The 21st of November 2022 marks Sha-Izwe/CSA’s 35th year in business. It began in 1987 with two small customers, JSE-listed mainframe company CMS and a small accounting business called GroData. Turnover was R4,500pm.
In 1987, fax machines had not been launched. Press releases were typed on a borrowed IBM golf ball typewriter and delivered by hand to customers for approval and then delivered to publications, such as Business Day and The Star in central Johannesburg.
In our second year in business, with the advent of fax machines, press releases were faxed to customers who would fax back with corrections. This saved on travelling time.
The business then rented an IBM PC from Joan Joffe for about R500pm. Press releases were saved on the IBM PC’s small hard drive and edited without having to retype the hand-edited documents.
A few years later one of our customers, Keith Levenstein who had the distributorship for the software development tool Clipper, came to our office and installed something called “eMail” which would allow us to “eMail” customers. We didn’t see much future in eMail, notably because customers would also need “eMail” at their end. Many customers couldn’t see the benefit. This was at least two years before eMail became more generally in use.
Email and the internet developed in parallel, using those noisy, slow, and unreliable dial-up moderns. We bought our modem from a salesman working for a small business called Dimension Data which was later listed.
The prognosis for the internet was not good. In 1999 we worked for an online retailing company that introduced one of the first retail online stores, financed by IOL. We spent most of our PR time trying to convince journalists that credit card details would not be stolen online.
Our goal was to change journalists’ views that online shopping, accommodation and airline bookings had a future. The “visionary” journalists of those days, and there are those types today, found it easier to criticize rather than report the facts. Online retailing would probably have taken off a lot quicker in SA had it not been for the negative media coverage. At that time we began a second business, a website called Antiquefreek which sold antiques from shops based in Paris, London and Johannesburg/Cape Town. The antique dealers had slow dial-up modems, and overall, the site wasn’t successful. But we learnt much about websites, online trading and payment gateways.
About this time, websites began to be developed but were nothing like today’s. There was no WordPress. The websites were custom written. However, most businesses didn’t believe they needed a website. We spent many hours trying to convince businesses of their need for a website.
Also at that time, when a business decided to develop their own website, they had to decide on a domain name. Often the domain name chosen was far too long, 40-50 characters and more, and we struggled sometimes to convince an MD of CFO that a short domain name would be more practical. They also weren’t keen to add their website address to printed brochures.
Google was founded in 1998. It was in about 2005 or a little later, that we saw the potential for Google searches, and search engine optimisation. We started learning how to achieve high keyword rankings on the first page of Google searches for our customers. We saw that young people were going online to look at product reviews before purchasing products.
Social media then followed. We took the view that the various social media platforms were simply another publishing platform. Over the years our customers have seen these platforms generate significant business. The market is changing almost weekly. Tools exist and will continue to be introduced that enable businesses to generate significant income at a fraction of the cost compared with the marketing tools of previous years. Target markets can be finely defined down to, if necessary, just a handful of people or just a few key businesses. Digital has become a science. It requires years of experience to gain true benefits from the available digital platforms.
It’s been an interesting journey. It’s amazing to see how technology has changed in just 35 years, from not even the existence of the fax machine to the technology we have today.
We would like to thank our amazing team, experts in their fields, spanning across South Africa and over 30 team members worldwide, from the Philippines to Ghana, Pakistan, across Europe and the US and to all the people who we’ve worked with and made this journey so exciting.