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1987-1992: Humble Beginnings
I was born in 1987, amid the political turmoil, in the second largest township in South Africa, Mdantsane. From the beginning, I was infused with entrepreneurship. Both my parents were of the apartheid generation and due to oppression, they did not have much of an opportunity to attend school. They had to utilize whatever they had to make a living.
My father was a bus driver turned taxi business owner, while my mother was a street vendor who sold fruit at “The High-way”.
When I was four years old, my parents decided to move to a rural area, which is about 20km from King William’s Town. At first, we stayed in a two-room shack with no electricity and no water nearby. With my mother’s innate entrepreneurial spirit, she decided to use one the rooms to start a spaza shop and a shebeen. I say shebeen because I am pretty sure that it was not licensed. In no time, the shebeen got famously known in the area as the “Zink Huis” and the business started to grow. I reckon it was by word-of-mouth, as my mother did not know anything about marketing.
At that moment, my father started to slowly selling off his taxis. I remember at that time seeing a couple of construction guys. They were busy building just a few meters away from the shack and at first, I thought my father was building a ‘big house’ for us.
1993-1998: Hard Work
In November 1993, the intention of the building became more conspicuous when my father opened its doors to the public. It was a liquor store and a grocery store (also called supermarket). Throughout my child, I grew up in that business environment, helping where I could as I was still a kid. Over the years of doing this, I watched how my parents ran the business and how they responded to the trials and tribulations. For them, it had to work no matter what as they had nothing else to lean on.
Over the years, my parents were both running the business full-time, working 12 hours and more a day. Although they were successful at it, the business was just generating a mediocre income that was just sustaining the entire family. This also meant that we were never going to have that “rich lifestyle”. Nevertheless, because of my parents’ tenacity and work ethic, we never went without and were able to sleep with food in our stomachs.
1999-2004: First Job
Whilst attending high school, I used to walk 12km every day. On my way back home, I used to think about ways that could change my lifestyle. For years, I couldn’t come up with any ideas. So Instead of looking for a job in the nearest town, I helped my parents in the business. I worked as a cashier after school almost every day. This was a non-paying job and I did not mind doing it as I hoped that my parents would be able to grow the business by focusing on other aspects of it.
During weekends, I used to drive with some of my friends to nearby shebeens in the area and sell cases of cold drinks, of beer and other liquor products. After three years of doing this, my family decided to stop me from doing it as there was an increasing risk of hijacking and armed robberies – I used to have a lot of cash with me whilst doing the deliveries from one shebeen to another. The transactions were CODs. It was also time for me to go to Varsity.
2005-2009: Varsity years
Fortunately, I was accepted at the University of the Witwatersrand to study pharmacy. Even though I was put in an extended curriculum (designed for students who were from a previously disadvantaged background) I did not mind much. I was just very excited to be in Johannesburg for the first time.
In my “half” first year, one of the courses I had to do was Sociology, in which I had to submit a lot of assignments. I remember submitting my first assignment. It was hand-written. And it got rejected as the Lecturer wanted it to be typed. A hand-written one was a way to go for me as my rural school had no computers and I had never used one before. I was 18 years old at that time.
Because I had no choice, I typed the entire 3000 words and it took me 8 hours to completion.
On that day, a seed was planted. I was just fascinated by computers. Months later, I managed to buy myself a desktop using my book allowance from my bursary funds. In no time, It was in pieces as wanted to see what was inside – you can blame my inquisitiveness.
That’s when I started to learn something about the computer hardware. Hard drives, motherboard, RAM, you name it. At this time, most of my friends were telling me “You are in a wrong profession, maybe you should do something related to computers”. It didn’t make sense to me then.
Before I graduated, I sold that PC to a friend, with more hardware parts than it came with.
2010-2013: Entrepreneurial Journey
In 2010, I started my internship as a pharmacist. In my spare time, I read a lot of Robert Kiyosaki’s riveting books including Rich Dad, Poor Dad. These ignited the entrepreneur in me. I wanted to start a business. The problem was I had no clue where to start.
While I continued my internship, I realized most patients did not like coming to the pharmacy every month, particularly those that were taking chronic medications. I did my market research and I saw a gap online. I then decided to start my online pharmacy.
Unfortunately, I had two major roadblocks in my way: I needed a trading platform (an eCommerce website in this case) and I could not apply for an operating licence as I was not a pharmacist yet. I was going to be a pharmacist soon, so I ignored the latter. I decided to focus on the website.
With no knowledge of building a website, I hired a Web Development Agency. I paid it monthly using my intern salary. I asked for more features to be added on the site, the monthly payment sky-rocketed. In no time I was now paying over R7000.00 per month, which was more than half my salary. I couldn’t afford to pay that much anymore and decided to stop the project.
A few months later, whilst I was chatting with one of my friends (who’s also a pharmacist), I realized he had just launched his e-commerce website. I asked him how did he manage to build his site and he told me that he hired a web development agency. And what was interesting was that they build it for him at a fraction of what I paid before.
So I asked to give me their contact details. And I got in contact and asked them to build me another e-commerce website. With this one, I wanted to sell cell phones and accessories. After spending +/- R15 000 on developing it, I launched the site. At this moment I was almost broke and my credit card had dried up. I soon realized that I needed more capital for advertising the site, for inventory and other stuff. Instead of injecting more money, I decided to press pause on the project.
By now, I was done with my internship and had to move from Johannesburg to Middelburg, Eastern Cape for a community service.
It was 2012. This was the year that I learnt the founder of facebook was the 2nd youngest self-made billionaire. And he was 28 and a dropout.
I was shocked to hear how much he was worth, which led the entrepreneur within me to wake up again. So I decided to learn more about Mark, watched The Social Network and also learnt the business model of Facebook.
My Own Social Network
This lead me to start my own social network called Alumnay. The name was derived from “Alumni” – I was targeting graduates and professionals with the site.
After spending a couple of thousands on developers, I launched it.
A couple of months after the launch, I noticed that there was no one using the site.
Over time, I learned that there was already a well-established and successful site that was doing what I had envisaged with Alumnay.com . That was Linkedin®. I didn’t give up. I asked some of my friends to register on the site and start using it.
Over time they stopped using it.
In short, the site never succeeded because it did not have a clear value proposition – people did not see a value of using it over the other well-established platform.
All these websites that I’ve tried to build left me broke as they did not succeed. I started looking for an extra job that I can do over the weekends – this time, as a pharmacist locum. As I was working in the Karoo (Middleburg, Eastern Cape), I struggled a lot to find what I was looking. Even with the advent of the World Wide Web, It was very difficult to search these locum jobs online.
Months later, through the trials and tribulation, I had an idea for a website I wanted to build. In this website, I imagined it as a platform where healthcare professionals will be able to search for locum jobs anywhere in the country. Likewise, for recruiters and/ or employers being able to search for locum candidates and advertise their locum jobs.
I strongly felt that such a site was in need by most healthcare professionals and I knew had the vision to do it. I wanted to call it Cheklocums – where anyone can “chek” locums and locum jobs anytime.
Now, I had one hell of a stumbling block on my way –
-I was penniless!
That meant I wasn’t going to be able to hire developers this time around. This was in May 2013. So I figured, If I committed to learning to program, even if I failed as it has happened before, I would build the site on my own – a site that can change peoples’ lives for the better.
At the same time, however, I decided that failure was not part of my vocabulary and no longer an option
I started teaching myself programming.
At the same time, I was putting what I learned into practice. I started building Cheklocums. I worked almost every day on it after coming back from my day job. It was tougher than I thought but I persisted.
After a lot of sleepless night, I launched Cheklocums on the 1 November 2014 in Beta. What was more exciting about this site is that people were using it. I launched the site under Chek Africa Holdings (Pty) Ltd, which is a company I incorporated earlier in 2013. To top it all, the site launch got covered by a lot of local and international media platforms, including Yahoo! Finance, Reuters, to name a few.
The user base has been growing steadily. I am still working hard on Cheklocums, turning into a global brand. I still have a lot of ideas that I will continue working hard on and turn them into reality. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and the future looks brighter.
I am currently working and spending almost all my time on Bandela Media (formerly known as Chek Africa Holdings), turning it into one of the largest companies in Africa and creating a lot of sustainable jobs and opportunities for young people in our continent. I wish I knew my destiny and had something, sort of a magic stick, which will clearly map out my future. Unfortunately, I have none. But giving up is no longer an option!
I hope my little story will motivate you to continue dreaming big and do something with your life.
Step out of your comfort zone. Stop wondering too much. Start chasing your dreams.
If a rural boy can do it, so as well you can.
If there is anything you want to comment about, you can gladly share your comment below
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