Challenge yourself, challenge your thinking and challenge your ideas or views.

 

Serge Christian Pierre Belamant is a founding patent holder of blockchain technologies. Serge Belamant was born in the city of Tulle, France; his father, a tiler by trade, moved his family to South Africa when he was only 14. He then went on to attend Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg to study computer science.

Working with various companies, Serge Belamant became a key member in creating many technological advancements that have changed the way we use financial banking systems today. Belamant’s talent for digital financial transaction software coding was more than adept.

In 1989, Serge Belamant founded Net1 UEPS Technologies, Inc. UEPS is short for Universal Electronic Payment Systems, which Belamant designed. In 1995, VISA partnered with Belamant to design their new idea, a Chip Offline Pre-Authorized Card (COPAC); the chip cards we use for just about everything today.

In 1999, Net1 and Serge Belamant developed a digital payment system to transfer welfare grants to those in need all around areas of South Africa. His system was widely sought after and is now used in many other countries including Russia and Iraq. Today, Net1 is a top software payment technology company for both emerging and already established economies.

Recently, Serge Belamant co-founded Zilch Technologies in the United Kingdom. Belamant also serves on the Board of Advisors at Prism Group Holdings Pty. Ltd. and Medikredit Integrated Healthcare Solutions.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

The Zilch idea was brought to me by my son Philip. Philip is an IT engineer who started his own mobile games’ company after earning his Honour’s degree in computer science. Philip bounced the Zilch idea off me and I was very keen to understand the new world of social media and how it could be used to provide younger people innovative and affordable financial products and services that are in synch with their lifestyle, take cognisance of their earning and spending patterns and assist them to better manage their cash flows.

The Zilch idea was brought to me by my son Philip. Philip is an IT engineer who started his own mobile games’ company after earning his Honour’s degree in computer science. Philip bounced the Zilch idea off me and I was very keen to understand the new world of social media and how it could be used to provide younger people innovative and affordable financial products and services that are in synch with their lifestyle, take cognisance of their earning and spending patterns and assist them to better manage their cash flows.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Although I am now semi-retired, the format of my typical day has not really changed much over the years. Make a list of things that need doing, identify the items that need to be done now, do them! This includes assisting the businesses in which I am involved by providing guidance and highlighting some of the potential problems or impasses the business may face and how to avoid these as much as possible.

Check the news, in the UK and then elsewhere to get a feel of where the world is going in the medium to long term. Investigate and learn about the things I read about but did not quite grasp such as geography, history, legal, financial, technological, medical, social, etc. Write a few pages of a book I am trying to complete if I’m in a creative mood, try to rationalise current events and the opportunities these could offer. Have lunch with my wife, play some online chess, study some interesting mathematical concepts and how these could be applied to business, take a walk to clear my mind and philosophise a little.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Bringing ideas to life is not easy.

Firstly, one needs to break down the idea into its simplest components to really understand what makes the idea real and thus a good one. If after stripping it bear of all unrelated colour, the idea still makes sense, you have something.

The next step is to understand who the users of the idea could be and why they would use it and more importantly would they pay for it. The next stage is to analyse what has to be done, how long will it take, how much it will cost? If all of these steps prove reasonable, one can go ahead with prototyping and assumption testing, after which the work really starts, i.e. focus, work, focus, work, persevere…

What’s one trend that excites you?

The trend that excites me at the moment is the simplicity and complexities of DNA analysis and its current and potential applications. I do not understand enough about the fundamental biology or chemistry involved or the medically linked breakthroughs but would like to believe that the genome is some form of computer algorithm (state machine) that has the ability to reprogram itself depending on its states and events.

The secret of life is somehow embedded in this understanding. The philosophical conundrum regarding what many see as God’s domain is also terribly interesting in order to decide if breakthroughs in this field would lead to better humanity or the opposite. The trend has to be the linking of multiple disciplines as each one individually cannot solve the problem e.g. medicine although fantastic in terms of breakthroughs is a little like a pile of Lego pieces without the picture to guide its construction. Computer science and mathematics can construct the image but does not have the Lego pieces! Put them together and bingo, the simplicity of it all.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Perhaps the simplest habit I have (frustrating for many of my friends and family members) is to always attempt to identify the root cause of problems or events and then use whatever is available to design or invent new solutions or scenarios. Enabling the crossing of scientific fields such as medicine, engineering, computer science and philosophy allows for the germination of new ideas and the creation of solutions that are far more suited to the problem at hand and facilitate lateral thinking.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The advice I would give my younger self is not to ignore accounting and legal fields as although these are not creative by design they can be used very creatively by people to usurp your company and ensure that they profit far more than the ones that built and operate the company. This often, at worse, leads to the company’s failure or at best a redefinition of its manta, vision and deployment plans.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Formal qualifications in accounting and law can, if unchecked, thwart innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship as these disciplines simply tells one what cannot be done rather than what is possible.

Entrepreneurs who initially ignore the restrictions these impose, simply because they are not aware of them, often succeed because they lateral thinking is not restricted by rules that may in fact not really exist and laws which can change, be changed or be interpreted differently.

Once an idea is created and its deployment planned, accountants and lawyers can enter the fold to ensure compliance and reporting, never before! Ideas must come first in brainstorming sessions without any imposed negativity. This ensures that good ideas are not discarded at inception because of some standards or regulations that may or may not be relevant or could be changed.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Challenge yourself, challenge your thinking and challenge your ideas or views. Do not do this by scanning the internet or looking at what others have done, or say they have done. Believe in yourself and be passionate about your business ideas. Write these down, flowchart them, as often by doing this, they become naked (no noise) and if there is nothing left, there probably wasn’t anything there in the first place.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

My strategy has always been based on offence and defence. Just like a game of chess! The greatest chess grandmasters attack but ensure that they have a defence if the attack fails. Business is like chess, one needs to look a few moves ahead. If one does not do so, the alternative paths the business could follow in times of need may simply no longer be possible.

For example, make sure that you create a backup plan or backdoor to ensure business continuity so that if you lose on one side, you win on the other. This is not always easy to find these alternative paths but if one does, one is more likely to succeed for much longer than if one does not.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I had a number of failures as an entrepreneur and I am not sure if I actually overcame these totally or if I could have addressed them much earlier on. For example, I firmly believe that one should be passionate about what one does, else what is the point! By the same token, this conviction, that often leads to success may result in one being too loud about what one is doing and fly in the face of detractors. One should not underestimate the media, journalists, social media, fake news, etc.

Often diplomacy is required and losing one’s temper is not always the answer, as the truth can hurt and make people bitter and vindictive, resulting in attacks based on soft and non empirical issues linked to ideals and ethics that are more often than not defined by the beholder and driven by the narrative that is making headlines at the time. The question that one must ask oneself is: Do I allow the narrative to dictate who and what I am, or do I fight against it even though I may lose? Winning and losing looks different at various points of one’s life.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A simple idea for a business would be to provide a search engine that does not rely on advertising as a revenue source. Many people would love to be able to search subject matter without being subjected to continuous advertising that is time-consuming and often leads to distraction and frustration. This could be done by using existing search engines and stripping the adverts. This would not reduce these engines’ revenue streams and thus not became one of their competitor or being seen as a disruptor.

The class of persons who wishes to sign up would pay a fee based on a monthly subscription or on a transaction search basis and be presented with information ‘advert free’ thus increasing productivity and removing any distraction and confusion. For every business model, there must be a class of individuals that prefer the opposite to what is being offered. It may be a smaller class but it may be large enough to build a substantial business.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best 100 pounds I have recently spent was to buy my grand-daughters (Taylor and Gemma) some American Girls’ booklets which address subjects such as: how to manage your friends and relationships, how to recognise and understand peer pressure, how to spend your pocket money, the pros and cons of social media, etc. All of which are written for young children with examples of real-life experiences and lists of dos and don’ts.

This educational series is in my view paramount for all children who now live in a world where unfiltered information is everywhere resulting in pitfalls being created that can lead to emotional, educational and physiological unbalances that may prove difficult to recognise and rectify.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

The piece of software I use regularly apart from Word and Excel is Google translate, Google maps and of course numerous search engines. One wonders how previous generations managed to obtain knowledge about certain subject matter quickly (World Book?). These tools when used carefully can make one’s life so much easier and far more productive.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

My favourite book is the ‘Brothers Karamazov’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I was lucky enough to read the book in French and then in English. The French version was a better read (I think because many of Dostoevsky’s notes were written in French) as the philosophical discussions are better portrayed and more vivid.

The book forces one to question ethics, morality, faith, and logic as well as the existence of God and free will. All in all, a philosophical work of art that forces one to think about certain subjects that touch one’s life, conduct, beliefs and all that is really important in life and the universe.

What is your favorite quote?

My favourite quote is: ‘It is easy to see far when one stands on the shoulders of giants’. I think this is true but seldom applied.

The trick is to ensure that the giants are a mix of different disciplines rather than a single one such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, etc. Just like the greatest markets are those that incorporate many diverse and different countries and cultures (e.g. EU), the best solutions are those created out of diversity rather than uniformity.

Key Learnings:

  • Break down an idea into its simplest components to really understand what makes the idea real.
  • Always attempt to identify the root cause of a problem or event, and then use whatever is available to design or invent a new solution or scenario.
  • Believe in yourself and be passionate about your business ideas.

Connect:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/serge-belamant/