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Joshin Raghubar Of iKineo Ventures Discusses The Powering Of Showing Up

Joshin has an impressive CV. Over and above iKineo Ventures, which has a turnover of R115 million and includes three extremely promising start-ups, he’s also chairman of the Bandwidth Barn and the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative, and a Yale Greenberg World Fellow.

Nadine Todd

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Joshin Raghubar

Vital Stats

When Joshin Raghubar was 23, he found himself heading up the Africa Connection Rally, an ambitious project that spanned the African continent and aimed to break the world record for the amount of days taken to drive across Africa. The logistics involved were staggering. How did he find himself in such a trusted and important position? Because he showed up. He was at the office at 9pm when his boss and the chief of staff of the Minister of Transport were brainstorming it. By the next day he was spearheading the project.

When we started out, we had a desk in CiTi’s offices and were hooked into its Internet cable. We were bootstrapping the business, had no money, and couldn’t afford connectivity costs until CiTi’s Bandwidth Barn helped us share those costs. I’m still involved with the Barn today, because I know how essential that support is to start-ups.

The secret to business success isn’t just having the right product or idea and product market fit. It’s not only cash flow and getting paid. It’s the culmination of your ideas and mindset; making connections, helping other people and businesses and operating within a community. Often, it starts with just showing up.

Success often begins with understanding yourself. I’ve been laser focused on some things, and at other times I’ve had a number of different things on the go. That’s when I’m happiest. You need to know yourself and play to your strengths. If you’re better at focus, do that. I need a few things on the go — not too many, because then I get frazzled. But there’s a sweet spot, and I’ve found mine.

Related: Running A Business Like ClockWork – The Founders Weigh In On Launch Success

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I’ve been like this since varsity. I was on track to become a CA, and I did the normal vacation work at large consulting firms for years one and two. By year two I realised that the work was interesting, but not a full expression of myself.

By years three and four I was doing all kinds of things after hours and during term breaks: I was a runner on a film set, a barman, I started a few small businesses. I was interested in the world and I didn’t pigeon-hole myself. I was on the lookout for different experiences.

I was even on the management of the UCT chapter of AIESEC, the largest student organisation in the world for business students. This gave me access to University labs and computers. Raymond Ackerman was on our board and we ran business incubation clinics. I wanted to be involved in everything and still do.

I’m multi-dimensional, and so are my work and interests. When I’m working on a few projects at a time, I’m more productive. But to focus on different things in business, I need a team that plays to my strengths and weaknesses. I’ve built up an incredible foundation. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you’re interested in scale and growth, you need to build an infrastructure that supports your passions, goals and dreams.

For example, learning is a big part of what drives me. In a fulfilled and happy life, learning and growth are important. I’ve pushed myself into many incredible spaces because of this love for learning. Opportunities have opened up for me because I’m out there. For example, I was selected as a Yale Greenberg Fellow in 2016. This required four months away from the office at the Yale campus, and I was able

to do it because of the team I’ve built up around me.

Many entrepreneurs are so focused on the day to day needs of their businesses, they miss the bigger picture. This programme is Yale’s flagship global leadership programme, and it was an inflection point in my career. If I’d only been focused on the time away from the office, I wouldn’t have even applied. Instead, I took the risk, and ended up with a group of 16 incredible emerging leaders from around the world: A human rights worker from Syria, a female politician from Afghanistan, China’s largest independent media entrepreneur, artists and film makers. It’s designed to be diverse, and for us to learn from each other and contribute to the Yale community. We had unlimited access to all courses on campus. It was incredible.

Nine times out of ten, success begins with just showing up. This was how I ended up project managing the Africa Connection Rally when I was just 23.

I’d done some vacation work for Ravi Naidoo’s business, Interactive Africa. By the time I finished my degree, I had an interview lined up with JP Morgan in London. But I’d graduated in December, and would only be leaving for London in March. I wanted to fill the time, and so I went back to Ravi and arranged to work for him for a few months.

I loved it. I joined an entrepreneurial business rather than becoming an investment banker. I was young, but I could speak the business lingo, and I was eager to learn. I developed a habit of leaving the office at the end of the day and then returning after supper to do some extra work in the peace and quiet. I’m not great in the mornings, but I’m creative at night.

One night I got back to the office and the Transport Minister, Jay Naidoo’s chief of staff, was brainstorming with Ravi about the Africa Connection Rally. The rally was celebrating a historic telecomms agreement that stretched across Africa. The idea was to break the world record and drive across Africa in 26 days.

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

I was called into the session, and by the next morning I was running the project. That’s when I started appreciating the power of showing up. No one was going to seek me out and ask me if I wanted to be involved. I had to speak up, offer real opinions, and more importantly, a passion and willingness to get involved and give it my all. That’s what entrepreneurship is, but it’s also the basis of any success we have in life.

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As a start-up, you need to be confident. What you’re doing is tough; you have to keep taking risks. Once you’re through start-up phase, you need to grow. But you need to find a balance. You can’t be so self-assured that you don’t learn from mistakes, because you will make them.

For us, the Cool Aid was a discussion group called the Idea Collective, run by myself and a few friends. We were fresh out of varsity, employed, and interested in how tech was changing business, marketing and the way we communicated. We launched a series of exclusive events to discuss these topics and invited business and social icons. This helped us to build a great network and repository of ideas. We were a think tank for tech, and were often invited to comment on tech-related issues.

On the one hand, it was incredible. We had put ourselves out there, and were developing a network that would be invaluable. When you’re building a business, your network is exponentially more important than funding.

But in other ways, it blinded us to the realities of launching a business. We were all employed, with this great idea that we could create our own ventures. We had no venture capital and were incredibly naïve about the realities of a start-up, but we were fuelled by our own cleverness, and the fact that we could see what the future held.

With that in mind, I resigned after 30 months at Interactive Africa. Working with Ravi made me want to test my own entrepreneurial chops, and I thought I was ready.

I was the only one in our group who quit my job and we had no cash flow. While I believe a business can be bootstrapped without funding, the secret to success for any bootstrapped business is cash flow. Without it you’re dead in the water. Our idea had been to build cash flow and then raise capital, but we hadn’t considered how long that would take.

To make the business work, we needed to stop drinking our own Cool Aid. We were smart, tech-savvy guys who had built a great network and gained exposure, but that wasn’t going to build a business. We also needed to bring in some cash — immediately. Without cash flow there was no business, and so we needed to sell something.

My experience was in the convergence of marketing and data. I believed in the concept of mass customised communications and targeted database-driven marketing. We designed flash mailers, and these became our biggest revenue stream.

Based on this and big email campaigns, we built a marketing division called iKineo that focused on customer engagement and one-on-one marketing. We believed we were uniquely positioned to solve a new marketing need. We could speak tech, we understood development and we had business and marketing backgrounds. But we were ahead — we spent more time educating our customers than selling to them for the first five to six years. We needed another ‘big’ idea while the market caught up.

We might have had a reality check, but we were also still young and ballsy — and we believed we’d embarked on a journey that was changing the way brands would market in the future. One of the key areas we identified as ripe for disruption was the tobacco industry. With restrictive smoking laws coming into effect, the tobacco industry needed new ways to market its brands.

I’ve always believed in being an open source person. It’s a term that covers everything — being open to new experiences, new ideas, and particularly new people. It’s an essential trait for successful networking.

It also gave us the confidence we needed as a start-up founded by kids who weren’t yet 25 to approach British American Tobacco (BAT), the largest tobacco manufacturer in the world, to pitch our new marketing idea that we believed would solve their problems.

At that stage, BAT had no plan to counter the new advertising laws, and no understanding of the power of data. For decades, big tobacco had sold a lifestyle through sponsorships, billboards and big screen advertising — all of which was about to end.

We pitched something completely different for Lucky Strike: An exclusive opt-in party that required fingerprints, joining a database and the excitement of a surprise. It created high target engagement, and grew a database for the brand. They asked us if it was possible. We said absolutely. There were two of us in the business and we believed we could drive BAT’s entire customer engagement model in South Africa. Maybe we were still drinking our own Cool Aid.

Related: AutoTrader South Africa’s George Mienie Knows Disruptive Innovation Is More Than Shifting Gears

The Lucky Strike parties worked, and slowly the power of data and digital marketing began to take hold. Fewer customers needed to be educated on what iKineo could do, and more were asking us for quotes and solutions to their marketing needs.

As the business grew, we never lost sight of what worked well for us, and we created a new exclusive networking group with Moët & Chandon as our partners. Members took turns to invite industry icons to speak at the events. It was an incredible networking experience, and has opened many doors for me over the years. Maria Ramos, Paul Harris, Russell Loubser, Robbie Brozin, Wendy Luhabe, Herman Mashaba and Isaac Shongwe were all guests at these evenings.

Through these relationships, I was invited to join the Aspen Global Leaders Network, the Africa Leadership Initiative and the Bertelsmann Foundations’s Global Transformation Thinkers Programme, all of which required nomination. Once you’re out there, and people know you, your ideas and what you stand for, offers and opportunities follow. This is how I learnt about the Yale Fellowship. 11 000 people applied and only 4 300 completed the application. This was then shortlisted to 50, and 16 were chosen after an interview process. This opportunity wouldn’t have arisen without my connections. This is my best advice — be open. Network. Build relationships. There is nothing more powerful than people.

Through these experiences, one thing became clear: Much of leadership and business success comes down to the art of storytelling. I’ve taken a Harvard course on narrative leadership, and I’ve watched great industry captains over the years, and they all share this trait — they can tell a story. They know how to capture your imagination. Looking back, that’s what we did with Lucky Strike and all of our early clients, while we were educating them on the direction marketing was taking. It’s also why the Idea Collective and our Moët & Chandon evenings worked so well. They were all about story telling. You need to be authentic, and willing to share. Great leaders are open, honest and transparent. They are willing to share their successes and failures.

You can only join networks like these if you’re adding value. Relationships are additive, not extractive. Even as a young person I felt like I was adding value because my perspective was different.

These experiences taught me two things. First, I did have a story. The reason I went into business when I come from a family of teachers and doctors was because half of my life was pre-1994 South Africa. I turned 18 and voted in 1994. I was conscious of our country’s political liberation, but the economic liberation still hasn’t happened. I wasn’t a political change driver, but I can make an economic impact. My biggest lever for change is business. It’s why I’m still so involved in the Bandwidth Barn and CiTi.

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The second is that it’s in my nature to understand future trends and tech drivers, pain points and challenges. Innovation and funding opportunities are all about pulling these together, spotting the gap and then telling the story so clients understand it. It’s one thing to have an idea, but you need to be able to sell it. You have to explain it, unpack it and pull those threads together. And that’s where the art of storytelling is so vital.

Understanding the new texture of business has also been important. It’s no longer just about the bottom line. Business needs to connect to social dividends. This is at the core of everything we do.

We thought we’d be a venture creation business when we launched. The reality is that this takes money, which we didn’t have. We bootstrapped everything, which always takes longer than you think it will. So we built iKineo as an agency to generate cash flow.

If you don’t have capital you will always build a services business first. They’re cash flow generative, because all you need is an idea that you can deliver on, and then you get paid — no manufacturing is required, and your cash cycle is good.

For years, 90% of my day was focused on this, and not venture building. Today that ratio has shifted, but it’s taken time.

In 2003, two years after we launched, a friend invested enough capital to buy out the other partners. He’s still a shareholder today. Since then, we’ve grown organically, self-funding iKineo until we could start incubating new ventures within the business.

We’ve been able to do this because I never lost sight of the long-term strategy: To accumulate capital and create an environment and infrastructure that could support new ventures and realise our dream. We tried it earlier, but we didn’t have capital, time and infrastructure for new venture development. We systematically built our capabilities, learnt by failing a few times, and put those learnings into our model and new businesses.

Although the agency has been our backbone, it’s also an increasingly challenging business model. When we were smaller we were more profitable. In this industry, as you grow you change from a value or IP-based model to a resource plus model. While we were building the business and coming up with new and innovative solutions for our clients, we were able to price ourselves according to our IP and ability to deliver.

But, as we grew and targeted larger clients and advertising contracts, we started following the industry and large corporate template, where clients tell you how many people they expect on their account, estimate your costs and then give you a percentage mark-up. The problem is that an account is measured by the people on it, and they’re dedicated resources. If you lose that account, you can’t redeploy them back into the business unless a new account is landed. You end up employing more people at lower margins.

I fought this model and lost a large corporate client because we said no to the resource plus model, but eventually we had to align with our industry. We knew this wasn’t where our future growth lay. It’s been an important part of the path to get there, but it’s never been our final destination.

When you reach a stage where you have to follow set procurement models to land big clients, you either agree or reposition, and that’s what we’re doing with our new ventures: Sprout, Explore Sideways and The Field.

Sprout is a programmatic media business that we’ve developed with partners from Silvertree Capital, which was launched by the co-founders of Zando. Peter Allerstorfer and Manuel Koser came from Germany to launch Zando in South Africa. In two years, they built a business with 200 employees, and an incredible model for hiring people and mastering online marketing and retargeting.

Three years ago, there was an entire issue of The Economist dedicated to programmatic advertising. We started asking ourselves where online buying was going, and where programmatic media buying would be. I called Manuel to ask his opinion, and discovered he was leaving Zando and launching a tech investment firm. We realised we were ideal partners. They had the knowledge and experience in this field, and we could incubate the new venture in iKineo.

Explore Sideways is an internal start-up. It’s the product of two distinct business developments. The first is that we believe the future of agencies lies in the ability to be strategically involved with a client’s R&D. To test our theory, we developed an app for Western Cape Tourism. They couldn’t afford it, so we carried it ourselves in return for their endorsement. It was designed as a platform to find all 500 Cape wineries in one place. It’s a fragmented industry, and there was a need for this information, particularly to put the smaller wineries on the map.

But it was difficult to monetise, and we realised that its users were mostly tour operators, who tended to only use the wineries they knew well.

The second development involves the consumer shift from products to experiences, and international spend on luxury experiences is on the rise. The result is that Explore Sideways has developed into an immersive luxury travel tech business.

In two years, we’ve built up an incredible team. We’ve had 3 000 guests to date, including various international celebrities and their families. We’re in our niche, and on a growth path. The plan is to take the business international, and we will be in Napa Valley in California by the end of 2018.

The Field is our third start-up. It’s been incubated within iKineo with three managing partners who are all experts in their fields, Ann Lamont, Alison Jacobsen and Barbara Dale-Jones.

The Field helps large organisations through the digital transformation process to become future fit. We partner with the best educational brands in the world, including Stanford, to offer African and European executives global programmes at a fraction of the cost.

Like iKineo, the business is generating cash flow through consulting and coaching to big corporates while the rest of the programmes are developed, and we’re focusing on people change management, product development and an innovation lab.

Our venture build strategy is based on three pillars: Create the space to excel, have the required investment and working capital, and then attract the best talent.

The third pillar is absolutely vital to the success of these ventures. Today I can spend 90% of my time on new ventures, but I can’t focus equally on three start-ups and two more in development. Our success lies in the people driving these businesses.

In Sprout we have a CEO and CTO who moved here from the Netherlands because programmatic is new in South Africa and the skills don’t yet exist here. Before we could convince Stijn Smolders, who was newly married with a baby boy, to take a chance with us as Sprout’s CEO, we needed to derisk the business and create the right space for him.

Explore Sideways is run by Brittany Hawkins, who is an American wine marketing expert. She will be instrumental in our international expansion.

Ultimately, you need strong back-end and support systems and the ability to pay competitive salaries and offer shares. We’ve learnt that running a business takes on a different dimension when management feels ownership. Our managers deliver and have a great attitude, but shares reward and focus those abilities.

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Going The Extra Mile With Neil Robinson Of Relate Bracelets

In business, your offering is only as good as your relationships. Neil Robinson from Relate Bracelets explains how FedEx Express has helped the business grow into Africa and beyond.

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Vital stats

  • Who? Neil Robinson
  • Company: Relate Bracelets
  • Position: Managing Director
  • Visit: relate.org.za

Neil Robinson, MD of Relate Bracelets understands the importance of business relationships. While Relate is a non-profit organisation, it is run like a business. It does not rely on donors, but instead produces and sells a product.

For each bracelet sold, one third of the income goes towards the materials and operating costs, one third supports the people who produce the bracelets, and one third goes to the charity for which that particular bracelet is branded.

In order for the business model to work and be sustainable, Relate’s partners are incredibly important. These include the retail chains that stock the product and who provide prime point-of-sale positioning, the charities who Relate works with, and most importantly, Relate’s logistics service provider, FedEx Express.

“Retail is all about visibility and availability,” explains Neil. “A brand is a living, breathing thing. People can see it, use it, and comment on it, but if they can’t access it, it’s all for naught. And so, at the point of purchase, it’s both visible and available, or it’s not.

“Logistics is key. You need to get your product to the retailer on time, 100% of the time. The expertise and focus that FedEx displays in supply chain and logistics encompasses far more than just retail, they understand our specific needs, making them a strategic partner, rather than merely a supplier.”

Related: Zenzele Fitness’s Clever Tactics To Grow In Next To No Time

Building a relationship

The FedEx/Relate Bracelets relationship stretches back to 2009, when Relate Bracelets launched its first campaign with ‘Unite Against Malaria’ leading up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

“We did the first campaign in partnership with Nando’s,” says Neil. “Robbie Brozin was passionate about the cause, and he pulled in strategic partners to launch the campaign. Within two years we’d shipped hundreds of thousands of bracelets. FedEx was an incredible partner, ensuring the integrity of our product and time-sensitive deliveries, and we’ve worked with them ever since.”

As with all good B2B relationships, the FedEx and Relate Bracelets teams understand that regular strategy sessions and updates are important.

“FedEx understands the inner workings of our business,” says Neil.

“A successful campaign has multiple elements, from planning and strategy, to marketing support, pricing and distribution planning. Of these, distribution planning is the most critical. For us, the bridge between our brand and the consumer is logistics. FedEx have delivered beyond expectations. They literally and figuratively go the extra mile for us.”

Protecting a brand

FedEx has customers across different industries and each of their needs are different. In the case of Relate, who operate in the retail sector, buying patterns are important. “Retailers run a tight ship,” explains Neil.

“They have planning cycles and seasons. Besides the fact that penalty clauses are built into contracts, you can’t miss a deadline by two days, or you’re in the next cycle, and that might be two weeks later. Not only are you missing out on valuable shelf time, but this can affect an entire campaign. Lost sales can also influence the retailers’ buying decision the following season. FedEx has made it their business to understand our business, so they know what’s at stake and what’s important to us.”

Supporting growth

FedEx has also played an integral role in the overall expansion of Relate Bracelets, particularly into new markets. “As a global organisation, FedEx has been absolutely critical in supporting us to grow our business into Africa, the US, Australia, the UK, Western Europe, and now New Zealand. They play an enormous role in the delivery of our products, with sophisticated tracking systems ensuring that the quality and integrity of our products are maintained.”

Through the relationship with FedEx, Relate experiences the benefits of working with a globally recognised and credible brand. “When you work with quality, you get quality.”

Related: Entrepreneur BB Moloi’s Inspiring Story of Rise To Success Through Grit And Hard Work

The business

If you’ve ever bought a beaded bracelet that supports a cause (for example: United Against Malaria, Operation Smile SA or PinkDrive), chances are it was a Relate Bracelet. If you bought it at Woolworths, Clicks, Sorbet or Foschini, it most definitely was.

To date, Relate Bracelets has raised more than R40 million, which supports various charities and ‘gogos’, women living on government grants and supporting their grandchildren, and who desperately need the additional income Relate Bracelets provides.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Slikour’s Moto: If You Dream It, You Can Be It

Rapper and entrepreneur Slikour believes his success is the result of one key element: The aspiration to make something of himself, and create a platform for his voice to be heard. Now he’s bringing that mindset to South Africa’s black urban youth.

Nadine Todd

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VITAL STATS

Take note

Before you can achieve great success, you have to believe in the possibility of success. This is the single greatest secret to changing your circumstances — you have to believe it’s possible.

Did music or entrepreneurship come first? Siya Metane, aka rapper Slikour, isn’t sure himself. The two have worked hand in hand for him since he started selling cassette tapes of his own music when he was 12 years old.

What has developed over time however, is an innate and deep understanding that with his success comes a responsibility to pay it forward, and help his community and kids like him see that they can be anything they put their minds to.

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

If they can dream it, they can be it — provided they realise they can dream it in the first place. This is his challenge, and greatest driving force.

Start small, but dream big

I bought cassette tapes on Smal Street in the CBD for R5. My best friend, Lebo and I recorded our own rap music onto them and sold them in our neighbourhood for R15. We needed the mark-up — it meant we could buy more tapes, and also that we were making a profit.

Related: Zuko Tisani Learnt These 7 Invaluable Lessons On His Path To Success

I’m not sure if we were trying to start a business or launch our rap careers, but if you’re living in a hood like Leondale you don’t always recognise that there are opportunities open to you. No one is going to do it for you — you have to have your own aspirations, and find a way to make them happen.

Keep dreaming big, no matter what

That was one of the biggest and earliest lessons I recall growing up: The ability to dream big can be stifled out of you. I lived in a hood where there were no aspirations past our neighbourhood — the neighbourhood and its opportunities were everything. If 90% of the people you know are suffering, who are you to not suffer?

It’s a very limiting mindset, and one that does a lot of damage to our youth. I knew kids who had incredible potential, but could only look at their immediate environments for opportunities. So a budding young scientist doesn’t find a way to change the world — he finds a new way to make drugs.

Those are the limiting aspirations I was surrounded by. I call it the Trap, and it’s the driving force behind everything I do today. I want South Africa’s urban youth to recognise the Trap, and understand that they should have aspirations beyond it, because they have the abilities and potential necessary to break free.

Work hard, be determined and believe in yourself

I was lucky, I wasn’t a victim of the Trap. What so many people don’t understand is that I could have been. Hard work, drive and discipline aren’t enough to break free of the Trap. You need to believe you can break free — to look beyond your current circumstances. In my experience, that seemingly simple mindset shift is the biggest hurdle to overcome. It’s more complicated and pervasive than you can imagine.

Two things showed me a different way. First, my mom got me bursaries at Holy Rosary Convent and then St Benedict’s College. I was surrounded by rich white kids, full of privilege, and it struck me that here were the same talents and opportunities, but with a wealth of aspiration in the mix.

Related: Self-Made Millionaire At 24 Marnus Broodryk On How To Build A R1 Billion Business

That was the real difference — not ability, but recognising that ability and having the aspiration to do something with it. It was eye-opening. The second was meeting my best friend, Lebo Mothibe. Lebo, or Shugasmakx, as he’d later be known in the music world, had one foot in the privileged world, and one foot in our world.

His mom lived in the hood, his dad was a wealthy entrepreneur who lived in Illovo. And Lebo straddled both worlds effortlessly, and with humility. But he looked beyond the limiting beliefs held by many of his neighbourhood peers.

Find people to inspire you to reach success

His dad was also the first self-made, wealthy black man I met. But when I heard his story, I realised that it wasn’t overnight success. He’d slept on Lebo’s mom’s couch while he slowly but steadily built his business. It gave me an understanding that success is earned. You need to work at it, and push on against adversity. This had a huge impact on me.

Lebo was the ying to my yang. Even though we didn’t think of each other as business partners, that’s what we were, from the age of 12. We formed Skwatta Kamp, we hustled and shook up the music industry together, and changed the face of rap music in South Africa.

I was the dreamer, the visionary, and Lebo was the executor. He found a way to make my crazy schemes and ideas come to life. This is exactly what a partnership should be — helping each other grow, and complementing diverse skill sets.

Build your success, one step at a time

We built our success, brick by brick. I entered a TV show competition, Jam Alley, and won. I used the cash and Dions vouchers to buy recording equipment. Lebo’s dad helped with speakers and a keyboard. My brother, who was studying IT, downloaded software and helped us with our recording quality. Everyone pitched in with what they could. 

Be your own biggest cheerleader

We tried the recording contract route for a while, but realised that the only people who cared about our success were us. And so we hit the streets — hard. We had street crews, we sold our own CDs and negotiated with music stores to carry our albums.

Recording studios kept saying they’d sign us, but they never had a studio available. They just didn’t see the value in rap and hip hop. They didn’t believe there was money in it in South Africa. We needed to prove there was.

Gallo finally approached us and signed us after we won at the South African Music Awards (SAMAs) as an independent act. We used real guerrilla tactics to get our name out there — on stage, with that platform, we told our fans that if a music store didn’t carry our album, to burn it down. We wanted the attention — that’s how you build a name.

Related: Entrepreneurial Powerhouse TBO Touch On How Success Is Built From Small Acts

Our first album went gold, and we used that to push the idea of rap into mainstream media. If 20 000 people bought the album, another 200 000 had bootlegged it. There was money here; and slowly brands and advertisers started realising we were right.

Drive a movement with your business

We were musicians, but first and foremost we were driving a movement, and that meant we needed to be businessmen as well. We hosted end of year parties, and got brands on board, realising we had a captive audience that aligned with their target market demographics. We started our own label, Buttabing Entertainment.

Our goal was to find and nurture young musicians from the hood to get them established in the industry, and show other kids in the Trap that it could be done: Anyone can create their own destiny. One of the things I’m proudest of is discovering a kid in Katlehong, Senzo Mfundo Vilakazi, who would develop into Kwesta.

He’s doing phenomenally well, and recently appeared on Sway in the Morning, one of the biggest hip hop shows in the US. Our success spilt over into Kwesta, and now his meteoric rise will hopefully inspire a whole new generation to dream bigger than they ever thought possible.

Pivoting to further growth

All success has its pinnacle. By 2010 we had achieved so much as Skwatta Kamp. We’d brought rap music into the mainstream and opened opportunities for countless kids, as music labels actively sought rap and hip hop acts. I realised that I’d hit a ceiling. I needed to step back, regroup and figure out what to do next.

What I did was something I’ve only ever associated with privilege. I moved home, spent a lot of time lying on the couch, and wrote. I wrote my life, my lessons, my dreams, my ideas. I don’t know how I reached a point where I was able to do that, but I’m grateful. I started collecting my thoughts and understanding my purpose.

During that time I was approached to join a few marketing agencies. I had no formal marketing training, but we’d worked with big brands at our parties and activations.

Sprite was the first to recognise that they had an opportunity to authentically connect with the black urban youth through us, and so we partnered up. I learnt above-the-line marketing in a Coca-Cola boardroom, and built onto what we’d learnt on the streets about below-the-line marketing.

Take a step back, and rediscover your purpose

That experience had drawn attention, and so for a while I joined an agency. But its mandate was sponsorships, and my heart was with the black urban youth. I’d discovered my purpose, even if I’d subconsciously been living that purpose for almost 20 years.

I wanted to create a platform that gives young black artists a voice; established artists a way to reach out to the youth that other platforms don’t offer; and brands a way to authentically connect with that audience — not just to sell products, but to show black urban youth that their culture is important, that it holds value, and that they, in turn, hold value.

Related: Shark Tank’s Romeo Kumalo Weighs In On High-Impact Entrepreneurial Businesses

Adidas’s support of Run DMC in the US showed that kids from the ghetto had a message worth listening to. Big brands have the power to connect the unheard and voiceless to the mainstream, if it’s done correctly. I had the marketing experience to understand the ROI that brands need, as well as what I could do with that to support black urban youth.

All I had were dreams and a URL, but that was enough. I quit my job and launched my website, Slikouronlife.

Reveal opportunities and create aspirations with your message

This is my politics and CSI. If we can get marketing to marry culture, and change the positioning and perception of young black South Africans, we can show there are opportunities out there, and create aspirations.

But we need to put culture first and tap into the authenticity of who we are as South Africans. We need to recognise and acknowledge the mental traps that exist in our neighbourhoods, and that we are victims of limiting beliefs, and then show that there is another way.

Everyone told me I was nuts. That black people don’t go online. I did it anyway. With Skwatta Kamp we had created a market for our music. Kids supported us; my name added value — and then brands came on board. We now average between 200 000 and 250 000 unique visitors a month, which is impressive for a mainstream website, let alone a niche music site.

Ten months ago we were a team of three operating from my house with one desk. Today we’re a team of ten with one focus: To make a real difference on the ground. To give the voiceless a voice. To prove that if we can drive the aspirations of South Africa’s urban youth, the sky will be the limit.


Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

Edward Moshole started a business in 1999 with just R68 in his pocket. Today he has a company that not only has a turnover upwards of R25 million, but is also on the cusp of expanding to the next level. Here’s how he’s turning clients into partners.

GG van Rooyen

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edward-moshole

Vital Stats

In 1999, Edward Moshole was a cleaner with just R68 in his pocket, but he noticed a business opportunity.

Good quality detergents and disinfectants could make a tough cleaning job much easier, so he started buying quality products in bulk and selling them to his fellow cleaners. He wasn’t satisfied, though. He wanted a business that made and sold its own products. So, he tackled the long and arduous process of creating cleaners and detergents that could pass strict regulations and compete with the best products on the market.

It wasn’t easy, but he kept at it. In fact, he only got his first real breakthrough in 2006 when a supermarket agreed to start stocking his products. Today, his Chem-Fresh products can be found all over Africa, and he counts Pick n Pay as one of his main clients. How did Moshole manage to turn R68 into an empire?

Here are his rules for building a large and sustainable operation.

1. Find the right clients

“Very early on, I identified Pick n Pay as a must-have client. I could see that the company was changing its strategy — it was starting to move into townships and rural areas, places where it hadn’t been operating until then — and I thought it would be the perfect place to sell Chem-Fresh products,” says Moshole. But getting in wasn’t easy.

“As a small business, you don’t get to sit down with decision- makers. Becoming a supplier to a large retailer is a difficult process. It took me years to get a foot in the door, but I didn’t give up. I just knew that Pick n Pay was the right company to do business with, so I kept at it.

I refused to take no for an answer. Today, Pick n Pay operates more like a partner than a client.

Related: Attention Black Entrepreneurs: Start-Up Funding From Government Grants & Funds

Thanks to my partnership with Pick n Pay, I’ve been able to scale Chem-Fresh quickly and access a distribution channel that allows Chem-Fresh products to be sold all over the continent. Once you have the right clients, you gain instant clout and reliability.”

2. Own the manufacturing process

chem-fresh-products

PC: risingafrica.org

When starting out, entrepreneurs often have little choice but to buy other companies’ products and resell them. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — it can be a successful strategy. However, it can eventually limit your growth.

Firstly, buying and reselling products places a cap on your margins. When you own the manufacturing process, you can increase your margins, since making and selling products tends to offer wider margins than merely buying and reselling.

That said, you have to keep in mind that this is only true when you operate at a certain scale. Making and selling something in small quantities can often be more expensive and time consuming than simply buying it from a supplier. You need to crunch the numbers and make sure that the expense of a manufacturing facility is actually worth it in the long run.

Secondly, it allows you to keep control of the quality of your product. “The secret to any great brand is consistency,” says Moshole.

“People should know what they can expect from the brand, and one of the best ways to ensure this is to have total control of your product. If you make it yourself, you’re in charge of the quality.”

3. Be willing to diversify

Some companies can grow while sticking to a very specific niche, but most have no other option but to diversify. Although Chem-Fresh started out selling just one or two products, Moshole soon started to expand the range. The company now has more than 100 products.

“Generally speaking, you can only capture so much of a market. Sometimes it makes sense to actively try to grow your market share, but it’s also a good idea to diversify. Not only does this open more revenue streams, but it also protects the business against market changes. So, if the sales of one product slows down, another speeds up and everything evens out,” says Moshole.

Related: Sibongiseni Mbatha’s Top Collaboration Techniques To Grow Your Business

But the important thing is not to stray too far from your comfort zone. Chem-Fresh now has a large product range, but it has stuck to an industry that it is knowledgeable about. The company has built a name for itself within a specific industry.

4. Build a strong foundation

“Don’t wait too long to start thinking about the long-term life of your business,” advises Moshole. “The stronger the foundation of the business, the easier it is to grow it, so you need to implement the right systems and processes early on. If you don’t, the business will fall apart without you.

“You will always be very involved at an operational level. You’ll be so busy with the daily grind, that you’ll never be able to take a strategic view and focus on building the company.

So, you need the right systems and the right people. You need to know that the business can keep going without you. If you do this, you will be able to grow the company while others deal with the operational demands.”


Key Insights

There’s no substitute for perseverance

It took Edward years to get his product onto Pick n Pay’s shelves, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Today, the relationship is more like a partnership.

Own the process

In the right quantities, producing and selling your own product can significantly increase your margins over selling someone else’s products.

Strategically increase revenue streams

Diversifying your product range within your niche allows you to offer the same clients a greater range, tap into new markets, and protect the business against market changes.


TAKE NOTE

Take a long-term view when contemplating the growth of your company. It’s never too soon to prepare a business for growth. Implementing the right systems and processes right now can make it much easier to scale the operation down the line.


Related: 6 Of The Most Profitable Small Businesses In South Africa

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