‘Keep knocking on doors’ says head of a successful IT start-up

Mike Tlhoaele, image: supplied.

Mike Tlhoaele, image: supplied.

Published Jun 15, 2023


Starting at the tender age of eight years old, by selling vegetables on the side of the road, Mike Tlhoaele was always destined for greatness in the business world.

Tlhoaele is the owner of his start-up IT solutions company, Impeco IT.

Impeco is a technology business focused on networking, support services and application development, which started trading in 2014 when Tlhoaele was 25 years old.

While racking and cabling may have been the beginning, Tlhoaele has made sure that his business has been agile enough to keep up to date with the disruptive nature of working within the tech space.

Professionalism, integrity and quality delivery are what he attributes his success to, attributes that caught the attention of the Altron Group, who have collaborated with this successful start-up and helped it grow.

Tlhoaele has been working with the Altron Group, specifically Netstar, since 2018, partnering with Altron Managed Solutions (AMS) a year later, and in 2021, started working in partnership with Altron Systems Integration (ASI) and Cisco Security.

As an enterprise development partnership, this mentorship and market access has seen Tlhoaele’s company grow from a staff complement of seven in 2018 to over 22.

This partnership also saw him complete a Management Advancement Programme through WITS Business School, an insight that he says has really assisted him in getting the fundamentals of his business right.

Empowering a business through knowledge

When Tlhoaele first approached Altron, it wasn’t funding he was looking for.

Core to Impeco’s growth with ASI has been having access to comprehensive mentorship programmes, which included guidance on setting up a successful business and access to key SME financial training.

This, he says, was real empowerment.

The many doors opened, relationships built, and new prospects as a result of this partnership has also led to a recent strategic restructuring of the business.

He has also appointed a Chief Operation Officer with a wealth of experience, a move that will allow Tlhoaele to focus on the development and future-proofing of the business as the tech requirements of his clients grow.

Perseverance pays off

“Knock as hard as you can until the door opens, even if it means knocking numerous times. You can’t give up, you need to be driven, and you need to push,” he says.

From humble entrepreneurial beginnings selling fruit and vegetables on a street corner near his home at the age of eight, Tlhoaele says that every job he has had has been more about the learning experience than the pay cheque.

From being a call centre operator to being introduced to the world of IT at Siemens before starting to work his way up at Vodacom, where he became a network specialist, he always knew that creating and growing his own business was what he was destined for.

Being all in and supported

Tlhoaele admits that it’s been a lot of hard work with many challenges and learnings along the way, but he is so proud of what his team have achieved, with his wife as Financial Director by his side.

“The business world can be cruel, and having someone, a partner, to support you is so important.

Together, we are running a great business,” he says.

More than half of the management team at Impeco are women, a move he says is taking the empowerment of his company one step further.

“I am passionate about it every single day, and this passion doesn’t stop. When things are down, or a job doesn’t work out, you move on,” he says, adding that because this is a family-run business, he has to be all in.

His disposition and all-in attitude is mirrored when asked about his experience working as an SME in a country plagued by a power crisis and a struggling economy.

“I don’t see challenges. We cannot focus on that. We need to shut that out as much as possible,” he says.

“ I don’t want to stress about something that I can’t control. We need to move past these challenges. As soon as you realise this, you take the power back”.

Paying it forward

Born and bred in a township in Pretoria, Tlhoaele knows the power that lies in changing a person’s situation.

“I have been helped before. Someone carried me from not knowing what I know to knowing what I know today”.

In 2018, Tlhoaele was selected as a National Development Plan ambassador with the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, an initiative to promote youth entrepreneurship boost economic growth, increase employment, and reduce poverty and inequality.

Derived from his interest in networking and connectivity and his desire to pay it forward, Tlhoaele is not only determined to keep growing but to also take technology to people who don’t have access across South Africa and to “connect everyone”.

Tlhoaele says that there is a huge need for companies like his to service smaller businesses.

Just take the recent working-from-home revolution brought about by the pandemic since 2020. Almost overnight, people needed connectivity and office automation in their homes. And while his business has growth from strength to strength, he has put as much of his profits right back into growing it.

What’s next for Impeco IT?

Tlhoaele says he wants to start developing his own IP solutions and deal with customers directly while building his customer base. As with his experience with Altron, he wants to continue to partner with other big players within the South African IT sector.

“As ASI and the broader Altron group, we will continue to uplift small businesses through our enterprise development program, to enable businesses like Impeco get a seat at the table and provide the necessary support to allow them to thrive,” says Collin Govender, Managing Director at ASI.

“Mike Tlhoaele has proven himself as an inspirational example of what hard work, determination and collaboration can achieve, and we have no doubt that he too will be mentoring the next generation of techpreneurs in years to come”.