Eschewing the more traditional model of kick-starting a successful business, Koketso Mahope prefers to employ “the bootstrapping model”.
“It’s basically hustling,” says the co-founder of the Easy Saturday Street Food Market with a laugh.
“It’s about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and putting together what you can, any way you can.”
With little in the way of resources – but heaps of determination – Mahope, like many young entrepreneurs using the street as the launching pad for their business, is all too familiar with the need to keep his hustle on.
Mahope founded and runs the market along with Mzingisi Ranaka, Lebohang Masasanya, Lucky Masala and Bongane Tlhoaele.
“When we first told people about the idea for the market, they asked: ‘Why would you want to have a food market in Tembisa? There’s no money ekasi.’ They really shot the idea down, but we persisted.”
This perseverance – and months of planning – have paid off. Because of its success, the market, which was initially planned as a once-off event, will now become a monthly fixture.
“Everything sold out: all the food and all the alcohol. We were supposed to close up at 6pm, but people were having such a jam that we ended up closing at about 9pm. And there’s a perception that Tembisa’s a really dangerous place, but we had people of every colour there. There were no fights and no crime. It was an amazing experience,” he recalls.
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Assume control of his destiny was what fashion designer Dennis Chuene did when he had to start his career again from scratch after working for big-name local designers such as David Tlale and Stoned Cherrie’s Nkhensani Nkosi and getting “caught up in the nightlife and illusion of success”.
“I prostituted myself to every designer,” he says. “I ended up living back home with my family in Soweto, with nothing to my name. There were times when I couldn’t afford to buy a zip, so I did things like wash people’s cars for R20.”
Despite his comedown, Chuene was determined to make a name for himself in fashion. “I ended up borrowing a sewing machine from a woman in Soweto. I did this so often, she eventually offered to sell it to me for R300. But I couldn’t afford it – I had to ask my dad for the money.”
The purchase put him back on track. Chuene soon kick-started his now-popular range, Vernac Clothing, which debuted with the rucksacks known to virtually every African street trader, commonly called “China bags”.
Using himself as a model, Chuene took his brand to the streets – with heady results. “I got many orders from people. My colleagues at the call centre where I was working ordered so much that I sometimes made more than my entire monthly salary in one week,” he recalls.
The brand’s popularity eventually saw Chuene opening a store, Vernac, in Johannesburg’s Workshop in Newtown. However, the move wasn’t without its downsides, one of which primarily being a lack of foot traffic.
“It’s been an uphill battle to open and sustain a retail store. The traditional way of doing business in a bricks-and-mortar store is no longer relevant. Consumers are now seeking convenient shopping and instant gratification, so we’re going full throttle ahead with our online store, where we’ll offer all our products from apparel to our soon-to-be-released range of furniture,” he says.
As with many young entrepreneurs, Chuene’s aware of the need to constantly adapt to changing business trends. “Also, if you want to achieve any kind of success, hard work and resilience are essential. When talent doesn’t work, hard work pays off,” he says.
Street-preneurs, he believes, have a distinct advantage. “They’re directly in touch with the market to which they’re selling. They’re also a way for established businesses to test ideas and products.”
Fellow street-preneur Mawande Sobethwa offers the following advice to other aspirant street-preneurs: “Build your story so that it resonates with your target audience and everyone will do the marketing for you. If your story is their story, your business will gain credibility. You’ll definitely see growth.”
This article was first published in the January 2017 issue of DESTINY MAN