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Sifiso's story on... immersing yourself into the unknown

“I enjoy the space to be innovative, to try new things without the red tape.  To work in a culture that I have created.  Family is very important to me, and I have given myself the flexibility of time in how I balance it both personally and professionally.”

For Sifiso, starting a tech enabled start-up wasn't something she planned, she kind of fell into it when she pursued an MBA and had to present a business idea as a requirement for one of her modules. She identified a gap close to home: it always bothered Sifiso that she could never find fun, stimulating, online content for her daughter in her home language.  Since she only had access to English content, this was affecting her home language proficiency so Sifiso decided to explore a solution. 


After some extensive research she realised that the idea had the potential to become a ‘real’ business.  Sifiso and her co-founder Sphumelele met at business school and together they developed an exciting app for children which provides for the learning of indigenous languages through storytelling, animation, music, and games. Their aim is to help children have fun while learning and playing in their home language, as well as providing the opportunity to learn other languages.

 

Sifiso advises Founders who enter a space that they are not all too familiar with, to immerse themselves early on into what may seem to be uncomfortable environments, to really understand the context in which they will be operating, so better business planning can ensue.  For her, this was the creative world of animation which was key to her business idea reaching fruition. 

“I am not creative and I underestimated what goes into creating animated characters, videos, and the like.  It has been a huge learning curve. I am very much a structured thinker and working in the creative realm requires me to change that a bit as it is a space that functions quite differently. It has certainly taught me how to be more flexible in my approach to the business.”

Sifiso mentions a common challenge many Founders experience, especially in the earlier years, having to be a jack of all trades.  As it is unlikely that one can afford to outsource or delegate in the early days of business creation, handling sales, admin, operations, marketing and so on, can often take away from focussing more strategically on the business. To overcome this, she advises us to really plan our time more purposefully and to make the time to look at our business strategically - not just fall into everyday execution.


Business development remains a key focus area not to be ignored and is almost always not as easy as initially thought, remaining another key challenge for many Founders. She further talks about the misconception around the vast entrepreneurial programs available, many of which are useful in teaching, and in creating connections amongst peers. We must however, not forget that Founders are also in need of the practical inputs in running a business, like access to markets and the opening of doors on a more practical level. 

“Founders not only need funding to scale, we’d also prefer access to markets and opportunities that will enable us to generate revenue instead of relying solely on funding to extend our runway.”

Sifiso believes her partnership with her co-founder is how she has remained inspired along the way to get to where they are today. She is not certain as to whether she would have coped as well on her own because they have come together and supported one another in the gloomiest of times, balancing each other out to remain steadfast in their vision.  This does not come without finding motivation within oneself and protecting one’s mental health, allowing ourselves to have those ‘off’ days, appreciating the value in stepping away from the business in order to step back in with a refreshed perspective and zest to keep going. 

“Celebrate the little wins no matter how small.  Celebrate one another and encourage one another to keep going.  The entrepreneurial journey has been a real test of perseverance, requiring resilience until the breakthrough comes”. 

Sifiso cannot see herself going back to her old corporate life because of her deep love for what she is doing: giving African children stories where they can see themselves in, content that they can relate to, and creating a hype amongst young children that it is cool to speak an African language and be multilingual, it is cool to be African!  They have built so much more than an education app. 


Sifiso’s advice to those about to embark on the entrepreneurial journey, is that introspection can be extremely valuable, be honest with yourself about whether you have the stamina to pursue it and the resilience needed to endure the time it takes for your idea to come to fruition. Most importantly, make sure you are able to monetise your idea.  Entrepreneurship requires you to step out of the shadows and into the forefront, and this CAN be learnt. Thank you Sifiso for being testament to this and for inspiring us to dare to step up!


“Solving niche challenges Founders face”.


Illustrator: Lisa Williams (Instagram: @artist_llw)


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