LEARNING CURVE | Keeping the wheels of transport fleets turning
After confirmation from God’s word, founder and managing director of Keyfleet Management Systems Andre Liebenberg decided to start his own business by doing what he has done all his life for other companies — only this time he was going to do it for himself.
Liebenberg, 56, started his company in 2006 and as the years have gone by the company has designed solutions that were unheard of a couple of years ago.
They ventured into the diesel industry and designed a solution that is currently implemented on more than 100 fuel sites across SA.
Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started.
I started my career as an electrician in 1987 but only worked as an artisan for a short time before the computer bug got hold of me.
Eventually, I presented courses in computer literacy and since then, my path was set in computers and software systems.
Having received a promotion within our company as a database administrator with our fleet management department, my superior became my mentor in teaching me everything regarding the management of vehicles and assets.
I was offered a position within another company in Johannesburg to design systems for them and that was by far my most significant learning curve and stepping stone in my IT and fleet management career.
We decided to move back to Port Elizabeth in 2001 after four years in Gauteng. Those were the years that taught me to think and to dream big.
Destiny forced me to make a decision to either move back to Johannesburg or to start my own business in Port Elizabeth and the latter won.
I was confronted with many choices during the initial process. Do I do everything alone, or do I get someone to help me?
In the end, I decided to offer half of my proposed company to an acquaintance with exceptional programming skills. We built an online fleet management solution that was the initial product of our company.
What is your core service?
We offer an online real-time fleet management web-based tool to the transport industry where there are no fewer than 18 different fleet management modules all integrated into a single solution.
What makes your business unique?
What makes us unique is that we do not only offer our clients a system but we become part of their business. We do certain functions from our side for the client, allowing them to focus on their core business.
No single client functions the same and we will adapt and change our system to facilitate their particular needs.
If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?
For someone to copy our business model, they must first understand the concept of fleet management.
During the early to mid-eighties, satellite tracking companies hijacked the concept of fleet management and that is our biggest hurdle in the industry.
We struggle to convince transporters that tracking is only but one module within fleet management.
So if someone wanted to copy our business model, they need to start building a system with the essential module first, which is a real-time active asset register and from there, they can build onto the model.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?
My biggest inhibitor was the fact that I had to accept that for the initial couple of months there would be very little income for me from which to draw a salary.
I was used to a regular income and that disappeared overnight. I did a lot of research in the industry and I discovered that there were companies with big marketing and advertising budgets and looking at their adverts in transport magazines intimidated me.
Therefore, I decided not to look at any adverts from any one of my potential competitors.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?
- Get rid of any personal debt before you start.
- Keep your hands out of the cookie jar! You do not mix your business finances with your expenses. You draw a salary and that you do once a month or when your business can afford it.
- Get a proper bookkeeping system in place. It can be a simple spreadsheet but file every invoice in an organised fashion.
- Do not mess with the Receiver of Revenue. Pay your taxes and pay your levies.
- Make sure that your invoices to clients are sent out as quickly as possible. Your clients will not pay you unless they have an invoice.
What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?
My biggest challenge is keeping the people who work for me motivated and passionate about their jobs.
Client service is vital in our business and I need to constantly remind the team of that. I often need to think of ways that ensure my team feels appreciated and loved.
Financial incentives are not always the best motivating tool. Sometimes just making a cup of coffee for them brings a smile to their faces.
The second challenge is that we can only be as strong as our weakest link.
Our third party service providers sometimes force us to think of creative alternatives to serve our clients when we’re left in a bind.
What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?
You can have the best product in the market, but if you do not have a willing buyer, then you do not have a business.
How do you measure or define success in your business?
I always say success for us is when someone calls us to become part of our solution instead of us calling them. When that happens, we celebrate big time.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
Most important will be the quality of service to our clients. We do not allow a phone to ring more than three times in our office.
Pay your taxes. During this Covid-19 pandemic, we have first-hand experience and can attest to the benefits of being up to date on your returns.
What kind of advertising do you do?
Our best means of advertising by far is by way of mouth. Our clients are our advertisements.
What is your company’s vision?
We want to be the benchmark in fleet management in SA and be the preferred fleet management solutions provider on the continent.
What is your target market?
We can help companies that own a couple of vehicles to massive fleets. We serve companies with two vehicles and we also have companies with 4,000 plus vehicles.
What have some of your highlights been in running your business?
From where we started in the summer of 2006 to where we are today, Keyfleet has evolved a lot. We set ourselves the target to add at least one new feature every year to our solution.
To date, Keyfleet designs solutions that were unheard of a couple of years ago. We even ventured into the diesel industry and designed a solution that is implemented on more than 100 fuel sites across SA.
We can offer diesel to the industry at a highly reduced rate and we can get the transactions real-time from those sites into our system.
How important are social media and an online presence for your business?
Our business is 100% online and we do believe that our social media presence informs and educates our clients to use our system better.
How many people do you employ?
We employ 12 people.
Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?
We do plan to expand the business. Currently, we offer specific solutions that I believe we can market much more aggressively.
For that, we might have to employ people at some stage who will take ownership of those products.
We do, however, believe that the best marketers will come from within the company because they know the products best.
How did you acquire funding for the business?
When we decided to start Keyfleet, I used some of my savings to pay off all my debt first.
Then we took an investor on board to acquire the initial capital to set up our servers.
Being a web-based solution, we did not have major initial expenses because we opted to outsource our servers.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business journey so far?
Our most valuable assets are the people working for us. Keyfleet cannot exist without them.
We need to look after our “specialists” as I refer to them. I also learned that one cannot do everything alone. You need to delegate as much as possible. Empower workers so that they can take ownership of their future.
What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?
The most significant challenges are the fact that most of our clients are in Gauteng and not in PE, but with technology nowadays, everything is possible.
We have features built into our system that allow clients to talk to us directly from within our system, making support a lot easier.
Being a web-based company, we can have our offices anywhere in SA, but there is no other city like Port Elizabeth. Our traffic is incredible, our wind is terrific and our people are friendly.
What do you say are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?
The phrase “I do not know” does not exist in the vocabulary of an entrepreneur.
A successful entrepreneur totally believes in his or her product. Do not sell something if you do not think it is the best thing ever.
A successful entrepreneur will not take money from the business unless it is in the form of a salary or when successful in the form of a dividend.
A successful entrepreneur will pay taxes and not seek ways to cheat the receiver of revenue.
What do you say are the key traits of a successful employer?
Listen to your workers, empower them to do their work well, praise them when praise is due and always let them know that you are there to support them in any matter even if it is not work-related.
What do you wish people knew about your industry?
The transport business is a challenging field to find success. I believe that the entire world revolves around policies, procedures and technology.
It is no use putting expensive systems [technology] in place to manage your fleet if your policies and procedures do not support the technology.
You need to measure to manage and Keyfleet will assist you in making sure your policies and procedures will ensure that your technology provides you with the information to manage correctly.