“When you’re building and scaling a company, there is no time to second guess yourself. You have to be the best informed person in the room.”
Meet South African powerhouse, Alexandria Procter – CEO and founder of DigsConnect. Developed during her Honours year at the University of Cape Town, DigsConnect was born as a response to the 2018 student accommodation crisis. The platform is South Africa’s first digital solution to accommodation for students, aiming to connect landlords with buyers. As the country’s largest student accommodation marketplace, DigsConnect is only getting started and through it, Alexandria and her team are trying to build a self-sustaining community in which people can connect with like-minded individuals in a safe and secure environment. We sat down with Alexandria to discuss the highs and lows of female entrepreneurship, what excites her and the principles for workplace success that she absolutely refuses to compromise on.
Please tell us a little about your background?
I am a part of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers, and a member of Mensa. I’m currently training for my PPL (private pilot’s licence) at Stellenbosch Flying Club.
I used to run an NGO called Libraries for Entrepreneurship, which held computer literacy and entrepreneurship workshops for women in the Cape Flats. However, since DigsConnect’s growth, I’ve been hyper-focused on this company and entrepreneurship.
What was the idea behind DigsConnect? How did it come about?
It started during my undergrad, when I was elected onto the Student Representative Council. Due to my SRC position, landlords would call me and say they had spare rooms, vacancies, beds to fill, and wanted to know how to advertise these rooms to the students. I was originally matching up landlords and students manually but I realised it would be much easier if I just knocked together a little website where people could connect by themselves without having to go through me. Over a weekend I bought the domain and coded a simple website where you could list accommodation and search for accommodation. Thus DigsConnect was born, as an online marketplace to connect sellers (landlords) with buyers (students). Before I knew it, I was suddenly strapped to a rocket headed to the stratosphere. I had stumbled upon something that was in huge demand and the platform just exploded. Within a couple of months I had about 50 000 beds on the platform throughout South Africa. A couple months later I dropped out of my postgrad at university, registered the company, and we’ve been going, and growing, ever since.
What did you first hope to achieve with DigsConnect?
Honestly it was just about solving a problem that was facing me and my immediate community.
But something remarkable that we saw happening was secondary services springing up around this – local salons that were serving the students, cafes, coffee shops, bookstores, theatres, parks coming to life with the natural energy and buzz that students bring to any neighbourhood. It was putting the money back in the hands of local entrepreneurs, where they in turn were spending it in their communities.
What do you think is the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur, particularly a female entrepreneur?
You have to radically change how you think about yourself. It all starts with your mindset. I don’t know if this was just me, but I feel like growing up you’re taught to doubt yourself, defer authority to some vague authority figure, not question why they have that authority or the validity of their principals. You’re taught to sit down, keep quiet, wait your turn, obey. To a certain extent, this is even more the case for women. When you’re building and scaling a company, there is no time to second guess yourself. You have to be the best informed person in the room, you have to make the call and you have to back yourself. You have to stand up, speak up, take the hits and question how those with authority got that authority and then you have to have the audacity to change it, to propose and then build a better way of doing things, and then fight through the naysayers and resistance to that change. You simply cannot doubt yourself for a second.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Passionate. Resourceful. Hilarious.
What excites you more than anything?
The knowledge that I’m having a real impact on people’s lives. That the work I do every day is helping tens of thousands of students, their parents and landlords. It’s an incredible feeling knowing that you’re part of the solution. Every time I hear from one of our users about how their lives were changed by DigsConnect, I remember why I do what I do. Martin Luther King said “anyone can be great, because anyone can serve”.
What tips would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to make it in South Africa?
Do not ever give up. Keep trying, always. It’s impossible to fail unless you stop trying. Keep at it, pivot a thousand times if you must, make the necessary sacrifices, and prepare to be exhausted. But also know you will have the most rewarding and meaningful life. Also, our country needs you now more than ever. Our country needs job-creators, entrepreneurs, solution-makers, problem-solvers, thinkers, builders. This is how we can rebuild our economy, with grassroots entrepreneurship. We cannot wait around for the public sector or anyone to come save us, we have to save ourselves, and we do that by building.