Interview: Justin Stanford, founding partner, 4Di Capital

Justin Stanford’s 4Di Capital shows no sign of backing down in the quest to provide venture capital (VC) to the South African tech scene. Just months after making an exit from mobile community startup Motribe after it was acquired by Mxit, Stanford and his team received investment from the Oppenheimer family which will allow them to further help the startup scene in Cape Town.

Though the size of the funding was not confirmed, Stanford confirmed to HumanIPO: “It’s a substantial amount for the local scene”. The money from South Africa’s richest family is said to double the size of the fund available to 4Di, with the Oppenheimers seeing the potential in South Africans’ entrepreneurial talent and prepared to back innovation.

Stanford believes that faith is well-placed. It is a faith that he has been working hard to cultivate, ever since he was involved in the conception of the Silicon Cape back in 2009.

“There is a real buzz, there is an explosion happening in the startup world,” he says, discussing how much has changed between in the last three years. “At that time there was no community really. None at all. Lots of little isolated pillars of things going on. I realised no one knew about each other.

“That’s why we decided to create the Silicon Cape initiative, to introduce some glue into the community. In just three years things have really taken off. It has provided a lot of platforms for the community to develop.”

4Di has been central in the provision of these platforms. It has to date invested in seven African startups, with its most successful investment being Motribe, which was acquired by Mxit in September. Stanford believes Motribe found a good home and that the deal made commercial sense.

“It took place in a roundabout way over a year,” he says. “Motribe started working with Mxit a year ago on two apps, MxPix and Judge Me. The apps did well, and with that kicking off so well, the Mxit guys just liked the Motribe guys. It became obvious there was a natural alignment.”

Motribe was one of the first startups founded, funded and exited in the Silicon Cape era, and it is a model Stanford is keen to replicate.

“We are after South Africa-originated tech startups with potential to reach large markets,” he says, with a focus on companies that are not capital hungry. “We look for companies that are able to operate as lean and mean startups.”

There are obstacles for the Silicon Cape, however, not least the lack of VC available to tech startups.

“It’s a very new and nascent place,” he says. “There’s not a lot of history yet.”

“It’s very hard to market a VC fund to investors, there’s no solid track record. The ecosystem here is new and emerging. I’m probably the first and only entrepreneur turned VC in this space. For now people don’t really understand or appreciate that opportunity.”

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