He is one of South Africa’s most renowned business people, and now William Kirsh is investing in the country’s tech startups.
Kirsh is perhaps best known for his Primedia media empire, which he built over a period of almost 20 years before resigning as chief executive officer (CEO) in 2009. That was not to retire, however, and Kirsh is now building another media business, albeit an entirely digital one, in the form of Tritech Media.
The company made headlines last year by backing mobile rewards startup TuYu and gaming agency GameZBoost, with Tritech having the option with both investments to take a majority stake in the next few years.
TuYu is a mobile rewards and incentives platform that allows companies to reward their staff or consumers at the click of a button, directly to their mobile phones, while GameZBoost offers full featured and highly customisable white label gaming platforms.
Kirsh told Disrupt Africa the two acquisitions fit perfectly into Tritech’s business model, which is based around proprietary technologies within two pillars: customised content and loyalty programmes. It currently has 14 companies under its umbrella.
“We intend to expand our repertoire of offerings beyond loyalty programmes. We intend to become the hub of customised content in Africa,” he said.
“They all hang together because we can use the customised digital content to strengthen the loyalty programmes. There is a synergistic element between the two pillars.”
Tritech, he said, is similar to traditional media groups, but entirely tech-based, which makes it is very scalable business model.
“We’ve got this blueprint and we will continue to make acquisitions within this blueprint,” he said. “It is a formula I know works.”
Central to Tritech’s strategy is partnerships with entrepreneurs, according to Kirsh.
“A key part of our formula is identifying the owner-managers that we can back. We don’t buy any of our businesses with the intention of changing the management. If we did that we would fail,” he said.
“As we become more substantial there are companies that are increasingly approaching us because they can see the benefit of being part of our group. But you can’t rest of your laurels and wait for people to knock on your door.”
Though the company’s focus has thus far been on South Africa, Kirsh said there is room for operations overseas as well.
“The major focus at the moment is South Africa, but we have some technology and some platforms that can be leveraged overseas, and two of our companies are already looking to do that. It is quite easy because we don’t need to set up large infrastructure, and as long as your tech is relevant in a particular market, there is a place for it,” he said.
More acquisitions will take place in 2016, with Kirsh saying this would be crucial to growing the business.
“It is a major focus for us to acquire more companies and I’m a strong believer that the more businesses we have the more successful the businesses within the group will be,” Kirsh said.
Tritech looks for owner-managers with a compatible value system, running businesses that are scalable and have strong growth prospects.
“The first thing is that they have to fit into our strategic framework. We are very, very clear on what companies we want. We’re also clear on what criteria will drive the purchase of that company,” Kirsh said.
“I don’t waste any time on companies that don’t fit into that formula. It is very simple and very quick to know if we should be looking at something. It is not something we need to be dwelling on these days.”
This focus is important from an investor’s point of view, according to him.
“It is a good thing because we don’t become opportunistic. That works for some players, but a few players. The way we see it is that if you’re not working within a strategic framework, you’re going to make mistakes.”