Tokologo Phetla

Founder, Black Industrialists and Commodore Media

Tokologo Phetla started his first business, Student Investor, with a few university friends, setting out to highlight the importance of financial awareness among young people.

A year later, he and his friends incorporated The Moneytree Group, a media, publishing and recruitment company that focuses on young professionals and provided services to the likes of Sanlam, Ernst & Young, the departments of science and technology and telecommunications and postal services.

Having sold his interests in The Moneytree Group, Tokologo founded Black Industrialists, which was established to be an innovation leader in African business with a focus on agriculture, agro-processing and developing informal markets. “We seek to develop informal markets across Africa in farming and trade, as they represent billions of rands’ worth of untapped potential,” says Phetla.

With a new publishing venture called Commodore Media under his wing too, he is clearly determined to make a success of building new businesses. Commodore holds a contract with the South African National Taxi Council to produce a publication that communicates positive stories about the South African taxi industry and all its related stakeholders, aiming to change negative perceptions about the industry.

“In my experience, one of the secrets to success in starting a new business is to do it with people who add value to your personal and professional life, people who uplift you and challenge you to be better,” he says.

Another key skill is to understand the life cycle of your business, and whether it’s about to soar or go bust. “Sometimes, as young entrepreneurs, we simply build unsustainable business models, and no matter how hard you push and work toward realising success in that business, it will never happen because the model is simply unsustainable or un-scalable.

“It takes some entrepreneurial maturity to discern whether the business you are working on simply needs more time or work or effort to succeed, or whether it is actually a purely a bad idea that you should just walk away from.”

He loves the unique sense of achievement and thrill that comes when things go as planned, as well as the entrepreneur’s freedom to exercise his or her own vision without any inhibitions.

“There are challenges too,” he says. “Access to seed finance is often difficult, and cash flow is a struggle from time to time. You’ve also got to constantly adapt to new dynamics, and reinvent yourself to respond to changing business environments.” — Kerry Haggard