Roberto CoelhoBy Roberto Coelho|July 13, 2022|7 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

How to rise as an entrepreneur when life knocks  you down.

This is a story of a hustler, serial entrepreneur, and the ultimate survivor... By never looking back on the past and always looking into the future, Justin Clarke turned a tech start-up into one of Africas biggest internet classified groups. He shares his journey and the wisdom he gained over 37 years as an entrepreneur.

The unexpected chilli mornings in South Africa are filled with productivity by the thousands of men and women searching to make it big. Today, I speak to one of those individuals who travelled along the bumpy, pothole filled journey of entrepreneurship to become a success, Justin Clarke.

Clarke has lived a life of entrepreneurship, straight out of university he founded his first business in video games, later co-founding Private Property which became a leading internet marketplace for real estate in South Africa.

The passion and drive continued as he was backed by Tiger Global Management to co-found One Africa Media, Africa’s biggest online classified group which operates in 10 countries.

Awards rained down on him over this journey, by using this experience his new venture is OrbVest which focuses on medical commercial real estate in the United States.

“I never worked for anyone; I have always been wired to do crazy things.”

Always allowing his courage to out-weigh fear, one of Clarke’s first ventures included operating in Mozambique, at the time struggling with a civil war.

Clarke understood the meaning of keeping one’s head down while bullets are flying, yet all tricky escapades develop future personal growth.

“There is a lot of bad luck stories across Africa.”

Unfortunately, Clarke’s Mozambican experience ended abruptly. However, by avoiding the negative thoughts he was on the lookout for future opportunities. Clarke stumbled across his true passion, property!

He returned home to KwaZulu-Natal, a province in South Africa, where an opportunity to purchase a property and develop a medical centre (more than 20 years prior to OrbVest) was presented.

He accepted the trying task of purchasing and renovating an old building. His strategy worked and it led him to a profitable business and successful sale.

“We sold it and we did well. I realised I do not want to deal with the small stuff and that real estate is the place to be.”

His ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ agreed to lead to a lifelong obsession with real estate and numerous second derivative innovations.

“Real estate is very exciting, getting to deal with big structures and big transactions.”

This passion would lead Clarke to co-found Private Property, an online real estate marketplace in 1999.

“We started Private Property way too early.”

Clarke shares how attracting customers was difficult because most South Africans did not know or understand the internet yet. Many felt it was just a passing fad.

To manoeuvre around the slow adoption of South African home buyers and sellers, Clarke implemented different marketing techniques to remove the fears of online retail.

As the conversation continues, Clarke begins to share some pearls of wisdom from his life as an entrepreneur.

“As an entrepreneur, we must always view any situation as a glass half full, only seeing the 100 opportunities when everyone else sees chaos.”

This is more than a thought but is, a way of living and an attitude for life. By building one’s personality around this idea, opportunities will naturally begin to appear.

As with Private Property, Clarke faced many challenges from slow customer adoption to stiff competition.

The incumbent real estate agents were determined not to lose relevance. More concerning were alternative online marketplaces which began to appear. Most notably being Naspers’ own online property marketplace, Property 24.

Clarke did not shy away from the battle with one of Africa’s tech giants and used Private Property as the base to build One Africa Media. He overcame the chaos and focused on the opportunities presented to him.

But Clarke shares how seeing ‘100’ opportunities can be a blessing and a curse.

“The biggest problem for the young entrepreneur is they do not know what to say no to.”

In today’s society, the number of problems is overflowing, giving rise to thousands of possible solutions, where each solution may be a profitable business. The potential business opportunities become endless.

How does a young entrepreneur choose the ‘correct’ business?

Clarke says it comes down to the five-letter word: focus!

“I realised the importance of focus and sometimes we just need to keep pushing that one idea which we really believe.”

Focus is central to everyone’s life, however, the level of focus required is dependent on each individual’s own goals.

“If someone is trying to build something big and great, they need to be 100% focused 100% of the time.”

If one’s goal is to change the world, there needs to be an Olympian like dedication to the mission and project.

As the conversation with Clarke meanders to an end, what embodies Clarke’s great entrepreneurial spirit and drive, is his way of approaching life.

Before Clarke’s business partner was murdered, Clarke experienced a skiing accident in Austria.

Clarke is a paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair, he approaches life with 100% energy and focus, always seeing the glass as half full.

“When an entrepreneur looks forward and does not look back, their problems begin to disappear.”