YOUNG ACHIEVER

I fix, you fix

Alex Fourie, the man behind the increasingly popular iFix brand
alex.jpg

Turning ideas into tangible, innovative solutions is Alex Fourie’s passion. At 27, his innovative mobile repair service has branched out to include a number of exciting new ventures.

Twenty-seven-year-old Alex Fourie is the name behind the increasingly popular iFix brand, which gives clients the opportunity to have their iPhone or Samsung device repaired for a third of what it costs to replace it.

Having had phenomenal success in growing the business, which Fourie started about six years ago, his company has now branched out to include a variety of products and services. In an exclusive interview with Achiever shortly after he was named one of Forbes’ 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs In Africa 2014, Jurie Alexander Fourie speaks passionately about his business, entrepreneurship and what it takes to get to the top of one’s game at such a relatively young age.

Growing up in the Bellville area near Cape Town, Fourie attended DF Malan High School, where he matriculated in 2004. After doing some travelling overseas, particularly in the United Kingdom where he worked as a security guard in London, he was soon exposed to a number of people who introduced him to “a different way of thinking”. What flowed from this was a journey that has to date resulted in Fourie sitting with a business worth roughly R60 million on hand.

After saving up some of the money he had earned in his position as security guard, he hooked up with some musicians and started arranging tours. Enrolling at the University of Stellenbosch in 2006 to study a BComm degree, his success in previously arranging the tours had him planning events abroad for artists such as Chris Chameleon and Valiant Swart, all from his Wilgenhof Residence room. This was soon followed by him teaming up with some partners to create South Africa’s first digital media store, which had around 500 000 tracks to select from.

It was in 2007 that the event occurred which led to Fourie’s brainwave with iFix—his iPod fell and broke. With no Apple store willing or able to repair it at the time, he decided to go online and do some research on DIY iPod repairs, which turned out to be surprisingly easy. Soon, a friend’s broke, and another, and another, and before long he decided to place his advert in the Cape Times.

“My phone started ringing 10, 15, 20 times a day. So that grew organically. I did not have a shop or anything yet. I would literally have 15 people phoning me to say they want to bring their stuff in. They would drop it off at my folks’ place in Bellville, then I would fetch it.

“On the technical side, I got an engineering buddy of mine and offered to pay him a fee and we started off together. At that time, I was still a student, and until today I do not think I have ever had that much cash in my pocket as I had back then,” he jests.

Fourie, who is also a musician, having played the trumpet semi-professionally for a number of years, enjoys surfing as a pastime, but he says what really gets his gears moving is taking ideas and turning them into something tangible.

“Entrepreneurship to me is a mindset first and foremost. It is about being able to spot opportunities. I believe there is opportunity everywhere, and we are presented with it every day. But it is about taking an idea or thought and turning it into something tangible. In the same breath, you also need to have the persistence and the passion to pull that through,” he says.

Being innovative and diversifying your product or service offering is also very important, according to Fourie, who links innovation with entrepreneurship as an inseparable construct.

“Without innovation, you’re dead. The moment you stop thinking like an entrepreneur, your business will die. It is integral. Entrepreneurship is a form of business innovation. You get different kinds of innovation—like product innovation, business innovation and service innovation—and you also get inventors who will help entrepreneurs. But once again, it is about turning ideas into something tangible.

“You will also be knocked out if you do not have a diverse product or service offering. If you look at big international businesses, all of them have diverse product offerings. It makes it harder for anyone to enter the market and it also enables you to grow and have a positive effect on society,” he says.

With many people succumbing to a disposable attitude regarding broken merchandise, in the case of iPhones and the Samsung products Fourie deals with, he says replacing is much more expensive. “It is not cheaper [to replace]. From a pricing point of view, if we cannot fix something for less than 33% of the price of the new product, we do not fix it. From a convenience point of view, it may be more appealing to get rid of things when they do not work anymore, but we are trying to turn that status quo on its head.”

Marketing your business effectively is another crucial component to success. Branding and packaging, according to Fourie, is key. He refers to packaging as not being about the “shelf”, but the way you package your service and brand. “At the end of the day, a brand is seen as an entity, and an entity comes with personality. Nobody wants to befriend an idiot and nobody wants to do business with a loser. Try to be honest at all times, and also in the same breath be presentable.”
Fourie is of the opinion that the landscape of many businesses is “absolutely messed up” and that “there is a lot of rubbish out there”.

“So how do you differentiate? One of our core philosophies is to make every experience with the company an awesome one. We take clients from a bad position (their phone broke or fell) and convert that into an awesome one. We spend hundreds of thousands of rands on marketing, but 75% of our clients are referrals. And that comes from the experience,” he says.

Fourie is also passionate about inspiring people and helping them realise their potential and believes that giving back to others is one of the founding principles of entrepreneurship. “I tell other entrepreneurs: if you are only in it for the money, you are going to fail miserably. When I started iFix, I did not go out there to make money. I went out there because I knew other people had the same issue as I did. Our goal is rather to make the experience awesome, not to go out and see how much we can bill the client for.

“I hate seeing my staff or people around me working every day and they cannot make ends meet. So we have our iCare charity initiative and we also get involved with things like planting trees. That is one of the fundamentals of life. You cannot expect to get if you do not give first. I can go tomorrow and give R100 000 to several charities, and that might do a certain amount of good. Or I can go out and change 200 people’s way of thinking and empower them—and that will have a far more exponential effect,” he says.

The ideas that are turned from dust to dynamite are for the taking, according to Fourie, who enthuses philosophically and logically on the matter of where he gets his inspiration from. “You get ideas from your environment, and some would even theorise the collective consciousness. Think of what you passionate are about, what annoys you and what you want to do better. Do something, because one thing leads to another and because doing something is better than sitting on the couch. For a guy sitting around, the key is to get moving, to join the rhythm of life. If you are sitting still, things are going past you. Once you join the stream, you start swimming.

“If you have a very closed-minded way of approaching life, then you are going to struggle to tap into good ideas. But ideas are only 10%—anybody can come up with a good idea. So in the same breath, execution is the other 90%. You will not be able to execute a billion-rand company if you are just sitting on your couch. You will need to learn how to execute. And that comes with self-awareness. You can also fail miserably. I have made major mistakes, but by doing that, you can prepare for the next time,” he says.

RiCharge is one of Fourie’s innovative new solutions that aims at providing the public with mobile charging stations. This ties in with what he mentions as the networking effect when businesses give back to communities.

“Unless you are one of the major conglomerates, like Apple or Samsung, you are never going to be able to reach everyone. I believe in a type of business model whereby you can empower other people and facilitate other people to get the same sort of ‘aha’ moment. If you can have that network effect throughout the chain, then you will reach a substantially larger group than when you did it only for yourself,” he says.

uFix, another of Fourie’s innovative solutions, allows DIY fundis the opportunity to learn and fix their own products. He says that you will always come across those people who would just like to do it themselves, and he’d like to help them facilitate the process—though this amounts to only roughly 5% of clientele. “It is also ingrained in our philosophy. That is how we started, so facilitate that for other people.”

Fourie also has a range of stylish wooden Apple and Samsung covers, Houdt, which is now being promoted in Europe.

His advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Get up off the couch and go and do it. Get active, go out there and join the motion and the frequency that will ensure you reach the level you need,” he concludes.

Michael Meiring

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