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Niven's story on... letting insights lead business direction

After completing his degree in economics, Niven found himself a little unclear on what he wanted to do next but what he did know was that getting a traditional corporate job was not for him, in his words, he was “Too disagreeable for that environment!”.  After some travels, dabbling in the role of social media for a yoga studio, moving into UX Design and Research, and a pivotal stint as a venture manager, Niven started to see a glimpse of what his future might hold.  

As the tale goes with many founders, his first venture way back when, didn't work out but exposed him to the inner workings of the startup world, learning very quickly what NOT to do.  He built further on these learnings in his subsequent roles as an employee.  

“I’ve always been interested in this dual economy that South Africa has where 80% of the population owns 10% of the capital and the different relationship each side has with finance and how they engage in the economy, with tech and finance, and so on.” 

Niven went on to satisfy his intrigue by returning to further his studies with a focus on analysis of financial markets and specifically aspects of financial inclusion .  This set Niven up for success as it proved to be instrumental in the spark that fueled the emergence of his business today: an employee time clock app for the blue collar worker.  

Niven reminds us of how important research and insight gathering is in the early stages of business, dedicating a lot of his time to speak to SME directors across varying blue collar domains.  His approach was very much focussed on how fast he could get feedback from the market and provide value with that feedback, to iterate, fine tune, and develop his business venture.  He spent a lot of time cold calling, identifying issues, and looking for opportunities in a sector that had become quite lacklustre in terms of employee needs.   Niven was quick to spot opportunity in time tracking blue collar workers in an efficient, user (and business) friendly way.  His business was born.  

What's a great business idea with no uptake?  Niven went back to his cold calling and secured a business that was willing to be his guinea pig and in return they would forever have his product for free.  They sure are smiling now!  He nailed the ability to bring user feedback into how he built a business from the ground up. 

“We basically built the business using our first customer as our use case.  Through that iterative process of understanding their problem, making sure we build value, and communicating this value proposition to potential clients”. 

But no entrepreneurial story goes quite so smoothly and it was no different for Niven.  Just as they were building up some steam all suddenly came to a halt when their system failed them.  New insights meant they had to go back to the start and rebuild to allow for fundamental requirements needed for this to be a success.  A complete pivot to address all issues, and a massive drive to onboard clients, Niven kept on keeping on to build a business that is not only thriving but one he is proud to represent.

Niven talks to the loneliness entrepreneurs feel in terms of the inevitable challenges they face where no one comes to pat you on the back to say ‘it's all going to be okay’.  There is no doubt in his mind that there is a lot of advice out there for Founders, however there seems to be a universally adopted fixed way to go about building a startup.  He believes these expected routes are completely right for many Founders, but not for all.  We forget each business is unique and he urges us to be cognizant of deciding what advice to take onboard because the outcome to the different routes we take can be very different. He advises us to take the advice that fits the life we want as a Founder.

“I struggle with bureaucracy and things moving slowly.  I’m the type of person who wants to get things done and I want to get it done right now and find a way to make it possible.  I realised that if I want to keep at a job as an employee I will always be renting my time out to earn a salary and obtain value. Owning my own business has always been something I wanted to do and I think the stars aligned to do that.”   

Niven regularly reminds himself why he started his business and his ‘why’ continues to inspire him and keep his business moving forward.  Both blue collar employees and their business owners are positively impacted by his unwavering dedication to his cause.  Nivan is a breath of fresh air to the blue collar sector.

“Solving niche challenges Founders face”.

Illustrator: Lisa Williams (Instagram: @artist_llw)


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