Technology entrepreneur Roelof Botha was in the country last week to receive an honorary PhD from Stellenbosch University.
Naspers chief executive Koos Bekker calls Botha one of the world’s most important seekers of promising technology projects.
Botha is a partner at Sequoia Capital – the most important venture capital company in California’s Silicon Valley.
About 20% of the market capitalisation on the Nasdaq stock market in New York represents companies in which Sequoia has invested. These include huge companies like Apple, Cisco, Yahoo and Oracle.
Botha selects new technology companies in which to invest and his investments have led to the rise of companies like YouTube en LinkedIn.
Enterprises in which Sequoia has recently invested include two South African companies, Nimbula and Clickatell.
Botha is the son of the economist Dr Roelof Botha, a former winner of the Sake24 Economist of the Year competition, and the grandson of former minister Pik Botha. The musician Piet Botha is his uncle.
Together with Elon Musk, also a South African, he founded the PayPal electronic payment service.
Botha considers the most exciting new technology in which to invest to be mobile technology (such as smartphones and tablets), cloud computing services and bioinformatics (such as investigating the human genome).
In his speech at the graduation ceremony he advised South African companies and investors to take more risks when investing in entrepreneurs.
In Silicon Valley, he said, failure is part of the culture. People who fail often go on to establish successful companies later.
Of the companies in which Sequoia invests, 35% to 40% fail. People in other countries are overly worried about losing money. If you fail, you lose your money once but, if you succeed, you can eventually have 50 times as much, he said.
He believes so strongly in the value of failure that he suggests that South Africa alter its laws about bankruptcy to make it easier for people to start new projects.
There has never been a better time to start a technology company, he believes.
Thanks to services like Apple’s App Store, open-source software and free or inexpensive programming packages, things are easier than ever before for today’s technology entrepreneurs.
“And thanks to the growth of the internet your audience is far, far bigger than it was only 15 years ago.”
His advice to entrepreneurs? “Think of yourself as the central point of a network. Who are the people you are going to ask to work with you, or serve on your board? Are there local research institutions that could invest in you or perhaps have a good idea?”
There is little to prevent South Africa from establishing its own Silicon Valley. The talent is here. The knowledge is here, says Botha.