For our interview series “We made it!”, we share our clients’ success stories in South Africa. This month we would like to introduce you to Ruben Hazelzet, who moved to Cape Town to work remotely for Soapbox Amsterdam, a marketing company. Ruben started then Soapbox’s first foreign office, Soapbox South Africa. By facilitating behavioral design workshops for SA firms, sufficient basis was found in setting a positively impact in Africa in the fields of education, healthcare, financial inclusion and sustainability. IBN had the pleasure to find out more about Ruben´s business and life in South Africa in the following interview:
IBN: What made you decide to relocate and why did you choose South Africa?
Ruben: I decided to move to South Africa with my girlfriend. We wanted to experience something new, on all scales from the culture, to the people, to the nature. Equally, we wanted to gain new knowledge about how working is like in Africa. My girlfriend is a doctor with an interest for rural healthcare, and with my passion for behavioral design, South Africa, provided us with a good basis to work from.
IBN: How long have you already lived in South Africa
Ruben: I have been here for two and a half years.
IBN: What do you do in South Africa?
Ruben: I’m working for a marketing agency called SOAPBOX that specializes on social impact. We cover 4 different pillars of this, which are Health, Financial Inclusion, Education and Sustainability. Mainly we are consultants, but also we create our own projects, where we partner with companies from abroad. Everything we do is deducted from and designed for humans, our services can be subdivided under research, strategy and campaigns.
IBN: What makes your business idea special/what sets you apart?
Ruben: We set ourselves apart by our knowledge in behavioral science and the ability to improve companies social impact in South Africa.
IBN: What would you say are the advantages/disadvantages living in South Africa?
Ruben: Advantages, I would say are: South Africa allows me to be outside a lot and it is an advantage for me to spend most of my time to enjoy the nature and beauty of the country. In business: From a creative point of view, Netherlands had a lot more boundaries (legislation already in place) that sometimes could hinder the creative process. Whereas South Africa this isn’t as much of an issue and allows me more freedom to create.
Disadvantages, in my opinion, would be: From a business point of view, people have a very different set of principles than in the Netherlands. Its is easy to get appointments with other businesses, but the obtaining a deal is harder. This can hinder productivity and can be sometimes a little frustrating.
IBN: What was your experience in relocating/setting up a business in South Africa?
Ruben: It is a rollercoaster of a journey. Patience is key. You must be determined to go and do things many times as well as to continuously follow up with progress. Admittedly, you also need a little bit of luck as well. For instance, embassy can end up being closed when you need to submit documents, bringing along more hurdles and barriers that you need to face and cross. Luckily, by the end all the loose ends did come together.
Setting up the company itself took three months. I had a local partner help me from the beginning with my Intra-Company Transfer Visa, as well a few reliable contacts in South Africa who could always advise and help me! However, I do believe the most important reason as to why it went so quickly was because I was already in the country. My Dutch friends say they face similar situations in this regard; however they have said their visa, unlike mine, which provides me flexibility, does restrict them a lot.
My most important tip I would give out is that you have to be willing to compromise!
IBN: How is your life in South Africa different from your home country and what do you like most about South Africa?
Ruben: Being able to be outside in the beautiful nature all the time. This isn’t generally the case in the Netherlands all the time. Living here compared to the Netherlands there is a big difference. The gap between the rich and poor is very prevalent and it allows you to gain a better understanding of who you want to be in life. While the Netherlands is a beautiful country as well as South Africa, everything is set in stone and while there is everything there it can be more troubling to live. In South Africa I feel I have more aspects to live for as well as I am able to provide a bigger impact to other people and the country, which I want to be able to do in my life. I think it is really good for my personal development.
IBN: What do you dislike about South Africa?
Ruben: You are able to see flaws in the system when coming from abroad. My girlfriend works as a doctor in Bonaire now because she was unable to get her papers in SA. A lot of the issue stems from the association never looking at her documents and not allowing her to practice and help people. She was ready to work for free in the Eastern Cape, so this situation is very sad.
IBN: What do you miss most from home?
Ruben: I do not feel unsafe but recent hiker attacks have left me feeling worried. Therefore, I miss the structure and the safety the Netherlands provided me, which I have only come to realize after I left.
IBN: What advice would you give people thinking about moving and/or setting up a business in South Africa?
Ruben: Take the opportunity and just GO! Even if SA companies want and need you they are often not able to properly assist with the relocation to South Africa, so don’t rely solely on working from abroad on this as it wastes time. Book your own ticket and see and take the opportunities when you are here. You can always go back if it does not work out. Things fell well into place when I was here in South Africa and it allowed me to grasp a better idea of the structure of businesses here as well.
IBN: What are your plans for the future?
Ruben: Since my visa is only valid for four years, I gave myself 4 years to take all necessary steps to create the most successful marketing company that is specialized in social impact. I wish to also make the company self-sustaining so that it can manage itself, therefor I only want to employ South Africans. I hope that the company will be able to create more special projects that will build the company up without my help. If this works I can always go back to escape winter and stay here for a couple months to check if everything is going in the right direction.
IBN: How was the IBN Team able to assist you in reaching your goals?
Ruben: IBN were very flexible with what I wanted and helped a lot with facilitating my transfer as well as my mindset that would be needed when moving to Africa. This was very useful as it helped when it came to looking for opportunities here. So, I liked their African Mindset to be flexible and creative a lot. When things felt like they were going to be ruins IBN came up with solutions that were satisfying to me. However, sometimes it felt like a marriage going through lows and highs together. The company register was very quick and well done.
IBN: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. We wish you all the best in all your future endeavors!!!
by Stephanie Duscher