URBAN TECHNOLOGIST

Connecting people of various walks of life through ICT

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Information Technology (IT) has claimed dominance in the modern day world and bred the integrated digitalised global nation. And in the midst of this modern digital global world, naturally gifted youth with business acumen have found business opportunities in IT and amassed massive wealth. One of those young entrepreneurial beings is Luvuyo Rani, who partnered with his brother, Lonwabo, and founded Silulo Ulutho Technologies, an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) business that provides IT services in urban and rural locations.

Rani is a visionary, a man with the mission to educate. The entrepreneur who hails from the outskirts of Queenstown in the heart of the Eastern Cape, matriculated from Kwa-Komani Comprehensive School in 1994. He spent the following year unemployed as he could not obtain funding to further his studies. In 1996 he moved to Cape Town to pursue a BTech degree in Commercial Education and a BTech degree in Business Administration at Cape Technikon (now the Cape Town Campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology). He also completed a post graduate Diploma in Business Management at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.

The energetic go-getter started to work part-time in a department store in the Waterfront and also worked at Edcon in the customer service department while he was a student to finance his studies after his father passed on. In 2001 he worked at the Diocesan College (Bishops) in Rondebosch, a period in his life that he refers to as “shadowing at a private school”. Yet the humble entrepreneur decided at the time that he wanted to teach at a township school and took up a teaching position at the Kwamfundo High School in Khayelitsha.

Rani says this decision changed the course of his life and would eventually set him on the path to where he is today.

“While teaching, I discovered that my colleagues were struggling to use computers—at the same time that the Ministry of Education was introducing Outcome Based Education (OBE). I resigned and started selling previously owned computers from the boot of my Corsa. My brother Lonwabo assisted in terms of sourcing funding, and my sister in law, Unandi, joined us. The capital injection of R10 000 was sourced through a personal loan.

“We started off by selling second hand computers to schools in the townships. People were telling me that I was mad when I opened an internet shop in Khayelitsha; others were saying that I was stealing computers,” says Rani, but despite negative remarks, he continued his business and in the process discovered a massive lack of computer literacy skills among township educators.

Media reports at the time stated that Rani and his partners have found a “revolutionary way” to provide IT services to the townships of South Africa. Rani says: “It was revolutionary in the sense that we started to take ICT into the underserved areas such as townships and rural areas. If you look at our country over the past 22 years, nothing has been done to assist with IT infrastructure in rural areas. Today we are providing the infrastructure; we are introducing connectivity; we are providing training; and we are also bringing mobile solutions to those communities. We are now entering the last mile, and soon will be opening more stores, and thereby provide more one-stop ICT centres in townships and rural areas.”

Rani ensures that Silulo Ulutho Technologies and his ideas stay fresh and a cut above his competitors by attending many mentoring sessions. “Through extensive travelling, and speaking at business schools, among other with international students, and also by speaking on other different platforms, I have the opportunity to engage with different types of people and understand what is going to be the next things in the ICT world. It keeps me updated; it keeps us innovative and it motivates us to create things that nobody has created before,” he says.

Speaking about the early days, Rani says the fact that he was relatively young (30) when he started Silulo Ulutho Technologies, was an advantage as he was quite naïve, which lead to him taking more risks.

“So I think it was good timing. I always advise the youth to take risks while they are still energetic—while they have what it takes to run businesses. This worked for us.”

However, he says it’s only now that they are older and more experienced that they understand the business better. “Initially, we did not have any mentorship or any guidance. We did not have support either. We were just running this business. So, yes, we made big mistakes along the way, but we were younger then, and we did not have the same responsibilities that we have today. Have we started the business later, it would have been more difficult as we would not have been able to take the same risks,” he told BBQ.

Rani says the biggest challenge they had to face in the beginning was the fact that they had no funding and they both had no income as they both resigned from their jobs to venture into the business world. They were also blacklisted at one stage. And they did not have any form of mentorship.

“People were questioning us in terms of our business. Our car was our office and they were not interested. No one was taking us seriously. What I’ve learnt from that journey of boot sales, is that you need to leverage what you have. You need to use whatever you have to your disposal to create a base for yourself in order to grow to where you want to be. This business has taught me to be matured enough to deal with complex things that are coming your way.”

The brothers’ motto is to connect people through knowledge. “We connect people via training. The training is not only from an academic point of view. In one day for instance, we help at least 15 people in the shop to download Whatsapp and show them how it works—and that is empowerment in itself.”

Rani, who says in business he is not a dictator, and describes his leadership style as “some kind of African leadership of consulting and engaging”, told BBQ that one highlight of his career was the recognition in 2014 when he was voted as one of the JCI Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (JCI TOYP) in the category of business, economic, and entrepreneurial accomplishment for his extraordinary work in providing access to technology.

“I think I received this award because we have, at that point in time, trained more than 25 000 students, and 50% of them are finding employment in call-centres, in the retail space and in government departments. Others are studying further or starting their own SMMES,” he says.

Another achievement he is proud if is the fact that Silulo Ulutho Technologies also provides franchise opportunities to aspiring entrepreneurs in the townships. Because of these centres, people in for instance Khayelitsha no longer need to go to the Cape Town CBD to access the internet.

Rani plans to grow Silulo Ulutho Technologies beyond the South African borders. “By 2026 we want to have 400 stores. We will be all over the provinces in South Africa, especially in the most of the rural areas and townships. After that we will also be opening stores in Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe.”

With regard to ICT transformation in South Africa, Rani refers to India, saying that it should happen in every location, from rural areas to towns. “Look at India. They are doing so well because ICT skills are everywhere—in the slums, in the squalors where they open call centres, and in schools. We’re not doing that here. Look at education for instance. It’s very key to have programmers, software developers and coders and we need much more digitalised skills here. ICT should be part of the language at school, so that when the youth graduate, they already have ICT skills. We can no longer matriculate with history and geography—our young people need to leave school with ICT skills that will enable them to come up with crazy ideas that’s going to be fundable.”

In terms of being in business, he believes that it is very important to love what you do—and to have passion. “Be focused. Don’t do too many things at once. Focus on what you do and build it.

Once you’ve made it, you can diversify; but you need to focus, focus, focus. Be disciplined and make sure that once you start making money, you don’t spend it. Rather build assets. And last but not least; don’t change with status, money and power.”

Rani says it is important that aspiring entrepreneurs, especially the younger generation, realises that rural areas and townships are places ridden with business opportunities. “It’s no longer about where people are staying. The next big things, the next opportunities, and the growth that we come from—are in the township. I experienced it myself. That it’s where we started and it’s where we continue to grow. Many young aspiring entrepreneurs say that there are no opportunities for them in the townships and therefore they look at the more formal areas for ideas when it comes to doing business. But they have to think again, and they have to look at what is not there and provide that thinking in the townships and rural areas,” Rani concludes.

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