Turning the export fruit and vegetable industry on its head is Rondebosch resident Uzair Essack, a finalist in the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year competition.In just three years, the 27-year-old B Com student has built a global export business called Cape Crops with a customer base in 23 countries.The entrepreneur says he didn’t just wake up one morning and decided to sell fruit. “One business led to another until I eventually was airfreighting pineapples to Saudi Arabia. I saw the potential and decided to grow the business in which money literally grows on trees,” says Essack. Utilising tech-savvy and innovative marketing strategies, Essack has engineered a fresh approach to the traditional fruit and vegetable sales model.Upfront payment is one of these strategies. All his farmers are paid a fixed price, upfront in cash before the produce leaves the farm gate. “I want the farmer to focus on producing the freshest and highest quality produce and not have to worry about when he’ll get paid, which is traditionally 60 to 90 days later. “I get a cash discount, which immediately makes me more competitive and I get first choice of the produce.”Technology is another huge factor in the success of Cape Crops. Essack is one of the only fruit exporters to use social media to communicate with his customers. His weekly WhatsApp broadcasts and e-newsletters showcase what produce he has available and at what price. He also uses these platforms to let his farmers know what produce his customers are looking for. This has proved to be extremely successful and cost-effective.He also believes in formulating tailor-made marketing strategies. Essack has spent time in many of the countries that he exports to in order to understand each market’s culture and values. Doing so allows him to implement specific marketing strategies for that individual market. “I have a Lebanese staff member who deals with our Middle Eastern customers. He is fluent in Arabic and English and has helped us to overcome the language barrier. The Middle East now represents 50% of our business, which shows that this model works.”To keep overheads to a minimum, Cape Crops shares office space using Cube Work Space. “My sales agents are on the road visiting farmers, so this works for me,” says Essack. The huge growth in his business, he believes, can also be attributed to having a small team which allows agility when it comes to decision-making and implementing new ideas. “I’m already three years ahead of my competitors and confident that our success will continue.”Essack is not a fan of loans and uses a small group of investors to fund deals where customers do not pay him upfront. “About 30% of the deals I do require funding. This works on a deal to deal basis where they know exactly what the return will be, and they get paid back in 60 days.” His plans for the future includes to continue growing his business, with a focus on Africa and the Middle East, and to offer new produce to local consumers. The 2019 awards ceremony for the Entrepreneur of the Year will take place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Rosebank, on Wednesday 4 September. Sponsored by Sanlam and Business/Partners, the competition recognises and honours successful South African entrepreneurs in the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) sector.“Being nominated as a finalist means everything to me as it gives me the opportunity to further inspire my brothers and sisters. “I come from a difficult place but through sheer determination, perseverance and belief in my Creator, I’ve managed to set myself up for a bright future. “I want to show people that anything is possible if you work hard and believe,” says Essack.The competition, now in its 31st year, celebrates excellence in entrepreneurship, serving as an inspiration to others to succeed in the world of business. Finalists stand the chance to win prizes worth R2 million in total, which includes cash prizes of R500 000. Finalists and winners are able to expand their networks and receive invaluable exposure for their businesses as a result of the competition.