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Lessons Learnt

How Tebogo Ditshego Transformed a Failing Business and Tripled his Revenue

Ready to take centre stage, this young entrepreneur revived a failed PR business and tripled revenue.

Monique Verduyn




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Vital Stats:

  • Company: Ditshego Media
  • Player: Tebogo Ditshego
  • Est:  2011
  • Contact:
  • Growth:  300% in two years


Recognised by business magazine, Forbes, as one of the top 30 African entrepreneurs under 30 for 2014, Tebogo Ditshego is making an impact in public relations and education, and is being recognised as a young business owner who is helping to transform South Africa.

But Ditshego had to learn the hard way that being impatient to explore new business possibilities can also have disastrous consequences. After a false start, he overhauled his business strategy and succeeded in growing his company’s revenue by a remarkable 300%.

Related: 10 Secrets to Take Your Startup From Barely Surviving to Thriving

29 year-old public relations maverick Tebogo Ditshego is the founder of Ditshego Media, a PR company specialising in media relations, corporate communications, social media management and advertisement placing. He is also the chairman of the South African Reading Foundation. We asked him how he quickly went from failure to internationally recognised entrepreneur.

How did you go about developing your brand as a young entrepreneur?

The building of the company is intrinsically linked to the development of my personal brand. My father, Sam Ditshego, is a prolific writer. We were in exile with him until 1995, when we returned to South Africa. My early interest in writing and reading came from him.

While I was studying I started to write for national media to get my name out there as quickly as possible so that I could start developing my brand. It helped that the Ditshego name was well known because of my father. From 2007 my articles appeared regularly in Business Day, The Sowetan, City Press and The Star.

I always went against the grain, going into the townships and looking for stories about things that directly impact people’s lives, like the relationship between education, unemployment and crime, for instance. As my brand was growing, I was also learning about what editors wanted.

How did this early experience benefit you?

My writing improved, and I learnt a lot about angles for good stories. I became a social commentator and my credibility grew.

That made it easy for me to find my first job. I did an internship at the office of the MEC for community safety in 2008 and then I joined a PR agency to learn the ropes. I spent about two years there before launching my own business.

That experience was invaluable, and I would strongly recommend learning as much about your industry as possible before going solo.

You launched a company and failed. Why?

I had the skills to do the work, but I could not run a company. I lacked the business experience to tackle some of the bigger challenges we faced. With hindsight, I know that the manner in which I packaged our offerings was irrelevant to prospective clients.

As an example, a month after the business was registered I approached Vodacom with a full-service PR plan, but there was no way that an organisation of that stature was going to contract with a young upstart. I had credibility as an individual, but the company was an unknown entity.

Established companies are reluctant to provide young companies with opportunities to manage their PR accounts, while other companies misunderstand the media and want to maintain a low profile.

I had financed the business out of my own pocket, and the debts were piling up. I had to close its doors and go back to work. After six months, I had the opportunity to manage the media relations for the new ‘Mandela’ banknotes communications campaign for the South African Reserve Bank.

What lessons did you apply when re-launching the business in 2011?

I was determined to be a business owner and not a PR practitioner. I also realised that we needed a niche offering, so I focused on packaging services based on elements that are still lacking in the South African PR environment today, three years later – social media and corporate social investment (CSI).

How did you succeed in building the reputation of this new business?PR

I knew the best way would be to focus on the areas of specialisation that we were offering. We had to prove we were the best in the industry.

I started an initiative called Read A Book SA, which, thanks to social media, has grown into the biggest book club in South Africa. We have 31 000 followers on Twitter and are promoting the spread of a reading culture.

The incredible success of this initiative is two-fold – it’s enabled us to run a CSI project that is close to my heart, and to demonstrate how proficient the company is at creating, implementing and building effective social media campaigns. It has also provided me and my team with the opportunity to learn more about social media.

Related: 10 Start-up Tips Learned the Hard Way

What was your first big break?

Believe it or not we made another error in 2012 by sending out a typical ‘spray and pray’ mailer. I was fortunate that Shanduka was willing to give us a chance.

Instead of offering a complete PR package, we proposed a service to overhaul the company’s website and were given the opportunity. We had learnt that specialisation is far more appealing.

There is great value in finding out what a prospective client lacks, and offering to fill that gap. Even if they have a service provider, it’s unlikely that they are innovating enough to keep the client ahead in every respect. 

What is your biggest differentiator?

It’s simple. Many PR agencies simply do not resource accounts effectively. If you have an employee managing your mining accounts, let them focus on that sector and develop subject matter expertise.

Overloading your people, or making them apply themselves across a range of sectors is not the way to do it as this prevents them from delivering optimally and will ultimately disappoint your clients.

Also, do not sign up new clients to boost the bottom line – first, make sure you have the capacity to service them efficiently, and second, determine whether your employees have a real interest in that client’s business. There’s no point signing up a client in the ICT space if your expertise is in retail and pharmaceuticals.

How has employee development paid off?

Letting go and handing over responsibility is one of the toughest challenges for an entrepreneur. But to be able to properly manage and grow the business, I had to stop doing PR.

At the same time, if you want happy, satisfied clients, you have to be certain that your people are able to deliver at the highest level. We focus on keeping overheads low, and are very careful about hiring.

Five principles enable our team of eight employees – all under 30 – to produce the best results.

These are: 

  1. Development – employees must be guided to ensure they are able to execute to the best of their abilities.
  2. Relationships – managers must build good relationships with employees and be approachable.
  3. Accountability – managers must provide constructive feedback to employees, reinforcing good behaviours, and correcting bad behaviours in a motivating way.
  4. Results – We deliver quality work and all employees must contribute to adding value. This enables us to provide greater incentives for staff and grow the business even more.
  5. Enablement – We set up employees for success and encourage creativity by providing guidance to ensure they are self-motivated and disciplined.

How has social media enabled you to grow the company?

I am self-taught in social media. Social media platforms have given us the ability to grow the business. In all, the accounts we manage engage with 43 000 followers – for education and business purposes. As a marketer, it’s good to be able to prove our credibility.

Describe your revenue growth.

By the end of 2013, the business had doubled in size, which was no mean feat because we quickly signed several profitable contracts in the first year, so we were not calculating growth from a zero base. By the end of this financial year, the business will have achieved 300% growth on 2011, due to the contracts we have in place.

In the following year we aim to double our revenue again. We expect hyper growth over the next two to three years, after which it should naturally level out. To manage growth properly, it’s critical to focus on maintaining your existing clients because it is easier to sell to a current client than to a new one.

What is the best advice you have been given?

Andile Khumalo, chief investment officer of MSG Afrika Investment Holdings, once told me to go for quality and not quantity when employing people in a young business.

I strive to maintain a balance between keeping clients happy and overheads low. My aim is to become a major employer but I want to employ responsibly in line with growth. I never want to retrench staff because I misjudged the ability of the business to carry them.

Related: 6 Tips to Keep in Mind When Hiring Your First Employees

How to recover from a false start

One of the toughest things is to restart after a failed venture.

“On average up to 80% of businesses fail,” says Ditshego. “Knowing that made me less despondent. I learnt a lot from that experience and it made the re-launched business that much more ready for success.”

The biggest mistake Ditshego made was offering a service that was so broad that it was undefined, leaving potential clients unsure about what they would get, and also trying to be all things for all companies.

It could have been demoralising to have high expectations for a venture that didn’t succeed, but it’s how Ditshego recovered that really matters.

He had to be brutally honest with himself, drill down and rip his idea apart to get to the root of the issue.

Here are some of the important questions to ask when a venture fails:

  • Was the messaging clear?
  • Was there a need?
  • Was I creating this product or service for me or for my customers?
  • Was it a bad idea or was it badly executed?

Related: How You Can Build a Creative Business From Scratch

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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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