From vendor to windows then Forbes
Sihle Ndlela, 28, co-founder of Majozi Bros Construction, made the 2018 Forbe’s list this month after being selected from 600 young entrepreneurs across Africa. The list recognises the “brightest entrepreneurs, innovators and game changers” under the age of 30.
Ndlela runs Majozi Bros Construction, with equally innovative co-founder, Simphiwe Majozi, 29, which has built houses in upmarket estates like Cotswold Downs and Zimbali and is now involved in multi-million developments with construction giant WBHO.
Ndlela matriculated at George Campbell School of Technology in 2007 and enrolled to study a BCom degree, but three months later, his father died and he dropped out. He opened several businesses that failed.
“I started a packaging business, it didn’t work out. I decided to farm beans, potatoes and curry leaves but I just wasn’t passionate about it,” Ndlela said.
He said one day he accompanied his cousin to the beach where he worked as a vendor selling drinks and snacks from a Coca-Cola trolley. He convinced his cousin’s supplier to give him stock to sell.
“I used to travel 52km by train (from uMlazi) to Park Rynie station, then walk 10km to Rocky Bay beach carrying boxes filled with stock. I would spend hours selling until late at night,” Ndlela said.
He decided that at a cost of R400 a month he would not go home daily.
“I became homeless. I slept in abandoned buildings and petrol stations and I wanted to kill myself.”
Eventually, fed up with the seasonal nature of beach sales, Ndlela returned to uMlazi to sell hot dogs and slap-chips. That’s where entrepreneur Murray Clarke, who was conducting market research for his new business, Chicken Xpress, spotted his vending cart and arranged a meeting.
“They told me ‘you know a lot about business, what are you doing on a street corner?’ I looked at these guys and thought they don’t have varsity education, the only thing that is going to stop me is my excuses,” Ndlela said.
He changed direction and entered the construction industry, making aluminium windows. He delivered his first completed windows to a client via the 4pm bus because he had no transport, and since the bus was usually not too full, he knew there would be space for the window.
He sought contractors for opportunities to collaborate and met Simphiwe Majozi of Majozi Bros. Majozi had started the firm when he was just 21 years old, after working alongside his father in his ceiling business, and going on building courses. At school he had run a lucrative lending business by lending his lunch money to fellow pupils.
The pair entered into a partnership and Majozi Bros Construction was born.
“The problem was we were two young guys in our twenties and we had to find our niche. Everyone was doing tenders. We realised if you want to make it in tenders you have to be connected. We wanted to be creative and judged on our ability to add value,” Ndlela said.
“We realised there was a market in the township where people had studied and moved out but still wanted to build houses for their families. There were no professional contractors, just tradesmen, and we became a one-stop shop. The biggest stumbling block was our age,” Ndlela said.
“We thought we have to find a way of making being young and in business cool, so we decided to spend money on branding and marketing. We started marketing on Facebook about bringing Top Billing and uMhlanga to uMlazi and we became a brand and grew to R6 million turnover. We had four vans and 52 people working for us,” Ndlela said.
But then the market turned and business dried up.
“Our income was slashed by 75% and we thought we should close the business,” Ndlela said.
However, to keep their staff employed they decided to build a house on a plot they had purchased.
“We then realised we made more money as a developer than as a contractor and we started buying plots and building,” Ndlela said.
The pair wanted to expand and enquired about building at Cotswold Downs in Hillcrest, but the door slammed shut. They sourced a stokvel to invest in a R1m plot and convinced the developers to let them build the house. The doors then opened for them to build in Zimbali and Simbithi Eco Estate.
Ndlela said they wanted to improve their work and wrote to construction companies across the province asking for mentorship.
“Only one responded, WBHO,” Ndlela said.
He said managing director Craig Jessop became “a father to Majozi Bros”, gave them an office on the firm’s premises and provided them with training. Within a year they became a joint venture partner with WBHO on the R500m Gateway revamp project. They are also a joint venture partner on the R600m luxury mixed use uMhlanga Arch development.
“We always had one vision, to build the biggest property group on the continent. All the money we make is reinvested into marketing and developing our core staff and ourselves and in property. We want to build a KZN Majozi Brothers and we are hoping to eventually have enough capital to do multiple developments on our own,” Ndlela said.
But Ndlela has not forgotten his humble beginnings.
“Every decision I take today is based on what I learnt on the street. When I was a street vendor I went through so many struggles and the best way to block out your struggles is to live in the future,” he said.
“One of my dreams was to be in Forbes magazine. I got an email out of the blue saying I had been nominated. I think for two weeks I beat around the bush and they contacted me and asked if I was interested, they wanted financials, income tax details.
“I gave it to them and they never got back to me until one day out of the blue I got an email that said you have made it to Forbes 30 under 30. I didn’t pay much attention until I got the magazine. Every time I read it I cannot help but feel blessed,” Ndlela said.