Tech entrepreneur Mandla Ngcobo dabbled in everything from poultry farming to selling airtime and electricity, until he found his niche in telecom – and his connections are growing.
Mandla Ngcobo represents everything the digital age stands for.
He’s young, happening and ubiquitous, with hopes and ambitions in every sector: from the poultry business to IT and everything in between.
Born in Newcastle, in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, Ngcobo is the founder of Accelerit Technologies that’s heading forth in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.
“Entrepreneurship is something that has always been around me,” he says resolutely, taking a sip of his drink, when we meet him at an upscale restaurant in Sandton, Johannesburg.
“My father was a taxi owner. My mother was unemployed but used to sell clothes and plait people’s hair from home. She was a firm believer that one must have multiple streams of revenue. My mother used to do whatever it took to put food on the table.”
This attribute made him resourceful too, as he saw it work. He was employed but was inspired to start his own business.
His job for six years at a global technology and consulting firm in Johannesburg exposed him to the inner workings of the ICT business.
The computer had been a loyal companion since high school.
In the mid-1990s, his brother bought him his first TV game console, then gave him his old Pentium One computer with 133 megabytes of data.
“I was fascinated by the fact that you could program a computer to do certain things,” says Ngcobo.
Graduating from the University of Cape Town in South Africa with a BSc in 2005, he wasn’t particularly passionate about theory, but was driven by formulae.
“I also did business as an elective because I was thinking about the trade. So, varsity was mostly about computers and business and that’s where it all began.”
Two years later, he ventured into the chicken feed business as his mother had started a chicken farm.
He ran the business for five years with a fair turnover and employing three.
“That money was able to pay for my car; I saw it had legs. I tried so many businesses; I even sold prepaid airtime and electricity around where I grew up.”
The chicken business didn’t take off but at least he was now lured into the art of making money.
In 2011, the 36-year-old serial entrepreneur registered Accelerit Technologies, a small and medium enterprise providing turnkey ICT solutions. He needed to have licences to run a telecom business to do business with other companies and consumers.
He was still an employee with the company he worked for, but time had come to go on his own.
“I had to be billable as a consultant, so I had to work. There was a project I worked on that absolutely almost broke me; I didn’t enjoy it at all, so I was in a space knowing I didn’t have to do what I was doing. If I could dedicate a little bit of my time to pursue my own venture, I could make it work and that was it, I was done, and I resigned in 2013,” he says.
Having tasted entrepreneurship, he knew he could do it, but this time, he had to be fully present and committed.
“I sold my fancy white Audi TT car, and moved out of my lavish apartment in Sandton. I had to downgrade my life, I needed to bring it back to a level where I could manage my month’s expenditure and align with the fact that I was no longer an employee,” he says.
He shared office space but had a business address; it was time to get his first customer.
He set up a Wi-Fi base station at his sister’s house and sold vouchers; expanded to Greyhound Lines, an intercity bus carrier; then a student commune around the Johannesburg CBD, and within months, Ngcobo was turning over R10,000 ($617) a month.
“That made me feel chuffed,” he says. His sister was his first employee and two other friends soon were on his payroll.
“I was coming from a job that paid me R60,000 ($3,700) a month, and the R10,000 ($617) had me super excited. I knew I never had to work [for someone else] a day in my life. If I put in 10 times the effort, then I would be making R100,000 ($6,168) a month and that is how the journey started.”
Business was growing and within 24 months, Ngcobo set up Wi-Fi base stations in estates around Midrand still using the voucher system; at the time, it was massive.
In early 2017, Accelerit Technologies moved to fiber optic technology delivering high-speed data.
“That made us very competitive; we went from north Johannesburg to providing services nationwide, turning over R900,000 ($55,512) at the end of the 2018 financial year.”
Currently, Ngcobo is projecting R30 million ($1.85 million) for the financial year 2020 and employs 20 full-time staff.
It’s big numbers and wired ambitions, but as always, he is sure he can make it work.
Get the best of Forbes Africa sent straight to your inbox with the latest insights and inspiration from experts across the continent. Sign up here.