Keith Bete founded Ubuntuism Clothing, an African-focused active wear brand, with his business partner, Simbarashe Simbarashe, in 2009. He joined the Branson Centre in 2012, where he met Jones through an Entrepreneur’s Organisation/Branson Centre collaboration. He wants to spread the message of oneness and African celebration through his brand, hence the name, Ubuntuism.
A mix of business savvy and design talent, Bete founded Ubuntuism Clothing because he saw a branded label as the perfect way to get his message of African oneness, uniqueness and communal celebration to the masses. “Ubuntu is our greatest resource. I wanted to package this and make it accessible to everyone.”
Interestingly, what he can now say in one sentence wasn’t always such a succinct idea. “It’s easy to make a ten page statement on what you do. One of the things Angel and I have worked on is getting that one thing down to a sentence. Until you can do that, you can’t articulate what separates you from everyone else.”
In fact, this is just the final outcome of finding real focus for Bete. “When you’re running your own business, particularly in the early years, it’s so easy to get bogged down with the day to day details that you forget to focus. Working with a mentor has helped me find that focus.
“Her role isn’t to tell me what to do in my business, but to hold me accountable for my own actions. It gives me the space to step away from working in my business and to work on it instead. I map out my goals, create a roadmap with dates and then hold myself accountable for achieving the tasks I have set for myself. It sounds so simple, but when you’re busy building a business it’s easy to lose focus. And focus is everything.”
Angel Jones co-founded MorrisJones advertising in 2001, and has since left to focus on her new dream, commercialising her other brainchild, The Homecoming Revolution, for the wider African diaspora. She has been a judge in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in the emerging entrepreneur category three years running, and is an Entrepreneur’s Organisation founding member.
According to Jones, she and Bete meet once every two weeks for one and a half hours. “Keith drives the success of these meetings. My role is to ask him questions and help him look at the issues he is facing from various angles, but he sets the meeting dates, agendas and follows through on the points. We only focus on the areas that he has earmarked as priorities.” It means the success of the relationship lies squarely in the mentee’s hands.
In Bete’s case, Jones’ biggest advice has been to ‘stick to his knitting’. “Keith wants to shoot for the moon. He has a powerful brand and he will achieve what he’s setting his mind to do, but sustainable success is built on strong foundations.
He wants to diversify, but first he needs to perfect quality control with his t-shirts. You need to simplify to amplify. One excellent product can lay a powerful foundation for a strong brand, and that’s what’s already happening.
“While he’s perfecting his t-shirt range, he’s learning about his competitors, pricing strategies, the benefits his brand offers and distribution.”
Through his associations with the Branson Centre and Jones, Bete has a photograph with Richard Branson wearing one of his shirts, and he managed to get his t-shirt into the latest Leon Schuster movie, where one of the actors loves the shirt so much he wears it throughout the film. Not bad going for a small start-up whose eye is on the big leagues.