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Csonke.com: Zibusiso Mkhwanazi & Neo Mothlabane

With little more than R2 000 and dreams of greatness, two entrepreneurs have built a giant

Juliet Pitman

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Zibusiso Mkhwanazi of Krazy Boys Digital

Zibusiso Mkhwanazi and Neo Mothlabane were18 and 20 years old respectively when they started Csonke.com. Between themthey had nothing but their IT and accountancy skills, R2 000 start-up capitaland a dream to be in the top five IT companies in the country within fiveyears. “We didn’t have a car so we used to take taxis to see clients. On thedays that it rained, we’d have to cancel meetings because we’d get so wetwalking in the rain,” remembers Mkhwanazi. But, as John Barry, founder ofAdcorp, says in his interview at the back of this issue, South Africa is one ofthe last great countries where, if you put your mind to it, you can achieveanything.

This was their thinking exactly. In Januarythis year, Csonke.com bought 30% of Krazyboyz Digital, for an undisclosed sum,forming one of the largest African digital agencies. Mkhwanazi is ExecutiveChairman and Mothlabane Managing Director of the Johannesburg office.Csonke.com also has the option to acquire a further 21% of Krazyboyz Digitalwhich will, in future, allow it to attain majority shareholding. The rise and rise of Mkhwanazi andMothlabane is a story that’s nothing short of remarkable. Mkhwanazi relates howit all began: “With the little capital we had we needed to focus on one thingthat would land us a big client.“ They scanned the market and decided that webdevelopment was the way to go. But, there was one small problem. Neither ofthem was a designer. Refusing to be discouraged, they approached designstudents at the former Technikon of the Witwatersrand and asked them to submitexamples of web design work. “We took the work and started selling it andlanded our first significant client, Mazwai Securities, now Barnard JacobMellet,” explains Mkhwanazi.

It was a taste of things to come. Blue IQfollowed, then Lotto and then Thebe Investments. “We just grew and grew – itjust exploded,” he remembers, “And importantly it gave us the confidence weneeded. Because as a small start-up you have to first convince a giant that youcan deliver what they need, and then you have to actually deliver it. It’s areally big challenge.” In both instances, the pair proved successful and incomeslowly started coming in, eventually funding the company’s growth. But, ever aware that IT was a high-riskmarket, particularly at that time in the aftermath of the dot.bomb, Mkhwanaziand Mothlabane made an important strategic decision to keep overheads as low aspossible. “We were very clear on one thing: the only salaries we were going topay were our own and a secretary’s,” he recalls. They bought one car to shareand instead of taking on staff, continued to outsource the design work on acontract basis, a practice that remained in place right up until Csonke.combought into Krazyboyz Digital.

Mkhwanazi explains the thinking behind themerger. “We needed new markets and to expand our services for the existingclients that we had grown with. We were strong on web design but we weren’tstrong on things like presentations and digital signage. And we wereapproaching that five year mark and still weren’t in the top five!” Theystarted scanning the market but in the end Krazyboyz, which was also lookingfor a partner, found them at a serendipitous tender briefing. The deal waseventually financed through assets and cash. The merging has presented Mkhwanazi and hisnew team of directors with an array of challenges. “When you combine twocompanies there is always the risk that you will get two separate camps. Therewas the perception that people would lose their jobs and be replaced becausethere was now empowerment in the business. You have to get people to trustyou,” he says, adding that communication and a united group of leaders whopublicly come out in support of each other has made all the difference. Todate, not one staff member has resigned. “It’s all about leading by example,”concludes Mkhwanazi. Small wonder then that Krazyboyz is at an all-timehigh. 

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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