This startup wants to help close Africa’s skills gap

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LinkdPro founders, Eugene de Beer and Scelo Makhathini

LinkdPro founders on making the sourcing of top independent professionals “as easy as buying airtime”

Scelo Makhathini (29) and Eugene de Beer (27) are the founders of LinkdPro, which they describe as Africa’s first on-demand digital platform which connects experienced independent professionals with companies looking for specialist industry expertise on a project basis.

The professionals on the platform range from strategy consultants and on-demand CFOs to ex-investment bankers and various industry experts.

The Johannesburg-based founders are very clear that LinkdPro is not a social network, but rather a niche skills marketplace and one that is desperately needed in Africa.

“Sixteen of the twenty six fastest growing economies globally are in Africa. Africa’s economic boom over the past decade has presented the continent with the challenge of providing the skills necessary to drive growth in key industries that are set to boom.

“A huge gap between the demand and supply of skilled professionals with specialised experience in top-tier firms exists in the healthcare, oil and gas, information technology, engineering, education, telecommunications and financial services sectors,” says Makhathini.

“Clients are able to access top consulting talent with the same skill and rigorous approach offered by top consulting firms at a fraction of the cost”

They are also capitalising on a growing working trend – people seeking more flexible working arrangements.

“Freelancing is where the world is actually going.

“The workplace is changing and technology is fueling a lot of the changes we are seeing in how people work,” says Makhathini.

‘As easy as buying airtime’

The recruitment process for top tier professionals is traditionally one fraught with challenges as the market of experienced independent professionals is very fragmented and no local marketplace exists for them to market their skills, say Makhathini, a qualified chartered accountant with investment banking experience.

It hasn’t helped that many African countries also lose top talent because of “brain drain,” he adds.

Along with my co-founder, de Beer, a computer scientist with experience developing scalable and concurrent web applications for large enterprises, they developed LinkdPro with the hope of making sourcing of top independent professionals “as easy as buying airtime.”

SME South Africa speaks to the founders about how the market has embraced their innovation and how they are democratising access to skills on the African continent.

On gaining customers 
Market reception has been overwhelming, particularly from independent professionals who clearly understand the value proposition. This is also evidenced by the sheer number of applications we get per day. We have signed up in excess of 100 top independent professionals in just over 3 months of launching and application numbers are increasing every day.

What has been surprising is the fact that some clients hear about us from employees and give us a call to try out our offering.

On their value proposition
Clients like the on-demand, cost-effective and flexible delivery model which challenges the rather unquestioned dominance of big professional services firms, particularly big consulting firms who charge exorbitant fees.

Clients are able to access top consulting talent with the same skill and rigorous approach offered by top consulting firms at a fraction of the cost. Our consultants deliver project-based work efficiently without the overheads of traditional professional services firms, enabling our clients to have greater control over their consulting spend resulting in greater ROI. We give our clients consulting ‘unbundled’ – why pay for a project team when you only need one person to deliver the project cost-effectively?

On financing and funding
LinkdPro is self-funded at the moment and in the process of raising Series A funding.

On industry challenges
Being involved in a startup, particularly a tech startup, is a difficult task. You have to get early buy-in from all the stakeholders. We are lucky in that our concept resonates with a lot of people.

Most professionals want to be independent and work on their own terms, professionals want a work-life balance and are drawn to the financial reward associated with working independently.

We have also learnt to be more out there and constantly engage with all the stakeholders in the value chain, not only to enhance our offering, but to make sure that our offering addresses the pressing needs of our clients and consultants.

“Contrary to popular belief, there is still quite a huge shortage of first-class developers on the African continent”

On competition and staying ahead
LinkdPro is the very first of its kind in South Africa and on the rest of the African continent – focusing on very niche and hard-to-hire specialised skills.

There are a few existing platforms in the international market we’ve come across, but these are either too generalist in nature (i.e. anybody can offer their skills on the platform) or tend to prioritise developed markets and offer few project opportunities for independent professionals in Africa.

On challenges and hurdles
IT skills. Contrary to popular belief, there is still quite a huge shortage of first-class developers on the African continent. Our speed of execution would have been dramatically improved if we had the right IT skills. Access to highly specialised skills in terms of business strategy, investor pitch materials, financial modelling, fund raising, marketing strategy, monetization, scalability and growth hacking was also amongst the challenges we encountered.

On getting the name out there
We have a very strong business development team in-house which we are still growing.

PR and communications (using platforms such as radio, TV, tech publications and other medium) is also another avenue we are using to get the word out there and market our offering.

As a digital platform, we are also very active on social media and have engaged the services of a very good social media service provider in this regard.

The biggest surprise about being a startup founder
It’s lonely. You definitely need someone to talk to in order to sometimes validate your thinking and give constructive criticism. Entrepreneurs are restless and they are also thinking, sometimes you need someone to just tell you that, “you are really mad now, that’s such a silly idea”.

“Never let people who have never done anything tell you that you can’t do it”

When we knew we could succeed
When we saw that the problem of sourcing qualified independent professionals was becoming a frustrating issue for clients. The problem was becoming very dire.

Also the downturn in the global economy played a huge factor in giving us validation that LinkdPro was an idea whose time has really come – businesses want to control their consulting spend and are happy to opt for a cost-effective and flexible model.

On success factors
Discipline and passion for solving complex problems.

On South Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem
A sense of urgency/speed of execution is still lacking in the South African entrepreneurial ecosystem. As entrepreneurs we also need to stop looking for handouts or favours, particularly when it comes to funding – start where you are with what you have and make sure that you generate cash flow to help fund businesses that you really want to start.

Where we want to be in the next two years
We want to be the go-to skills marketplace for niche and hard-to-hire expertise for project-based work on the African continent. The focus right now is to make sure we gain traction in South Africa and the rest of the continent fairly quickly.

Words of wisdom for other entrepreneurs
Just do it, and never let people who have never done anything tell you that you can’t do it.

What we wish we had known starting out
Decision makers in business are always in meetings, which makes getting your foot in the door a little bit challenging.

credit – smesouthafrica.co.za

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