Michelle Dickens is the co-founder and CEO of South Africa’s only credit bureau that specialises in tenant and rental payment behaviour.
After studying Accounting and ditching her articles, Michelle entered the property management space in the 1990s where she recognized the need for a database that would share statistics and info that would benefit the property industry. In 2000, at the tender age of twenty-four years old, Michelle established TPN Credit Bureau and formally introduced it to market.
“At the time of starting TPN, I had the support of some amazing people behind me. When we took TPN to market in January 2000, I was still employed full time as a property manager. My employer was good to me, and he let me continue with my day job while I built the business. When I needed to write our software, I partnered with a software development company who I offered 50% equity to – they were my seed capital to begin with. Twenty-one years later, they are still my partners. I also met my CIO through them, and he bought into TPN during our third year of business –even better we tied the knot a year later. My mom was my telesales person every day for the first six months too – she would make the calls and I would be on the road” says Michelle.
It took Michelle exactly five months and twenty-four days to sign TPN’s first client on the 24th of May 2000 – and not from a lack of trying. Like many other businesses starting out, there was an initial hesitancy.
“It is the ‘chicken and the egg’ story: if we did not have clients, we did not have data. Our first client signed up on the condition that we signed up five of their closest competitors” says Michelle. “This turned out to be a great opportunity because the more potential clients I visited, the faster they bought into TPN”.
“I would not change a thing if I could go back in time. As a businesswoman, you must go through these types of lessons and situations where the hardships exist otherwise, you do not dig deep enough”.
While females still face numerous challenges in the business landscape, Michelle says that from a bureau perspective, there is solid, evident female representation.
“There are numerous female CEOs of credit bureaus. Some examples include Michelle Beetar, who was the CEO of Experian for many years; Marina Short who is the CEO of CPB Credit Bureau, and the Credit Bureau Association’s executive director is female, Alison Magrath. I have never felt diminished as a businesswoman. When I started TPN, I was young, and I was more concerned about how the industry perceived me in my youth and that no one would take me seriously – which was never the case at all”.
Gender representation remains a top priority for TPN with a 70% female employee base. The bureau offers free training in their drive for women empowerment.
“I have always believed that education is critical to the growth of any individual or business. With Covid-19, and not being able to provide training at a venue, we have invested in a studio to create content which we can share with the market for free. We believe that empowerment through education is key”.
Michelle goes on to mention other institutions who are empowering South African’s through free education. The SA Property Investors Network (SAPIN) for example is offering the youth of South Africa, where unemployment is sitting at nearly 70%, free membership on their platform for those interested in pursuing a career in property investment.
“While I support education and growth, I also believe that mentorship is an under rated component in becoming a successful businesswoman. Mentorship does not need to be formal – it is incredibly important that you find your go-to person to bounce your ideas off as people view different things in different ways. The SA Property Investment Network is one business who have built a fabulous team of mentors covering various aspects of property investment and are available to empower SAPIN members on their property investment journey”.
“For me, mentorship programmes combined with education programmes are vital. Like what Property Wheel or SAPIN does, there is so much content available out there and other property professionals that you can follow. This is something that every female businesswoman needs to do”.