Business Maverick


Connecting the dots — The Lekker Network seeks great Saffas doing amazing things abroad

Connecting the dots — The Lekker Network seeks great Saffas doing amazing things abroad

South Africa has lost almost a million citizens to emigration since 2000 – many of whom are achieving phenomenal business success abroad.

South Africa might be the birthplace of some of the richest people on the planet, but if you’re wondering what our greatest export is, it’s not only Veldskoen shoes, Bos iced tea or Charlize Theron. While the world also knows of Elon Musk and Nelson Mandela, there are countless South African success stories just waiting to be told.

Did you know that the creators of Paw Patrol are both South African-born? Or that the sisters who founded Mo’s Crib, a sustainable home décor design company which exploded in the US after being featured on The Today Show and in lifestyle magazines and the Target retail chain, are both from Pretoria? 

South Africans are achieving phenomenal success abroad, believes one of the original founders of Veldskoen shoes, Nic Latouf, who is building a community of South Africans abroad to help unlock opportunities for each other. 

The Lekker Network aims to connect people who are building solutions locally and abroad.

Unlike the Homecoming Revolution, which was set up to encourage more African diasporans to work and live on the continent, The Lekker Network is not aimed at enticing Saffas to return; rather, it wants them to stay in touch, connect and do business together.

Early success

Veldskoen shoes are one of South Africa’s most famous exports. Set up by Latouf, Nick Dreyer and Ross Zondagh (all Pretoria Boys’ High friends) in reaction to Team South Africa’s opening ceremony kit at the Summer Olympics in August 2016, the online business “redesigned” the national shoe and it became a fashion phenomenon. 

In 2019, Brian Joffe’s Long4Life — which then owned Sorbet and Sportsman’s Warehouse — acquired a 49% stake in Veldskoen, helping the business scale into retail and internationally.

Veldskoen has since bought back its shares from L4L, as well as shares owned by actor Ashton Kutcher and celebrity investor Mark Cuban in Veldskoen USA after they initially invested in the American business in 2019.

Driekie Zondagh succeeded Nick Dreyer as CEO last year.

Veldskoen is now sold in 32 countries and was named Agoa’s exporter of the year in 2022.

Through the Veldskoen Stories blog, the company profiled stories of South Africans doing amazing things, which is Latouf’s métier. 

He is now taking that experience to broaden his network. Latouf, who spoke to Daily Maverick, is focusing most of his energy on his LinkedIn and TikTok marketing agencies and is no longer involved in Veldskoen, though he is convinced Saffas hold the key to helping brands, people, services and businesses back home to leap off the African continent and out into the world.

While the statistics of South Africa being about a million citizens poorer since 2000 (due to formal emigration) – as per Stats SA’s Migration Profile Report for South Africa – are shocking, Latouf says South Africa’s best export is South Africans.


Nic Latouf. (Photo: Supplied)

“We love that you’re able to find South Africans in every country around the world. The Lekker Network (TLN) is where we connect South Africans all around the world through opportunity,” he explains. 

“There are incredible South Africans living in every corner of the globe, doing amazing things and sitting with networks, knowledge, capital etc. We want to join the dots between everyone.”

Latouf says they are focused on building a network where everybody has the opportunity to be part of it, not just globally, but locally. 

“It makes it so much easier for people locally to leap off the African continent with whatever they are building when they know on the other side of these conversations, there’s a South African that will have a shared heritage, identity and vision.” 

Most South Africans, who have moved abroad, still feel very South African, he says, and the more people who are moving abroad, the more it will help the network expand. 

“If we can continuously connect everybody, the flow of opportunities will only increase. And that’s amazing.” 

Good at selling ourselves

Already, the abilities of our salespeople are held in high regard: Pipedrive, a leading sales customer relationship management platform and “weapon of choice for salespeople in scaling companies”, noted in its 2018 Global Sales Review report that salespeople from South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand were the best in the world. 

After analysing thousands of sales teams from 34 countries and spanning a range of sectors, Pipedrive tapped into its user base of 70,000 companies and found there were clear differences across regions and industry sectors. 

The study found South Africa came out at the top of the conversion rate league table, with its salespeople converting 21.5% of all leads, followed closely by Ireland (21%), New Zealand (21%), Australia and Switzerland (both 19%).

Salespeople from Portugal, the US and the UK did reasonably well at 16% conversion, followed by the Netherlands (15%), Denmark (14%) and France (13%). 

Latouf says he is pushing as many South Africans as possible to tell their stories to show others what is possible. 

“We are too humble. We don’t like to share our successes. But we should if it means it can inspire someone else to start something of their own. 

“The more we see South Africans building things and solving problems, the more others believe they can do the same. This won’t happen if we don’t share our stories!” DM

This story has been updated. Kutcher and Cuban no longer own a stake in Veldskoen USA. We apologise for the error.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Simon Osler says:

    Why are these million South Africans abroad not voting and making a difference? The IEC expects only 27000 of them to cast special votes.

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