The vast majority of businesses don’t make it past 1000 days (3 years). To gain insight on how to survive to day 1001 and beyond, Santam is profiling those who have surpassed this milestone. One such business is So We Too, a cooperative of seven enterprising tourism operators in Soweto. Co-founder Raymond Rampolokeng shares the story of his business journey and his ultimate survival tips.
Day 1: Grouping businesses into a united force
In 2007 Raymond founded his company, Bay of Grace Tours, providing birding tours for the first time in the history of Soweto. In 2011, Raymond’s business, along with six others in Soweto, took part in a 6-month mentorship programme hosted by the TEP (Tourism Enterprise Partnership).
Each business was linked with a mentor and taught to scrutinise its business plan, bankability, and objectives. Encouraged by the TEP’s Hidden Treasures Programme, the 7 came together under a new brand to share various unique and alternative experiences available in Soweto.
They came up with the name SO WE TOO. “It’s obviously a play on Soweto but we also wanted to send an uplifting message of ‘so we too can do it'”, explains Raymond.
“We are all from Soweto and we share the same goals and ideals. Together we came up with a township experience with a difference. You not only get to see a truly authentic Soweto but you could do so for 24 hours.”
Tip: “My best advice for someone starting out would be to research, research, research the field you are going into. That leads to better planning and improves your chances of succeeding.”
Day 155: The launch of SO WE TOO
A partnership was formed with City Sightseeing, the company operating the open top red double-decker buses in Johannesburg. “This was a big win for us in terms of credibility and having an instant central administrator for the bookings side of the business.”
Tip: “If you collaborate with other companies, treat it as a professional partnership. Make the time to meet regularly, compile an agenda and iron out any differences before they become a problem. You never want the client to become aware of any issues.”
Day 377: Second year, taking a second look at the business plan
The second year of business proved to be a “baptism of fire”, according to Raymond. “You start with great enthusiasm, thinking everything will be rosy. The sad truth was that not everyone in the cooperative was getting new business as expected.” To remedy this, Raymond decided to revisit his mentorship contacts.
“These tough times were actually a blessing in disguise because it forced us to refocus”, says Raymond, treasurer of the group. “We had to get our administrative ducks in a row, know exactly what the financial performance of the company is and so on. We had to make sure that drivers collect all tickets so that we can submit these and be paid on time.”
Tip: “My best advice would be to get yourself a trusted mentor if you’re starting out. And don’t be too proud to regularly ask for help and to ask that person to endorse you, for example on LinkedIn.”
Next 1000 days
In 2014, SO WE TOO was awarded a Lilizela Tourism Award for Social Participation and now services an astounding 800-900 clients per month, with 3 tours per day.
What’s next for SO WE TOO? “We would love to see other businesses coming together like we did and replicating this throughout the country. It really is a beautiful model that benefits all the businesses involved, as well as the local area.” According to Raymond, the majority of visitors come from all over Africa.
“The African market has been so supportive and we see many people coming for the 24-hour tour then deciding to spend a few more days in the area, which is great.”
Tip: “When times are tough or you run out of start-up capital, it’s time to get resourceful about what you can get for free, for example free advice from a mentor and using free marketing channels such as social media (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn).”
Has your business celebrated its third birthday? Has your business succeeded to 1001 days? Submit your story for consideration in the Santam 1001 days series.
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