In the Press

7
Jan 2015
Justin Clarke, CEO of One Africa Media

One name that has been echoing around the upper echelons of South Africa’s tech startup scene lately, is Justin Clarke. This entrepreneur has, in the space of a few short years, completely disrupted the many industries he has ventured into.

At present, Clarke is the head of One Africa Media (OAM), which is currently Africa’s largest online classifieds group. This innovator has lived an eventful life to date, while his entrepreneurial spirit can only be described as inspirational.

The Business

Clarke is one of those rare individuals that completely changed the game. In 1997, he registered the domain, PrivateProperty.com and by 1998 was open for business. “Private Property” was a real estate site that essentially took the form of classifieds, matching potential buyers to sellers while cutting out the middleman. The site was launched in an age where many people either didn’t have Internet access or were generally skeptical of business conducted online. However, the public’s lack of technological nous was not the main issue Clarke’s business faced, as the “Private Property” site was controversial for a very different reason at the time.

Clarke’s business model required the seller to pay an upfront fee of between R3,000 and R5,000 to be listed on the site, but the costs stopped there. This meant the public no longer had to pay large commission fees to estate agents in order to buy or sell property. Real estate agencies therefore saw Clarke’s site as a direct threat to their livelihood and took it upon themselves to bury his business while still in its infancy. What followed can only be described as a war.

Mass meetings of real estate agencies held open conferences around how best to shut down the controversial website, while Clarke returned fire with marketing slogans such as, “You Must Be Crazy to Pay Commission!” which further incensed the real estate industry. The agencies took to pressurising sponsors, threatening to boycott any business affiliated with Clarke’s site.

Furthermore, multiple complaints were lodged with the Estate Agency Affairs Board, but because Clarke technically did not run an estate agency, these complaints amounted to nothing. Clarke was also initially denied any medium through which he could advertise his business, as property magazines and the property section in newspapers were run by real estate agencies. An ever-resourceful Clarke, however, had a brainwave and struck a deal with East Coast Radio, which allowed his message to be heard by thousands of people.

“Private Property” survived the onslaught of the coalition of real estate agencies and has since grown exponentially. Clarke was always confident that as long as his business was saving people time and money, then it would succeed, and this vision ultimately proved correct. In 2012, “Private Property” was renamed “One Africa Media” (OAM) as Clarke sought to combine his site with other similar businesses in different industries. The result: Africa’s largest online classifieds group.

OAM now offers matches in the job market, used car market, travel industry and of course, real estate, with central offices in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria and satellite offices in four other high-growth African countries. OAM is not only one of Africa’s largest companies but also one of the fastest growing and has thus, unsurprisingly, attracted mass investment to go towards further expansion into the continent.

Clarke’s entrepreneurial journey reads like a fairytale as he has overcome all trials and tribulations to secure his own ‘happily ever after’. He has set the goal for his business to grow into a $1-billion industry and, after witnessing the sheer determination of the man, no one could say it would be undeserved.

The Man

Justin Clarke is not your typical businessman. After all, this is the man who, in the face of a real estate agency blitz, ran an advertising campaign with the sole purpose of further angering his opposition. He simply does not back down. However, Clarke in his private life is so much more than the sum of his entrepreneurial achievement… he has also had to overcome personal tragedies not many people would bounce back from.

In January 2009, while on vacation with his wife, he came dangerously close to a first-hand encounter with death. He was involved in a freak skiing accident that left him with two punctured lungs, a broken sternum, multiple spinal fractures, a fractured skull, a full-house of broken ribs and ultimately, a very small chance of survival. Clarke underwent two separate operations and flirted with death while in a coma for over four weeks. The entrepreneur’s health remained volatile, as he again seemed to be heading towards death on his flight back to South Africa. He eventually pulled through but it came at a cost: he would, for the rest of his life, be paralysed from the waist down.

For a man with a passion for extreme sports, marathon running and cycling, it would have been understandable if this diagnosis broke his spirit. But this was not an option for Clarke as he immediately embraced his new lifestyle by strengthening his arms and shoulders, adapting his car and installing wheelchair ramps in key areas. Clarke also refused to abandon his love of sports, as he took to swimming length upon length in his local pool using nothing but his arms and a float to hold his legs up. He later did the unthinkable, by competing in and finishing the Midmar Mile swim and then also completing the 42km New York marathon the following year.

Clarke recently won the South African division of the EY World Entrepreneur award in the ‘emerging’ category, a prestigious honour he no doubt deserves.

Justin Clarke has never let any opposition, be it real estate agencies or disability, stand in the way of his dreams. His story is a testament to how far determination and belief can take you and, based on the character of the man, the future looks bright for both One Africa Media and Justin Clarke.

Article from MWEB Entrepreneur

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