Walk the talk

2014-01-29 15:23

Lesika Matlou (28) runs the successful ek sê tours in jozi – and the stories he tells keep the customers coming

How it all started

A few years ago I was running a delivery business in Mokgalwaneng near Rustenburg but things weren’t going well for me. Shops would buy on credit for the things I delivered – mainly cigarettes – and I had a serious cash-flow problem.

Then one Saturday I tuned into a youth show on YFM and heard about Awethu, a programme that identifies and helps entrepreneurs. I was looking for something else to try so I thought, why not? I packed my bags and moved to Joburg.

Small beginnings

I lived with a friend and his girlfriend in a one-room shack while I did the Awethu programme. It involved three tests – on numeracy, cognitive ability and work ethic. For the third test we were given a task: organise a tour of Joburg but think out of the box.

I’d never been on a tour before so I went on one to see how things worked.

Then I started doing my own research on the city. Everybody always goes on about the crime in Joburg but I thought, why not concentrate on the positive? For instance, in Hillbrow there is amazing vibrancy and creativity. Forget crime and corruption – I decided to focus on what’s great.

When I took the Awethu judges on the tour they were amazed. They kept saying how they’d lived in Joburg for years and yet didn’t know much about the city.

 Marketing the business

I handed out pamphlets at B&Bs in Melville and started by taking the B&B owners on tours for free so they could see what I had to offer. One day an owners said he had two American guests who wanted a tour of Soweto and things snowballed from there.

I named my business Ek Sê Tours because I decided to combine a lot of talk with the trips – me telling stories about the people and places.

Awethu provided some start-up capital and I used it to rent a vehicle for the tours.

After that I received funding from Edge Growth business development and bought my first vehicle.

I also became involved with the film company Red Pepper Productions through Awethu – they asked me to manage their fleet of vehicles and collect people from various townships. We also transport sports teams.

Growing the business

I now have eight people working at Ek Sê and we take about 50 people around the city each month. Our aim for this year is to expand across the province and then nationally. The transport side of the business is very busy – we transport hundreds of people a month.

What gives us the edge

I love telling stories and there are so many stories to tell. Our Soweto tour is very popular. We start by singing songs, then we teach tourists how to do the Xhosa click. We have coffee at the top of the Orlando Cooling Towers, then we walk around Kliptown and have mopane worms and kotas. There are always youngsters in the area who join us

and tell their stories too. Visitors love it – it gives them real insight into the country.

Biggest business lessons learnt

• Managing people isn’t easy – at least, not for me. In the beginning I had only myself to rely on and I could manage that. But when you start hiring other people it can be challenging. You have to be kind and strict at the same time.

• You have to push yourself constantly, even when you don’t feel like it. Sometimes it feels like you’ve just climbed one mountain and when you turn around there’s another one to climb. You have to keep reminding yourself of the bigger picture.

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