The pet sitter who now owns South Africa’s top independent ISP

The Afrihost story reads like a Hollywood script: two friends decide to dabble in domain names, and two decades later they own the largest independent ISP in South Africa.

This is not fiction, however, but rather what happened in the case of Gian Visser.

Visser has been Afrihost CEO since the company was started in the late nineties.

Visser recalls how Brendan Armstrong, his best friend and Afrihost cofounder, told him in 1997 “about these things called domain names which were unique addresses on this thing called the Internet”.

“So we registered about 20 generic domain names which was all we could afford at the time, as we thought we could sell them for a profit at some point in the future,” said Visser.

Armstrong then put up a Linux hosting box and they hosted a free bed-and-breakfast website, which Visser had designed after skim-reading “Frontpage in 24 Hours”.

“From there we started offering domain and web hosting to clients for R150 per month,” said Visser.

At the time, MWEB and IS were offering virtual web hosting at R550 per month – and so Afrihost was born.

Pet sitter at R40 per day

Although Afrihost CEO was Visser’s first professional position after he left university, his first job was to look after people’s pets while they were away on holiday.

“I called it Petsitters, wrote a letter to homeowners, and walked around suburbs putting the letters and the brochure I designed in post boxes,” said Visser.

He charged R40 per day for his services, and he registered the domain names and for the business venture.

“We still have those domains, but my visions of creating a powerhouse, pet-focused company were overshadowed by Afrihost,” he jokes.

10 years to be an “overnight success”

Visser credits Afrihost’s success to hard work, not giving up, and a “whole lot of lucky timing”.

“If any of those three factors were missing, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” he said.

Visser said their biggest break was the timing of their ADSL launch in 2009.

“From the beginning, it was always a slow grind: 18 hour work days without too much immediate fruit, which finally led to us being in the right place at the right time, and making (mostly) right choices,” he said.

Best and worst parts of being CEO

Visser said he loves to innovate and create new things which help Afrihost become better, and make their team and clients happier.

“Being the CEO means that people have to listen, laugh, and agree with all my ideas,” he said.

The thing which he dislikes the most is the disproportionate amount of credit he gets for the success of Afrihost.

“My overall role in any success we have is relatively tiny,” said Visser.

“Every time we’ve had a success in anything, members of our team have done way more than me and deserve the credit, and yet it is my name that often gets put up in lights.”

Visser’s advice

Visser’s advice to people trying to advance their career is to be passionate and relentless.

“Work hard, never give up, and take full responsibility for exactly where you are right now,” he said.

“Never blame other people or events when things don’t go as planned – always take full responsibility – even when it is not your fault.”

When it comes to business, Visser said a good strategy is to look at how you can help people to get exactly what they want.

“If you can help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want in life,” said Visser.

Visser’s tech and business choices

Kindle Oasis

Which smartphone do you use?

iPhone X.

Which laptop do you use?

iPad Pro.

What is the best gadget you have ever bought?

My favourite is my Kindle Oasis.

What is the worst gadget you have ever bought?

I’d say the Apple Watch, because I always forgot to charge it so it was always flat.

What Internet connection do you have at home?

100Mbps Afrihost Fibre.

What is the best investment you have ever made?

The time and money invested in Afrihost.

What is the worst investment you have ever made?

My first new car.

What is the best business book you have ever read?

The two most influential books in the early days of Afrihost were “Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got” by Jay Abraham and “Jump Start Your Business Brain” by Doug Hall.

Now read: It’s all about fibre – Afrihost

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The pet sitter who now owns South Africa’s top independent ISP