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Vusi Thembekwayo: Being a dragon changed my life

Aug 12 2014 06:05
Matthew le Cordeur
Cape Town – Dragons’ Den might have changed the lives of some talented entrepreneurs during the last seven days of filming, but one Dragon said the process changed his life.

Dragons’ Den South Africa – premiering on Mzansi Magic on Tuesday 23 September at 19:00 with dragons Lebo Gunguluza, Vusi Thembekwayo, Polo Leteka Radebe, Gil Oved and Vinny Lingham - wrapped up the filming on Monday at 12:00.

Thembekwayo, a business speaker who was the youngest ever JSE director in South Africa, said the experience fundamentally altered his viewpoint of South African entrepreneurs.

“I drove straight back to my office, sat down and reflected on the process,” Thembekwayo told Fin24, fresh from the Den.

"We always seem to focus on what is different about each other, but listening to entrepreneurs from different backgrounds, races and levels of education left me inspired that we have so much in common. It was a fantastic look at the South African kaleidoscope.”

“I left the process feeling very optimistic about our country’s future,” he said. “The level of education, thought process and attention to detail was really impressive and there were some really good business opportunities.”

Searching for innovation

Thembekwayo said he was hoping to see great innovative ideas that would bring new solutions to old problems within the South African and African perspective with an emphasis on collaborations.

“It mostly came down to the entrepreneur as an individual more than their idea,” he said. “It’s easy getting a good idea, but difficult finding the right people to succeed at implementing that idea. Their personal story was very important to me.”

Added to that was the scope of their idea. “I was interested in detail-orientated ideas with a good idea of the size and numbers that would drive its success,” he said. “While the agenda should be big and evolutionary, it needed to be grounded in reality.”

Watch the business speaker in action:



Fighting for the rights


Thabo Mbeki once said of Thembekwayo, “We need a South Africa that will produce more Vusi’s”. This show has helped him do that exact task, but he said it was not without competition.

“The dragons often came into conflict over entrepreneurs we liked and I don’t know how we didn’t climb over the tables to fight for what we wanted,” he said. “It certainly would have made for good TV.”

“Now that we’ve made our choices, we have to do our checks and balances to see if what they presented was the truth,” he said. “Once I’m satisfied that what I heard was stemmed from fact, then I will proceed with the partnership.”
Advice to Fin24 user

Fin24 user Daniel Moeletsi from Dennilton in Limpopo said he wanted to become an egg farmer, but he couldn’t get funding. “I've tried big companies like Anglo American for funding and, at first they seemed to be willing to assist, but they give up along the way. I've tried to enter the Big Break Legacy competition, but they've turned me down and recently I applied for Dragons Den, but once again I've been turned down after some promising responds. How can I get funding to start?"

Thembekwayo responded to the query:

“We were actually confronted with a few of these cases. Often people come up with an end idea and want to get there without following a process. I often use the alphabet as an example. To get from A-Z, you need to go through each alphabet. And so it is with entrepreneurship.

“Young black entrepreneurs often want to skip the process and I tell them that they need to start with what they’ve got. Get the small things working and slowly build a track record.

“No one is going to give you money to get you where you are to where you want to be. You have to build small successes and build a track record. What do you know about eggs? Get into egg retail perhaps: build commercial skills, learn about margins, and learn who the end user is. Generate cash. Create discipline. After you have been selling eggs for a certain time, go to a funder and show your proof of credibility and gravitas.

“Take my graded entrepreneur process, instead of looking for blue sky funding. Find the right funding at the right level. Start small with 1 000 eggs and then get working capital funding to produce 10 000 eggs.

“So many people want to start at A and then get to Z without any process. They think Virgin happened in day. Richard Branson started one business, then a few more. He had some failures and closed some businesses down. Then he started building again and eventually became successful. That’s how it works.”
- Fin24.

* Do you have a question for Vusi Thembekwayo. Ask him now.


richard branson  |  entrepreneurs  |  funding
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