Schalk Kearney | eCommerce Africa

Schalk Kearney

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Co-Founder
Pet Heaven

Personal background

When I was about 10 years old my mom came home from work one day, bumping into me at the back door anxiously waiting for her. I immediately asked her to take me to the shop to buy something. My mom curiously asked where I had gotten the money I was clamping in both my hands from. After some probing our helper told her that I have been selling mangoes picked from our back yard to passers by. After this I had a few entrepreneurial ventures from making skateboards to importing beads and making trinkets or basically cheap jewelry and selling it to a local retailer.

After school I went to the UK and started out working in Hotels. I became the restaurant supervisor (and acting manager as there was none) of a 4 star Silver Service restaurant and help to achieve 2 AA Rosettes, the highest they have ever achieved. I loved the fast paced environment and leading a team so I decided to come back to SA and study Hospitality management full-time. While interning in Food & Beverage at Southern Sun Newlands I offered to help out in accounts when their Assistant Financial Controller went on maternity leave. I basically taught myself everything about the hotel’s accounting procedures and practices and took responsibility for bank reconciliations, salaries, banking, creditors payments, inventory control etc. I implemented an inventory control system in the hotel that was still being used 3 years after I left.

A full-time AFC position became available at Southern Sun Cape Sun (a hotel 3 times the size of SS Newlands) and I started working there at the age of 24. After 2 years I wanted to move up to become a Financial Manager, but the opportunities were limited, so I decided to go back into operations, but they blocked all my applications as they tried to retain me as AFC.

While I was interning at SS Newlands I wrote the Estate Agent’s exam as I am very interested in property investing and development. It was a way for me to find out what estate agents do and how to canvas for properties. I then left SS Cape Sun after I realized growth opportunities were limited, basically I was bored! I became an estate agent for Sotheby’s International Realty and absolutely sucked at it. I loved property, but hated the industry. So I left after a year to go back into hospitality as I had no other fallback.

I started working as an operations manager for a new coffee franchise from the UK opening in SA. The business failed within a year. While I was working there (average 14 hours a day) I taught myself web design. At this stage I realized that I had forgotten my passion and dream to build my own empire, so I thought web design was a good place to start considering the growth of online businesses around the world. After the coffee business failed I started doing web design for friends and who ever else I could convince. I was slowly living out all my savings and the web design business was just not taking off. One of the most important lessons I learnt during the coffee business and starting my web design company was finding the first customer is hard, and that a business cannot scale without marketing.

At this point my poor mother concerned about me asked me to go back to studying. I agreed and firstly saw this as an opportunity to learn about marketing, but also gave me some time to come up with a new business idea. Shortly within my first year I launched another business called Ace Notes, a platform for students to buy and sell their study notes. I soon realized that part of the studying process is actually making the notes, and thus there was no real market for my product. I also quickly realized that the level of marketing that was being taught at university level (or at least the university I was at) was well behind the times when my marketing lecturer asked me to present a class on website design and digital marketing. So I pivoted and studied what I think would be more beneficial to business, Financial Management.

In my second year I started another business and was looking for a developer to help me build the system, but instead I came across a developer who started an interesting business and decided to rather join his venture. This venture was Pet Heaven and was about 4 months old when I joined. 


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