Eastern Cape teen duo working to build a beverage empire

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Mthatha - A conversation about the state of South Africa’s economy led Mthatha-based teens Khanya Mngqibisa, 16, and Thando Phantsi, 17, to become entrepreneurs by starting their own bottled water business.

“We were these guys who loved to discuss the issues of the nation,” Phantsi tells News24.

“We would just sit down and discuss issues about parliament, the economic state and the discussion of the economic state is one that lasted.

“And it resulted in us wanting to change the economy of South Africa. Then we started to think, how could we do that? Then that was how we started being business-minded.”

Since that conversation, the two boys have managed to close a deal with an angel investor who had acquired water purification equipment he no longer had use for.

When the boys found out about him, they wanted to make sure they bagged a good deal with him.

After giving what they themselves would describe as a stellar presentation, the investor was sold and they achieved the first step in their journey to creating a beverage empire.

They created their first batch of bottled water called “Aqua TK” in February this year. Initially they began making a few hundred bottles and tried to sell them at events in and around Mthatha.

Eventually, they approached the owner of a well-known supermarket in the area and told them they believed their water could sell in their store.

Apprehensive at first, the store ordered two pallets of bottled water – which consists of 1000 bottles on each pallet and four days later, they had sold 500 units. The boys then received a call asking for more stock.

“People are really reacting well to the brand.

“We started selling really well in August, we sold about 4 000 units, in September it was up to 7 000, October it was 7 000, November it was the best month ever because we went to 9 000.

“In December we are currently sitting at 3200 bottles,” he said.

In their Mthatha-based factory, the duo employs three permanent staff members but when big orders come in, it is all hands on deck, sometimes calling for them to spend consecutive nights sleeping over to make sure they meet the demand.

They have not been alone on the journey though, Phantsi says.

“Everyone is involved in helping to make it a success. Our few friends like our hustle so sometimes they come over and help with the filling process.

“Everyone is involved because sometimes we have to travel around and because we have family from Durban to Joburg to Pretoria to East London to Port Elizabeth. So sometimes they just help us with accommodation and we cut the costs.

“Everyone is just interested in helping; everyone wants to be part of this.”

You may wonder why two teenage boys would decide on setting their sights on the bottled water route, but Phantsi said this was a strategic decision.

“We are not going to be doing just water, but water is most probably the easiest.

“When you look at the market, everyone wants to do mining, everyone wants to do gas, so we looked at the beverages industry.

“The big players in this industry are Refresh, Aquelle, Coca Cola and Tstitsikama as well… They are big players in Africa, so we saw a very big gap in this market. And… it is very rare to find a black person who has a beverages company.

“[We] said if we venture in this business, we will definitely have people who would be interested in buying,” he said.

When it comes to their personal life, the St John’s College students admit that there isn’t much left of it since business has started taking flight.

“The way we interact, we are just the brand. We have less of a personal life.

“As far as friends, he is my friend, I’m his friend so when we go to a personal space and talk of family matters, when he wants to open up he opens up to me and when I want to open up, I open up to him.

“We’ve lost all the friends we had from the primary school phase through to Grade 9 when we didn’t have the idea and the vision. But as soon as we got the vision, the friends we did have started to peel away.” 

Despite this, Phantsi says they have managed to keep their Grade 11 marks up which has allowed their families and parents to be supportive of the business.

“It is so fortunate that both our families were that open-minded. They did not do what most parents or most families do, forcing us to do something we don’t love. So they let us loose and told us ‘okay, if business is what you love, fine I am supporting you’. 

“And we are making the job easier because we are doing well at school as well.”

He said they were both very critical of how each partner used the hours they had in a day.

“We have got about 24 hours in a day. So I’d say between 1am to 6am we are sleeping, so from 7am to 3pm we are at school, and from 3pm to 7pm I’m studying, so what do I do with the rest of the hours? What do I do with the rest of the four to five hours?

“We are too critical in the way that we allocate our time,” Phantsu said.

“We just know that from 3pm to 7pm it is meetings, taking orders, sending and responding to emails, and then from 7pm we are at home and we are focusing on our books and then after that it is family time.

“So that’s how we do it, we should be realistic, we are not sitting the whole days busy with our books. We have our free time, but some choose to waste it.”

Read more on:    mthatha  |  youth  |  small business  |  good news

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