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Updated 03 Jul 2020

How South African entrepreneurs can successfully expand up North

If you are seeking to grow your business into the rest of Africa, you may need to play by some different rules. These three entrepreneurs share their cross-border success stories.

16 June 2018  Share  0 comments  Print

All the answers to your unique business lifestage questions

Successfully penetrating the African market is no easy feat. Countless businesses have done it, but fewer have prospered. 

As more South African businesses realise the importance of expanding into the continent as part of their growth strategy, experts advise against rushing expansion plans simply because your business is successful locally:

"Companies have failed in their African expansion bids or are paying a very high price for entering into territories,”notes Theodore Josias, head of Africa expansion at SizweNtsalubaGobodo.“Many don’t understand that simply transplanting products and services from one market into another does not necessarily mean they will be successful.”

Related: How we learnt to do business across borders

However, there are ways to achieve success beyond the borders of South Africa. Just ask the founders of these digital, fast food and stationery entrepreneurs that started locally and then took on the challenge and ventured across Africa:

1. Bruce Dube: MD, Nine80 Digital

Being one of Forbes’ Top 30 Entrepreneurs in Africa and Top Global Changemakers in the world, Dube knows and caters to the needs his target audience, through effective content strategies, consistency and a clear revenue model. The success of his pan-African digital media publishing company in countries including South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe has taught him to seek opportunities in the midst of trials.

Embrace the challenges 

“Starting up, I had a series of failures, and from those failures I learned to persevere and keep pushing for my dream until it became a reality,” says Dube. “I think most South African and African youth see constraints faced by the continent as challenges and not as opportunities. Africa is a continent filled with many challenges but has natural resources and human capital potential that, if tapped into, enables advancement from an infrastructure and employment point of view.”

2. Stelios Nathanael: Founder and CEO, Chesa Nyama

Launched in 2012, the braaied meat franchise today has a footprint of more than 300 franchises across South Africa and a 3 000-strong workforce. Nathanael has also successfully managed to expand further into Africa, specifically in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Swaziland and Mozambique.

Partner with the right people

“I’d have to say getting the right partners or master licensees, you don’t want to start with the wrong people on the ground and see it fail, only to have to try again with someone new,” says Nathanael. “It’s important to have people with the same vision and passion for the brand.”

Related: Grow your business in Africa using a free trade zone

3. Muriel Jansen: CEO, Tracktone 

Seven years ago, Jansen bought out her partner in their struggling business, and today she’s turned it around into one of the preferred suppliers of ink and other stationery locally, and in Zambia and Namibia. Jansen is planning on expanding further afield into Africa on a larger scale.

Know your market 

“Market research on which products to expand with, and in which markets, is very important,” Jansen says. “A company should always be looking at ways to diversify and add complementary products and services to its basket, but you also need to guard against too much diversification, which could lead to your clients becoming confused about your offerings. Understanding how Africa works and the impact it could have on our current business is key to our success there.”


When planning your expansion, it’s important to remember that Africa is not a homogenous continent. Cultures, languages and laws differ from country to country, so you cannot apply the lessons learnt in one region to another.

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