NMU student entrepreneur guns for success despite challenges

Zenzele Mkhize is making his mark in the world of business through his mobile stationery store

Zenzele Mkhize at his mobile stationery store at the Nelson Mandela University South Campus
Zenzele Mkhize at his mobile stationery store at the Nelson Mandela University South Campus
Image: Werner Hills

Part-time student and part-time business owner Zenzele Mkhize is already making his mark in the world of business, through his mobile stationery store, Mavovo Technologies.

Mkhize, who hails from KwaZulu-Natal, is studying towards a BCom degree in financial planning at Nelson Mandela University and said while he would not yet consider himself successful, he is doing everything he can to ensure Mavovo keeps growing.

Can you give me some background on yourself and how and when you started the business?

I originally started an online store in 2017, named DIY Enterprise. One year later, I changed the name to Mavovo Technologies where I now sell computer hardware and stationery on campus.

Where was the business idea born?

There were two businesses already on campus who were operating a similar kind of business. I just decided to join in. I noted that many people were complaining about prices so I saw the gap and started operating a month later.

What do you think makes your business unique?

So far, besides our affordable prices, it is our flexibility that gives us a competitive edge.

We are able to park our table anywhere there is foot traffic and start selling.

We have seen that fellow students want to see it grow and they are playing a huge role in making that happen.

If someone wanted to take one key lesson from your business model, what would it be?

The positioning of the business. It is the only thing to learn. Most of us want to come up with a finished product, and in my view that will delay any business. I put the idea into action every day and I try to position it so that the public becomes more accepting of it.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before even getting off the ground?

The biggest challenges I faced in getting the business off the ground was getting accreditation and to obtain funding.

What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day operations?

We are fairly new to having a physical store because for the past two years we have been operating an online store.

Our other challenges include: Setting up on time, meeting customer expectations and to be seen as a credible business and trusted brand.

We also want to keep increasing our product line.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about success?

I was told when planning I must be prepared also for the plan to fail and always go back to correct what went wrong in due time.

That is why I keep on working and building the business every day.

How do you measure or define success in your business?

We have not reached a point of success in the business as yet. In my view, being able to open the business every day is our only success.

We are sometimes not seen as a genuine entity due to our set-up, and yet we are able to fight and live another day.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

I think the business is sustainable at the moment. Successful is a big word, and I don’t think we are there just yet.

Changing the business model has kept us alive and we have grown slowly but surely. We have become more and more accepted as we introduce new products that are of interest to our customers.

What they don’t want or like, we remove. In our line of work, its the customer who dictates the terms and that is why we are able to keep going.

What kind of advertising do you do?

We mostly use social media. However we also use posters, flyers and get other people to help us do advertising through their own social networks.

Advertising is very expensive, so we have not yet reached the level where we can afford to pay for a newspaper advert.

What are some of your highlights in running your business?

The learning process has been amazing and the people involved – both friends and strangers – helping in growing the business.

How many people do you employ?

We are currently running two stalls. I employ two women and a friend of mine helps throughout the day to carry our various activities.

So in total, the four of us do all the work.

How do you motivate staff?

What we do is bigger than all of us and it can fail at anytime if we do not all do our best to make it work. I train them particularly on how to treat customer complaints.

How did you acquire funding for the business?

I have never been funded since the business started.

Once you had funding, what was the first step in actually launching the business?

The business started online, so people would make orders and pay online and would receive their product after a few days.

This helped me raise capital. I started out selling perfumes to keep the business going and to pay for online advertising.

We then signed a deal with a supplier and started posting more products online and encouraged people to purchase what they needed.

What is the biggest lesson you've learnt from your business journey so far?

I have learnt nothing is predictable in life. While the plan may be sold, it still needs to be tested. And thereafter, you will know if it is a winning or losing plan. This journey has been a roller coaster ride.

What has been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city such as Port Elizabeth?

I have had to face what most other businesspeople have had to face: a lack of funding, access to facilities and the threat of competing with big industry players.

The advantage of being in this city is that my fellow students can relate to me and my struggles.

Many of them also would like to venture into business. PE is also the only city where I have operated a business, so I cannot really compare it to anywhere else.

What do you think are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?

I am still learning myself and I think I still have long way to go for me to have a set of principles that governs my thinking.