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Interview: Benji Coetzee “I earned my seat at the table”

August 28, 2017 • Features, People, Southern Africa, Startups, Top Stories

Benji Coetzee, Founder and CEO of EmptyTrips.

Benji Coetzee, Founder and CEO of EmptyTrips.

This women’s month IT News Africa spoke to Benji Coetzee, the founder of startup EmptyTrips, in an interview which looked to highlight the role in which women play in the ever growing tech landscape.

EmptyTrips is an online marketplace that uses smart algorithms to better match demand and supply of cargo transport and is described by the company as “The Airbnb of transport.”

By using smart-mapped spaces, EmptyTrips aims to reduce wastage on moving vehicles to offer cost-savings. Via the platform, live transport auction rooms are enabled with secure online payments. The aim of the company is to enable more efficient transport in and around South Africa, lowering costs and reducing carbon impact.

The company was founded by CEO Benji Coetzee. Benji has nearly a decade experience in top tier Management Consulting, Banking and Insurance. Benji is now a full-time entrepreneur aiming to disrupt the African business status quo through innovative and exponential technologies. Benji is supported by women dominated team (Herman Strauss, Salome Kgoale and Justine Letard), and leverages a carefully selected specialist service providers, including Legal Legends and Equate Financial Services.

IT News Africa spoke to Benji about the challenges women face in tech, governments role in empowering women in tech, what women bring to an organisation and about what advice she would give to young female entrepreneurs entering the male dominated industry of tech.

1) What are the key challenges that face women in tech?
Women are considered less technical than men, and often get excluded from the conversation around technology. This paired with trying to pitch a disruptive platform in the logistics industry (male dominated) is difficult. This exclusion often leads women to not pursue this ambition. However, I consistently focus on mastering this area; to “earn my seat at the table”. Credibility and perseverance supersedes gender in my belief.

2) Do you think the government is doing enough to empower women in tech?
No – The South African Government is very slow to adapt to technology and are wasting a large amount of funds on “innovation hubs”, “Innovation grants” and other initiatives that are preclusive, unstructured and not aligned to global technology trends. The hierarchy and bureaucracy of government processes lead to long approval times, often beyond the “runway” of a start-up. Furthermore, being a white South African we are excluded from securing grants. Ironic as it is, regardless of my skin colour., I aim to do the same as any other entrepreneur: create sustainable jobs and support economic growth. The irony of “broad-based”.

3) What is it that you think a woman brings to the company that a man wouldn’t necessarily bring?
Firstly, women are compassionate and dedicated by nature. This provides a dynamic of gather and nurture to the team. An important culture during the very testing (and often emotional) start-up journey. Secondly, women are opportunity experts, networking professionals and seek to be relationship specialists, all of which are vital to the growth of any business. Men bring many good traits to the table, but both I believe complement one another.

4) As a female ran and owned company what role do you play in empowering female entrepreneurs
The fact that we are a full women team is a great motivation to other women on its own. None of my hiring decisions were made on gender, the women in my team simply were the best candidates – proving that women can hold their own. That said, I actively aim to empower the team by continuous learning, providing them with new opportunities to push themselves out of the comfort zones. My entire team wear different hats, they pitch, cold-call, manage events, ensure exceptional client relationship management, research, manage admin – all of which are important steps toward becoming well-rounded professionals.

5) What advice would you give to young female entrepreneurs looking to venture into a male dominated industry?
Be hungry for knowledge, earn your respect and humble yourself when needed. Doors will be closed, you will be told no many times, it is not glamorous – but making it happen is up to you.

By: Dean Workman
Follow Dean Workman on Twitter
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