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Two’s Company; 30 Under 30 Alumni Collaborate




Under 30 alumni, born on the same day and with similar stories of entrepreneurship, are collaborating to disrupt industries and shape the future of Africa.

The road to entrepreneurship is cold, lonely and riddled with potholes. It helps if you are walking it with someone else.

Millennials Siya Beyile and Thato Kgatlhanye are doing just that.

Together, they are redefining business and shaping the future

of Africa.

“Entrepreneurs always talk about collaborations but we don’t do it enough. We want to resource Africa’s future. Resources go beyond natural resources, which is where the world has been focused. Our ideas, our people and the way we do things has value, so we must take advantage of it,” says Kgatlhanye.

Beyile and Kgatlhanye have big dreams, but a year ago, they were strangers, treading a path of hardship and pain.

At just 25 years old, Beyile has a resume most would envy.

In 2013, he founded The Threaded Man, a fashion blog for men, inspired by his mother, who often called him “umfana othungiweyo”, the ‘threaded man’ in isiXhosa.

He worked with major brands such as Adidas, Stuttafords, American Swiss, TITAN watches, H&M, SAB, Hugo Boss and Pandora. He styled stars like Nomuzi Mabena, MsCosmo, Khuli Chana, AKA, DA LES, Amanda Black and Somizi Mhlongo.

At the age of 22, he was appointed Fashion Director of the South African Music Awards and MTV Africa Music Awards, he was named one of the seven leading voices of African men’s fashion by GQ and he graced the cover of GQ Style.

Beyile was adored by many, but beneath the stylish exterior was a story that was less flattering.

A slew of bad business decisions saw him lose money and his credibility, and the setbacks almost cost him his life.

“I had to shut the business down because of depression. I tried to commit suicide many times. I had made a lot of money but I had not touched it. It had gone to pay loans and also buy my company back. I never got to enjoy it. I shut down,” he says.

It took a toll on his confidence. He tonsured his head and spent six months in a rehabilitation facility, where he worked on rebuilding himself.

“I lost a lot of public value. People started unfollowing me [on social media] and just didn’t like me. People in the industry that I respected even turned on me. I would go to places and people would whisper around me and look at me with shame. It was embarrassing. I would go home and cry.”

He closed his business and moved back home to Cape Town to rethink and rejuvenate.

With a new attitude towards life, he relocated yet again to Johannesburg to start over. In February, he connected with Kgatlhanye, a FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 alumni and award-winning entrepreneur.

“When we met, we realized we had the same vision of disrupting. She was tired of being known as a bag entrepreneur and wanted to make sustainable luxury and wanted to get into fashion and I wanted my fashion to be sustainable and wanted to run a factory but didn’t know how. She had the experience of running a factory and I knew all things fashion,” says Beyile.

Thato Kgatlhanye and Siya Beyile. Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla.


Kgatlhanye is the founder of Rethaka Group, which started in textile manufacturing and waste management. She became known for collecting and recycling plastic waste into solar-powered school bags for poor children.

“We started like that so we could get an understanding of the nuts and bolts of manufacturing. Most of the time we don’t own the value chain of products. Take clothes, for example, people just go somewhere to buy things but don’t know the suppliers of zips and buttons and you end up cutting into your margins by virtue of not understanding the value chain. So we collaborated to form a new company, where we bring in the ability to build and make things in a sustainable way and then sell them on our platforms,” says Kgatlhanye.

Beyile and Kgatlhanye founded 712 Group, which now houses both their brands. The company is named after their birthday; they were both born on December 7.

“We are building a global powerhouse with African brands. Those brands will be spread across technology, manufacturing, fashion and sustainability. Africa right now has become a focal point but a lot of the brands we consume on a daily basis are not African. We have a lot of talented people in these spaces but we don’t see them opening stores around the world and disrupting. We feel like our market has been hijacked. There is no corporate structure that supports our brands,” says Beyile.

The pair agree there is more power in collaborating than working in silos.

“Working together helps. We know our strengths and weaknesses. For example, I know that I can’t be CEO. In the last five years, I have been in business, I have learned I am not capable because there are certain things I don’t think about. However, I have also learned I am a visionary.  I am good at coming up with concepts and connecting people but I am not good at implementing. However, Thato is good at taking the idea and having it live in the world, which is a nice balance,” says Beyile.

Kgatlhanye concurs: “There were a lot of loopholes in our individual businesses that we were struggling with. It would have taken us longer to try togrow our businesses individually than it will take us now as a combined unit. I was a master in something he needed and he was a master in something I needed.”

Beyile says they have both learned not to rush, but rather to build a solid foundation, generate cash reserves and work on growth.

“A lot of businesses led by young people will ‘grow’ but when you look at their growth metrics, staff turnover and profitability, those things are not solid,” says Kgatlhanye.

Beyile agrees.

“The biggest lesson from my journey is that business is not a friendly sport. If you have ambitions to be a billionaire and to be on the cover of FORBES AFRICA magazine, to get there, you will suffer.”

Given the current market, Beyile says their business structure is different.

“When I look at media companies, their staff turnover is low. This is because young people are frustrated. They don’t want a nine-to-five. They want to build their own businesses and have their own lives. We can’t expect to hire young people full-time and expect them to be happy and to work for us for 20 years… Young people need to be put in positions of empowerment, so we work with freelancers and businesses owned by young people on a project-by-project basis.”

They say the additional benefit of collaborating is it helps them save money on office space, speeds up project turnaround times, ensures quality work and gives them faster and more effective growth and team results.

It is true: teamwork makes the dream work. The future is bright for these young entrepreneurs born on the same day in the same year and with the same vision for Africa.


Masai Ujiri’s dream of harnessing untapped African talent



The President of Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri, on his adoration for Africa as a continent filled with unlimited potential and talent.

The tall man in sport, Masai Ujiri, is a name in professional basketball far beyond the borders of Africa and his native Nigeria.

Born in England but having grown up in Zaria in Africa’s most populous country, Ujiri’s adoration for Africa sees him on the continent often, inspiring the youth.

“Africa is no more afraid. We are not afraid of anybody anymore. The continent is bold. The people are bold,” says Ujiri, when FORBES AFRICA meets him in Johannesburg in November at the Africa Investment Forum in which he participated.

The continent has a special place in his heart.

The President of the Toronto Raptors in the National Basketball Association (NBA), also founded Giants of Africa (GOA) in 2003, as a way of harnessing budding, untapped talent.

“As long as I am in a position where I am able to, we have to give the youth a chance. We have to pave a path for them and there is nothing I can’t do. I have to do everything, it is an obligation, I have to be an example for them by creating that pathway,” he says.

Ujiri, who started playing basketball at the age of 13, travels to Africa every August to visit the GOA camps across seven countries on the continent, training young boys and girls to be leaders in both sport and everyday life.

He says he draws inspiration from each and every country in Africa, and the feeling is inexplicable.

The history and culture are a constant reminder of his years growing up in Africa.

Whether it is in Kenya, where his mother was born, or the lasting friendships in Rwanda, Senegal or Nigeria, each country holds special memories.

Apart from the numerous trips in and out of the continent, 2018 granted Ujiri a rare once-in-a-lifetime moment.

This was in July when Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, visited Kenya, and with him, Ujiri opened a basketball court in the country.

Ujiri’s outreach program GOA launched it at the Sauti Kuu Foundation Sports, Resources and Vocational Centre in Alego; familiar ground for both leaders.

Managed by Auma Obama, Sauti Kuu, much like GOA, is focused on youth development.

“To spend that time with somebody that Africa means so much to, meant so much to me and so much to Auma. We are trying to inspire youth, we built a court that is going to impact the youth and that was special,” says Ujiri. 

Being able to scout African talent is what is imperative for Ujiri, and it all comes down to building facilities to help the youth play basketball.

Ultimately, his dream for Africa is not only to see material wealth but for talent to go beyond what he has achieved.

“My dream is to have one of the youth become bigger than me, and bigger than everybody. People think I always dream of building this and doing that but I want one of these kids to take everything that they learn and do better in each and everything.

“I love the continent; I love the culture of different places. I am almost like Anthony Bourdain [the late American celebrity chef], that is how it really is with basketball, with the culture, the people and the food,” says Ujiri.

Staying true to his African roots, when we meet him, Ujiri speaks about his favorite yam and stew dish that he says reminds him of his childhood.

It’s such memories that see him taking the long-haul flight out of Toronto to Africa each year.

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Brewing Success: Lessons From A Beer Baron



Canadian John Sleeman shares his entrepreneurial lessons with Africa.

cis not your typical textbook entrepreneur. His belief in what it takes to be an entrepreneur is so controversial that his advice is no longer welcome in MBA classes. The white-haired charismatic brewer, who re-established his family’s brewing business in 1988 as one of the most successful in Canada, offers sage advice to African entrepreneurs, although he has no plans to expand in Africa – yet.

Nonchalantly, in his automated beer manufacturing plant in Guelph, Canada, surrounded by people enjoying his craft beer, Sleeman says he believes entrepreneurs are born, not made. He argues that unless you are prepared to go bankrupt, work over 80 hours a week, lose your friends, face the prospect of divorce, put your house on mortgage and miss meeting friends for drinks on Fridays, then entrepreneurship is not for you.

He should know. This is the toll he took to restart his family business. It had lost its licence and was banned from the market for 50 years in 1933. This was for smuggling beer during the roaring 1920s by brokering deals with bootleggers and gangsters like Al Capone when prohibition set in in Canada.

Passionately, the beer baron, who plans to open a micro-distillery later this year, and is considering expanding his business in either the eastern or western parts of Canada, tells FORBES AFRICA: “If you want to be an entrepreneur, be very focused on what you want to achieve and don’t let people talk you out of it. If it is a dream, pursue it until you are successful.”

He attributes his success to surrounding himself with the right people. They will make or break your business, says Sleeman. You should be ready to change your business model if the current one isn’t working, he adds.

In his own case, he did this after his colleague advised him that rather than opening up new breweries across Canada, he should buy existing ones that share Sleeman Breweries’ crazy passion for beer and authenticity.

Sleeman reckons you shouldn’t grow so big that you lose your entrepreneurial flair, first-mover advantage and risk-appetite, but you also shouldn’t remain so small that you get knocked out of business or get bought out by someone who does not see your vision and wants to dismantle you, as it almost happened to his business in 2006. If you do sell, reminisces Sleeman, sell to someone who sees your vision, like Sleeman Breweries did, when Japanese company Sapporo saved the Guelph-based firm from a hostile takeover.

But that’s history. Since then, Sapporo has helped fund research and development and training for the business, whose humble, down-to-earth founder is now taking it on its next spirited journey.

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The Story Of The $3,000 Sneakers



South African artist Conor McCreedy on creating what could be the world’s most expensive sneakers.

A literally stumbled upon a business opportunity.

The renowned South African artist, who only paints in blue,was one day at work in his studio, in a 600-year-old, four-storeyed building in Zurich, when he accidentally spilled some of the monochromatic pigment on to his white sneakers.

Who knew it would lead to a designer line of expensive sneakers.

The artist, resident in Switzerland since 2014, now sells the limited edition sneakers for $3,000 a pair. 

What helped that day was that the painting accident was shortly before a meeting with an art collector.

“This art dealer wanted some work for a private collection.I couldn’t get time to put my shoes on, so I went in my sneakers, and this guy just loved them… He opened up to me and said he likes the idea. ‘Try and take it further’, he said to me,” says McCreedy to FORBES AFRICA, on the phone from Switzerland.

Artist Conor McCreedy. Picture: Supplied

After spending four months finalizing the collaboration with an established shoe company, Ludwig Reiter, the concept sprung to life.

A regular pair of their white sneakers sells for $685, but with a splash of McCreedy, it costs almost five times more.   

“A lot of people can put paint on sneakers. We are not reinventing the world but putting the McCreedy blue on to a sneaker. It has a value chain,” he says.

Even before its launch mid-November, nine of the 200 limited edition sneakers had been sold to collectors from around the world.

“I love when people say that the splash looks like a kid’s.I actually like that, it has taken me 30 years to create that splash, that is a great story,” says McCreedy.

He adds the handcrafted sneaker will not only appeal to art lovers who are looking to collect, but even corporate titans and banking CEOs,and the uber-chic would want to wear it at cultural festivals.

In Switzerland, ultra-networth and high-networth-individuals are his customers.

“The beautiful part is that the sneakers are backed by my art, and compared to the art, they are relatively cheap,” says McCreedy.

Artist Conor McCreedy converted an old bank building into his studio and atelier in Zurich. Picture: Supplied

The tranquillity and stability the artist associates with the color blue led to the creation of his own pigment known as ‘McCreedy blue’.

McCreedy has used it to create most of his paintings since 2011.

But building a career through art requires more than just mixing color on canvas.

“Art is always considered a luxury; don’t let anyone fool you when they say it is not luxurious. People don’t just buy art, it is a luxury creation… If Picasso was alive today, he would probably have his own app,” he says.

His art inspired him to create products, from candles to a coffee blend on sale on the ground floor of his studio.

The space is curated so it’s an alluring odyssey for customers.

White walls are adorned with original McCreedy blue paintings, showcasing the artist’s work for prospective buyers, collectors and dealers.

The ‘Essence of McCreedy blue’ forms part of the luxurious elements the artist wants to reinstate in the art world.

It took the artist three years in Zurich, one of the global centers for banking and finance, to convert an old bank building into an atelier and studio. “It’s showing how people view the world through the eyes of an artist. It is about being part of the journey and the experience. It is about feeling what luxury is like,” he says.

Staying true to his African roots, McCreedy draws inspiration from Botswana, Nigeria and South Africa, which he expresses through abstract images.

“I love African and South African art. It is really stimulating for me and as a growing artist, I like to collect whatever I can afford. One day, I will create my own museum and show what I have from different parts of the world,” says McCreedy. Open to exploring more markets, McCreedy wishes to collaborate with African artists. He would not have it any other way.

Artist Conor McCreedy converted an old bank building into his studio and atelier in Zurich. Picture: Supplied

The world may present the artist with greater opportunities,but it cannot compete with the culture and the spirit of ubuntu [humanity]found in his country of birth, he explains.

“I miss good South African beer, I miss sitting on a Land Rover with no shirt on, drinking a beer. I miss the weather and the locals.”

But wherever McCreedy goes, he ensures his prized pair of sneakers is never too far away.

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