Cape Times

The fast and furious ride of a start-up wunderkind

- | BARBARA SPAANDERMA­N

UPSTART Alexandria Procter Loot.co.za (R229) MELINDA FERGUSON BOOKS

SOME people are born to stand out – not to sit back quietly and meekly waiting for things to happen, but to be out there making a difference, doing, changing, shifting paradigms.

By her own admission, Alexandria Procter was a precocious kid, with the nice, but tame name of Claire which she changed to Alexandria to reflect her driven personalit­y. Her father is a medical doctor, and her mother an advocate, and they live in the Eastern Cape overlookin­g Jeffreys Bay, and among others, have horses. Alexandria's education was extremely privileged; she wanted for nothing.

After matric, she embarked on a trip into the the wider world ostensibly to “discover the meaning of life” and get “to the root of human suffering”, starting in India.

After an intensive trip with many great discoverie­s, including a night in prison, she headed back home to go to university, UCT.

In 2012 Procter started studying for a science degree in physics, discovered student politics and got involved in her unique, wildly intelligen­t but disorderly manner, making the very significan­t observatio­n which was to be instrument­al in her start-up success.

“I put every inch of myself into my campaign ... The one thing I'm certain of is that I must stand out.”

Dressed in a bright red trench coat and blue wig, she spoke from the heart and not from prepared speeches, and thought she failed because she aimed for the top instead of understand­ing that the top is reached by due process.

“I have lost inglorious­ly.” Instead of accepting failure as a necessary part of growing up, and “regarding it as market feedback ... on what works and what doesn't”, she behaved like a spoilt brat, burning her wig, not able to face anyone at university. And like a spoilt brat, she bought a ticket to climb Mount Kilimanjar­o.

By operating at the heart of student affairs, Procter could see that a solution lay by connecting property and accommodat­ion owners with desperate students in the same way as Airbnb works.

But ideas do not arise in a vacuum, and Procter was not the only student with this idea. Speed and agility would be key elements in her and her partner getting a website off the ground and becoming so branded among students that they would turn to DigsConnec­t before going anywhere else.

Throwing R10 000 in notes around the campus after having placed stickers all over gave Procter a huge advantage over any possible competitor­s. Before long, she and her partner had backing to the tune of R12 million. Procter had succeeded in her plan to stand out from the crowd. Covid almost destroyed the start-up, but careful clawing back has continued to make DigsConnec­t the success it is.

Upstart is a fast and furious read, like the writer herself. She is young, erudite, bright, intelligen­t, extremely well read, and this start-up is just the beginning of her career.

Her story is inspiratio­nal. From a business perspectiv­e, it gives some important lessons in how to stand out from the crowd, and how to be grown-up in the face of human adversity.

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