Siyabonga Tiwana, Co-founder of Skywalk Innovations
 
 
 
 
 

Siyabonga Tiwana, Co-founder of Skywalk Innovations

Dec 21, 2021

Tell us about how you got started.

After graduating with a National Diploma at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, both myself and my business partner Tyrone Adams were working for different companies for about 5 months. At the time, Cloud Computing and Mobile Technology were the buzz words. Most of the solutions providers were mostly from developed countries and targeting large corporations in the African continent, therefore our mission was to service small, micro and medium enterprises with technology solutions. We started off by customizing open-source technologies to repurpose it for the needs of the small businesses. We built the business with no funding, no quality network, but with just limited resources. We only needed access to the internet and a computer.

What makes your company unique?

We are on a mission to build what we call Africa 3.0, where we empower individuals and Startups to build Innovative technology solutions that will compete at a global scale with the limited resources we have in the continent, such as access to funding, quality internet, etc. We are doing this by walking the journey with the Innovators and assisting them through technology. We are not just a technology consulting firm, however we become your technology partner.

 

No business is without setbacks, can you tell us about a time when you faced a significant setback and how you recovered from it?

Late 2015 and heading to the first quarter of 2016 we came into a partnership with a company that promised to bring more clients to us because they have been in operation for longer than us, and they were already doing work in the government space and so they were looking to partner with a black owned software development company like ours. Initially, they wanted to take a 50% equity stake in Skywalk Innovations, but we were advised otherwise by our mentors, therefore we ended up creating a new entity where we took 50% stake, and their company also took 50% on the new entity. Things didn’t work out because we ended up sourcing the work ourselves and did the work also. Then we decided to part ways, and that separation ended up costing a lot of money that we never recovered to this day. We learned to do proper due diligence before making a commitment to any new opportunity. Lesson learned: Do not be too desperate enough to rush to make decisions on opportunities that are too good to be true. As they say, a divorce is more expensive than saying “I do” and signing the agreements. Always seek advice from people that have been running businesses for many years than you do.

How do you define success and to what do you attribute your success?

Personally, success is building a great company culture that makes people want to come work for Skywalk Innovations, and having our existing customers grow their businesses because of our help. There are many people that are working in toxic environments, and they do not enjoy their jobs, and there are many companies paying so much money on tech consulting firms, but they are not extracting as much value because they are just another client to them. Our mission is to build a global technology innovation hub that will build many African Unicorns in the continent.

What's next for your business, what will it look like in 5 years?

We are heavily investing in scaling our business in the African continent. We are building strategic partnerships with local players, as well as building relationships with Venture Capital firms that are looking at investing in cutting edge technology in the African market. We are only able to build Unicorns when we invest in three aspects: Education, Innovation and Finance. Continuously Investing to educate our engineers, early-stage startups on product development and go to market strategies, etc. Ability to Innovate and take products to market quicker and in a cost-effective approach, we will achieve this by embracing collaborations in the continent. Lastly, we will achieve this by reinvesting all our profits back to business on product development, upskilling the team and acquiring more valuable assets.

What do you think the future holds for Africa-focused entrepreneurs and advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

This is absolutely the best time for African Startups because we are now living in one massive community. The pandemic opened doors for more collaborations and investments. You can literally do work with anyone in the world much more efficiently than before, you can attend global events at the comfort of your home. The Western countries are looking at investing in emerging African Startups that are bringing cutting edge and innovative solutions. I would advise Startups to think beyond their respective country of origin, the universe is open for business, therefore we should build with scale in mind.

Owning a business while balancing a personal life can be challenging; how do you take care of yourself?

This is a very difficult question, but I got to learn how entrepreneurs evolve along their journey. There is that hustle, sleepless nights, 18 hours work week phase. Sometimes this may take about 2 - 4 years, this is where you begin to hire employees, establish a company culture, understand your customers better, understand your offering and unique selling proposition. At this stage almost everything gets compromised because the business takes pretty much all your time. Then there is the second phase where you know about what you are building and your business model. Your business can operate without you at this level, you know how entrepreneurs cannot afford to take a week off because they think their business will collapse. However, you need to have built a management team here that can make sound decisions. This is also a stage where you can balance your personal and business life because you have a team of dedicated people to help you run the business. There is a 3rd phase which is where I am currently at, this is where you begin to have board members on the business to help you scale your business to another level. You get to work twice as hard on this phase also, as much as scalability will be exciting, traveling to many countries frequently, one will have to force themselves to balance both personal and business because you can easily be carried away.

What is your favorite quote or mantra?  What keeps you going?

“Stay hungry, stay foolish” - Steve Jobs No matter how much profit you make on other financial years, keep maintaining your lifestyle and stop acting wealthy. You certainly do not know everything, therefore maintain a mindset of a toddler and be a sponge all the time, essentially you must be coachable. "When times are really bad, we forget they ever going to be good again, and when times are really good, we forget they going to be bad again" Tilman Fertitta This means that you must always maintain your emotions when running a business, great and bad days are guaranteed, you just need to learn to manage them.  

What is your favorite app or a business tool that you can't live without

- Slack - Trello - Xero - Bit.ly - Google Suite (Drive, Slides, Forms, etc) - Easy Equities - LinkedIn and WhatsApp - Uber and AirBnB