I recently blogged about the way that entrepreneurship seems addictively fashionable in What Is All The Hype About Entrepreneurs?
As it turns out, I have seemingly more friends who are independent entrepreneurs than Suits. They have such a diverse range of services and products between them that I am wondering why I ever actually need to shop online or even step foot into a physical store again.
Meet Sam Mhlungu.
I’ve known Sam for nearly a decade now. As with most of my social media friends, we met on Twitter and then got to know each other better through the course of a Twitter Blanket Drive event (now known as #TBDAfrica). Sam has one of the biggest smiles and heartiest laughs I’ve ever heard, and his deep resonating voice rivals that of the late great Barry White.
He is married with five children and they live in “Alexandra West” as Sam has nicknamed Lombardy West. In fact, I’ve learnt more about Lombardy West in the time that I’ve known Sam than ever before; if you follow him on Twitter, you too will know the daily weather, which children are playing truant, and even receive by-the-minute accounts of community activity.
On first appearance I didn’t think that Sam fitted the Journo-look that he studied along with Creative Writing and Communication. His wit and personality ensured that I was quite sceptical when he told me he later studied ‘Tree Identification’ as well as ‘Human Perspectives in Natural Resource Management’.
I asked Sam why he decided to follow the entrepreneurial route; he told me that he just wanted to be his own boss. Later down the line, Sam realised that there were certain industries where Black South Africans had an opportunity to play a pioneering role. Those industries for Sam are green industries. This is his passion.
“Initially, I wanted to own a nursery – selling plants. Then I got involved in landscaping and eventually my business grew to include recycled rubber-surfacing.”
The life he lives now is a far cry from when he was a junior copywriter at McCann Ericsson before joining Trees for Africa (now called Food & Trees for Africa) as their first field officer. It was at Trees for Africa that Sam saw the positive impact his efforts were making on people and their environment. He fell in love with the immediate visible changes to landscapes and inhabitants through the planting of trees.
“I left the (advertising) industry after it became clear that black professionals were treated as translators more than creative and that we were just used as “sounding boards” even for concepts that talked to our own.”
Bagale Rubberworx is Sam’s company. He has had many rewarding experiences since starting his own business but notable highlights have been as a participant in the 2010 FIFA World Cup projects as part of the Landscape Design team for the Peter Mokaba Stadium, doing the landscape installation of the Dries Niemandt Park in Kempton Park, Landscape Design team member for Freedom Park in Pretoria, and the first landscape installation at Samrand. (If you’ve been to Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria – and didn’t slip – you can thank Sam for that too!)
Rubberised surfacing is high impact, absorbent and anti-slip; a safety floor coating suitable for walkways, drive ways, golf courses, swimming pools and playgrounds. Here is a short video (produced by the Rubaroc company overseas) to help explain the various applications and uses of the recycled granulised rubber that Sam uses.
I asked Sam a couple of questions to understand how my entrepreneur friends are wired differently to me.
How do you think you make a difference as an entrepreneur?
I make a difference in the environment – be it planting trees or using the granulated/recycled tyres for the safety surfacing in play parks. Other No these cater for children. A positive impact to the next generations.
What is the best thing about having your own business?
For me it has been the pleasure of making and working on my own decisions. We come from an Apartheid past where our inputs in companies was only recognised by a cheap gold watch and a tie. I worked with my father at the ad agency he worked for over 30 years and at one stage he was awarded a watch and a tie.
I have never underpaid those who worked for me. I have always ensured that they got paid before anyone else. Even went so far as choosing a 3 week course in Denmark for my employees instead of a R300k allowance to the business to have them trained here.
What is the most challenging aspect of having your own business?
Ensuring that you pay your employees is a very challenging part of owning your business – one would have to make sure there is business inflow.
How do you manage work/life balance?
It is difficult, but having many years on my own now, I have not pressured myself so much. I now use a what I call proto-team – freelance rubber applicators. If we have no work they work for others. I am currently imparting the rubber-surfacing skills to my two sons and a nephew who have a combined 18 years experience in rubberising.
What do you think SME’s need more of?
- Energy and enthusiasm – to sustain their business.
- Finance – be it timely payments by clients or loans by the banks to grow their business.
- Training and continued professional development.
- Key to all these is a happy workforce.
- Certain statutory requirements are stifling SME growth.
I asked Sam to expand on his last point of statutory challenges, this is what he said:
“By Statutory Requirements I am referring to things like:
- Annual Returns that have to be filed
- CIDB ratings for companies in the building industry
- Stringent VAT requirements when registered and not earning per usual – it becomes burdensome
- At least the Tax Clearance problem has been sorted in relation to a central registry via Treasury though it still has not been applied smoothly
- Additional requirements from municipal or government departments re: Workmen’s Compensation letter of good standing.
- BEE Certificate even when company is 100% black-owned”
Sam is committed to developing opportunities for the Youth of South Africa. He believes that with the right credentials (BEE compliance also helps), right pricing and a guaranteed product he will be able to meet his ambition.
He would like to extend his product range to 24 different colours, and have the opportunity to show how his product will add value to the equestrian industry. He has also been following the international trends and developments of companies such as Rubaroc who are aggressively targeting the swimming pool surrounds market. If you have any contacts in these new areas for Sam, please reach out and let him know.
If you’re interested in any of the products or services featured on my blog, I encourage you to contact the business owners directly.
- Bagale RubberWorx_Sam Mhlungu Profile
- Bagale RubberWorx_Indicative Pricing 2017
- Bagale RubberWorx_Parks Brochure
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