Marketing exec to start-up Founder: upskilling prompts new beginning

High-level Marketing Executive Nicky Swartz’s new stokvel investment firm, Spoon Money, is already making waves only months after its launch. She credits Digital Skills Academy’s BSc Honours Degree programme with giving her the new skills and confidence she needed to take the plunge and launch her own business.

Cape Town-based Nicky Swartz’s new venture, Spoon Money, was one of only ten start-ups selected from over 500 applicants to benefit from the first African Startupbootcamp last year, and is already signing partnerships with significant local enterprises. Only months after its launch, Spoon Money is already recruiting and is building its client base. “It’s a small success so far, but I’m very optimistic about its potential,” says Swartz.

Only a year ago, Swartz was working in a corporate environment, as the Head of Marketing for a financial services firm, and her new business was little more than an idea she had been considering. But the BSc Honours Degree in Digital Technology, Design and Innovation she joined through Digital Skills Academy, a leading international provider of digital training programmes, helped propel Spoon Money from a daydream to a reality, she says.

Driven to digital

Swartz explains that as a marketing expert with over 20 years of experience, she had become aware that digital was driving significant change in the sector. “The world of marketing has changed immeasurably. And being a traditional marketer, I decided to upskill myself in terms of digital marketing and the broader digital ecosystem. I realised that increasingly, the companies we work for are becoming digitally-empowered.”

Despite having completed numerous courses in the past, the rigour and innovation of Digital Skills Academy’s learning and training approach caught Swartz by surprise. “It was a shocker having not studied for a long time. Having to study on my own and keep up with my high-pressure role as an executive in the financial services sector demanded a lot of discipline to see it through. Most of the content was also new to me – centred around building digital products and project management. It was fantastic because that was what I really wanted.”

In addition to learning new digital skills, Swartz highlights one key approach that had a significant impact on her new business: “It’s all about ‘pivoting’ – changing business models and strategies to remain in line with the reality of the business environment. The project work and coursework prepared me for the real world of entrepreneurship. And I feel like I’m reliving some of my programme experience.”

Taking the leap

In March 2017, only a month after completing her Honours Degree programme with Digital Skills Academy, Swartz left her corporate job, and became a small business owner. Her new skills gave her the confidence to make the move, she says. “I have long wanted my work to have a greater social impact. And as I grew older, I realised I was approaching a ‘now or never’ phase. Digital Skills Academy gave me the courage to believe I could do it.”

Her concept is to help lower income groups save more, or get better value from their savings. “I know many low-income earners save through stokvels. And since I already run my family’s own stokvel, I have a lot of experience dealing with financial institutions – who serve lower income groups quite poorly. So I thought – why not offer this segment a better deal?”

Spoon Money was born in partnership with fellow start-up founder but is rapidly taking shape as a digitally-enabled social enterprise with significant promise, headed by Swartz. As one of the outstanding start-ups chosen to participate in the Startupbootcamp late last year, Spoon Money benefited from their focus on monitoring and business partnership exposure.

Swartz says: “I am incredibly optimistic about the business. It’s a social enterprise focused on creating impact for lower income earners and savers. Essentially, they make money on our money, which helps stokvels grow their balances. The bottom line is that if stokvels act as ‘mini banks’ in townships, Spoon Money act as the ‘reserve bank’. They can then become more profitable and capitalise township economies.”

While the business is still at an early stage of development, Swartz says she has no regrets about taking the leap. “It can be gut-wrenchingly scary to get started, but I don’t regret doing this for a minute. I feel so unbelievably privileged to have the opportunity to be an entrepreneur. My advice to anyone else considering making a move to launch their own business is – ideally, start with an idea you know about and validate it while you’re still getting a pay cheque. Then, go for it.”