Johannesburg - Mpumelelo Mtintso is a self-styled bicycle entrepreneur with a vision. He not only seeks to make a living, but he also wants to empower, and he has found a clever way of doing just that.
Mtintso (33) is the founder and owner of Book Ibhoni, situated in Soweto on Vilakazi Street. The name perfectly captures his business by using a clever play on words. “Ibhoni” is a colloquial term meaning bicycle in townships around South Africa.
He describes Book Ibhoni as a bicycle tour company with a difference.
He said: “We offer discounted bicycle tours to anyone that donates a book or two when they book a Soweto bicycle tour experience with us.”
He donates the books to community libraries around Soweto run by NGOs.
He believes that it is important to empower young minds with knowledge, citing this as the reason he is so passionate about getting young people to read.
He said: “I was inspired by the fees must fall movement and the notion of free education. There is a perception that we as blacks don't like to read, and stats show our school-going children's literacy levels are not where they should be, but when you go to our community libraries, there are no books, and we know for a fact there are people with books at home collecting dust.”
It also offers bicycle riding lessons and is also a retail store for bicycles and bicycle accessories.
Book Ibhoni is thriving under Mtintso’s leadership, having recently won an award at the inaugural Top 16 Youth-Owned Brand Awards 2022 in the travel and tourism category.
The awards are a Pat On Brands initiative that is aimed at recognising & empowering brands that are founded and run by South African youth.
Mtintso sees the award as a big win for him and his team and makes him feel vindicated in the choices he has made.
“It means a lot to me especially coming from a community where bicycles are seen as toys, and we are out here making a living using bicycles. So this recognition means a lot for me and the team. It just says we are on the right track,” he said.
Mtintso has been building his brand and business for the past seven years and describes the process as challenging.
“Bicycles are not very popular in Soweto, and the topography of Soweto is not very flat, which makes it challenging for cycling,” he said.
He persevered, regardless, and soon there was a big uptake in tourists looking to tour Soweto on two wheels instead of the traditional bus coach tours.
“I think tourists like bicycle tours better because they are more interactive. They get to see the township up close. They can feel it, touch it and smell it.”
An added benefit of Mtintso’s business is that it creates opportunities for other businesses and entrepreneurs.
“Whenever we go to points of interest in Soweto, there are always people either selling something or offering some type of service that the tourists may find interesting,” said Mtintso.
While the historical parts of Soweto are still part of his tours, he has a slightly different take on what tourism should be about in Soweto.
“I do bicycle tours here, but I believe tourism in Soweto is more than just Vilakazi street. I'm sick and tired of telling tourists about the history of our grandfathers. I'm looking for Sowetans who are doing something unique. For instance, people who plait hair, those are the experiences tourists are willing to pay for,” he said.
More than just being a successful entrepreneur, Mtintso has proven to be resourceful and resilient.
When the country went into hard lockdown over two years ago, the travel and tourism sector suffered immensely, but Mtintso and his staff managed to redirect their resources, and he managed to spot a gap in the Soweto market which he managed to exploit.
“We were working, even during covid. Before covid, we had bicycles for tours, and then suddenly, there we no tourists, so we used the same bikes to offer courier services in our township. Some people were kind enough to pay us more than what we were asking for in terms of deliveries. So we managed to save money which we are now using to grow the business post lockdown.”
Mtinsto is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and believes educating them on compliance will go a long way in helping young would-be entrepreneurs start businesses.
“For this township economy to grow, I think we need to share critical information on how to do things the right way to ensure we comply with the city’s requirements.”
“I thought I could just park a container on the side of the road, and that was that, and my business was good to go. Not being aware that there were by-laws that I needed to comply with,” he said.
He says he is also still learning about compliance, and the City of Joburg has been helpful in guiding him through what is required of him.
Mtintso implores young would-be entrepreneurs to take the leap when considering going into business.
“Whatever business idea you have, just start! Don’t overthink it. Learn the basics of whatever it is that you want to do. Just start and figure things out as you go. That’s what I did”.