When entrepreneur Selebogo Molefe, CEO and founder of Lifesgud Global Investments, realised he was not “connected” enough to tap into existing business networks, he started The Hookup Dinner to give other unconnected entrepreneurs the opportunity to build contacts and support networks.
“We began networking as two people, then it was eight, now it’s over 89 000 across six countries in Africa. We have one goal: to create a connected ecosystem for intra-SMME trade across Africa. We enjoy the process of discovering start-up phase entrepreneurs and growing with them into formidable industry players,” says Molefe.
We asked him some questions about his venture:
What did you do prior to starting your own business?
I started out in the informal sector as a hair stylist for two years, where I learnt a lot – eventually I came to love it.
I then moved into construction as a daka boy (construction site labourer) in my uncle’s company and worked my way up the chain.
Now, when I see some of the restaurants like News Cafe in Dainfern and Sandton, I’m reminded that my hands played a small role in the building of those spaces.
The corporate world then gave me a chance with a learnership, and I spent five years honing my skills and learning how to lead under the guidance of current Shell South Africa chairman Bonang Mohale at Drake & Scull International, a facilities management company. All of this prepared me for my journey in business full-time from 2009.
I founded my business, Lifesgud Global Investments, in 2004 selling beanbags, which brought comfort and a different feel to events.
Where did the idea for the Hookup Dinner (THUD) come from?
I struggled accessing networks because I was not “connected” to any influential people, so I decided to create a club that would connect unconnected guys like me with like-minded individuals who could contribute meaningfully to one another’s entrepreneurship journey.
The idea was also based on the notion of filling a void by helping entrepreneurs starting out not to feel lonely and give up when they could access a community of dreamers like them.
How did you make your first business transaction or get your first contract?
I connected with Octavius Phukubye (@mohloboloko) on Twitter who happened to be an Enterprise Development Specialist for the SAB Kickstart programme.
He got curious about what THUD was, and eventually he came and networked with a small group of passionate young individuals.
Octavius subsequently joined us as a guest rainmaker (speaker) the following month. We went on to form a two-year partnership with SAB Kickstart.
How did you get the funding to get started?
I have never received or applied for funding. My philosophy is that entrepreneurs don’t need funding as it is expensive; we need clients.
How has THUD grown over the years?
We are currently in six countries – SA, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Kenya and Tanzania. We are in all the provinces in SA and are currently implementing SAB Kickstart’s #StartupTruck recruitment drive into their enterprise development programme with their partners, including the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda), Durban Hub and others nationwide.
On average, we attract about 200 entrepreneurs to each networking event.
We have been running monthly since August 2012 and expanding into other cities as we go along. We have also developed sub-brands that speak to target audiences and needs, including THUDcampustours, THUDhackathons, THUDacademy, THUDbootcamps and THUDfest where we host annual festivals targeted at entrepreneurs across Africa.
Biggest lesson learnt?
The best way to stay in business is by focusing on building real, tangible relationships over the long term with people by showing that I care.
Specialising in a field by honing in on one or two core areas of service instead of diversifying has kept us in good stead when clients have to make tough calls on which supplier to work with.
I’ve learnt to focus. And business is built on trust – we focus on building that trust with our clients, partners and stakeholders.
What is the best businesss advice you’ve ever received?
My former boss, Bonang Mohale, always impressed two key things that made a lifelong impression on me: to strive to always produce embarrassingly good results and to always have your heart focused on people and your head focused on numbers.
What is your three-year goal for your company?
- Scaling our community reach through technology to build a network of 1m African start-ups;
- Dominating the media space through content creation and shared ownership of platforms that will act as a catalyst to launch and grow African start-ups, as well as expose them to wider audiences;
- Building our THUD academies into formidable players;
- Investing, by buying equity in five of the start-ups we’ve already developed, for the purposes of helping them to grow by leveraging our resources fully; and
- We want to be a R100m-turnover company by 2025 and that means making smart investments with great returns as well as getting strategic partners on board.
This is a shortened version of an article that originally appeared in the 25 August edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.