Stormers captain Siya Kolisi has branched out into small business ownership with Frankees: A designer underwear brand with a South African spin. This is Kolisi’s first business venture, which adds him to the ranks of many South African ‘slashers’ who have alternative sources of income to their day jobs. With a current unemployment rate of 26.7%, SME business owners play an increasingly important role in uplifting South Africa’s economy and tackling unemployment.
Ahead of Workers Day on 1 May, Kolisi chatted about being an entrepreneur and employer at the Cape Town Live Better Talks sponsored by Capitec Bank – a bank that partners with business owners to offer smart banking solutions to employees. In SA, SMEs comprise 90% of formal businesses currently and could catalyse 90% of all new jobs in the country by 2030 – especially if President Ramaphosa delivers on his promise to remove current barriers to small business growth. So ventures like Frankees have the potential to make a big difference.
Here’s what Kolisi had to share:
Tell us a bit more about your new business venture and why you decided to found it?
SK: I founded Frankees, a designer underwear company, with my former class and teammate Tim Whitehead. He originally approached me to be the face of the business, but when I looked closer at the business model I saw the opportunity that existed and brought my full skillset on board in exchange for 50% ownership.
It was an easy decision because Tim and I have walked a long road together, I can trust him, and, after a good business model, trust is the most valuable business commodity.
How do you balance playing rugby and managing a business?
SK: I’m not going to lie, it’s tough. You’d think that investing your money in a good business model is sufficient but that’s only the starting point. I’ve learnt that you have to work hard to make your money work for you.
Tim and I split up our roles based upon what comes naturally to us – this makes it less taxing. I focus on marketing and networking. It’s taught me perseverance and persistence. Having someone famous post a picture in your underwear on social media can have a big impact, but they are also usually very busy so it takes a lot of effort to get the photo out of them.
It sounds like you’re learning a lot along the way, what has been your biggest lesson?
SK: You need to set boundaries about who you listen to. There’s a lot of negativity out there and if you’re not careful people can talk you out of your business idea. I’ve chosen a select few people to walk this journey with me and their advice is the wisdom I value.
Do you think an employer has a responsibility to financially upskill employees?
SK: I do, but only if they’re open to having the conversation. I think there’s a lot to be said for transparency: As an employer, you need to be open about what’s working and what’s not. When things fail, you need to talk about the lessons you learn from the experience. From a financial perspective, I try to ask my staff about their future plans – whether they want to start their own business or pursue an educational venture of some kind, etc. – and offer gentle advice from my own experiences, if they’re open to this. I think, as always, there’s a lot to be said for leading by example. I talk about the way my family is saving and investing in our future. I also am open about the company finances: The importance of cash flow, plus insurance, emergency funds and all those key components to getting a new company off the ground.
What role do you think SME’s play in the economy?
SK: Small businesses are very important not only for providing job creation, but they drive innovation and efficiencies in our economy. They have the largest potential to move people out of the poverty cycle of structural unemployment but one must be brave starting up a business because it’s not easy.
Personally I’ve been driven by the need to ensure I can always provide for my young family, even after I hang up my boots. I’m also passionate about being a change maker – running a successful business at scale will result in the ability to employ more staff thus creating jobs and empowering people.
What’s one lesson you hope to impart to your employees and other hopeful entrepreneurs?
SK: Always be on the lookout for creative ways to diversify your income; it is possible to hold down more than one job or to begin something small on the side to add to your income. Don’t wait until you’re confronted with a problem – begin now and be proactive.