For the love of the Internet

Rupert Bryant is the chief operating officer (COO) and a director at Web Africa, one of South Africa’s most successful Internet Service Providers (ISPs).  His involvement in the company started at the age of 16, when his friends were still pondering which subjects to take for matric.

Matthew Tagg started Web Africa in 1999 while he was a student at the University of Cape Town, and decided to make his new company a full time job in 2003.  Tagg needed a partner in his new venture, and Bryant was a perfect choice.

Bryant has been running his own web development company from the age of 14, and since Web Africa started as a hosting provider it was a logical choice for Tagg to join forces with Bryant to build his new web hosting company.

Tagg and Bryant started Web Africa with virtually no capital, and over the last decade have grown it into a company which generates well in excess of R130 million annually and employs 130 people.

MyBroadband caught up with Rupert to find out about where it all started and what he has learned over the past decade.

Rupert Bryant
Rupert Bryant

When and why did you start Web Africa, and how old were you when you started?

Matthew Tagg started Web Africa in roughly 1999, while he was still studying. He went full time with WA in 2003 and that’s when I came on board with him. I was 16.

We did it because we knew it was a growing space and was very exciting to us (and because we both had no income and needed to pay the bills!).

Overall though, we love the internet and wanted to bring that, delivered through great customer service, to as many people as possible. Over the last decade, our vision has not changed much.

Where did you get money to start the company (and how much if you can say)?

We basically had zero capital. I ran my own web development company from the age of 14, and I joined Matt 2 years later. We continued the web development branch of the business to provide capital to allow us to build the infrastructure required for our ISP services. After a few years, in 2005 or so, we discontinued the web development division, as the company was sustainable on the ISP services alone.

What were your biggest challenges in the early days of the company?

So many! The most important thing though was that we had a lot of fun and always felt challenged, so we persisted no matter what.

Which skills do you think helped you the most in building the company in its early days?

I was always a bit of a techie and loved tinkering and understanding how things worked. I think overall though, it’s just about being hungry to learn continually.

Which skills have you developed through the years to help you in your current role?

I’d say the skills I’ve grown the most would have to be my financial and corporate knowledge, since they were non-existent when we started. I’ve also had to continually keep learning on the technical side to stay current, which is an ongoing journey. Thankfully I’ve been lucky to have superb people, in all areas of the business guiding me along the way (they’re our real secret to our success).

How large is Web Africa now (employment and revenue)?

We currently have 128 employees and are targeting just under R130mil for this financial year.

What advice do you have for new young entrepreneurs in the technology sector?

Find your passion and chase after it. Be realistic, but don’t let anyone discourage you. It also helps a lot to make sure you surround yourself with other talented individuals who support, challenge and help you improve.

What can government and the private sector do to boost tech entrepreneurship in South Africa?

  • Finding ways to drive down the cost of internet connectivity, and making it more accessible.
  • Improving our education on the technical side.
  • Removing red-tape and wasteful regulations and making it easier to start and operate a business.
  • Easier access to loans for starting capital.
  • We also need to just keep building on our basic infrastructure, to support everything above.

For more from the world of Nokia visit the Nokia blog, Ringaz

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For the love of the Internet