Headcount growth within South African start-ups has grown by 20% in the past 12 months, with more predicted as 50% of South Africa’s most-experienced professionals vow to make their next move to a start-up.
The survey findings, from recruiter Robert Walters, follow on from a ‘record-breaking’ year for African start-ups raising over $4bn – where South Africa and Nigeria led the way.
With calls for labour laws to be made more flexible to help aid the growth of small businesses in the region – which currently represents over 60% of new job vacancies – the World Bank has billed start-ups as “the biggest job-creating opportunity in South Africa.”
Food for thought
Senior Manager from Robert Walters South Africa comments: “After any period of economic change, we typically see a wave of entrepreneurial or start-up activity. It doesn’t surprise me to hear of the success of these businesses.”
“Combine this with the support from the Future of Africa programme – an accelerator for start-ups helping young people find jobs – and we have a prime hotbed for fast-growth companies in emerging industries.”
“What is most interesting is how these relatively-new 10-30 person companies are managing to draw some of the region’s top talent away from established firms who typically offer much higher levels of job security.”
“Post pandemic we have seen a seismic shift in what professionals want from their employer – with purpose, culture, and people rated above competitive pay and the well mapped-out corporate ladder.”
Fastest Growing Start-ups by Headcount in South Africa
|Headcount Growth or No. of Employees
|The Sun Exchange
|Home-improvement and e-Commerce
|Blockchain and cryptocurrency
As the battle for the best and most experienced professionals wages on, a Senior Manager shares her thoughts on why start-ups are slowly but surely attracting the best talent away from big corporates.
1. The Career Accelerator – Start-Ups
With relatively flat structures and hands-on Founders & CEOs – new starters can find themselves lining up into the senior leadership team from day one.
By taking on several different responsibilities, and working closely with senior members of the team, working in start-up environments enable you to prove your worth early on. Moreso given that any output typically has a direct impact on the business.
Unlike within corporate structures, leaders will be able to see your involvement in a project’s initial stages through to completion, and as a result, the rate of advancement at start-ups tends to be much faster.
2. Scale-Up Mentality
Start-ups are designed to have high growth potential, hence it is not surprising to see that on average decisions are processed 4x quicker in a start-up than within a large firm (250+).
The changing and fast-paced nature of a start-up will keep employees on their toes, encouraging them to develop new skills as they go, and push boundaries beyond the initial job description.
Working for a start-up, you’ll understand how the whole company works and you’ll soon develop commercial acumen not expected of you when sitting lower down in corporate structures. Some start-up leaders argue that these on-the-job business lessons are better than an MBA.
Our survey found that 33% of professionals are leaving their corporate jobs so that they can ‘try something new’. In addition, a further 15% are looking to reskill.
3. Change Agent Culture – Start-up mindset
Being a start-up team member comes with great responsibilities. No matter what your title is, your work will make an impact on the company’s growth and success, and so in turn this will make you feel like the job you’re doing has an actual purpose. This is a huge motivation for most if not all.
A third of professionals (34%) state that the reason they moved to a start-up is for challenging and interesting work. In addition, many stated that the skills they adopted in self-management and task prioritisation then crossed over into their personal life.
Working for a fast-growth start-up can be an intense experience, so you’ll inevitably become more proactive and ambitious outside of work too. You’ll be constantly thinking about improving things, being more aware of problems and how to solve them, and becoming more open to new cultures and ways of thinking. You’ll also learn to love challenges and even look for them!
4. True Team Spirit – Start-Up style
Almost half of the professionals (42%) state that the most important value when looking for a future workplace is colleagues and a culture that inspires them to do their best – that’s why the company culture at start-ups is something to be valued.
Due to their smaller size, start-ups tend to foster a close-knit, collaborative environment, that encourages people to help where they can on tasks outside of their original remit.
You’ll be surrounded by highly hardworking, talented, and ambitious people willing to do the impossible. There is a huge motivation to learn from others and contribute with your own knowledge and experience.
Start-ups often favour a fluid structure over a rigid corporate-inspired hierarchy, enabling open discussion and cooperation between all team members. It is not surprising then to hear that 30% of professionals state that the most appealing thing about a start-up is the open but effective management structure.
5. Diversity in Every Sense of the Word
Start-ups have a core focus on finding the very best talent who can help achieve their ambitious goals, and as a result, remove any sort of socio-economic or geographical barriers to finding their “superstars”.
As a result, within a start-up, it is not surprising to come across all kinds of co-workers, from all kinds of nationalities, backgrounds, and ideologies – and due to the small nature of the teams, there will naturally be ample cross-over working with colleagues with different skill sets or working styles.
This strong multicultural environment can open your mind beyond work and tasks. This then leads employees to have a global vision.
And diversity doesn’t just rest with the people, it is safe to say that almost no two days are the same within a start-up. Typically, most members of the team have to juggle many hats and take on duties outside of their specific roles to contribute to the success of the wider business.
This diversity of tasks helps you to develop new skills very quickly, added to that you will often be learning directly from the founder of the company and/or senior employees.
This is an invaluable opportunity when you are in the early stages of your career. Not only will this keep you stimulated in your day-to-day role, but it will also allow you to find out what you are most interested in and discover what you are best at.
6. Putting the ‘I’ in Innovation for Start-Ups
Start-ups are different from traditional businesses primarily because they are grounded in disruptive innovation where they are created to address a perceived ‘problem’ in the market.
Joining a start-up means adopting an ‘out of the box’ mindset – an ability to think on your feet and get creative with smaller budgets and fewer resources.
Autonomy is not considered a perk within a start-up, but a given. In actuality, it is the reason why 28% of professionals leave a corporate job to join a newly established business.
It is not all ‘small-time’, in order to aid your creativity you’ll find yourself learning and using the most modern and innovative tools and platforms on a daily basis. While maybe shaky to start with, you’ll soon start to embrace and speak the ‘start-up language’ in no time!
7. Exit Strategy
Many start-ups have an ‘exit strategy’ in mind, which means you will be working towards an ambitious deadline right from the get-go.
Growth targets will be ambitious, however, should they become achieved by the team, they then stand to cash in from significant rounds of funding. Shares are then often offered as part of job packages as a way of competing with corporate pay.
At a start-up, your hard work can pay back sometimes 10x the amount you’d get in yearly corporate bonuses within 5-7 years of joining a fast-growth start-up. The key here is to join a business whose product and vision you will truly believe in.
Click here to download a copy of Act Like a Start-Up and Win the War on Talent.