iXport is a technology company providing a turnkey solution to enable SME’s to export globally. They provide an easy to use, easy to set up, e-commerce platform specifically designed for exporting and includes technology to provide real-time freight, forex and export documentation quotes to importers, all under one platform.
I’ve met with Lyle de Groot, founder and CEO of iXport, to talk about his company, being an entrepreneur and ups and downs of founding a startup.
How did you come up with the idea of iXport?
Through personal experience. In 2011 I started my second start-up business called Expatfoodhall.com in Singapore. There I taught myself everything from scratch about all things e-commerce and import/export and soon discovered that there are many challenges facing SME’s in this sector.
Importing and exporting food added even more complexity to the process, and out of that was borne the idea to make exporting easier and remove many of the barriers to entry by creating a platform which was easy to use but more importantly made the process of exporting much simpler to execute on for smaller companies.
Why is now the time for your company to exist?
As the world of e-commerce and globalisation merge ever closer, our belief is that ordering a pair of running shoes online should be no different than to ordering a 40ft container of goods from anywhere in the world. More and more SME’s are using the power of the internet, e-commerce and instantaneous services so it made sense to do something similar for exporting.
Furthermore, with global events such as Brexit and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) affecting world trade, we feel it is the right time to launch iXport into the UK market for a start and really help SME’s that are not exporting today find a business advantage with our turnkey solution.
What is the potential total market size for your product today? What is its growth rate?
Global B2B e-commerce trade in 2016 amounted to $23.9 Trillion USD, so the TAM is huge. Furthermore, Global Merchandise Exports in 2017 was sitting at $17.43 Trillion USD while UK Exports to the EU alone amounted to £274 Billion in the same year.
What was the biggest challenge in running your company so far?
a) We have found because the process of import and export is very well established, some folks are reluctant to change. However, when we find the right people to talk to in organisations that are experiencing the same pains as I once did in Singapore, they get it and see the value in the product we are offering immediately.
b) Finding the right personnel:
As a founder the more you become involved in the business it soon becomes clear what your strengths and weaknesses are as an individual, and where the gaps are to overcome.
This is such a cliché, but finding the right people to believe in 1) you, 2) the vision, 3) and the business has been one of the hardest challenges. Surround yourself with good people and good things will come.
c) Investment: This is a lot like dating, where you have to kiss quite a few frogs to find the prince! Talking to investors is part of the process, and even though you may not get investment straight away, there is always the possibility that people have a change of heart and want to get involved in the business in the future. It never hurts to be courteous and respectful to those not willing to invest in you or the business when you need it.
Do you have a backup plan just in case you fail?
Yes, most definitely. I can always return to a corporate career in IT, but being able to build something out of nothing has always been really appealing to me, and not something I want to give up on easily.
What are your personal and business goals to achieve in the next few years?
Personal goals will be to spend more quality time with my family and be financially independent to execute on things I have always wanted to do, and of course, share these experiences with my family wherever possible.
On a professional level, I am always pushing to learn more. One thing I learnt early on in my life, (as I never had the chance to attend University) was to always apply myself in anything I did. Throughout my whole career, I have always taught myself and not relied too much on outside help, and this is something which I believe is a core element of success. Failure will always occur somewhere along the way, but it is how you apply yourself in order to overcome that disappointment that is a great asset to have. In both my personal and professional life, I never see anything as a problem, but more so as a challenge. In my mind, problems have a connotation of negativity and immediately put your mindset backwards when thinking of things in this way. Challenges immediately conjure thoughts of positivity that a solution exists and can be overcome.
What were your greatest failures and what did they teach you?
When the business was in the proof of concept phase I collaborated with a good friend who already had an exporting FMCG business. The idea was that he would use the platform as a method to validate the idea and become involved as the business grew as a partner. However, it soon became apparent he wanted to the platform conform to his exact needs, which was moving further and further away from my vision. I persevered with this path for a while until it soured the relationship, unfortunately.
What I learnt from that was to know when to walk away from a situation when it did not feel right and not just do it for the sake of it. Be sure to know everything about the business, and always have one eye on the strategic vision for the company is my philosophy. Most importantly listen to your gut, it is hardly ever wrong!
What drives you to keep going when it’s really tough?
- Accept that bad days are usually followed up by good days!
- Having a good bunch of people around me that believe in me and the business, like my wife for example.
How do you manage stress and keep a work-life balance?
This is always a challenge, one that I am not the best at it; I must be honest. My wife is very good at reminding me to take breaks, drink water etc. and spend time with the family, but my mind is constantly thinking about and working on different aspects of the business that needs to be addressed. The only time I get to switch off is when I’m asleep!
What habits helped make you successful?
I guess not having any fear of failure. At 16 I started my first real business buying, fixing and selling second-hand motorbikes. When I started, I knew nothing about fixing bikes, but the thought of failure never entered my mind, nor was I afraid of failing either so I guess that is where I would have thought success stemmed from.
If you weren’t building your start-up, what would you be doing?
Probably thinking about building the next one! In all seriousness, the challenge of building something out of nothing has always been in my blood, so it would be very hard to find something else to do.
Who is your business idol and why?
Elon Musk is the closest think to a business idol I would have to say, as we are both South African for one, and secondly, his ideas, albeit way out there always seem to pay off. I have followed his journey, the ups and down and can relate to him quite easily. Another would be Richard Branson, although I don’t have anywhere near as good-looking hair as he does!
Where do you think your growth will be next year?
The UK is s strong focus for us with the fallout from Brexit, but the Asia Pacific area is never far from our thoughts. We are having discussions with various stakeholders to see how we make that a reality.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur just starting to build a start-up?
This is a question I get often and can be quite difficult to answer as we are all different as humans, but I guess the fundamental thing would be to not give up even before trying. Personally, the thought of me giving up on an idea and execution of a start-up would be more disappointing than failing at it itself. But, not all of us are cut out to do this. I am sure anyone reading this has heard of how lonely a founder’s journey can be, and I can attest to that. Not only are you trying to prove your start-up’s worth, but you’re fighting a constant mental battle, asking yourself, “when will I succeed? Am I the right person to do this? Can I actually do this?”
Passion and tenacity are key elements of just about any successful entrepreneur, and if you believe you have those then there is no reason why someone should not try and achieve their dreams.
Thank you for the interview, Lyle. I hope to hear more about your company soon!