Business partners Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate are inventors of the innovative Merge app. Now one of South Africa’s leading web-based platforms for entrepreneurs and investors to meet online, the app aims to create a more robust SME economy and develop infrastructure for businesses to thrive.
Developing countries such as South Africa have long battled a vast disparity between the finance available and amount demanded by the MSME sector. To rectify this, Merge’s “Tinder for businesses” approach connects aspiring or existing business owners with available investors in their country or across the globe. Essentially, they are opening up the investor market to all sectors of society, and breaking down the exclusivity of angel networks and other incubator platforms.
Small business growth and investment is the cornerstone of any economy
Fast Company SA first caught up with the duo back in April, when the world shifted into the virtual sphere amid global coronavirus lockdown regulations. Since then, the app has seen a surge in users and ventures, as individuals from all spheres seek other avenues of income.
Just short off 1000 connections made in the last two months alone, Merge proves there is still hope in the investor and start-up landscape – and building a thriving business is just a few clicks away.
More recently, we chatted to them about the growth and expansion of Merge, their future plans and why the app is a beacon of hope in world’s current uncertainty. Here’s what they had to say:
What is the investor landscape like in South Africa currently, in the midst of Covid-19?
The cornerstone of any economy relies on small business growth and investment, and Covid-19 has hit these two sectors harder than anywhere else. On the Macro side, VC’s have had less capital to pool together to create their funds, which in turn, has decreased the size of their investments and the amount of investments made. Individuals on the other hand have pulled their investments in markets as a result of the global recession, and have followed suit from the VC’s. However, to our surprise what we have seen on our platform has completely countered the above logic. Since April we have seen a 200% growth in investors joining Merge, which suggests that there is still hope for us out there as people are clearly looking to invest into startups. It could be because they are looking to diversify, or find alternate high growth investments to recover their losses. In addition to this, and even more astonishing, is the fact that Merge has also shown a 200% growth in the amount of connections made on the platform between Entrepreneurs and Investors. This really drives home the fact investors are looking to support small businesses. All of this ultimately highlights Merge as a silver lining amongst the current startup and investor climate, as Entrepreneurs and Investors are successfully using our platform as the place to find investment or investment opportunities.
When we first caught up with you in April, Merge was quite new on the market. How has the platform fared since then, especially in light of the current situation?
In all honestly we’ve exceeded our expectations, even if Covid-19 wasn’t a thing. Our growth has taken us by surprise and really emphasizes the effectiveness of the platform.
Since April, our entrepreneurs have grown from 311 to 1413, investors have gone from 112 to 327, Merges between entrepreneurs and investors have gone from 233 to 723. On the partnership side, we have also shown explosive growth. We recently partnered with Workshop17 to have branding throughout their spaces, as well as integrate Merge on their dashboard. This will allow all their members to access the platform and assist them in finding investment.
All Merge users will receive a discounted membership rate at all Workshop17 spaces
In addition, all Merge users will receive a discounted membership rate at all Workshop17 spaces. We have also formalised partnerships with WhiteSpaceX, Aspenfiy and Silicon Valley Business School. There are 3 Venture Capital companies that we are working with to provide investment deals, and are always looking for more companies to work with that we can help.
When we caught up the last time, you also planned to expand the app with various features such a Think Tank and other educational elements. Is this still on the cards?
Yes, definitely! We’ve made some strong movements towards implementing productivity and education elements by partnering with industry leaders Aspenify and Silicon Valley Business School. We are also looking to add some really innovative features that are going to improve the functionality, and will address some of the biggest socio-economic issues that linger in society today.
We are also busy formulating a transaction functionality that has the proper due diligence needed so that individuals who would like to invest into startups can do so on the platform, bringing the entire experience full circle.
Entrepreneurs are finding investors, getting capital and growing their ventures as a result of Merge
Based on your knowledge of SMEs in South Africa right now, what message can you give to start-up and entrepreneurs who are struggling or losing hope during the pandemic?
Life as an entrepreneur is always filled with challenges, it is those who can overcome these obstacles who truly thrive. Challenges, regardless of their nature will always be there, it is how you stand strong on uneven ground that will determine your success. I also like to believe that true inspiration and innovation is born from chaos, flip the script. Another message we would like to send to all entrepreneurs out there is to join Merge, while all this chaos is going on in the world, our platform stands tall as a beacon of hope, entrepreneurs are finding investors, getting capital and growing their ventures as a result of Merge. Capital is the lifeblood of a startup and investors are a key source of that, join Merge and find investors. Below is a testimonial from a user, and how Merge has reignited his dream.
There are numerous other incubation initiatives in SA that want to help SMEs in a similar way. What sets Merge app apart from these platforms?
Merge works together with these initiatives and incubators not against them. We are a platform that incorporates all aspects of the ecosystem. If we are to solve the massive challenges our country faces we must work together collaboratively and benefit all parties in doing so. In saying this, we have set up partnerships with these incubators that assist them in two major ways: Firstly, we promote incubator programmes on our platform to our network of entrepreneurs so that entrepreneurs who are looking to grow can join the organisations that have a hands on approach in assisting them.
While there is chaos going on in the world, our platform stands tall as a beacon of hope
We want to create a world where people are not afraid to dream big
Secondly, once entrepreneurs have completed their incubation programme, only a very small percentage of them receive funding which leaves the larger majority with the acquired skills from the programme but nowhere to go. This is where we step in. Incubators push the members from their cohorts to Merge as a place where they can be exposed to investors and potentially find funding.
Do you have any post-Covid vision/goals for the app or for your business?
To create a world where people are not afraid to dream big. To become a global ecosystem of which the likes we have not seen yet, where the community is looking to support one another and help each other succeed. We are a platform with a purpose, and that purpose is to connect all entrepreneurs and investors from around the world, from all creeds and cultures and truly create a global economy in which we all can thrive.
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