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Thakadu Reserve: Albert Segoe & John Ditsele

A unique community-owned lodge breaks new ground with its innovative business model

Juliet Pitman



Albert Segoe & John Ditsele of Madikwe

Henry Ford, inventor, innovator,entrepreneur and founder of the Ford Motor Corporation once said: “A businessthat makes nothing but money is a poor business.” Although at first glance thisstatement might appear to fly in the face of capitalism, it can be argued thatwhat Ford was getting at is that business can be rich in all senses of the word– rich in profit, in development, in growth and in people – if it addssomething to the world around it instead of simply focusing on making money.And he should know – after all, this was the man who gave the world the modernassembly line that makes mass production possible today. 

On the banks of the Marico River in a gamereserve called Madikwe there is living proof that Ford was right. A uniquepartnership has lead to the development of a luxury game lodge that is whollyowned and run by the local village community of Molatedi. Of the 33 staffmembers at Thakadu, only six had ever previously been employed. Their learningcurve has been steep enough to induce vertigo. And yet they have beenprofitable from the first month. From the second month they were completelybooked out and in month three they were awarded a five-star grading by theTourism Grading Council. They continue to attract guests from all over theworld who, almost without exception, comment on the ‘special something’ thatexists at this lodge, setting it apart from the countless other luxury gamelodges on offer in South Africa. The interesting thing is that mostof these guests don’t know that Thakadu is community-owned and run. They comeexpecting world-class service in a luxury establishment and judge theexperience against the same standards they would for any other venue.

The story begins when Madikwe Collection –a company that markets and manages bookings for a group of private lodges inthe reserve, and Mafisa – a facilitating company that had already helpedestablish the first Madikwe community-owned lodge, Buffalo Ridge – saw anopportunity to develop a new lodge in the Madikwe Reserve. And while thecommunity aspect was important, the move made good business sense for Madikwe Collectionas well. Says Carl Trieloff, Madikwe Collection director: “The idea is for theMadikwe Collection portfolio to cover the full range of lodges, fromself-catering to ultimate luxury, and Thakadu happened to fill a gap in theportfolio.” Madikwe Collection leverages the strength of an already establishedMadikwe brand to market all the lodges in the collection. All the time thatwe’re involved there is skills transfer and capacity building to ensure thelong-term sustainability of the business,” adds William Stephens, also adirector.

So although this is a story about socialdevelopment, it is also a story about business. In particular, it’s about how aunique business model is proving incredibly effective at helping a businessgrow, arguably more effective than any other model in the hospitality industry.In simple terms, because staff own Thakadu, they work harder at creating aspecial experience for guests. This provides a solution to one of thehospitality industry’s biggest challenges – how to motivate staff, who worklong hours for little pay serving demanding clients, to smile and be welcomingand friendly at all times.Albert Segoe, general manager, explains howownership has made all the difference: “I can tell staff to treat guests as theywould visitors to their own private homes.” While this might have a hollow ringto staff who derive no benefit from an establishment, it has direct and potentrelevance for Thakadu staff members who, along with Segoe and assistantmanager, John Ditsele, own the lodge. Service excellence means guests return,generating profit that goes into a community-run trust to help build schools,infrastructure and healthcare facilities.

This is not to say, however, that therehaven’t been challenges. Segoe is committed to intensive training and ongoingimprovement to ensure Thakadu remains profitable. Although it was a realchallenge to train staff who had never worked before, Segoe believes it workedin the business’s favour in the end. “But what made it easier is that peoplehere have passion. They are proud to be part of something. And that makes upfor lack of experience.”Segoe and Ditsele both display tremendousentrepreneurship and drive. Segoe started at the bottom in hospitality, workinghis way up from the kitchen scullery to management. Ditsele, previously awaiter in Johannesburg, was selected as one of eight candidates out of 300applicants to do a field guides qualification. He too has worked his way up.Today they run a business with a turnover of around R6 million that is not onlyprofitable but holds the future of an entire community. 

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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