From a career as an international mining industry executive to the founder of a visionary fin-tech start-up and an Ironman (triathlon) enthusiast, Marius van Niekerk is discovering a new meaning in life as an entrepreneur

After an extensive career with mining giant BHP Billiton, CA(SA) Marius van Niekerk changed tack to co-found technology start-up b4yougo in 2015 with Gustav Griessel. They initially set out to solve the problem of the legacy people leave behind when they pass on. Marius’ high-pressure career had already spanned a number of senior roles and seen him moving with his family to several countries when he realised something had to change. ‘I’ll never forget it – in September 2014 we were living in Singapore and learned we had to move again. My wife Charlene and I looked at each other and said: “Well, what do you want to do?” We had been moving the family around the world for years and we just decided: “Let’s go home.” We came back to South Africa and I started at another corporate shortly after we arrived. But within days I realised it wasn’t right for me and left to pursue a venture I had been considering and refining in mind over ten years.’ Marius felt that the admin involved in life, estate, and financial planning had become too complex a chore for 21st-century digital citizens and sought to simplify it. Starting out as a personal Excel file collating the couple’s own portfolio to ensure their children would be looked after in the event that they passed away, the concept developed into a digital platform to help others manage their personal data better. b4yougo was later absorbed into a new product, ‘permyssion’, a play on ‘my permission’ in the new age of data privacy and security, powered and patented by Rattlehub Digital. The end-user is enabled by ‘permyssion’ to manage information in a secure digital environment across eight distinct categories: yourself, your family, your estate, your profession and work, your health, your financial portfolio, your accounts, and your social footprint. An Advisor Console caters for interaction between the end-user and a financial advisor, and the estate console has been developed for the deceased estate industry by referencing the end user’s information and facilitating the automatic completion of documents and the management of the estate for the executor.

The importance of efficient personal data management was brought home to Marius when his best friend, Theo, died unexpectedly at the age of 43. ‘Theo lived life to the fullest, but his house was not in order,’ he says. Observing the emotional toll wrapping up a loved one’s affairs can have on a family, he stepped up his efforts to take the solution to market. But starting a new business is not an easy task. Moving from their previous senior executive roles to a position in which they had to go hat in hand to potential partners was challenging, and taught them humility and perseverance. The team’s perseverance is starting to pay off and they are now an official service provider to Investec Private Bank, whose clients will have access to the first elements of the platform through the ‘manage my life’ application, while the attooh! group of companies is branding their white-labelled version ‘my attooh!’, ‘permyssion’ will also soon be available directly to the end-user.

Building your own business, and in my case, a fin-tech startup, is in many ways like eating broken glass every day: there are many times when you go through the trough of despair only to be picked up again the next day by some uplifting event. The highs and lows are far apart, so it is really like a roller coaster ride

In moving to become an entrepreneur, Marius assessed his top priorities and concluded he wanted to spend more quality time with his family, he wanted to commute less, and he wanted to focus more on looking after his health. In addition to addressing a gap in the market, his new venture is based only five minutes from his home and has allowed him to achieve his targets of completing the Ironman Africa in 2016 and 2017 with 2018 around the corner. However, his life as a business owner is far from relaxed, he notes: ‘If you think you are taking a break from corporate and think life will be more relaxed working for yourself, think again. You can’t run a start-up as a hobby, you have to commit. You are more driven, you are even more committed because there is a lot more at stake. There is no such thing as work-life balance, there is your perspective of what is important at any time,’ he says. Based in Centurion, Gauteng, the business has so far been bootstrapped using the founders’ own money and some equity funding from investors. ‘We are on a journey, we celebrate small successes, but there is still a lot of hard work ahead for us to be considered successful,’ says Marius. ‘It’s humbling to have a power team by my side that is ready to take on the world as we believe we are solving a generic problem that knows no borders.’ Article published in ASA December/January 2018, published by SAICA (The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants)

Read the Full Article in PDF:  ASA Dec_Jan 2018

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