Interview with Jason Elk, CEO of Zoopy

2008 June 27
by Ismail Dhorat

Yesterday we covered the announcement by Zoopy, that Vodacom had invested and taken up a 40% stake in Zoopy, one of the few major web 2.0 Investments in South Africa. I thought it would be useful to catch up with Jason Elk, Ceo and founder of Zoopy for an Interview.

You launched Zoopy a little over a year ago, can you tell me what inspired you and the founders to launch the company?

We started Zoopy after years of background in various forms of online marketing. We wanted to take our ideas on how to improve other sites and consolidate them into a site that brought videos, photos, podcasts (audio) and blogs (text) together into one easy-to-use platform. And, at the same, create a living archive for South African and African multimedia, across events and places that are important to the citizens of this continent. As we move forward with more and more users from around the world, this will naturally extend globally.

When you initially launched did you find any difficulty in obtaining funding or gaining interest from investors and how did you over come this?

Until Vodacom invested, we were completely self-funded. Thankfully, we didn’t have to look too long for the partner we had hoped for. It was obviously the right time and right place for both Vodacom and Zoopy. Oprah likes to say that luck is where hard work meets opportunity and I think that’s exactly what happened here.

Can you tell me a bit about your background, what were you doing before Zoopy and how did you get involved?

After studying advertising, I worked for an international online marketing group for six years and headed up their online web initiatives team. I then moved to a small digital advertising agency before starting an online marketing consultancy. This soon evolved into applying my ideas to a self-owned project, which is where Zoopy.com was born.

What is your most proudest moment?

I’ve had a few proud moments along the way, including Nokia selecting Zoopy as their regional imaging partner for South and West Africa, but the proudest moment by far was today – releasing the news that Vodacom has invested in Zoopy.

More recently in addition to the Nokia partnership, Zoopy was selected to host videos for the Mail & Guardian, What advice would you give to entrepreneurs on making the right partnerships?

Choose your partners carefully, based on an even benefit to both parties. Don’t take the first opportunity that comes along just because you need the money or exposure. Think long-term, set goals and make sure the partner is on the same page strategically. If you have a choice, the bigger brand names obviously add enormous credibility to your venture, but don’t sacrifice everything you’ve worked for just because they’re big and you’re small. If you believe you have value, say so and fight for it.

The Vodacom deal is an investment with a minority stake in the company. Is it advisable for entrepreneurs to keep a controlling stake rather then a complete buyout, what are your thoughts?

This is something each business needs to decide for themselves. In our case, we had a strong strategy of our own from the start, which we still believe is the best road forward for Zoopy. Because of this, we were only prepared to sell a minority stake in the business. Vodacom’s 40% is still substantial enough to give them enormous input and derive significant value, so everyone wins. Other companies may feel differently, especially when faced with an attractive investment offer. It’s all about deciding what suits you and your ambitions for yourself as a shareholder and the company as a whole.

What are the challenges faced as a South African based startup when it comes to media exposure globally, considering that most of the top blogs cover mostly Silicon valley startups?

This is a very good question and something we’ve faced head on in the past. Unless you have a business or an angle that is entirely unique, it’s difficult to break through the hundreds of story ideas that sites like Mashable or Techcrunch receive on a daily basis. That said, the fact that we’re from Africa is already a unique point that counts in our favour. But unless you can add something compelling to that foundation, you’re going to struggle to make it onto the larger tech blogs. The good news is that there are many smaller blogs that will be more receptive to your news and ideas, especially if you’re in a specific niche.

Even though Zoopy is South African based, it’s aiming for the international markets what are your thoughts on how the cost of bandwith is affecting startups in South Africa?

It’s obviously an enormous hurdle right now, but it’s getting easier and easier to overcome as time goes on, competitive telecommunications services are launched, technology improves and pricing comes down. Sites with large content files (like video) definitely can’t afford to host locally so you need to be seriously smart about how you structure your international hosting setup, making sure that speeds are as fast as possible within a reliable and scalable network, at a cost that your business can afford.

Any last words or advice for young entrepreneurs?

There are 9 nos before every yes, so don’t stop at number 8. If, and only if, you believe that your idea has value (to users and the drivers of your revenue model e.g. advertisers) then never give up. If money is an issue from the start, sell a percentage up front to an investor if you have to. If your idea is that good, at least you’ll have a piece of the pie. 100% of zero is zero. But 50% of revenue of a startup with the resources it needs to succeed means that you’re running a successful business and are well on your way to starting the next one (with your own funding!).

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