Josh von Stutterheim

Not Just Elon: Josh von Stutterheim is leading the way for young South African business overseas: Image: Supplied

Not Just Elon: Josh von Stutterheim is leading the way for young South African business overseas

South-African born Josh von Stutterheim lives in the UK and continues to build and execute his experience. More information in this article.

Josh von Stutterheim

Not Just Elon: Josh von Stutterheim is leading the way for young South African business overseas: Image: Supplied

When we hear anybody mention South African entrepreneurs, one person usually springs to mind – Elon Musk, the world’s richest man and controversial tech giant. A testament to the business talent South Africa produces, Musk achieved outstanding success in a remarkably short period of time.

But we don’t often hear of the many young, ambitious and talented South Africans who have moved out of South Africa in the wake of financial and socio-economic turmoil to pursue entrepreneurship overseas.

Johannesburg-born von Stutterheim embodies this, and if anyone knows anything about overcoming adversity in business from a young age, he does. With years of experience as a corporate in-layer, he has set about building his own marketing company overseas and gaining valuable business experience in Canada, France and the United Kingdom.

We were lucky enough to sit down with Josh for a coffee, and learn about his experience of not only emigrating three times but building a profitable company since the age of just twenty years old.

Like Musk, Josh von Stutterheim moved close to Toronto, Canada while still in his teens, where he lived for a year and gained experience in the corporate world and running his first company, an outsourced clothing label, overseas.

We ask:

As a South African, did Elon Musk’s journey inspire you or influence any decisions you’ve made?

“Elon Musk has always inspired me. But it is not his genius, nor his intelligence – it’s his unwavering work ethic. Without that, the aforementioned traits are useless. Hyper-succesful people like Elon definitely played a part in my decisions because I saw what was possible,” says Josh, as he quietly sips an espresso.

How did you start?

“With very little. Before moving to Canada I had started a very small business online, selling on Amazon – in Canada I gained what would later become extremely valuable experience in managing a company from a distance, hands-off, and what is possible with the simplest of technologies,” he recalls.

”I was a teenager. I hadn’t attended university, I’d gone head-first into business – I had no degree. No friends. No credentials. No network. I was thousands of miles away from my direct family.  I guess a thirst for knowledge led me to keep learning and absorbing as much reputable information as I could.

Currently, as well as his business and personal pursuits, Josh is also finding the time to study at Harvard Business School online, com-plete a Law degree, and is contributing to an Artificial Intelligence research paper on the subject of convolutional neural networks.

One year after moving to Canada at 19 years old, von Stutterheim moved across the Atlantic to France, with one goal: to build something of his own. Armed with a business plan sketched in his diary, he dived in head first.

In France he founded his company Zinora Media, a digital marketing agency providing advertising and social media management services, gaining clients in Monaco, France, Switzerland, and the UK.

Why Marketing?

“Marketing is all about communication – something we humans uniquely excel in above all other species – it is the framework upon which we have built civilization. We need to communicate well to make ourselves understood, therefore the skill will always be needed in business. That’s why marketing will never die.” Josh explains.

“Most SME Directors today are older and their interns and more junior millennials and Gen Zs are completely outclassing them in terms of technological know-how. I saw a huge gap that could be filled, and got to work filling it.”

Did you have any inspiration or support from your family?

“Yes. I am extremely lucky and blessed to have had a strong moral upbringing and was surrounded by a strong work ethic. But it is important to stress that I made the conscious decision to start out by myself. I wanted to build something by myself – with no handouts.

My family has historically been academically and actually militarily successful, and they absolutely inspired me to want to create something of my own.

My Grandfather, an architect and engineer, played a role in the construction of South African suspension bridges and dams. His Grandfather was an eye surgeon who authored several books on the subject.

Another family member, the late Niko Stutterheim, served as a great inspiration who dedicated his life to engineering research and finished his career as the Deputy Chairman of Atomic Energy, Deputy President of the Council for Industrial Research, and received the Order for Meritorious Service Medal in South Africa for his accomplishments. 

So yes, my family has absolutely inspired me. 

What about your own talents or skills? What are these and have they helped you in business?

“Actually, not really. I play the piano, have won athletics awards, programmed since a young age, studied Law, grew up around scientific learning, and researched many things academically. 

The intrinsic problem for me is these academic interests and talents are employee roles. 

99% of the best software developers in the world are still sitting behind desks in an office somewhere. As a budding entrepreneur starting out, I wanted more than that. You’ll notice with, say, Elon Musk, despite his genius, one of his best traits is efficient delegation. Work ethic, an open mind, and learning will get most people most places.”

Did you experience any major setbacks? –  and what is your favorite memory in your business journey so far?

“Of course – business is like war, it’s brutal. It is all about getting up more times than you get hit,” Stutterheim says. “I moved to France without my family, no investors, nothing. It was financially survive or die. I didn’t know the language. It was very risky. I had the clothes on my back and a very sketchy plan. You may not believe me but I do really miss that innocence, how raw it was. My best memory…” 

The espresso disappears and his eyes light up.

“…I’ll never forget the feeling when my first ever client signed, the feeling that this actually works, this actually works, and this is something I’ve built. It was an immense wave of relief and excitement to feel ownership of a financially proven and scalable business model.”

What is your top piece of advice for a young entrepreneur who may currently be in your position 5 years ago?

Network, Network, Network.  Social media is a wonderful resource, humans are now communicating faster than ever before, and almost anyone on the planet is accessible with a few clicks. 

I’m a firm believer in the saying “your net worth is your network” –  I’m extremely grateful for my network and without it I would not have achieved half of the very small things I have achieved thus far. The world is your oyster, tip it back and enjoy!”

South-African born Entrepreneur Josh von Stutterheim now lives in the UK and is continuing to build and execute his corporate experience in the legal industry and research in several fields. We’d like to thank him for sharing a small part of his entrepreneurial and business journey.

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