They say the sign of a true entrepreneur is someone whowill risk everything, including the security of salaried employment, to followa dream that only they believe in. If this is true then Luvuyo Rani, founderand MD of Silulo Ulutho Technologies, more than qualifies. When the qualifiedteacher left his school post to sell computers out of the boot of a car inKhayelitsha, everyone told him he was mad. “But I knew the thing could work. Ifelt so passionate about it that I just never gave up,” he recalls.
It was his position as a teacher that firstopened his eyes to a gap in the market where he believed he could make money.“The Department of Education was promoting the use of computers and theteaching of information technology at schools, but I knew that most teacherswere not computer literate and most schools lacked access to computers. So Iresigned and started my own IT company, providing schools with computers at anaffordable rate,” he remembers.But the idea didn’t run as smoothly as hehad initially envisaged. “Using my contacts in schools, I started knocking ondoors, but in many instances the schools and teachers weren’t interested,” herecalls. Slowly, as he spoke to people about the value of ICT skills, hestarted to build a client base. “What was interesting was that once one schoolor teacher had a computer, the other schools and teachers in the communitydidn’t want to be left out, so they approached me for the same service,” herelates.Access to finance was his biggestchallenge. He’d borrowed R10 000 as a personal loan but was turned away by thefinancial institutions he approached for funding, and the business he’d chosento go into was capital intensive. Rani is nothing if not inventive and heovercame cash flow, funding and debt collection challenges with creative flair,engaging suppliers to provide him with payment terms and selling refurbishedcomputers to keep costs down. “We managed to think of creative ways to allowcustomers to pay us and encouraged groups of teachers to form a stokvel wherebythey would each contribute R500 a month to a fund, for example, so that at theend of a period all of them would be able to buy computers,” he explains.
The business grew different divisionsorganically, in response to the needs of its client base. “Lonwabo Rani joinedas operations director and because clients needed maintenance and technicalsupport we took on a third member, Sigqubo Pangabantu, to take care of thatside of things. Then we realised that educators were buying computers but notutilising them because they weren’t computer literate, so Nandipha Matshobajoined us to offer basic computer training,” relates Rani. Today the businesshas a number of divisions that include the supply and maintenance of computersand consumables, as well as an internet café, training facility and businessadvisory service.“There is so much unemployment in thecommunity and we did a lot of work educating people about how ICT skills couldhelp them to find a job,” he says. Ordinarily education campaigns are costlyaffairs but with characteristic ingenuity, Rani approached local radio stationRadio Zibonele offering assistance with the support of their computers inexchange for airtime that the business would otherwise not have been able toafford. “We have a two year contract which consists of two hour slots on Sundaymorning and late on Mondays, and an advert every day,” he explains. This hasraised their profile in the community they serve and as Rani points out,highlighted the importance of marketing the business. “From seeing the returnsthat we got from our radio exposure, we now make sure that we allocate aportion of money every month to marketing,” he says.Since its inception the business hasincreased its turnover by 80%, doubled its number of customers and plans todouble its staff complement in the next two years. Rani and his team have plansfor a business lounge, a concept they are pioneering in Khayelitsha and willthen roll out in Gugulethu, Langa and other townships. Having captured theimagination and potential of this mass market, they’re well on their way toestablishing themselves as market leaders.