OVER the years the barriers to internet access have gradually
been lowered in South Africa, making way for an online market that's been
waiting to be tapped into. Tech-savvy businesspeople around the country are
taking notice - and none more so than active youth entrepreneur Shaheed
The 27-year-old co-founded Madrush Technologies, an IT firm
specialising in software and web development, in 2007. He is also the owner of
African Cyber Revolution (ACR) - a communications agency focused on branding,
which is a joint venture between local and international graphic designers.
Gqokoma says he became an entrepreneur because he enjoyed
his freedom and wanted to contribute to society in some way. Prior to starting
the businesses, he worked for Cell C and Vodacom. Even then, he was working on
on his entrepreneurial concept on the sidelines.
Madrush Technologies, which is made up of a team of five
young graphic designers, has formed partnerships with India's Cat Technologies
and Malaysian IT firm Kals Information Systems.
Cat Technologies is described on its website as a US-based
company committed to developing high quality software. Kals is a software
services and consulting company firm in Bangalore, India and employs about 100
people, according to its website.
On how the partnership came about, Gqokoma says: "With
the (IT) boom in India, they had interest in SA as an emerging market and
somehow they found us." He says Madrush was probably discovered online by
the partner companies, through an internet search for firms closely aligned to
Madrush was identified as an ideal candidate, Kals
Information Systems and Cat Technologies established contact and since then the
three have managed to build a strong business relationship.
While the overeas firms are larger and more established,
they have a mutually beneficial partnership, says Gqokoma. In instances where a
software project is too big for Madrush to handle on its own, Kals has offered
to step in and help since it has more resources and experience at hand.
"With Cats we currently have a client who requires a
really expensive software product developed. We are busy collaborating with
Cats, trying to figure out how we are going to build such a complex software
application which we hope will go international," Gqokoma explains.
While these partnerships have yet to yield any financial
benefits for Madrush, they have been profitable in terms of cementing its
credibility in the industry.
Although it has attracted the attention of IT heavyweights, the
company is still small and through lack of funds has had to be resourceful by
using money from its own pockets.
And as only smart IT geeks can, the Madrush team have
adopted virtual offices, interacting with each other daily and using
techonology such as Skype and email to keep in contact with their international
When he isn't busy at Madrush Technologies, a venture he
started with friend Sam Williams, Gqokoma heads ACR which also serves as the
primary branding and advertising wing of Madrush. The venture is a solo
project, but he often collaborates with other graphic artists from Joburg and
So far, ACR has done work for the government and Freight It
as well as local musician Siphokhazi. Gqokoma says juggling both businesses is
easy since they seldom overlap, but rather complement each other.
Make a name for yourself first
Making it in the cutthroat IT and graphic design industries
requires a lot of passion and discipline, qualities Gqokoma prides himself on.
Often they're required to create a draft product for clients, a process that
can be time-consuming since there is no guarantee the customer will sign up for
Gqokoma emphasises the importance of making a name for
yourself before going it alone, particularly if you're venturing into the IT
and design field. He adds: "It's crucial to establish yourself before
starting a business.
"A lot of people want to see references...graphic
design is very competitive in South Africa, it's cutthroat."
Why then would he want to enter these shark-infested waters?
"There's no novelty about web design but there are a lot of opportunities
- it's just that you as a company have to find your competitive edge.
"Passion is what makes us stand out. We'd like to be
the best at branding and web design. We're in touch with the youth and have our
ears to the ground, we're young and streetwise," says Gqokoma of his
Madrush has yet to clinch any major deals but it is making
progress helping out small firms, young black economic empowerment guys and
other people who are still starting out. It has been gathering mostly small
clients, but the focus has so far been on building a portfolio of the work it
has carried out and improving its skills and experience.
The company recently bagged a big international client whose
corporate ID it is working on. It is also creating a website for a local actor.
The final product is not all its doing, though - clients are enouraged to give their input to make sure
that they are satisfied with the finished product.
Madrush works in stages, with web development projects
taking about four weeks to complete. Prices for web design projects vary from
R1 000 to R100 000, depending on who clients are and what they can afford.
Some would regard his pricing flexibility as bad business
sense, but Gqokoma believes that by helping others you're in effect helping
yourself. "There are many different way to be profitable," he
He is optimitistic about South Africa's entrepreneurial
landscape, but believes the country still has a long way to go. Key to his
stance is the belief that it's a mindset that holds South Africans back. Most
are too scared to bite the bullet, while the lack of support for entrepreneurs
starting out doesn't inspire any confidence either.
Says Gqokoma: "There needs to be a mindset change in SA
but it requires a lot of effort from the government. Schools need to encourage
entrepreneurship in their curriculum. Most young talents are in offices
working, when in fact they could make good entrepreneurs. Government needs to
be more active, especially at school level."
He overcomes his fears by adopting the positive attitude
that what you think about is what you'll become.
For his solo venture ACR, Gqokoma wants to roll out a
project in rural South Africa with his close network of graphic designers to
refurbish old containers, turning them into mobile IT service centres that will
be dispersed in rural parts of the country where people don't have access to
Setting up these containers would create jobs, he says,
since they would be run by the locals themselves.
Until then, his dream assignment would be doing the
government signage in Pretoria as well as central Johannesburg, which he
insists can look professional and funky at the same time. He passionately
refers to New York's Time Square and Trafalgar Square in London as models of
how he envisages city centres.
For now, though, he dreams of making Madrush Technologies
the premier black-owned software development company in SA.