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Quinton van der Burgh on Changing the Game

From selling phones from the boot of his car in Pretoria, to making and losing millions, Quinton van der Burgh has had his fair share of highs and lows. This self-made billionaire has always remained a risk-taker, and even though those risks haven’t always paid off, he’s kept his eye on the prize.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Quinton van der Burgh
  • Company: Quinton van der Burgh Investments
  • Turnover: In the billions
  • Launched: 2008
  • Visit: quintonvanderburgh.com

Quinton van der Burgh Investments is the holding company that owns equity shares in 32 businesses. Eight of those businesses are mining concerns co-owned with his two brothers. The mining and prospecting business (Burgh Group) was launched in 2002.

Van der Burgh currently focuses the majority of his time on growing Innovatec Africa, a start-up he bought 85% of in 2013. Van der Burgh is also the creator of reality show Clifton Shores.

Related: Top Lessons from The Creative Counsel

The entrepreneurial mindset

I was a terrible student at school. I didn’t listen, I was ADHD, and I didn’t like to attend class. To be honest, I’m not even sure how I passed; I tend to think I was lucky. But school was a great place to sell things, because I had a captive market with lunch money to spend. I almost got kicked out twice because of my little side businesses. As long as I was trading, I was alive.

Entrepreneurial family

My dad owned a number of supermarkets, and on weekends my two older brothers and I would work in the stores doing stock take, pricing goods and counting tills.

It gave us a strong feeling for figures, but it was also an opportunity to work and save, and to buy things like Ghostbuster stickers which I then sold at school.

My dad was successful, but he taught us to work for the things we wanted. It was also a great introduction to the basics of trade. And that’s what entrepreneurship is – trading. Money in and money out, buying and selling. Cash flow.

Heart of a trader

Quinton-van-der-Burgh-investments

That’s what drives me. I love a challenge, and I want to be involved across the whole value chain. My passion is business, and I love all aspects of the market – I enjoy learning about new sectors that I know nothing about. I want to look at new industries and touch it all.

I haven’t succeeded in everything, but that’s where the real learnings happen. All industries are different. What succeeds in one doesn’t necessarily work in another, but it’s so rewarding figuring that out.

Follow your passion

Succeeding at something I’ve never done before is what drives me and gets me up in the morning. I like guiding from the sidelines. I manage, run, strategise. I need to be a part of the success, not just invest money. But, you can only do so much.

I’ve built a team of experts to assist me, and I believe in hiring the best. When we invest in a business, we look for the loophole – that thing that we can take, tweak and triple the company’s valuation in a few short years.

It’s not about the money

I could retire right now. But it would bore me to death. And I wouldn’t be giving anything back. I don’t build businesses to have a good life. I build businesses because that’s what drives me, and what I live for.

Leaving school

I just didn’t want to be there anymore. By this stage the family business had grown, and included supermarkets, car dealerships and cellular stores. I had a colleague at one of the car dealerships who had contacts at Eskom. He knew what their needs were, what they were purchasing and how they chose suppliers.

We decided to start a business selling filters to Eskom. This was the mid-1990s and I was 17 years old. I had R50 000 saved up, and used it to buy stock.

The money was saved up partly from working, and partly from buying, suping up and then selling cars. I had access to scrap yards, and was always on the lookout for parts. I made a profit each time, which I saved, and also used to invest in my next car. I eventually saved enough to buy a BMW 318.

Related: Amy Kleinhans-Curd on Lifelong Entrepreneurship

A complete disaster

We didn’t need R50 000. We needed a few hundred thousand. It was a great idea, but it couldn’t sustain itself. We couldn’t run without cash flow. It was a big lesson to learn.

I was 18 and my first business had failed. And so I went back to working for my dad, first as a salesman at an Autopage Cellular store he owned, then working my way up to becoming area manager.

And then my oldest brother and I had an idea for a side business. At the time, the big mobile companies in the UK had a policy that second-hand phones and 14-day returns were all stored in warehouses, and then packaged and sold in bulk to other markets.

We started importing these – 1 000 phones per package. We’d buy them, unlock them, package them and sell them. I’d go over to the UK to get them, and then we’d literally drive around Witbank and Pretoria selling them. I’d pack 500 phones into my BMW and head to Pretoria. We were a completely turnkey operation.

There were eventually five of us trying to sell 15 000 phones a month. Our little operation got my dad’s attention, who decided that we weren’t ready to be running a side business of the size it had grown to. He put a friend of his in charge. Just like that, I’d been circumvented in my own start-up and I realised that if I ever wanted to build something that was really my own, I needed to leave and actually go out on my own.

I believed the only way to do that was to go to the UK. I made contact with the broker who sourced and sold the phones. I wanted a job in London.

He agreed, but said he’d pay me commission only, no basic salary. Meanwhile, my dad said that if I left, I was leaving with nothing. I did it anyway. This was my chance, and I had enough faith in myself to believe I’d make it work. I had no idea.

I shared a room with four guys. It was a whole new experience for me. I was used to people doing stuff for me. This was a whole new way of life. It was also unbelievably liberating.

I wanted to make a name and career for myself, and this was my chance. I’m never happy. I never will be. Things are just things; they come and go. I care about achievements. It was time to start shaping my future.

I began working immediately. I opened the office at 5am each morning (we traded internationally, so had to start early), and then I sold phones. My agreement was 10% of the gross profit on each phone, which was £1. The first month I sold 30 000 phones.

The next 60 000 and the third 80 000. In rand value, I’d made R3 million. Not that it mattered, because he never paid me. He was shocked and completely unprepared for how much I sold, and decided he wanted to review the agreement. Since I was earning on a commission basis, this meant I was earning nothing.

In month two my dad came to visit. I had to borrow cash from a housemate so that I could take him out to lunch. I didn’t want him to know I had no money. By month three things were getting desperate. By this stage my boss had a new partner who promised to sort things out. It never happened.

They gave me £100 pounds to tide me over, and that was the last cent I saw from them. I learnt a lot about taking people at their word, and how quickly someone will go back on their promises.

A new opportunity

And then a new opportunity presented itself. By this time, I’d built up real relationships with my clients. They knew me. They trusted me. They knew I stuck to my commitments, even if that sometimes meant going head-to-head with my boss. They wanted to do business with me, but they didn’t want to do business with my boss.

They told me they would give me upfront cash, I could find the stock, and they’d deal directly with me. It was my first introduction to the power of OPM – using other people’s money to fund your business.

I did it. I was now working even harder than before. The money would get transferred into my bank account, and I’d wait at the bank for the funds to clear, and transfer them immediately to my suppliers. With a money order in hand, I would then go and fetch the stock, and get it loaded by the end of the day. I worked from 5am to 10pm each night. Missing my targets and deadlines was not
an option.

And then I made my next big mistake. I found an amazing deal. A company in China was selling Nokia phones at 20% below market. I’d built up profits, and I had a South African client who I told about the deal. He sent me £300 000 (about R6 million at the time) and I put all my savings into the deal as well.

We were going to buy up stock and test the waters. I paid, and then the guys (whom I’d vetted) disconnected and disappeared with the money. Just like that. Everything I’d saved, gone, but even worse, my client’s money was gone too.

I knew my only option was to be completely upfront with him about what had happened, and to promise to pay him back within six months. I managed to pay him off — everything I made went to that debt. It was worth sticking to my word. He’s still a client of mine today, almost 20 years later. Money comes and goes. Your reputation doesn’t.

Related: Watershed Frontman on Why Talent Will Only Get You So Far

I’ve lost a lot of money over the years

It wasn’t the first time I’d lost money, or the last. But through it all, I’ve built up an unshakable belief in relationships. They come first. When markets shift (as they do, particularly in the import/export game), I take the hit. Over the years I’ve taken a lot on the chin. These principles are so important to me.

Too often I’ve seen markets dip, and people start panicking, which leads to cutting corners and doing shady deals. That’s how you burn bridges. It might be a short-term solution, but it’s not a long-term one, and I always look long-term.

Don’t rip people off and jump ship

Quinton-van-der-Burgh-successful-entrepreneurMy number one rule is to have integrity. Always honour what you say you’ll do. Think long-term. Where’s the next goal? What’s happening in ten years? In tough times people want to milk the system. It’s a short-sighted, big mistake. I’d rather go broke, back to nothing and build myself up again than do that. Today’s failure could be a much bigger opportunity down the line.

After six years in London I started looking back to South Africa. I’ve maintained business interests overseas, but it was time to come home. By this stage, my brothers had shifted into the industrial sector, focusing on belting, earthmoving and hydraulics. They were still involved in the family business though. They were also very interested in coal mining.

They’d been researching prospecting and development of coal assets in South Africa. It was a very risky play, and would involve all of our collective savings, but if it worked, the rewards would be huge.

Taking risks with big rewards

At 26, I was given the opportunity to buy my way back into the family business with a 25% equity stake. I decided to do it, and moved back home. Their prospecting idea was incredibly risky – and incredibly exciting, which is what I live for. I’m the cowboy of the three brothers. I’m the gambler and highest risk-taker.

My middle brother, Stanley, is the most conservative. He’s a hard worker, likes things simple, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He’s built an earthmoving business from scratch, going from one machine to 300, and he’ll change a tyre himself if needed.

He’s a tradesman who always haggles for the best price. He’s grounded, not flashy, and all about family. My oldest brother, Wayne, is more like me. He’s a networker and a dealmaker. He’s willing to take risks, although not quite as aggressively as I am.

As a trio we work well together. Stanley covers earthmoving, I’m the numbers and strategy man, and Wayne focuses on operations. We support and complement each other. But we’re also very different – I always look a few years ahead. Wayne and Stanley like to focus on the now.

Boardroom meetings have been known to get heated, with three brothers who want to end up punching each other. We don’t back down. We’re all opinionated. And yet it works. This big risk we took has paid off – tenfold.

Becoming coal miners started with a big gamble. My brothers had found land in Mpumalanga to prospect. It was risky.

Mining for opportunity

Experts told us that while it could be a very lucrative seam, it might also not be what it appeared to be. It was a 50/50 risk, and it would take almost everything we had to find out. If it worked, it would be like striking oil. If it didn’t, we’d all be back to square one. I was 26, but my brothers were older, with families to support. We decided to go for it.

It was two years of digging holes before we found the seam, and four years of making no money, while pouring money from our other ventures into prospecting and development. We all refused to take a loan. We’d rather do it slowly, and debt free, or not at all.

Every year we had the same discussion: Should we carry on doing this? Is it worth it? We’re not the majors. We’re not a big mining house. What the hell are we doing? But persistence pays off. We stuck to it. Our reputations were on the line, and a stubborn streak was evident in all three of us. We wanted to prove we could do it, and that this wasn’t rocket science. We could make this work.

This is true of everything – you can do anything. And if you don’t have the knowledge or expertise, get stronger people than yourself into the right positions, and put your heads together and work – hard! And learn, learn, learn every day. Today, that business’s turnover is in the billions, and it all started on a calculated gamble, and a desire to build a legacy.

Innovate Africa

Currently, van der Burgh spends most of his time on Innovatec Africa, a start-up he bought 85% of in 2013. “Real innovation is happening in the tech space, and I’m chasing the opportunity that will make me a global brand,” says van der Burgh.

“I want to be in the top ten futuristic tech companies in the world. That’s what I’m aiming for, and so I’ll never stop looking for the next big thing.”

Van der Burgh believes Innovatec Africa is the vehicle for that. “We have very talented teams here; lots of innovative development is taking place. We look for ideas that are in concept stage that we can run with.”

Innovation is expensive though, which is why van der Burgh is concentrating on building a sustainable brand that can support that innovation.

“There are 12 companies under Innovatec Africa; we’re aggressively acquiring companies and distribution rights for large brands. There’s a huge opportunity for us to develop these brands in markets they haven’t previously dominated, particularly in Africa.

“Through our acquisitions, which are all companies that excel in their fields, with excellent teams at the helm, there’s very little that we don’t do that corporates need, from software and hardware integration, to consumables, boardroom outfitters, landline and VoIP connectivity, integration of data solutions, cloud services, servers, and even training. But at our core, while we’re building this big machine, we have an amazing innovation arm, which is sustainable because of all the other areas we focus on.”

The show Clifton Shores was the result of a bee in my bonnet. Two things were happening simultaneously. I wanted to be involved in TV, and I also wanted to give my personal brand some exposure. I’ve got big plans for who I want to be, and where I want to go. Elon Musk, Mark Shuttleworth and Richard Branson all have something key in common – they’re been very savvy at building their brands. People know them, and as a result, they’re trusted, and entrepreneurs bring them ideas. They make a difference.

I saw a reality show as a way of both satisfying my desire to create a successful TV show that could be distributed in the US, and growing my personal brand. I have an eventing and marketing business, Quintessential, and this became the vehicle for the show.

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

Clifton Shores

Clifton-shores-south-africaWe had four US girls and three South African girls, all based in a house on Clifton beach. The US element was important – US audiences love seeing other Americans and what they’re doing, even if it’s not in the US itself. It was a ‘fish out of water’ idea. They ran my company for me and put together glitzy events, and we filmed their interaction, and dealing with daily challenges.

I was a secondary character. It was unscripted, but of course we had to add some drama, so we’d pair up people who we knew didn’t get along, or wouldn’t work well together. The show cost more than we made, but the exposure was incredible. We really got the message out there that if you’ve got a business idea or contact, come to Quinton.

We’re currently getting ready to launch the second season, now rebranded as The Shores for the US market. I took two years to be ready to do it again. It takes a lot out of the participants. This time we’re going online only. Each episode will be available free on Youtube.

This is where TV is headed anyway. I’ll make money on the clicks, but the idea is to really build up a subscriber base for future projects. I’m looking long-term here. Right now it’s costing money, and I’m having a blast. In the future though, I’ll see real returns with a dedicated subscriber base. That’s the plan.

Doing Good

Generosity-waterThe non-profit Generosity was launched seven years ago by Jordan Wagner and his father. They’re very, very passionate about global access to water. I met Jordan on a movie project in the US two and a half years ago. I loved his story.

Our partnership works perfectly: He’s the NGO guy, I’m the business guy. Generosity already had a lot of celebrity endorsements before I came on board. The big idea is to solve the water crisis, step by step.

The NGO has already built 570 wells globally, giving communities access to clean water. But there’s always more to be done, and ultimately, in order for an organisation to be sustainable, it needs to produce its own income rather than relying on donations. This is where I came into the picture.

Generosity needed a ‘for-profit’ arm that would give the NGO an annuity income and create a business around a water brand.

We’ve spent two years developing the best technology for the healthiest drinking water possible, bottled in BPA free bottles. This is not spring water — we don’t want to take more resources from the ground in poor areas. It’s government water, treated with reverse osmosis. The result is a level ten water that is not only extremely healthy for you, but tasty as well.

All bottles have a QR code, so the consumer knows which well that batch of water is funding, and where it’s being built. 20% of every bottle goes to the project. In the US, bottled water is a $10,8 billion industry.

We’d like to see some of that going towards solving the global water crisis. We’re also targeting the corporate market because they’ll get tax rebates, and high volumes mean we can lower the price, although this is a premium product, and it’s packaged and marketed as such.

We’ve already made plans to enter the Australian and New Zealand markets. The idea is to eventually have Generosity everywhere — you can launch your own company in your country — we’ll give you the product as a turn-key operation.

You do the marketing and sales to corporates and throw a big yearly event. We’re looking for well-connected JV partners who also want to give back.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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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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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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