is the right example of someone who never gave up on their dream.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: What then are your views on the SME space in general but particularly here in South Africa? Do entrepreneurs have enough support, what is needed?
PATRICK PALMI: Let’s put it this way, we do a lot of business across Africa as well – so the Kenyan market, Nigeria, South Africa and a good bunch of other African countries. I think South Africa has a good platform for entrepreneurs to really grow compared to the rest of Africa, but I think we have to understand that in a lot of cases it becomes a bit of a difficult background, especially if you talk about black entrepreneurship.
If it’s total entrepreneurship I think South Africa is doing pretty well, but from a black entrepreneurship perspective I think there’s still a lot of education to happen because we have a lot more tenderpreneurs than real businesses that are building from nothing to something, to basically build a legacy for the kids and the grandkids to carry on. I think we still have a bit more work to be done in the sense of education, but we are getting there from a South African perspective, from a rest of Africa perspective. It’s a jungle out there.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: We still have a long way to go.
PATRICK PALMI: We still have a long way to go but we will definitely get there.
Building a business from nothing
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Funding is usually one of those challenges that a lot of entrepreneurs bring up. What are your views on the lack of funding, sustainability of funding and businesses crashing because maybe a supplier didn’t pay on time?
PATRICK PALMI: I’m always of the opinion that if you are running a business and you depend on funding then you should change your business. I totally believe that. I think we run into businesses that are not our core business because a real business comes from a passion. And if you are passionate about what you do you might have to start from nothing and build it from nothing to something. The best businesses in the world have been built from the ground up with no funding. Until you find an investor or a person who really believes in what you’ve done so far you shouldn’t go out there and build a business that depends totally on getting R100 000 from the bank or wherever, because then you are setting yourself up for failure.
But if you start a business with R1 000 or R5 000 or R10 000 or R30 000, then it means something to someone and an investor will be more than happy to come and put in money. So that’s where I also say that I think we still have a lot of education to happen in South Africa to tell the real story of how to build a real business.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Speaking about funding, how did you navigate your funding journey? Earlier you spoke about how your dad actually came in and said this is your first company and that failed, so how did you navigate around funding your business?
PATRICK PALMI: As I mentioned, the very first big fish that we actually had was an opportunity for me to prove myself, so I had to basically dig into my own savings to prove myself on the very first deal. Luckily enough it was a relatively good purchase order back then to prove myself, but I had to fund it myself, I had to dig into my savings to prove myself back then and get the first purchase order.
From then onward it was basically self-funded because I then had a big pay cheque so I could survive, and then after that we could fund the business as we wished. Hence, I always encourage people to basically build a business from nothing because then you have the sustainable muscle to actually grow to the next level.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: That said, how would you advise a young person who’s looking to go into entrepreneurship and hopefully thrive in that journey of doing so?
PATRICK PALMI: Go with your passion, go with your love, go with your heart. That’s the message. And never give up. I think we have to encourage people to do what they love the most because out of love comes passion, out of passion comes outperformance, and you can imagine that if you are doing something that you love you will think faster than any of your competitors. That’s where the problem starts because we try to go into ventures, especially as tenderpreneurs; we want to make quick money and that’s where we fail. So go with your love, go with passion and go with what your heart tells you and success will come definitely.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Most definitely. It’s been an absolute pleasure, thank you so much for your time.
PATRICK PALMI: Thank you very much.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: That was Patrick Palmi, chief executive officer at Justpalm in this week’s SME Corner by Moneyweb.