IMAGINE, if just for a metaphorical moment, you’re confined to “my” (outrageously make-believe) 1998 Hilton College matric class on a sultry early afternoon, a reluctant non-participant (you’re wrong side of the window after all) in the somnolent haze of a gorgeous summer’s day in the breath-taking KZN midlands… and… (sigh some more) your thoughts wander away (if only just for a moment) from my fascinating insights into the intricacies of linear algebra concepts…
“Yuppiechef,” you silently say to yourself, “in 8 years’ time (2006) I’m going to start Yuppiechef with a Maritzburg College guy I’ve never met and by the time I hit 40 YC will be sold to Mr Price for around R470 million cash (on 15 March 2021)!”
Now I hear you, dear reader, say: “Okay Jono, stop being somnolent, you are acting somnolently and are experiencing somnolence. Nothing worthwhile happens that easy, dear boy.”
So true. And now that I have, hopefully, got your attention (and just before I lose it forever) here is a glimpse into the success story that is Hilton College Old Boy Andrew Smith, who graduated from Hilton 23 years ago having obtained the school’s top academic marks in his 1998 matric year.
‘If you don’t actually enjoy the process and enjoy the journey of what you’re doing then you’re lost’
A degree in computer science beckoned but the idea palled after a few months when compared to the lure of a senior programming job with a tech business in the KZN capital.
* Btw if you are fast becoming seriously irritated-stroke-confused by my (nevertheless) mindful meanderings take a quick look here
before getting back to this story.
Andrew then moved to Cape Town and struck up a friendship with a 1992 Maritzburg College Old Boy by the name of Shane Dryden and LiveAlchemy was the result, an agency that offered web development and marketing services.
‘You need to find the intersection between an opportunity that
exists in the market, something you’re good at, and something you enjoy’
On the side, in around 2005, the duo began selling a medley of products online – the first one being the Bug Zapper, an Eskom-propelled racket-stroke-bat that swatted incalcitrant flies with deadly abandon. It was the first goodie the pair ever sold (albeit to Andrew’s mum) and the seed of today’s Yuppiechef mega-success was born.
Dr Nemesis’s note to reader: the inescapable agent of every errant fly’s downfall, said Bug Zapper, obviously worked… a million bucks’ worth of The Nightmare on Bug Street were sold to grateful online customers.
‘The only way to success is to get into the kitchen and get on with it’
After the intrepid duet had sold assorted bits and bobs across space that is cyber, Shane came up with the idea (like all good Maritzburg College boys… sorry, had to slip that in…) of flogging kitchenware the same way and on that self-same platform.
“We wanted to build a brand of our own,” Andrew is quoted as saying. “In 2006 we had the skills but no money, so e-commerce was an accessible business to start. Shane had a passion for cooking, and we knew the local wholesalers of one brand, so we launched with 32 products.”
From the lounge of Andrew’s Cape Town home (in Plumstead), the Maritzburg College/Hilton combo chose 3 spare days to get things going. On Day 3 the website went live. Products were packaged, plans made, in that lounge. The only time they had to spend on this new venture was after their day-job work was done.
A grand total of 10 sales to family and friends plus 1 sale outside their immediate circle was the slender dividend after 4 months. It took 12 months to realise a modest total of 200 customers. With no spare cash, new stock could only be acquired once stock-in-hand had been bought and paid for.
It took 5 years before work for their LiveAlchemy clients was wrapped up. It took 5 years before the pair could reasonably draw a monthly salary from the proceeds of Yuppiechef sales.
A warehouse in Cape Town’s Westlake finally relieved the congestion in the Smith family lounge. At last, full-focus could be applied to what had become “Yuppiechef” – a name dreamt up by Shane while lying in bed on a Sunday morning.
Around 2017, Andrew had said in an interview (with Roberta Thatcher, I think): “Ten years on, we look back at our journey and ask, ‘Why did we do it that way?’ The truth is that you cannot plot your success on a timeline and simply pick and choose the events that you think made the most positive contribution. Understanding how magic really works is elusive and perhaps everything that we’ve done in the last decade has had an invaluable impact.
“A lot of successful people can point to their hard work and their genius and their great team, but they leave out the fact that you have to be in the right place at the right time. We have benefited a lot from good timing.”
It certainly was an excellent time to start something in e-commerce in South Africa. And the success of shows like Masterchef; that rock star of kitchen matters… Jamie Oliver; had brought a sexiness and sense of cool to cooking.
Shane and Andrew had seen the future… what was happening in countries beyond our shores… it was online… they had a crystal-clear insight into the way that South Africa would be forced to catch up with the world.
“You are dealing with all the same things as traditional retailers, your shop front just happens to be a technical store. So it’s sourcing the right products and then having them on the shelf to be able to start marketing, telling people about it and then serving them. Customer service is key.
“Most of our customer service is just employing people who care… and creating a culture of really, genuinely, caring about our customers.’
‘Customers who have a problem and get it solved
have a bigger lifetime value than customers who never have a problem’
Andrew says if you don’t actually enjoy the work, it’s going to be very difficult, because so few businesses get off the ground as quickly as the founders think they’re going to. “A lot of the time in your own business it’s years and years and years before you make any money. And then more years before you make enough money to stop doing whatever your other work is.”
Jono’s note to self: So many more aspects I would like to mention here, but there are still my pieces on Shane Dryden and the third member of the Yuppiechef movement, Andrew’s classmate Paul Galatis, to come, so let me save that for later. I think the Andrew Smith quote below is a nice way to end this one.]
“A big part of the meaning of everything for me is finding out what am I uniquely supposed to be doing. What is unique in me that’s not in anyone else. And you can call that, ‘What have I been created to do’, or ‘What am I destined to do’, or ‘What has luck made me good at doing’?
“But whatever it is, to understand yourself and understand what you offer to the world is something I don’t think a lot of people do. If I understand who am I and what am I better at than anyone else at doing (and what should I avoid doing because I really suck at it) I’m going to be the biggest contribution to the world around me.
“Very often that journey of self-discovery leads to the discovery of an even bigger meaning and purpose in life.”
What I know you’d like to know about Andrew Smith –
# He’s married, likes making biltong and can’t live without a decent coffee machine… “the ritual of trying to make the perfect cup is part of the enjoyment”
# He’s not particularly into cooking; his wife is the cook and baker; his home is known for chicken pie and lemon meringue
# He gets great pleasure in picking out good beers and whiskey and enjoying them with family and friends while breathing in the Cape Town sea air out on the patio
Next up its Yuppiechef co-founder Shane Dryden, the Maritzburg College Class of 1992 Old Boy, then it’ll be a turn to take a pot-luck-look at the third member of the Yuppiechef Big Three, the 1998 Hilton College head boy Paul Galatis, who was Andrew Smith’s matric classmate and joined YC 2 years after its inception.