“If you keep moving forward you are progressing, even if it’s not exactly as fast as you imagined.”
Daryn Roberts is a qualified software developer, an entrepreneur and the owner of N!A Caps. Daryn grew up in Windhoek and completed his high school education at St. Paul’s College. He then moved to Cape Town, where he completed a Certificate in Business Computers and a Diploma in Entrepreneurship at Varsity College. Thereafter, Daryn went to the University of Cape Town (UCT) and completed a Business Commerce degree, majoring in Information Systems. After obtaining that degree, he further went on to obtain a post-graduate Honors degree in Information Systems, also at UCT. His work experience began at an off-shore software development company, based in Cape Town. By building software for clients around the world, he earned his stripes in the areas of Quality Assurance, Business Analysis and Project Management.
Daryn and his wife, who is also from Namibia, then decided to move back to Windhoek in 2015, ready to start a family. Fast forward to a few years later, he is now the proud father of two beautiful daughters and he has been working as a freelancer & contractor in software development. In 2015, around the same time that he returned home, his passion as well as a potential niche in the market, led him to co-found what is now N!A Caps in 2015.
Tell us about N!A Caps, the products & services you offer and your team.
“N!A Caps is all about premium quality headwear. We sell premium brands of caps with our locally inspired designs (“Namibia”, “NAM”, WHK”, the Namibia Outline, etc.). I built a fully functional e-commerce store and all the caps can be easily browsed and ordered directly online. We also offer custom cap branding services for other brands, companies, sport teams, etc., using the same imported high-quality caps.
In terms of the team behind the scene, I started N!A Caps in 2015 with a life-long friend named Rowan Carstens. A few months later another friend, Dunja Berger, joined us as partner and she brought a wealth of marketing skills to the team. In April 2018, they both moved abroad and so I took over the business as sole owner. As it stands right now, it’s just me behind N!A Caps.
What inspired you to start this business?
“Being big fans of caps and cap culture, we really just wanted to make caps that we would wear ourselves. We were tired of the only quality ‘destination’ caps displaying NY, LA, etc., and wanted something more local. We then took a batch of our caps to a local City Market and the response was so incredibly positive that we decided to bootstrap the business and grow it from there.”
What do you enjoy most about being your own boss, and did you always know you wanted to delve into entrepreneurship?
“In high-school I had no clue. When I got to university, I started feeling like I wanted to be an entrepreneur one day, but also had no idea as to how or when. When I made the big move to come back home to Namibia I knew that I would try to start something, and that’s when the consulting and the caps kicked off.
It’s difficult to say what I enjoy the most, but probably the fact that what I do each day can vary so much, so things never get boring. It can get stressful, but never boring! In a given day or week, I could spend a number of hours doing consulting work, then I have to do some social media marketing for the caps, then work on a new range of caps, then process orders, then do some website maintenance, then do some strategizing, etc. I enjoy that.”
What sets your products/services apart from those in the same industry?
“What sets the caps apart are the quality. I use premium brands of caps and they are finished off with top quality embroidery (flat or 3D puff). Everyone always comments on the quality of the caps and the fact that they have locally inspired designs also catches a lot of eyes.
I then also try to match that with a quality service. I think the little things can go a long way in creating a pleasant experience for a customer. Responding in a timely manner, being friendly and thankful, keeping customers updated when you say you will, etc. Also, with the online store, people can place an order from the comfort of their office or home and receive their caps the same day or next day, while also receiving automated and personal communications throughout the process. I think it’s important to ensure someone not only enjoys the product you sell but the process of buying it from you as well.”
What challenges have you encountered on your entrepreneurial journey and how did you overcome some of them?
“I think the biggest challenge for me has been time. There is never enough time to do all the things you want and need to do! I’m still trying to figure out how to overcome this but I guess the main thing is to just prioritise on a weekly or even daily basis and try managing your time as best as you can.”
What is your business philosophy?
“Stay humble and work hard.“
What advice would you give to someone trying to break into this industry?
“Margins on caps are low so if you are coming in to try to make some quick cash, it’s not going to work. I’ve seen a number of cap guys pop up and disappear again quickly over the last few years; there are only a couple of us who keep at it and it’s because we are passionate about it. We like seeing people wearing something that we created and the sense of community it fosters. Make sure your business is something you are passionate about – you should have reasons for getting into it besides trying to make money.”
How important is networking as a growth component of any startup?
“I think the level of importance will obviously vary depending on the type of startup, but at the end of the day it will always be important for growth.”
What role does your startup play in 1) contributing to society and 2) in nurturing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Namibia?
“It definitely feels like there is a growing entrepreneurial spirit in Namibia and I think it’s important to foster that culture and support each other. Some examples:
I have a good relationship with Lokasi Keps who also sell good quality caps; we send customers to each other depending on what the customer is asking for. I try to link up with Print Hoek3D whenever I can, to create 3D printed souvenirs to give to my customers. Leon Engelbrecht Design has some of my caps in their shop. I teamed up with NamibWear to open up a Pop-up shop together. I did a collab with Gweri Vintage Collection to make some epic N!A Caps x Gweri Socks. These are all small Namibian businesses trying to create and make things happen, and through this we support and promote each other, even if it’s just by way of tagging, liking & sharing on social media. I think it’s important and I hope more local businesses find ways to partner and support one another other. I will certainly be trying to find more ways to do so.”
What recommendations would you make towards the improvement of the operations of startups?
“Be agile and flexible. Try something and if it doesn’t work, adapt it and make improvements. If you keep moving forward you are progressing, even if it’s not exactly as fast as you imagined.”
Startups in Namibia, and all over the world, are facing an unprecedented crisis in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic; how has your startup adjusted to the situation and/or assisted in disseminating information, combatting the spread of the virus, etc.?
“COVID-19 hit us fairly hard, purely because of the timing of things. We had just opened the Pop-up shop and invested in that but due to the pandemic, we had to close the shop. Even though it cost us to close the shop, it’s also what we genuinely wanted to do as we felt it was more important to try help limit the spread. It’s also impacted us in the sense that it’s clear everyone is struggling from a financial perspective and generally people have less money to spend on things like caps, which is completely understandable. With that said, there is likely to be an increase in digital adoption now. More people are willing to go online for things. N!A Caps has always had an e-commerce platform so I’m excited that more people in Namibia are warming up to the idea of shopping online.
In terms of combatting the spread, I’m not sure if this really counts but I had mask clips (aka tension relievers) 3D printed. The clips get attached to your caps and then the mask can be attached to the clips instead of sitting around your ears. I would then sell these separately or give them away for free when someone buys a cap. I think it’s important to wear a mask, and wear it properly, to curb the spread. I wanted to make the clips as they make it more comfortable to wear a mask by taking away the tension on the ears.”
Facebook: Na Caps
Instagram: @nacaps / @dazz_roberts
Twitter: @NaCapsOfficial / @dazzyfaye
LinkedIn: Daryn Roberts