After many aptitude tests that didn’t point in any clear career direction, Keet van Zyl decided to study ‘BRek’. The reason? A bachelor of accounting was one of the most difficult degrees to qualify for and he always loved a challenge.
His parents both studied at Stellenbosch University (SU) and convinced him to do the same, saying that they could not explain it at that time, but that he will get “something other than a degree” at Stellenbosch. “I was intrigued enough about this ‘other something’ so I decided to give it a go,” Keet says. He graduated in 1997 and became a chartered management accountant, but also went on to study an MBA as well as intellectual property law.
Keet matriculated in Vereeniging and saw Stellenbosch for the first time when his parents brought him to the town for his studies. “Standing on the lawn of Simonsberg residence, parents gone, it suddenly struck me that I didn’t know a soul here. I was half excited about carving out a brand-new life, and half scared to death. But the friendships that I formed playing touch-rugby on that very same lawn, soon brought about a new spirit that gave me the tenacity to thrive through some tough times.”
He also remembers that the library was a great sanctuary closer to the exams and that his favourite times at Stellenbosch involved hanging out in the Neelsie with friends between classes. He later found that the “something other than a degree” was his wife, Melissa.
After his studies, he was recruited by Procter & Gamble and moved up to Johannesburg for his first job as a financial analyst, working on some of the biggest brands in the world. “I was part of a small team early in my career that launched the Pantene haircare brand into South Africa – teaching me that anything is possible if you have the right people and resources behind you.”
Thereafter he joined the Southern African Enterprise Development Fund (SAEDF) where he was responsible for structuring, funding and monitoring various private equity funds, banks and other financial institutions in the Southern African region. “I also started doing some private angel investments of my own, and ended up moving to Cape Town working at Investec in the bank’s entrepreneurial Growth & Acquisition finance division. My passion for entrepreneurship was unlocked, and I joined Mark Shuttleworth’s ‘Here Be Dragons’ (HBD) Venture Capital to provide risk finance to scalable technology ventures.”
In 2010 he co-founded Knife Capital (with another Matie, Eben van Heerden) to continue the active management of HBD’s South African portfolio of investments and raise third-party funds for venture capital investments. “We combine knowledge, networks and funding to accelerate the international expansion of entrepreneurial businesses that achieved a product/market fit in South Africa.” Fellow Simonsberger and ex-Springbok, Bob Skinstad, also recently joined as a Knife Capital partner.
Ethics, integrity and awesomeness are important values to him. “Interacting with the most interesting and eccentric people that make a positive dent in the universe with new disruptive innovations is what I enjoy most about my work. I truly believe that entrepreneurship is the solution to South Africa’s job creation challenges.”
- By Elbie Els -