Cape Town is one of the world’s fastest-growing regions in terms of foreign investment. In particular, the city has been established as a top destination for international tech companies, with over 40 000 people employed in the sector.

This is according to a report from foreign direct investment (FDI) data platform, fDi Intelligence, which points out that the city offers infrastructure and cost savings and highlights the country’s most attractive resource for international businesses – its people.

“South Africa offers a high-calibre, untapped talent pool for international businesses. Between unemployed graduates and people who don’t have any formal qualifications, but have all the relevant soft skills and potential, it’s not difficult to build a strong and successful local team,” says Mike Bignold, founder and CEO of Canadian tech start-up CostCertified, which recently opened its global headquarters Cape Town.

The CostCertified story exemplifies a post-Covid, people-centric approach to international business expansion in South Africa. The company, which provides cost estimating software for the residential construction industry, acquired offices and began its local hiring process weeks before anyone from the CostCertified team were on the ground in South Africa. From location scouting to conducting Zoom interviews, the entire process was virtual – which posed a number of opportunities and challenges.

“We found that some of our candidates were apprehensive about the speed at which they received offers. CostCertified is a hypergrowth company, and once we decide someone is a good fit, we fast-track the employment process to get them started as soon as possible. For South Africans who are used to four-week-long hiring processes at huge firms, this can come as a surprise or seem questionable – but eventually, they come around,” says Bignold.

Currently, the CostCertified employee base consists of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, from civil and software engineering students, to project coordinators and even a teaching assistant for underprivileged children. “Our strategy is not to solely focus on experience or education, but rather to get to know our employees in order to fully maximise their strengths and value. This presents an opportunity to accelerate their careers significantly,” says Bignold.

In particular, South Africans are sought-after for sales development and customer success roles. First and second-language English speakers often have neutral accents that make it easier to connect with customers across the world. Major multinationals like Amazon and Panasonic have identified and leveraged this opportunity since 2004 – but with more businesses moving in every year, companies now have to work harder to differentiate themselves and attract talent.

“Creating an environment where employees genuinely want to spend their time is a simple and effective way to attract talent, promote productivity, and generate positive word-of-mouth reviews. This doesn’t mean bean bags and ping pong tables – it’s about ensuring that each employee feels they are doing purposeful work, learning new skills, and that they share the values of the company,” says Bignold.