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Lere’s Shoe-Shine Experience: Lere Mgayiya

How to build a successful business with minimal start-up capital

Juliet Pitman



Lere Mgayiya

Lere Mgayiya is no stranger to the word “no”. The 32-year-old founder and owner of Lere’s Shoe-Shine Experience, a familiar feature of both Cape Town and Johannesburg International Airports, has stood outside more than his fair share of closed doors. Desperate to put his energy and ideas into building a profitable business, he approached banks for a loan. But each attempt met with the same answer: “You’re young, from the township and without any assets. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

But Mgayiya is nothing if not resourceful, something he proved when he won the pilot episode of the Sanlam Money Game, turning an R18 000 profit from R30 000 in just three days. With his winnings, he bought shares and went to work in a promising BEE company, but it soon became clear that he would only reap rewards three years down the line. After trying, yet again unsuccessfully, to get finance for a mobile public cellphone franchise, Mgayiya was back to square one. At this point, most ordinary people would have thrown in the towel and looked for a regular job. But Mgayiya was proving himself to be anything but ordinary. He may have been out of luck, but he wasn’t yet out of ideas. One day while sitting at Cape Town’s Greenmarket Square, he noticed a shoe-shiner plying his trade and a business idea was sparked – it’s a low-cash start-up with few cash flow issues. But there was a lot of downtime where he was, so I thought ‘where would it be possible to set up a shoe-shine business that didn’t experience long periods of downtime’? The airport!”

Mgayiya contacted Umsobomvu Youth Fund who helped him draft a business plan for Cape Town International Airport. “They loved the idea but I had to wait many months for meetings and a tender committee presentation. In that time, I wasn’t making money and had to sell my car to prevent my house from being auctioned.” Eventually, the business got the go-ahead but Mgayiya lacked the R5 000 capital required to buy two shoe-shine chairs, one each for the domestic and international terminals. Yet again, he approached the bank, this time with his ACSA contract in hand, but was once again turned down. Undeterred, he sold his television and stereo for R2 500 and begged the other R2 500 from his mother. He hired a second shoe-shiner and they opened for business, charging travellers R15 for a shoe-shine. “We were initially called Airport Shoeshine but I quickly realised that customers, most of whom were business people, were looking for a shoe-shine experience,” he relates. So, without any formal business education, Mgayiya set about voraciously reading every financial and business-related publication he could get his hands on. “I taught myself about the Repo rate, financial markets, inflation, CPIX and followed the exchange rates. It meant I was able to interact with my customers, and converse with them about things they were interested in.” The crash-course in finance paid off. “Customers started coming back to enjoy the interaction, each time they travelled to or from the airport. So Lere’s Shoe Shine Experience was born,” he adds. In its first month, the business covered its capital outlay and made a small profit.

One of his customers was so impressed that he encouraged Mgayiya to enter the SAB Kick-Start Competition, even going so far as to bring him an application form. Mgayiya went on to win R50 000 in the competition, which enabled him to expand his operation. He set his sights on Johannesburg International Airport, a deal he recently clinched. Constantly looking for ways to improve his operation, add more value to the shoe-shine experience and enhance the business’s money-making capacity, he invested in coin-operated massage chairs that clients can sit in while having their shoes shined. So successful has the business been that Mgayiya now employs 18 people. Things are looking good for a deal with Durban Airport and he has big plans for expansion into other public and corporate areas. He is also aware of the opportunities that the 2010 Soccer World Cup will bring and, although he won’t divulge any secrets, has made sure that he is striking while the iron is hot. So next time you’re at an airport and someone asks to shine your shoes, take it as an opportunity to sit down for a short while with a real live success story.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.


25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

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

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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