In the fast pace information and technology driven world, startup entrepreneurs are often inundated with some pretty great challenges. I am saying this because I too have experienced such in my journey towards building my own dreams.

Often times, one finds themselves confronted by wall of some sort, failure, rejection etc. Serious deliberations ought to be made as to how to best solve such a predicament. The question is to whether to go over the wall or bring it down or just dig a hole to go beneath it. This is where resilience comes in – some pretty good tactics needed here. If you make the wrong choices, you gotta learn to live with them and own your mistakes and use your failure as a learning curve so as to curb such from happening in furure. The ball really is in your court.

My journey as entrepreneur dates back to my high school years when I was challenged with a challenge of either fitting into the crowd or distinguish myself. I took the latter and must really admit that it was such an easy task not. Reason being that I used to compare myself with my peers and quite honestly such a behaviour has proven to me the notion that “if you compare yourself to others, you may become bitter or vain, for always there will greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

While I could easily catch up with my counterparts academically and otherwise, there were many things I was excluded to do, simply because I could afford them not and this was mainly due to my family’s socioeconomic status. A challenge still faced by many young people, even in the so called democratic South Africa. I come from an average family. We had food and clothes, roof over our head, the basics. Even though I do not really know where such came from. God?, Government?, the Church? I was a kid but knew that we were really not poor.

Fast-forward to the older me. It’s the year 2009, I move to the place of Gold, Joburg, to scout for greener pastures. I had applied to attend university and because I was one of the high school course chower, I got accepted and did Actuarial Science but dropped out way before Shabalala scored Bafana Bafana’s first goal in the 2010 World Cup…This was mainly because the entrepreneurial seeds in me have started sprouting.

I remember back in 2010, while many people were caught up in “Feel it, it is here” spirit, I founded Simple Brands (Pty) Ltd and worked for several months building a website design software for schools. I was working on an alpha version for several weeks; then, I began to connect with potential clients and show them what I had done in order to get feedback (and hoping to turn some of them into tangible clients).

I was excited to start showing my “baby” to the real world. But no magic happened … People were just not that interested in what I had built.

After a few more weeks it started to become clear that I was working on something that my clients didn’t want or maybe they didn’t know that they want at all. According to me, my product was solving a problem, but NOT according to my prospective clients.

I came to the conclusion that all these months spent working on my brainchild had been:

  • a waste of time;
  • a waste of money, and;
  • a waste of energy.

I must admit that it was a serious blow to my pride. Uncomfortable moments right there.

Since that day I have read hundreds of articles about entrepreneurship; I have connected with startup leaders from all over the world, been to dozen conferences… I even attended the University of Cape Town… All in order to better understand how to build successful businesses.

And since then I have been exposed to a methodology which generates much more success. It increases your chances at succeeding. Today, I use it to build all my products and services (I even used it to build The Startup Mzansi Foundation):

Marketing the product. Then, building it.

It’s now 2012, I had moved to Cape Town the previous year and had decided to put on my academic belt and enrolled for a BSc in Chemistry so as to become a chemist. By the end of my first academic semester in Chemistry, I changed to the Computer Sciences as well as adding Law and Marketing modules. I’m excited about the new things I’m learning but what really excites me the most is the connections I make outside my academic work. International travels, conferences, good wine, nice life… This is the peak of my academic life. Couldn’t be much grateful!

During the last session of my short course on Self Awareness and Empowerment, several questions come into play. Why do I do the things that I do, why even attend this university, why am I here? What is it that I am trying to prove and to whom? What is the one thing that I am longing for in my life. Change becomes the answer to the last question. But why, I ask myself. A journey of self exploration starts.

I then realise that I am because of who I was yesterday. I owe it to my roots to do things out of the ordinary. Suddenly, I get channelled to the right train of thoughts… I want to disobey what history poisoned people to think, that I cannot be like Sir Richard Branson, Charlie Chapman or Michalangelo and never will I make a covenant with failure or mediocrity. I am going to rise above the average. After all I am Sandile Shabangu, an extraordinaire who is on a mission to create positive social change and contribute to human progress. I find myself in the midst of a sick society. I realise my inspiration in life and my true purpose. I then develop my personal model, the PETE Model. I’m passionate about People, Education, Technology and Entrepreneurship (what I call PETE) and aspire to become a champion in this. I am upwardly mobile and not stuck in my station in life. I’m not guilty about making money or spending it. The rest is history.

The company I founded, Simple Brands has now grown to become a Digital Marketing Agency for Startups. Because of the hardships I had experienced when I founded my startup, issues of getting unbiased support, I get motivated to start another organisation, a Non Profit Company this time, that will help young entrepreneurs launch their start-ups with the best resources available. There’s gotta be lots of people involved. Startup Mzansi Foundation NPC, a youth startup development organisation that facilitates the creation and growth of startups.

Once you get the taste of being your own boss, it is very difficult to ever go back to being a “part in the wheel” within a big corporate environment. Nowhere else can you get the thrill of making senior level decisions across a wide range of business topics (e.g., strategy, finance, marketing, technology, operations). The buck stops with you (literally!), and the success or failure of your business falls squarely on your shoulders, based on the decisions made by you and your team. That may sound a little daunting, at first. But, trust me, it is very exciting.

But hey I must say that there are some pretty great challenges in the jouney as a startup entrepreneur. The obvious one would be living BROKE.. Let’s face it, it is not easy ploughing all your hard-earned savings into a risky startup, not getting paid in the early months of getting the business off the ground and not being sure where your next paycheck is coming from. Unfortunately, unless you are wealthy from other means, launching a startup with hopes of a long term payback, often comes with the strings of living very sparingly until the business has “legs”. If you need the comfort and security of bi-weekly paychecks to cover your bills or lifestyle, don’t get involved in the early stages of a startup.

Lastly, being an entrepreneur is not right for everyone. Make sure you have a real appetite for the risks at hand, a real passion for your product and a rampant confidence in your ability of building a great startup, before jumping in. But, once you do make the leap, hang on for one of the wildest rides of your life!! As starting and growing your own business really is one of the most-rewarding life experiences you can have.

I hope you have enjoyed this journey. Make sure to keep abreast with development with Startup Mzansi to help you build the next STARTUP THING. And, be sure to share them with your entrepreneurial friends who may also find them useful for building their own startups.

It has been a real pleasure having you share this editorial adventure with me.
Sandile Shabangu

“The Startup Guy”
Founder, The Startup Foundation NPC
Founder & CEO, SimpleBrands (Pty) Ltd

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