Robin de Cauwer began his studies toward a BSc degree at Stellenbosch University five years ago. Although it was initially going well, he dropped out in his third year when he realised that it was not what he wanted to do. The decision made him feel like a failure. Gerhard Cloete spoke to Robin about the path that led him to successful entrepreneurship, where he no longer feels like a failure.
Today 22-year-old Robin (Left) and his friend, Roux van der Watt (also 22), run a hugely promising internet business, Dietnostix
. Their health products are already drawing demand from as far as the US, Europe and the Far East.
Robin grew up as a South African in the Overberg region with his family formerly from Belgium and the Netherlands. Entrepreneurship is well rooted in his family, with his mother, among others, managing three restaurants in Swellendam and now doing the same in Stellenbosch.
He did not want to go and work for someone else, and it was the USB Executive Development's (USB-ED) Gap-year Programme in Entrepreneurship and Management that piqued his interest at the end of 2014.
This programme has since been renamed the Young Minds Entrepreneurship Programme
to reflect an alternative that goes beyond a mere gap-year offering. The focus thus has been shifted to a fully dedicated career – something that is much more appropriate according to Robin.
It presented him with the opportunity to learn more about entrepreneurship, as well as how to think and act innovatively. He and Van der Watt, who is currently studying auditing, were sharing their thoughts with each other when the idea to get involved in the diet industry was born.
This industry is one of the largest and fastest growing markets in the health care sector, and through research and contacts they came across LIPOstix. The product was already developed at the time, and simply needed good marketing.
LIPOstix essentially consists of a paper strip which is dipped into urine and, through colour changes, indicates whether a person's diet is working and fat burning is indeed taking place. It also indicates whether vitamin C levels are sufficient to help burn more fat. It also shows levels of hydration, according to which adjustments can be made to a diet or lifestyle.
The test is simple, non-invasive, can be self-performed daily and is extremely accurate.
The company Dietnostix emanated from this and was established in February this year with marketing and sales mainly taking place online. To achieve this, Robin also had to learn how to build and adapt a website himself.
The company already has a manufacturing plant in operation in Cape Town and is now preparing to supply the local diet market properly first. In the meantime, the short-term goal is to obtain approval for LIPOstix from the American Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and to then enter the very profitable American and European markets.
There are also imminent plans to support LIPOstix with a cell phone app to become involved with the “management of weight-loss” in this way. Such an app will give dieticians in particular the opportunity to continuously stay in contact with clients for monitoring purposes. The monitoring and management of weight-loss is considered the company's most notable competitive advantage.
The company is planning similar products that include SPORTstix for sportspeople, an anti-ageing test and a fertility test for men.
Robin says that some of the most important entrepreneurial lessons they have learnt is that a product has to be simple, easy to understand, and must grab the consumer’s attention at first glance. The most important thing is to get someone to try it for the first time. “Here social media can play a big role and especially the ‘testimonials’ that people give of the product, on whether it worked for them or not. It is also crucial that the consumer must trust the product.”
Another lesson is that relationships between partners in a business have to be rock-solid. Every individual must know what their specific role is and what is expected of them, have the same end goal, and know exactly what they are working towards. Where differences do occur, it should be discussed urgently. The same goes for short and long-term goals, which have to be in sync.
“It is important to stay calm and to strategize what the next step should be. When you first taste success, it is easy to get so excited that you lose perspective. You can have the best product in the world, but if you do not go about it thoughtfully realistically, it will mean nothing.”
The company's image and how it is perceived by the public should also receive a lot of consideration. This must be handled professionally from the start, especially in Dietnostix's case where investors are now being attracted. Success is simply not achieved overnight. To establish a business and make it successful takes time.
“Also remember that the customer is always ‘king’. Communication is therefore vitally important. It is essential to get continuous feedback on how your product is experienced in the market, as it helps you to implement product and service improvements pro-actively and maintain an advantage over your competition.”
“Technology does offer varied and good channels to communicate with the consumer, but there is still nothing that beats personal contact by means of a telephone call.”
“The essence of the company revolves around self-diagnosis that is aimed at clearly showing people who are on a diet what works and what does not. It is about making a real difference in people's lives through a health and lifestyle product that is both user-friendly and works,” says Robin.
The original article was published in Die Burger Sake24 on 25 April 2016