Nokwethu Khojane is the co-founder of Lakheni, a Cape Town-based company which has developed a platform that aggregates low-income households into buying groups, allowing them to benefit from reduced prices for everyday items.
Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
Fundraising. Raising funding for growth is really the hardest part. I think you’ve got to be more targeted about the doors that you knock on, as opposed to the spray and pray approach. When you are more targeted you tailor each request so that it aligns with that specific funder. I believe this is a much better strategy than to just send out countless proposals.
Which entrepreneurial achievement are you most proud of?
We were ecstatic when a customer pre-paid for an order for the first time because it meant the trust, which is very difficult to get, was growing. And remember, in this space, when someone gives you money upfront, it’s not like you and me giving money upfront. By the end of the month there is no food and money left, so if we don’t deliver, families don’t eat. It is that serious.
So when someone puts money in an account a week before, that is a big achievement for us. It means our customers trust our platform and trust that next week we are going to deliver the things that we said we were going to deliver.
Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I’m great at starting things and seeing the big picture. I’m not so great at the everyday admin stuff that businesses require. I underestimated how tedious the back-end tasks could be. But it has to be done. So now I choose a day in the week when I plug out – no email, no phone calls, nothing – and I do things like the HR time sheets, payroll and reports.
What popular entrepreneurial advice or conventional business wisdom do you disagree with?
I am actually nervous to say this, but it is around the popular advice that you should have a five-year business plan and work according to that blueprint. I disagree with this. Entrepreneurship is about doing and learning, and unlearning and doing. And it is messy. If I were able to do things so that they work out exactly as according to my business plan, I would go into a different industry – I would go into money management or the stock market, given my ability to predict things so perfectly. I don’t think enough people tell entrepreneurs how messy it is and that in 12 months your business plan will be meaningless.
I think a business plan is important in the sense that it helps people see that you’ve thought your idea through. But I often see people holding on too tightly to the business plan and missing opportunities to pivot, to learn from their failures, and to do things differently.
Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?
I am so glad I didn’t get many warnings. I was naive about how hard it is. I think if somebody had told me exactly what it was like, I would have said, “Oh, jeez, okay no thanks – I am going to go consult for Bain”. So ignorance has been bliss.
Name one business opportunity you would still like to pursue.
I think the possibilities with Lakheni are almost endless. We will be limited by our imagination, our team’s capabilities, and how much money we can raise or make.
For example, my dream for Lakheni is that it grows to a massive network of township businesses. I want to say to a bakery that makes 50 loaves of bread that we’ve created a platform that now allows it to bake 1,000 loaves and sell them locally. Similarly, those who farm in their back yard should be able to sell their produce to their neighbours over this platform that we’ve created.
Money needs to circulate much more in the townships than it currently does so that development can happen and jobs can be created. I’m still so excited about the potential of this business.
Khojane is a 2017 Innovation Prize for Africa finalist.