Editor’s Note: Hustlers inspire us not because they have better ideas, but because they have more initiative. When Nkosana was just fourteen, he saw an opportunity and grabbed ahold. Since then, his entrepreneurial spirit hasn’t flagged once. Read his inspiring story below.
I am a young man driven by a desire to support the advancement of the African continent. Born in Zimbabwe, I am a strong advocate of Africapitalism – an economic philosophy that represents the private sector’s commitment to the transformation of Africa through long-term investments that generate both economic prosperity and social wealth.
Through impact investing, technology commercialisation and an entrepreneurial mindset, I aim to assist innovative startups that are tackling the continent’s most pressing issues, such as education and food security. In doing so, I believe I will make a significant contribution towards my dream of seeing a United States of Africa.
I have always been a hustler…
When I was 14, my mum used to pack school lunches for me while my friends got tuckshop money. I remember feeling jealous when my friends bought sausage rolls and cottage pies from the school tuckshop. I wanted that for myself, but with no job the chances of me enjoying those treats were slim. As a result, I decided to create my own job! From grade 8-11, I sold lollies, cold drinks, miniature skateboards, trading game cards and home made beef jerky to students at my high school.
The lolly venture was my first and most profitable. Everyday after school, I would go to Woolworths and buy packaged lolly bags for $2.00 each. I would then come home and spend a couple of hours repackaging the the large bag into smaller ones. With one bag, I was able to make around 5 individual bags that I sold to students at my high school for $2.50 each! I remember starting off with sour clouds, then diversifying my product range with snakes, liquorice and chocolates.
For soft drinks, I would buy a carton of 12 for $10 and sell each drink for $2. I used to have one locker for my books and another for “business”; this is where I kept the drinks cool.
With the trading game cards, I first learnt everything I could about them and then at lunch, I would spend my time in the library selling and trading cards with all the students who were really into them. I used to sell individual cards for as much as $50. Beef jerky was another excellent venture. I would go to Coles and buy raw beef which I would then marinate and dry at my house. I bought special drying equipment so as to ensure that the beef didn’t make people sick!
All these ventures were very lucrative and as a result I was able to afford all the sausage rolls, cottage pies, and hot pockets I wanted on a regular basis. However, at that stage in my life I had not yet come to terms with the concept of saving, and all the money that I made during my high school years was spent frivolously.
In grade 12, with high school graduation nearing, the income I was so used to was about to dry up, and with no savings to fall back on I was in a bit of a predicament. So in 2011, my best friend and I successfully started B2K Gardening in our neighbourhood. We created flyers and spent the next couple of weekends distributing them. In no time we gathered a considerable amount of leads, which we proceeded to follow up on.
Now, my friend and I are black, and our neighbourhood consists of predominately old white people. So when we first met prospective clients, they were very suspicious. In light of this, we undercharged them and went the extra mile in order to build customer loyalty. In the beginning, we were essentially doing 2 hours’ work for $30 between the two of us.
If you add in fuel and whipper snipper string, we weren’t making much, but we were happy to do it because we knew that in time it would pay off. And boy did it pay off; once these people saw our work ethic and professionalism, they referred us to their neighbours, which expanded our business. I am pleased to write that over three years, we have generated over $5,000 of revenue and have positively impacted the health and well-being of over 20 citizens living in the Sinnamon Park suburb of Brisbane.
The problem with the gardening business, however, is that it relies too heavily on people. Furthermore, what seemed like a lot of money when I was 17 seems so insignificant now. To top it all off, I definitely wasn’t passionate about gardening. So in my second year of university, a friend and I entered the University of Queensland Union Entrepreneurial Competition with the highly scalable idea of “GetXperience,” an online platform that connects students to real world projects.
We spent countless days and nights working on our business model and refining our Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for the competition. We hounded lecturers and business professionals we knew for advice, cold called companies and created student surveys in order to test the market. They always tell you that the majority of startups fail, but we didn’t let this deter us; my friend and I had a deep-seated belief that what we were doing was something very important.
Youth unemployment is a serious issue in Australia, with only 71% of gradates securing jobs in 2013. With GetXperience, what we wanted to do was give students the opportunity to gain experience in order to increase their chances of employment upon graduation.
Long story short, we made it to the competition finale where I had to stand up in front of approximately 100 people + 4 judges and pitch our idea in 5 minutes. Needless to say, I was very nervous, but I knew that in order to make my dream a reality this was something that had to be done. I could have made a bunch of excuses, and in fact in my head I did, but I accepted the challenge with open arms because I knew that no matter what happened, I was going to learn and grow.
So I did, and that night I spoke with confidence and conviction. As a result, we came second and won the People’s Choice Award in the process. We also gained entry into ilab, a startup accelerator in Brisbane that supports early stage, high-tech companies through their first few years of development by building their business management capabilities, fostering mentor networks for start-up founders, creating investor ready companies, and graduating companies with increased chances of success.
Unfortunately, GetXperience did not end up succeeding, partly due to competitors like Zookal. We just weren’t able to differentiate our offering enough. Overall, though, I don’t regret working on GetXperience, as I have learned so much about myself, working in teams and startups.
Luckily for me, the day that I finished up with GetXperience, another team at ilab asked me to join them. Fast-forward to today, I am now Co-founder and Co-CEO of a company called PeeP Digital. We have developed an intelligent platform that simplifies the international phonetics system and makes English pronunciation easier and faster to master. To date, we have received $25,000 worth of investment and are currently in the process of applying to overseas accelerators in Singapore, Boston, Hong Kong, Los Angeles & New York.
On a final note, hustling is what separates those who want to be successful with those who actually are. In order to succeed as an entrepreneur and in life, you need to believe in what you’re doing, have energy when you’re doing it and do it with speed. Most importantly, you can’t afford to make any excuses, because great ideas are a dime a dozen- execution is what really counts.
I discovered the importance of hustling very early on in my life and can safely say that all my entrepreneurial endeavours to date would not have occurred without it. As I look towards future entrepreneurial endeavours, I see the importance of hustling becoming more and more prominent.