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How Khonology Founder Finds The Best Candidates And Trains Them For Best Results

Khonology has shown that South Africa might have a skills shortage, but that’s not because of a lack of ability. Give the right people the right opportunities, and they’ll flourish. Moreover, empowering people can make good business sense.

GG van Rooyen




Vital stats

  • Player: Michael Roberts
  • Position: Founder and CEO
  • Company: Khonology
  • Established: 2013
  • About: Khonology is an African technology services company that aims to transform and empower Africa’s people and businesses. Rather than importing skills and experience from overseas, the company trains promising local talent to fulfill challenging roles. Khonology was named the Job Creator of the Year at the 2016 South African Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

Almost by accident, Khonology CEO Michael Roberts built a successful career for himself in London. He travelled to the United Kingdom in 1997, not really planning to move there permanently, but ended up spending 13 years there, working for prestigious blue-chip companies like Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank.

“The aim was always to return to South Africa,” says Roberts. “I always knew that I hadn’t immigrated permanently. I wanted to go home and start a company there.”

But there were challenges to launching a technology services company in Africa, specifically the lack of skills and qualifications.

“There’s an assumption that we have a lack of skills locally, which is why many companies import knowledge from overseas, and that ends up costing the client an absolute fortune,” says Michael.

“While there was a lack of skilled professionals locally, I didn’t feel as if this was an insurmountable problem. We had a lack of experience, but not a lack of ability. I felt confident that if we got our hands on the right people, we could teach them to do what expensive international consultants were doing.”

So, Khonology started recruiting promising STEM graduates and training them. Michael’s hunch proved correct. Over the last few years, the company has successfully upskilled dozens of young people. In 2016, Khonology was even named the Job Creator of the Year at the South African Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

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

Entrepreneur spoke to Michael about the process of finding promising candidates and training them on the job.

Why the focus on STEM graduates?

People who have studied in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics have the sort of logical approach to things that’s needed within a technology services company. It’s not as much about what they studied as it is about the mindset they bring to the work. Because of this, assessment tools like analytical puzzles are useful for us when it comes to recruiting. We’re not that concerned about the answer they give to a puzzle; it’s all about the way they approach the problem.

So tests and assessments are something you would recommend?

Absolutely. It’s crucial. What’s great is that you can leverage technology these days. A lot of the time, effort and complexity that comes with these tests can be reduced through technology and automation. You can use technology to build capacity.

Hiring someone is always a risk. You can never be completely certain that you’re making the right decision, so you need to find ways in which you can de-risk the process. A reliable test or assessment can be a useful tool in this regard.

Is it all about logic, or do you care about attitude too?

We care a lot about attitude, which is why we use attitude assessment tools as well. In fact, attitude is probably the most important thing for us. You can only train people who are eager and willing to learn, so we look for people who want to learn, and who are also willing to give back and pass knowledge along to someone else.

We try to create a collaborative environment where people have a passion for learning.

And how do you create that sort of environment?

It starts with you. You really set the tone as the founder, so if you want people to be excited about learning, you need to exude that. You need to create a culture that prioritises learning. It’s something that you actively need to champion. In a busy company, training and learning can quickly fall by the wayside, but the results are worth the effort, so it is something that should be protected.

We also make use of daily scrums or stand-up meetings. These tend to be cancelled when people are busy, so we believe it’s important to set them in stone. We find them invaluable, since they keep everyone connected and on the same page.

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

How do you create these kinds of systems and processes in a quickly-scaling start-up?

It’s difficult to be sure. You have to accept that your systems will break as you grow. What works for ten people will not work for 20, and what works for 100 people will sometimes not work for 105. So, developing systems and processes is an ongoing activity. You’re never truly ‘done’. Also, you need to be honest with yourself when something isn’t working. Don’t just keep doing the same old thing. Stay agile and reassess things as you go.

You mentioned earlier that hiring someone is never risk-free. Have you had some bad hires?

Of course. Every company has. My advice is to admit when something is wrong and deal with the situation immediately. Don’t put it off. The issue will not ‘resolve itself’, it will only get worse. Letting someone go is never easy, but you have to take the emotion out of it. Culture is important, and a bad hire can poison the environment, so you have to prioritise the health of the business.

How important is the ‘raw material’ or potential of an individual when it comes to hiring? What can be taught, and what needs to be present from the start?

The simple answer is: You should only hire A-players. Skills can be taught, but you want people with tremendous drive and intelligence. You want to find those gold nuggets. If you hire B- and C-players, you will spend too much time and effort improving their performance.

A young company can’t afford to do that. You want to hire the people who will quickly be offered a job by someone else if you don’t make an immediate offer. For this reason, you also need to draw a firm line in the sand. You can’t let a potential employee make too many demands, as that will create issues later on.

Overpaying an employee will result in a management debt that’ll cause future problems.

The value of entering business competitions

As winner of the Job Creator of the Year at the 2016 South African Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, Khonology founder, Michael Roberts, believes in the benefits of entering awards programmes.

“We relish the opportunity to compete in competitions, as this allows us an opportunity to sharpen our offering and strengthen the pitch. The effort and work that goes into competing actually pays off, as we have to deep dive on our business and understand the fundamentals, test our value proposition and our belief for starting the business. This is an amazing validation tool for us. Secondly, and most importantly, it helps build our proverbial ‘soap box’, making our voice louder and providing amazing marketing and exposure for a fast growing company that is super ambitious to make a difference in the world of technology.”

Lessons Learnt

SA Entrepreneur Takes First-Of-Its Kind Business To An International Level

Jo Farah shares some insights on his entrepreneurial journey as Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) gets underway.





South African-born entrepreneur and creator of the world’s first environmentally friendly sneaker care product – Jo Farah says entrepreneurship has always been part of his DNA, and making a valuable contribution to society his ultimate goal.

The founder of Sneaker LAB – an innovative business that’s managed to create a first-of-its-kind, biodegradable sneaker care product, delivered his sentiments on entrepreneurship and his entrepreneurial journey as Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) kicked-off in 170 countries around the world this week.

Farah, who’s been mentored and groomed by his entrepreneur father, says developing a successful business has always been part of his life’s plan. And while he managed to establish a few start-ups during his entrepreneurial journey, which includes founding a guerrilla marketing agency in South Africa, and producing ads for the likes of Adidas, New Balance and Puma it still wasn’t enough.

After returning from the United States in 2008 with just one thing on his mind – to help cure South Africa’s conundrum by creating jobs for the unemployed, and in-turn fostering economic growth, Jo invented a one-of-a-kind sneaker care product, and put shoulder to the wheel to establish his business in 2013.

Related: How Lorenzo Escobal Bootstrapped His Way To Competing With Titans And Attracting Top-Tier Clients

sneaker-lab-founder-jo-farahStarting a sneaker care product range was a natural choice, especially considering Jo’s passion for sneakers, street wear and urban culture. He also wanted to create a complimentary product to accompany the list of sneaker brands that has inspired him over time. Jo’s work behind the scenes commenced in earnest and in no time he conducted enough research to support his theory – there was a gap in the market for branded sneaker care products. He knew that he was on a good wicket.

“There already was a range of non-branded products on the market, but my research revealed there was a healthy appetite for branded, environmentally friendly sneaker care products. That spoke directly to my business model,” he says.

Today, Sneaker LAB has placed Cape Town on the map with its premium global status – it’s the only sneaker care product range in the world to be Green TAG certified, environmentally friendly and biotech driven. Its products are water-based, readily biodegradable, and the packaging is suitable for recycling. The business also operates internationally, in 50 countries across Africa, with an experiential brand store in Braamfontein Johannesburg; as well as downtown Los Angeles in the USA; Asia and Europe.  The business is growing by the day, with a store in Tokyo set to open soon.

As an entrepreneur he’s grown in leaps and bounds, and despite many changes along the way, his sentiments on entrepreneurship remain.

“Inspiring potential entrepreneurs to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and embark on an entrepreneurial journey is one way of solving some of the world’s most critical problems, and freeing the economically marginalised,” Jo says.

Related: Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

He urges young aspiring entrepreneurs with an entrepreneurial mindset to take the plunge and to channel time and energy into developing their business ideas into something tangible and workable that could generate good long-term financial returns.

“People will tell you that it can’t be done, but believe me, it can. All you have to do is to believe in your idea and to work hard and smart and you’ll reap the benefits,” Jo says.



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Lessons Learnt

9 Ways Successful Entrepreneurs Spend Their Weekends

All work and no play makes for a very dull entrepreneur.




Successful entrepreneurs have a passion for what they do, so working hard is part of their DNA. But anyone who is successful also recognises that life and work are a marathon, not a sprint. Even they need downtime on the weekend to ensure they’re up to the task of being creative problem solvers and innovators Monday through Friday.

Sure, they may spend some time catching up on administrative work. They may spend time on a big project that needs special attention. And they should definitely spend time thinking about the future and considering the big picture.

But what successful entrepreneurs don’t do is spend the entire weekend buried under work. We all need a break, and entrepreneurs are no less immune to burnout than anyone else. Their weekends are spent restoring their bodies and minds, and getting prepared to function optimally come Monday.

Here are nine things successful entrepreneurs do over the weekend to unwind and re-energise for the week ahead.


1. Wake up at about the same time

Successful entrepreneurs understand that staying on track for the week ahead means keeping the same sleeping patterns, even on weekends. That means going to bed and getting up at about the same time all week. This is because your circadian rhythm will stay consistent, so your body will naturally know when it’s time to sleep and wake up.

As tempting as it might be to sleep in, doing so can throw off your sleep/wake cycle, disrupting sleep patterns and giving you a poor night’s rest. Make sure you aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night to avoid a sleep deficit. Also, getting up early means you’ll be ready for whatever the day brings and you’ll have time to accomplish all the things you hope to do.

Related: 20 South African Side-Hustles You Can Start This Weekend

2. Spend quality time with loved ones

It’s no surprise that weekdays can be hectic and filled with obligations. There’s a good chance you spent more time in front of your computer (and with co-workers and colleagues) than with the most important people in your life. Make sure you’re tending to the quality relationships in your life by making them a priority on the weekends.

Have a date night with a partner. Go for a long walk or enjoy a leisurely lunch with a friend. Make sure you’re building and maintaining those relationships by really listening to them. And then share what’s on your mind and how you’re feeling. The support and connection you feel with others will give you resiliency and can support you in stressful times.

3. Pursue a passion

Is there some hobby or activity you’ve been wanting to try but have never made time for? Dedicate some weekend time to pursuing a passion that’s outside of work and beyond your normal day-to-day obligations. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to paint, take up photography or write a novel.

Whether it’s a long-lost hobby or a labor of love you’ve dreamed of embarking on, stop telling yourself that you’ll get around to it “someday.” Set aside a quiet weekend morning or afternoon to work on it. Pursuing your interests beyond work improves your mental health and reduce stress levels. Plus, focusing on activities outside of work will improve your creativity and give you a chance to look at life from a new perspective.

Related: How To Work Less And Still Get More Done

camping trip

4. Find time for a mini-adventure

Weekends give you a chance to unplug from life, put aside your daily responsibilities and go have some fun! Let loose and break out of your rut by taking yourself on a mini-adventure. Get out of the house and find a change of scenery.

A mini-adventure means sticking close to home, so hiking the Grand Canyon may be a bit much, but an overnight camping trip or a day hike is totally doable. Spend an afternoon at the beach or take your bike out for a long ride. The point is to get out and make a memory that will give you a smile for the rest of the week.

5. Fuel their creative mind

Successful entrepreneurs make sure they take time to feed their creative minds by finding ways to connect with the arts. You don’t need a degree in art appreciation or music theory to enjoy the benefits of engaging with the arts. Simply visiting a local museum or spending time listening to music will suffice.

Viewing art can be like a mini-vacation for your brain. It activates areas of the brain that are involved in processing emotion and engaging your pleasure and reward systems. Listening to music can have an even more dramatic effect. In fact, music has been found to stimulate more parts of the brain than any other human function.

6. Relax, reflect and renew

Savvy entrepreneurs have learned that they must give themselves the space and time to decompress and mull over the events, issues or dilemmas they face. Giving yourself time for self-reflection allows you to link and construct meaning from your experiences. Reflection is one of the main ways we gain insight and foster complex learning and personal growth.

In our busy world, we are often dealing with packed schedules and juggling multiple issues. Make sure you find time on the weekend to disengage from your hectic schedule and just chill. Try journaling, going for a walk, taking in the beauty of a sunset or even just focusing on the present moment and being aware of all the sensations you’re experiencing.

Related: Get Your Weekend Started


7. Get outside and exercise

Whether it’s getting out for a walk through the neighbourhood, shooting some hoops or taking a run through the park, high-achieving entrepreneurs get outside on the weekend to stretch their legs and soak up some vitamin D. There are some great benefits to an outdoor rather than indoor workout (although the most important thing is getting exercise, however it works best for you).

Getting some natural sunlight may be a welcome reprieve from artificial lighting if you spend most of the week in an office. Studies have found that adults tend to exercise for longer when they’re outside. You also tend to burn more calories and work slightly different muscles because of the wind resistance and changes in terrain. Perhaps most important, you’ll have a chance to admire nature and the outside world, which is good for your mental health and well-being.

8. Socialise and network

Successful entrepreneurs realise that any event or gathering is a chance to get to know other people and learn something new from someone you haven’t met. Set aside time to socialise with friends and family or get to know colleagues and workmates. If everyone else is busy this weekend, look for other opportunities to socialise and do something fun and interesting.

Check out a local community event. It could be a great chance to learn more about where you live and network and make connections with others. You could also look for a volunteer opportunity with a charity or nonprofit you’d like to support, such as a local animal shelter, senior centre or food bank. If you enjoy active sports, join a local team or club. If you’re into less strenuous activities, consider a joining a bowling or bocce ball team.

9. Catch up on rest

It’s been a busy week, and you’re feeling sleep deprived and run down. While sleeping in isn’t a good idea, successful entrepreneurs know when they need to catch up on some much-needed rest. A 10- to 20-minute power nap may be just the thing to help you feel refreshed and alert – a short snooze is actually much more effective than a cup of coffee in providing an energy boost.

It’s best to keep naps short: 30 Minutes or less. Longer naps are more likely to leave you feeling groggy and can interfere with your nighttime sleep quality. So when that wave of post-lunch sleepiness hits, go ahead: Indulge in an mid-afternoon nap and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

How Lorenzo Escobal Bootstrapped His Way To Competing With Titans And Attracting Top-Tier Clients

Inception Automotive Detailing was founded in 2011 by Lorenzo Escobal. He was only 18 at the time, and the business started small, but Lorenzo has grown it significantly over the last few years and aligned it with top brands. His secret to success? Being proactive and not being afraid to ask for what he wants.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: Lorenzo Escobal
  • Company: Inception Automotive Detailing
  • Location: Toronto, Canada
  • Established: 2011
  • Visit:

As is often the case in the world of entrepreneurship, Lorenzo Escobal launched his own business purely out of necessity. Attending university in 2010, he realised that finding a job shortly after North America had experienced a financial meltdown wouldn’t be easy. If he wanted to be sure of an income, he would need to create it for himself. So, having detailed cars for friends and family since he was 15, he decided to launch his own operation called Inception Automotive Detailing.

He bootstrapped the business — launching with just $1 200 — and grew it slowly. Today, the company boasts clients like Google and Tesla. Here are Lorenzo’s tips for bootstrapping a small business capable of competing against much bigger players and attracting top-tier clients.

1. Build a great website and market online

The fact of the matter is, your company is judged largely by the quality of its website and online presence these days, especially if you’re taking your product/service to the client. Even if you don’t have fancy premises, you can create a professional appearance by investing in a great website.

Most people are going to find you through your website, so make sure it instantly impresses. Also, invest time and money in creating effective online marketing campaigns on Google and Facebook. Funnily enough, Google approached us about detailing work by finding us on Google.

A good website and good online reviews got us a foot in the door. From there, we could prove ourselves through our work.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

2. Learn to network

Attracting clients online is important, but real-world networking shouldn’t be neglected either. There is immense value in joining professional organisations and attending conferences. It’s a great (and affordable) way to market, and you never know how the connections you make may pay off down the line. Networking and being in the public eye also builds credibility for your business. I’ve put a lot of time into getting my name and brand out there, but it’s been worth it.

3. Remember that no one is truly ‘self-made’

Every entrepreneur benefits from the wisdom and hard work of others. I’ve had great mentors who have helped me immeasurably in growing my business. I’ve also had the privilege of working with a great team who has helped me make the business what it is today. I do my best never to forget this, and I view myself not as a boss, but as a part of a team. Sure, I attend a lot of conferences and events, but I also jump in and help when there’s a lot of work to do.

As an entrepreneur, you need to be willing to get your hands dirty and do whatever’s needed — even if that means grabbing a mop and cleaning a dirty floor.

4. Make things happen

As an entrepreneur, you need to create opportunities, not wait for them to fall into your lap. I managed to get work from Tesla, for example, simply by asking for it. I filled out the contact form on the Tesla website and got a reply three days later.

Many entrepreneurs think that it’s pointless to approach large organisations because they’ll never want to do business with a small operation. Never simply assume that. Just ask, and see what happens. Sure, you’ll have to deal with a lot of rejection along the way, but that comes with the territory. Great entrepreneurs are never afraid to put themselves out there.

Related: How Matthew Piper And Karidas Tshintsholo Launched Their First Business From Their UCT Dorm Rooms

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