How Sibongile Manganyi-Rath Went From Street Hawker To R100-Million Business Owner
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PLAYER: Sibongile Manganyi-Rath
COMPANY: Indigo Kulani Group and IKG Start-Up Capital
TURNOVER: Over R100 million
VISIT: indigo-group.co.za and ikgstart-upcapital.com
Being born into an entrepreneurial family didn’t immediately lead Sibongile Manganyi-Rath down the self-employment path. “My father unwittingly set me on the path very early,” recalls Sibongile. “He had a small business in Soweto where he sold used bottles back to larger corporations such as Makro and various other glass bottle recycling agents. I often joke with people that my father was in the recycling business before it became fashionable.”
It was the early exposure of working in her late father’s small businesses that taught Sibongile the crucial principles and values that have helped her build the successful business that Indigo Kulani Group is today. Here are her start-up lessons:
Starting small doesn’t mean staying small.
I consider myself very fortunate that I grew up in a family that was considered financially and materially poor. The fundamental principles my father taught me of running a small operation — such as financial discipline, hard work, sacrifice and persistence — were extremely valuable.
I learnt the importance of customer service when I was 12 years old and ran one of my father’s fresh produce stalls at Dube village train station. I had to observe why our sales were declining or increasing and each evening I had to report the daily revenue to my father.
It was often in the region of R150 per day. I also had to make recommendations on improvements to ensure that we could offer better fruits and veggies than the other older ladies that were next to our stalls.
At the time I didn’t realise the value of the lessons I was learning from this process. It is these lessons that gave me the courage to quit my job in 2006 and start my own company.
Passion for what you do is not only important for a start-up, it carries you through the difficult times
It is my belief that even in the era of digitisation, there are still fundamental principles about business that will not change. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand their market and the needs that they are addressing.
You need to have a strategy that continues to evolve with the needs of your customers, particularly in our current digital era where needs of the customers change very rapidly through the options that they are presented with. Passion gets you through the loss-making period, often referred as the ‘valley of death’.
It’s during this time where your passion gives you courage to persist. Financial literacy and discipline in working capital management is important because at this stage the business needs a lot of growth capital to generate more revenue before the start-up can reach a break-even stage and make profits.
Collaboration and partnerships are important
It’s my passion for what I do that gave me the courage to build a company that seeks to break the mould in a male-dominated industry. We make a positive contribution to our society through our various infrastructure projects, including delivery of more than 200 schools in South Africa’s rural areas.
We have also been involved in building and managing clinics, housing, and water and sanitation projects in many previously disadvantaged communities. The passion to extend this positive impact fuelled the growth of the company where my partners and teams come from very diverse backgrounds — ranging from investment banking, engineering, project management, healthcare and education — to ensure that our services to our clients offer a holistic approach.
However to succeed in this, entrepreneurs need to understand that collaboration and partnerships are important. Empires are not built by individuals but take a collective mindset with a single vision.
Aim for profitable growth through bold inspirational leadership
- Our holistic approach to the sector in which we operate has not only been beneficial in offering our clients an integrated service, but being a multi-disciplinary services company also gives us access to diverse clients and revenue streams.
- Our company’s business model is ‘intrapreneurial’. A divisional organisational structure ensures quick decision-making and response to market.
- We have highly skilled individuals, and our overheads are cross-subsidised by complementary skills sets across projects. We remain profitable by managing our resources cost-effectively.
- Most importantly, we manage our resources weekly through EXCOM and reporting.
- Incentives are critical and linked to project performance and achievement of targeted revenue and profitability, managed through quarterly performance reviews and targets reviews.
- Inspirational leadership means leading by example. This inspires the collective that achieves its strategic objectives.
There is always someone out there trying to beat you at your game and take away your customers
Knowledge about your customer is fundamental because without your customers you have no business.
Integration of technology into your business enables you to understand how customers use your services and products, which offers key insight into your customers’ needs.
This building of digital customer relationships provides your business with an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage in the tough market we operate in today.
I still embrace the physical human relationship where I stay close to my customers and ensure that I understand what is troubling them and how they can be better served.
SIBONGILE'S GAME-CHANGING ADVICE FOR BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS
Keep your vision, but let your strategy be flexible. Collaborate with other people, find advisors that don’t cost you money. Talk to venture capitalist and private equity guys, there is always someone willing to not only invest their money but their ideas, experience and networks. But, be open to give a little bit of equity; it has to be worth their while.