The fact that just the mention of the word ‘entrepreneur’ is enough to get Stuart Minnaar’s attention is testament to his passion for the subject. Minnaar is a budding entrepreneur and recent regional winner of the SAB Kickstart competition (which gives grants to developing businesses), and says that “if I’m excited by something, I’m in”. It is this enthusiasm and passion that led to the creation of his online marketing company, Studentology.
Studentology is a two-fold concept. On the one hand it connects businesses and their brand to the student market, on the other it is an online community of students which provides free online services to meet students’ needs; for example finding accommodation, buying and selling textbooks, and student classifieds. Really everything that the average student requires, Studentology provides. Before the launch of Studentology, students had to rely on word of mouth or primitive means of communication such as pasting notices on campus notice boards.
It wasn’t a straightforward path to starting a business from an idea, but Minnaar says the journey has certainly been rewarding. Born in Johannesburg and raised in Paarl, Minnaar always had a sense that his life would not fit the mould of “normal”, and he always seemed to be on the outside of the box.
Minnaar studied a BSC in geomatics (the study of spatial engineering), but by his third year was skipping class to attend marketing lectures, which he had developed a keen interest in. “When I was a scholar I had not been exposed to all the possibilities that were available, I suppose no-one is really, but I believe that one makes a decision based on the information that you have at your disposal. You should expose yourself to as much as possible to discover what exactly it is that resonates with you,” he said.
While studying his BSc he started arranging events and promotions at the night club where he worked, as well as co-ordinating fashion shows. “I was drawn to anything ‘businessy’. I was approached by the father of one of the models, who ran his own business, to grow the event and promotions arm of his company, and then spent two years basically running and understanding how a medium-sized business functions. Through this I started initiating business ideas in the student market. One of which was the production of annual campus hoodies.”
After quitting his job working in a medium-sized firm, Minnaar decided to explore the world of entrepreneurship. This however took some planning. At the end of August 2009, he spent a month in Port Elizabeth, using the time to break away from his reality and to strategise on how to turn the idea of Studentology into a business. Knowing that being in business would become his profession and always keen on self-development, he decided to take the leap into the AIM programme at the UCT Graduate School of Business. “I’m somewhat obsessed with getting my MBA, and more specifically, getting it from the UCT Graduate School of Business. Unfortunately I knew that at my age and with my limited experience, getting into an MBA programme would be impossible. So the AIM programme came about as part of the path towards that. I am an advocate for the AIM programme (or any of the GSB programmes) as it a catalyst for anyone’s personal and profession growth.
Minnaar said that the AIM programme has provided him with a strong foundation for acute business acumen. He launched Studentology at the same time as he enrolled at the GSB, and it was the AIM programme that gave him the confidence, ability and vocabulary to ensure Studentology was taken seriously, as well as functioning successfully. “It is because of AIM that I am prepared for the immense challenges that running Studentology presents; the many challenges I face every day; I have learnt to navigate them to the utmost of my ability. Besides the business and management skills they teach, it is the core of my beliefs. It was while studying with other students that I realised how much I enjoyed teaching; my method of studying is to teach through doing, so that I learn the work for myself,” he said.
Minnaar now lectures part time, two days a week at TSiBA (Tertiary School in Business Administration), for the pure enjoyment of it and for the energy it gives him.
“My next goal is definitely to do a MBA at the GSB. I am currently preparing for the GMAT (MBA entrance exam) in preparation for the exams in September. So 2012 will be the year of the MBA, then 2013 is the year of ploughing what I learned during the MBA year back into Studentology and growing the business; my goal is to reach 25 percent of the 1, 2 million student market in South Africa and then to venture into the broader African continent.”
Minaar believes that “to succeed as a young entrepreneur you need to be incredibly strong and have resilience second to none, but if you can succeed, the rewards are tremendous. There is no feeling quite like of hearing someone talk about an idea that you came up with that has been turned into a business.
Talk is cheap; just get out there take a (calculated) leap of faith and trust your gut. If you fail, it is fine. You now have more information and experience about how not to fail the next time around. What you focus on expands. Go. Be. Do.