Muzi Mkhize is determined, short and very presentable. The glasses fit the stereotype of a nerdy app developer. We meet at The Wine Bar, in the famous Vilakazi Street in Soweto, once home to two Nobel Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The businesses there have the QR code to Mkhize’s app on their tables. Through it you can download the app and connect with the establishments.
Mkhize was born, and lived most of his life, in Soweto, about 30 kilometers south of Johannesburg. After completing high school in the east of Johannesburg, Mkhize moved into the Information Technology (IT) sector.
On graduation, in 2005, Mkhize worked for a few big companies. That is where he decided not a lot of black graduates are given opportunities to grow within the IT sector.
It led to Mkhize starting his own organization, Nobane Thunzi Capital (NTC) – named after his grandmother – which became a breeding ground for young black graduates, exposing them to the three tier sectors within IT.
“Tier one encompasses the service desk which is the log and despatch, that is the first line of contact, and that is where black employees get stuck. Tier two is more desktop support and tier three is specialization; specializing in security, network, app developments,” says Mkhize.
All too often black graduates stay on tier one, for five frustrating years, watching fellow white employees, many with fewer qualifications, move up, says Mkhize.
He had only worked in tier one and two, until he got a job that changed his life. He was entrusted with a site to handle, which allowed him to be a specialist in server administration.
“Now I am growing, now I’m handling an entire site with 300 people… all I was doing was reporting back at the head office. That was a big eye opener to start looking outside and start looking at opportunities, like what’s available,” he says.
In December 2010, Mkhize handed in his resignation and started his own organization with the experience he had gained in eight years.
“From January, I started from the bottom. All I said to myself is I need enough to pay for my car on a monthly basis. If it means I have to move back home, so be it, but I need it to get from one client to the other,” he recalls.
Luckily for the enthusiastic Mkhize, he knew a human resource (HR) manager from the previous job; also an entrepreneur, who took the risk with him.
The HR manager offered him a contract for his company and that’s what paid for his car. That was the birth of NTC. The company has since grown from zero turnover to about R10 million ($705,000) in the space of five years, without any funding, nor marketing, just word of mouth.
In late 2015, Mkhize’s business partner and wife, Patricia, told him about a mobile application that had just been named the MTN Business App of the Year; it gave him a sleepless night, followed by a long, thoughtful morning shower. Mkhize called up his staff to tell them about his idea to create a mobile application like a business directory. The app, SoWhereTo, was created, developed, changed and finally rolled out to app stores on April 27, 2017 – Freedom Day in South Africa.
“We wanted to disrupt the likes of [South African property website] Property 24 because they don’t cater to the township market. Break it down to events, break it down to media that now engages the audience, it gives the audience exclusive content on what’s happening in the township. We then moved on to businesses. The whole app is for business, to empower and make awareness of what exists in townships,” he says.
The app is broken down into blocks: events; food and restaurants; media; businesses and tourism, marrying each other to create the multi-faceted app, hence the name SoWhereTo; derived from Soweto.
“So if someone asks ‘so where to?’ Kasi (townships) always,” says Mkhize, referring to townships across South Africa.
The app is growing and this year it was nominated for the same MTN Business App of the Year award which inspired it. A circle that began and ended in Soweto.