Possessing a strong entrepreneurial nature and work ethic, Keorapetse is the co-founder of a successful 100% black-owned IT company, whilst also having a strong presence in Le Looks Beauty & Hair, a well-known hair salon in Johannesburg. Keorapetse is an assiduous individual with vision. Read below as he provides a very honest view on the methods of work and blind spots facing young, black entrepreneurs today.
Interviewer: Zimasa Mabuse
Thanks so much for agreeing to feature on The Corporate Canvas, Keorapetse. Although we have heard so much about you and all the incredible ventures you are part of, today we wish to glean on your position as co-founder of Tidnic. Founded in 2009, Tidnic IT and Training Solutions is a 100% black-owned information, communications and technology company that is formed on the premise of providing an array of information, communications and technological (ICT) solutions to its partners. Could you take us through the motivation of co-founding Tidnic IT? What contributed to its birth?
The motivation behind Tidnic was to create a 100% black owned ICT company within a space that has very few black entrepreneurs, as well as one that is as versatile as possible with regard to service offering. In all honesty, Thulani Cindi, the co-founder contributed to its birth. Tidnic IT was his brain child and my introduction as a partner was to allow Tidnic to expand its scope to an ICT company that did not only look at the traditional forms of Telecommunications, but also provided solutions for Branding, Sound Engineering and Digital Marketing.
Most notable about Tidnic IT is the clients the company has serviced that being renowned and respected institutions such as the Gauteng Province Economic Development Department, the Construction Sector Charter Council and the Mpumalanga Provincial Government. What do you believe has contributed to the success of Tidnic and what advice would you give to a start-up wishing to acquire notable clients such as the afore-mentioned?
At Tidnic IT, we place a massive amount of attention on building relationships above all else. Every entrepreneur has this idea that their product or service is unique, and that based on that uniqueness it will quantify into sales. From my experience, the unique aspect quantifying into sales is the exception to the rule. The biggest lesson I learnt in business and even from my co-founder Thulani is that spending/sacrificing your time and money to build networks and relationships is just as important if not more important than whatever product you are selling. Therefore my advice to a start-up is to value the power of relationships and create strong relationships, as they will reap rewards later.
Let’s talk about you, shall we? What personal attributes and key characteristics do you possess that you believe have been instrumental in the success of Tidnic to date?
In all honesty I believe that I have multiple talents which have been instrumental to Tidnic’s success, but if I have to highlight a few then I would highlight my ability to manipulate the English language in such a way that I am able to communicate a concept or idea in a manner which is easily understandable. Another key characteristic I believe I have – which has been instrumental – is my patience. There have been multiple situations on the Tidnic journey when we have had to be patient, as certain projects have fallen through or the client has kept you in limbo with regard to whether you have been awarded the project. Without patience, we would have lost belief in what we are trying to build and Tidnic would not exist today.
If we are to be honest, it is not always easy to found a company, particularly one that provides services. As an individual who is involved in a number of business ventures, what blind spots or cautionary measures would you suggest that young entrepreneurs be aware of when entering into the world of business and entrepreneurship?
It isn’t easy at all. The blind spots and cautionary measures are so many, and these mistakes are important to your growth process. Nevertheless if I were to highlight some blind spots then I would advise young entrepreneurs to ensure that they do not provide any services without all contracts and agreements in writing. It is very easy to be taken advantage of at the start of your business because you are hungry for opportunies. You end up going into deals with blind trust thinking that this person has given you an opportunity so you start working immediately; eager to impress without ensuring that all contractual obligations have been met. Secondly, I would also advise young entrepreneurs to be wary of greed. It is a monster that creeps up on you due to external pressures and stresses. It is important that they know that the more they can share on work, the more relationships they build and the more people will be willing to give back to them.
You are also known to run the Le Looks Academy, a well-known beauty and hair store situated in various shopping centres across Johannesburg. How do you balance running and co-owning two ventures that are so vastly different?
It is not the Le Looks Academy but Le Looks Beauty and Hair; we have an Academy at our Head Office where we train our staff and rent out the facility to other companies who need training facilities. Well in all honesty, I grew up in the hair business. My mother started the business in 2003 when I was 14 years old and I used to help her with managing stock when I was a teenager. The salon industry is now second nature to me and my mother is still very active in the business so I know I can always lean on her. On the side of Tidnic, my father is a successful entrepreneur as well (basically I come from a family of entrepreneurs) and I always lean on him as a mentor to advise me. So in essence, I am able to balance the two because I have a strong support system in my work life and personal life.
Let’s get serious for a second. In your opinion, what do you believe is holding young, black entrepreneurs back from progressing as rapidly as their counterparts?
I know that this may sound controversial but unlike our counterparts, young black entrepreneurs are unable to collaborate and are unable to respect work and levels of professionalism when servicing other black clients. Let me elaborate. We are more interested in being better than our fellow black man/woman than critically thinking about how we can work together to achieve our goals. We are so in a hurry to match our white counterparts in terms of lifestyle that we forget to uplift one another and remain loyal to another. This brings me to my next point which is we do not respect our own level of work and professionalism, and when I say we do not respect our own level of work I mean that when we work with other black people, we do not treat them the same as our white clients. Too often I have seen levels of work and professionalism drop because we have this view that “it’s my brother or sister so she will understand”. Unfortunately we do not hold ourselves to the highest levels of excellence when working with other black entrepreneurs and therefore a misconception is created that we have to give the work to white people because they do the work properly.
I mean how often have you noticed that we are never on time for meetings, we have entitlement mentalities in business when dealing with other black people and more than anything else, what holds us back is our inability to be brutally honest with one another without taking offence. I am saying that let’s not be afraid to ask for help from those closest to us. It is not a sign of weakness. Let us not show disrespect to our fellow black entrepreneurs, and most importantly, let us find ways to be honest and allow each other to be completely ourselves without pride or prejudice.
What do you believe the government could do to aid in uplifting the black youth of today?
I think government can start placing a massive emphasis on education, and when I say ‘massive’ I mean double what we see now. A high level of education from Grade 0 to 12, in my opinion, is the only true emancipator of poverty. Education will also give us a more educated electorate that will truly understand that they have the power to uplift themselves by holding government to account in ensuring that the tools needed to uplift them are being provided.
Any further advice for entrepreneurs?
Any further advice would be to believe in yourselves and not think that because you don’t have money you cannot do anything. Do the work. Create the business plan, and believe in your idea and worry about the money later. The money will come but you have to do the hard work first! Secondly, be willing to share; the pie is always going to be big enough for all of us to eat. Lastly, people are always willing to help if you just ask – don’t pay school fees if you don’t have to. There are those who have been there, done that and paid that school fees for you, so tap into their knowledge.
The biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made is…going to do volunteer work in Eastern Europe (Georgia) for one year.
The biggest business mistake I’ve ever made is…not taking the time to do my research before buying a product because it was a friend who sold it to me and I lost a lot of money.
The best self-marketing tool…is you, be present and talk about your business as much as you can, even when you meet someone in a line at SARS, find a way to tell them what you do.
If I were given an extra R100 000, I would do the following with it…I would put it into an interest savings account for the business. There are things you cannot control in your business and in life, it’s important to have a plan for that. Cash is king!