JOHANNESBURG – Thembokuhle Shongwe, an up-and-comping South African entrepreneur, has had to change tack from the traditional ways of doing business and confront new frontiers brought about by technological advances and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
“People must get on to the technology bandwagon to do business, a lot has changed. Airtime on the phone no longer has as much value as data. Data has taken over – we need to use that data for profit. In the past you could perhaps be recognised for speed-typing, you could get a job and get on in life. But now people who are needed are those who can write apps, people who can code, who can create your WhatsApp, Facebook, Uber apps, that sort of thing,” says Shongwe.
He should know what he is talking about.
In his mid-20s, a multimillionaire, an accomplished businessman, and author of Last Man Standing and a searing visionary, Shongwe has no doubts about where he comes from or where he is going.
“My first job was as a waiter at a Nando’s franchise. Then in 2013 I was a tarpaulin assistant at a mine, driving around in a truck helping with offloading. Two years later I had my own trucks and the next step is to have my own coal mine. Everything is in your mind,” Shongwe says.
His meteoric rise to prosperity from humble beginnings has rested solely on self-belief and seizing the moment, every time.
“I always had a lot of small businesses growing up. From selling sweets in primary school to being a waiter. I also read all of the books that I could get my hands on.
“Finally, when preparation and opportunity met each other I got into forex trading, which I used as a vehicle to fund my other business. It’s all about having goals, a clear plan, action and the knowledge of making money work for you,” he says.
Shongwe now is a forex trader and is the co- founder of Titan Forex Academy, which trains aspiring traders. He also owns a trucking business in Mpumalanga along with several properties, all of which he has achieved in his late teens to early twenties.
Shongwe says the world now turns on the axis of technology and that an entrepreneur wanting to create a global business from the backyard needs to be aware of, and be equipped for, the new stratosphere.
“The 4IR is about unlocking a newer system to the one we had before. The world is influenced by technology now – even growth in business is not attainable without using one or the other technology, whereas before you could run a delivery business between, say, Johannesburg and Durban.
“There are now easier alternatives that would enable you to run a bigger, more efficient and profitable operation from home.
“Big companies are investing in artificial intelligence (AI), while we are still concerned about formal education. You will work in a bank for 10 to 15 years and then a robot will come onto the scene and it is curtains for you.”
He says South Africa needs spiritual entrepreneurship to be able to operate in a market where you are not known.
“Look at Uber as an example – the founders are in San Francisco in the US, and yet their business is all over the world. Out problem as black South African entrepreneurs is fear. We should not be comfortable with being uncomfortable, people must take risks to learn to grow.”
Shongwe sees a future where money will lose its value in terms of importance, with the currency being creativity, hence he says he is pained by the government and legislative environment, which is not helping black youth to reach for and stretch their potential.
“There is too much emphasis in this country on having the right licence and the right capital to do business. You want to start a small business lending out money and you are required to comply with the Financial Services Board requirements and have a reserve of R5 million!
“You need to meet a raft of requirements to run a funeral parlour. Our government still has a stronger hand in directing people to employment rather than to doing business. His advice to potential entrepreneurs is to dream as big as they like, work hard and not be confined in their thinking. He cautions to start small and grow organically.
“It is only the grave that you start from the top – for everything else you need to start carefully from the bottom.”