Among the names on the 2015 Forbes 30 under 30 Young African Entrepreneurs is Bheki Kunene, a Cape Town go-getter who started his creative design agency from his bedroom in Gugulethu – with a meagre R600 in his wallet.
The Forbes 30 under 30 most promising African entrepreneurs list for 2015 has been revealed, with South African names and faces making their annual appearance. And this year is no disappointment, with young faces from across the continent - Africa’s top talent is on show for the world to see.
One young South African businessman who made the list is Bheki Kunene, a true survivor and inspiration to many. Besides having survived a number of near-fatal experiences, Kunene started his own company, Mind Trix Media, from his bedroom with as little as R600 and today has a steadily growing global clientele.
In an exclusive with BBQ, Kunene, who recently also won the Young Enterprise sector Award at the 2015 SA SMME Awards ceremony, shared some of his highlights from his road travelled in business - and in life.
Can you tell us about your biggest achievements?
Staying alive is number one [jokingly with some laughter]. My body has been run over by three cars in a fatal accident in 2013 and I woke up days later in hospital with a cracked skull and seriously injured right leg. In essence, being alive is a great achievement. I don't know a lot of people that get run over by three cars and managed to survive. On a serious note, starting a company with R600 in my bedroom at the age of 21, to having clients on five continents, having an internationally reputable brand and being on the Forbes list of the Africa’s 30 Under 30 most promising entrepreneurs for 2015 is a great milestone. Consistently being in the top list of performing SMMEs in the country and being accoladed for this is also a big achievement for my company. Our achievements include winning the Young Enterprise Sector Award at the 2015 SA SMME Awards ceremony, winning the 2014 Acacia Global Business Award and winning the 2013 Youth Recognition Award for Outstanding Entrepreneurship presented by the University of Stellenbosch. Being able to assist between 25 and 30 previously disadvantaged individuals to get a tertiary education and study web and graphic design is something that I find very fulfilling.
From where do you find your strength?
In God, nature and in set-backs. My mother, grandmother and life partner play a major role in giving me strength in moments of doubt and fear.
Who are some of your big role models?
Sir Richard Branson is one of my biggest role models – he became very successful, despite having dyslexia. People who assumed when I was a child that I would never amount to anything also inspired me and it continues to motivate me. I also am seriously inspired by entrepreneur, turnaround strategist and motivational speaker Lebo Gungulaza’s character. He comes across as very calm, collected and always seems in control of his journey. He is a very grounded and humble gentleman whenever I engage with him. These are characteristics I aspire to acquire and to reach a level of abundance - in business and life. My mother, Helen Kunene, has always been the definition of resilience to me. Whenever I felt like giving up, I would be inspired by her to keep on going. I look up to Helen’s character and traits - she doesn't give up easily. Jim Rohn (American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker), Kevin Winge (Project Open Hand Executive Director) and Zitulele “KK” Combi (Master Currency founder) all get credit for the wisdom and life changing habits they introduced to me early in my life.
What in your opinion defines success?
Having your own dreams that are true to who you are, and going out to achieve those, regardless of what people think of it – that defines success for me. So it’s not necessarily about being obligated to dream in line with social standards. In essence, if one’s dream is to become a monk and forever live in a monastery - achieving that personal goal is success in itself.
On the cover of Forbes, winning the 2015 SMME Business Award for the Best Young Enterprise Category – al in one week. What is the recipe for this success?
I have no recipe, truthfully speaking. I simply study how my role models live and work and then I borrow their habits. I feel success leaves clues, so I model successful giants in the way I do things. Why reinvent a wheel when I can merely pick up what works and adjust it to make it my own? I am probably one of the most devoted disciples of life-long learning, which drops new ideas in my head daily and I take heavy action on these ideas.
“Always a finalist – never a trophy”. Now that you have it – how does it feel?
[Laughs out loud] That was an internal company joke staff always make, so it slipped out while giving my speech at the 2015 SMME Business Awards ceremony. An award is really a nice thing to have in the office and hopefully I can add a Loerie Award next to this one soon.
What do you expect the 2015 SMME Business Award will do for your business and career?
I am sure that the award will open doors for my company through the networks and contacts I have made. It has given Mind Work quite a bit of exposure - and the media interest after this event has been incredible.
What value do you think events such as the 2015 SMME Business Awards add to the SA business world, particularly to SMMEs?
The platform provides credibility, exposure and great networking opportunities with key stake holders of various power houses for entrepreneurs.
What have some of your biggest challenges been and how have you managed to overcome them?
The inability to engage in business after my fatal road accident was a big challenge. Discovering that nobody in the company understood my job was a miserable experience. After the accident I had a cracked skull and the severe head injuries were causing too much internal bleeding around the head area, which made it hard for me to hear. I could also see my company going down as I was not there to do my bit – it was the scariest part of it all. Then a friend bought me e-Myth Revisited and I learnt about systems and processes and that revolutionised my perception of business structures. I slowly wrote systems and processes, which allowed the company to run even without me. What helped us as a business in that time was that we had cash reserves, which kept the company afloat while I was recovering for three months.
Can you tell us more about the biggest hardships for young entrepreneurs to start their own SMMEs and how you have managed to, against all odd, kept your business afloat?
Access to finance is one major obstacle and I saw it coming from the very onset, so I used a method known as boot strapping to build my business. A combination of relationship capital and sweat capital were added to excellent customer service and the business just expanded over time. These days I am humbled that angel investors and loan agencies call me to lend me money – all because of our company’s credibility and integrity. They are fully aware that if we could build Mind Trix Media with R600 - imagine what we can do with actual capital injection!
What are some of the core values you apply in your business and how has this ensured client satisfaction?
Every single one on our team knows, “If it’s not something you can brag about, then it’s a reject.” We all go all out when doing work for clients. We have had instances where clients wanted designs in their own way, which did not meet our standards and we always do as we are told, yet we would also offer an additional “bragging level version”, which ensure them of our commitment to client satisfaction.
Tell us what you have learnt from working with large corporates and the public sector.
I’ve learn that you really need large cash reserves to engage with corporates as a small business or corporates will never give you work. Not only for financing large projects, but also because they have their set payment terms. Capacity is also key, else you won't handle the ton of work corporates occasionally drop into your lap. My advice is: build cash reserve as soon as you can!
What has given you the motivation to persevere as a young entrepreneur; has it been solely about making money?
The hunger to make something of my life has motivated me. I yearned for more than a life of mediocrity because society deemed me a misfit and a born failure at a time in my life when I had hit rock bottom and evidently messed up. Even the late Minister Kader Asmal at some point said I was a menace to society and belonged in a juvenile facility - and that I was heading for the grave. It made me feel so worthless and belittled. I hated my life and have failed at twice. It made me feel even more useless and like a destined failure. “Who fails at killing themselves twice?”, I always cried, until I heard Frank Sintra’s quote when I was 15 years of age: “The best revenge is massive success” and I just wanted revenge in the form of success so badly and from there onwards nothing could stop me.
You have also given back to others who are less fortunate and assisted young people in getting tertiary qualifications. Why is it important for entrepreneurs to also give back in this manner?
I cannot speak for others, however I was given a gift which forever changed my life - an opportunity to study graphic design at a private tertiary institution, even though I couldn't afford it and despite the fact that I did not have a portfolio (the basic entry requirements). The board of Ruth Prowse School of Art gave me free tuition for three years on condition that I maintain scores of 75% and above consistently. I kept my word and so did they. When I asked the board what I owed them for changing my life, I recall Eunice saying that I have to promise that when I become successful, I will give to those who showcase potential and desire to make something of themselves. From that day onwards I vowed I would. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that one day when I die my presence will have changed someone’s life forever. I always remember they saying: “Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach a man how to catch a fish and you have fed him for a life time.” Our scholar / learnership partnership project makes me feel like we are feeding men for a lifetime.
You have said before that success is not only about the millions, but about balanced abundance. Tell us what you mean by this?
Wealth. Health. Relationship. Simply put, wealth without health is worthless because you could just end up chasing wealth half your life and later spending your wealth on recovering your health in the other half of your life. Wealth and health without relationships bring misery and loneliness. I mean what’s a billion dollars worth if you are all alone on a planet? Not much. So balancing these to me is key to enjoying a life of abundance. Lastly my personal favourite, a connection to the maker (God): It gives a sense of purpose and makes for a much more fruitful life.
What legacy would you like to leave behind?
I would like to leave a trail of success by enabling others to become successful and make them believe it can be done, regardless of circumstance.