Luvuyo Rani – “What business has taught me…….”

WORK LIFE ‘What I learnt in  business’

The eldest of four boys, LUVUYO RANI (41) was born in the Eastern Cape and educated at Kwa-Komani High School in Queenstown. After a short career in teaching, he went into business with his brother to create Silulo Ulutho Technologies, a company servicing the burgeoning internet needs of township communities. From humble beginnings, the business has grown exponentially, garnering Luvuyo numerous local and international awards. In 2014, he was named one of the Top 10 Outstanding Young Persons of the World by the prestigious NGO Junior Chamber International, and recently picked up a coveted award for social entrepreneurship from the World Economic Forum. Luvuyo, who lives with his wife Zanele in Cape Town, tells BRONWEN BOWMER his story…

‘Business is exciting,’ says internet whizz Luvuyo, who worked his way out of poverty.

’My father worked as a nurse, but his passion was rugby. He was one of the best, people said. Much to his dismay, I was much more into Latin American dancing. My mother was a domestic worker who also ran a shebeen from our sitting room. I now realise my journey of entrepreneurship began with her. More than anything, I learnt resilience. Black entrepreneurs weren’t free then [during apartheid], so there were many raids and my mother was often arrested. But she kept going. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it weren’t for those difficult years.

In 1991, my mother started going to the Pentecostal church in Queenstown. After that there was much more hope in our family. We became a family that believes God has a plan for us. To start with, I just went along with her, but then felt in my spirit this was something I needed to be involved in. We came from poverty, but our foundation was strong so we were able to survive. I was a good boy, disciplined and well dressed. As the first-born, I was involved with family affairs and soon realised that I could combat poverty through education. So in 1994 I passed grade 12 very well, with a university exemption.

My father didn’t have much, but gave me R500 for my bus ticket to go and study in Cape Town. I wanted to study political science, but the University of the Western Cape was so busy with protests that I couldn’t get into that department. Instead, I completed a bridging course in commerce, accounting and economics at Cape Tech that led to a BTech in Education. My teachers saw I was smart and offered me assistant jobs that helped pay for my studies. This was incredibly helpful as my father tragically died in an accident around this time. I studied by day and worked at night, including a job at the V&A Waterfront providing information. I had to wear this long shirt, shorts and takkies [sports shoes], and girls used to come up and laugh at me!

‘the bug had bitten’

Not long after graduating, I applied for a teaching post in Khayelitsha township and went there to teach accounting, business economics and entrepreneurship. I taught for three years and it was one of the best times of my life. Then a cousin of mine started selling vetkoek [fried buns] outside the school gates and at break time, I would go and help her. I got into trouble with the principal, but the entrepreneurial bug had bitten. After work, my youngest brother Lonwabo and I had long discussions about what we could do to make more money. We considered all sorts of options, from township tours to phone services and even sold diapers at one stage, but our stock was stolen so we gave that up.

In 2004, I resigned as a teacher to sell refurbished computers with Lonwabo. He had a paid job fixing phones, so he borrowed R10 000 from the bank and bought four refurbished computers. We sold these out of the boot of my Corsa Lite to Khayelitsha teachers who needed them for the admin generated by the new outcome-based education. People thought I was crazy to quit my job, but we persisted, getting groups of six teachers together in stokvels [savings clubs] to buy a computer a month. Our profit was R400 per computer. But it cost us to have the computers repaired or serviced, so we invited our friend Sigqibo Phangabantu to take care of that side of things.

The name of our company, Silulo, comes from the first syllables of each of our three names.
Soon we saw the computers standing unused in the teachers’ homes! We realised that if the teachers came to us, we could teach them to use them. In 2006 we opened an internet café, convincing a tenant at Khayelitsha Mall to rent out part of his phone shop to us. Our supplier loaned us 10 computers and we planned to repay R10 000 monthly until we had paid off the computers. The first month, we made R250 and our expenses were R12 000! Our cheques were bouncing and people were angry with us, but we knew this was a great opportunity and refused to give up. People were coming into the shop, asking for assistance with their CVs and other simple computer issues: in those days, many didn’t know the difference between fax and email. We realised the need for training in the ICT sector was great, and started courses for the whole community.
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