LEARNING CURVE | Fixing broken things helped Mabongo become successful entrepreneur
His love for fixing broken things as a teenager led Ntobeko Mabongo, 32, to be the successful entrepreneur he is today.
The Mthatha-born electrician, CEO of Golden Bulb Electrical and a qualified electrical engineer, believes a successful employer is someone who takes good care of their employees, paying them on time and giving them performance bonuses.
“Taking good care of your employees and delivering on your promises is very important to me,” Mabongo said.
Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started?
During my teenage years I liked fixing broken things at home — specifically electrical appliances.
I had no idea what I was doing or what I was looking for, but I kept on opening up irons, kettles, plugs and so on to try to fix them.
Some I managed to fix, others I caused more damage to, but that is where my love for electrical engineering started.
I went on to get my diploma in electrical engineering (heavy current) from Nelson Mandela University and then worked at a parastatal for three years.
Because I wasn’t really working in the electrical engineering field at my job, I resigned to start my own business in my hometown, and make money while doing something I enjoyed and was passionate about.
Golden Bulb Electrical started operating in June 2015 and I got my installation wireman’s licence in 2017.
With the limited experience I had at that time, potential clients didn’t take me seriously, so I decided to relocate to Port Elizabeth as there were more opportunities.
What is your core service?
Our core services are electrical maintenance and new electrical installation for domestic or commercial and industrial properties.
What makes your business unique?
We are busy developing an innovative overload protection device which we plan to offer as a product alongside our core services.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?
At first, the limited experience I had at that time meant potential clients didn’t take me seriously.
Once I started getting more work, I experienced challenges with employees such as absenteeism on Mondays and over weekends when we were required to work overtime.
I could not afford to employ qualified personnel in the beginning, so I had to be on site Monday to Friday, supervising the work and ensuring my company built a good reputation with existing clients.
This meant I struggled to find the time to push for more sales, leaving me without work for three to six months at a time after each project was finished.
As the company grew and I got more experienced employees and earned the trust of my clients; I got to leave the site more and began pushing sales and building systems to help my business grow.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?
My advice to any aspiring entrepreneur is to get to know yourself better; know your strengths and weaknesses.
Also go into something you are passionate about and that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life.
If your business can align with what you are good at, it will help you through the tough times that all entrepreneurs go through.
Also, remember you have no business without sales, so keep pushing those sales.
What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?
While on the Volkswagen business development programme with Raizcorp in 2016, I was given two important pieces of advice that will continuously help me and my business achieve success: I can achieve any target I set for myself; and money is only the end result of what the business does — your focus should be on why you exist and why you do what you do.
How do you measure or define success in your business?
I measure my business by the annual turnover, the profit made each year and assets the business acquired each year.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
Joining a business development programme was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself and my business.
In 2016, I contacted the Volkswagen Business Support Centre in Uitenhage, which is run by Raizcorp, and successfully applied for the Volkswagen business development programme.
While being on the programme my business has grown a lot.
Between 2017 and 2019, the company has quadrupled its sales.
Our employees have grown from three contract workers to 15, with one permanent employee, and we have successfully completed the biggest contract we have ever worked on.
What kind of advertising do you do?
I use my company profile and do direct marketing with the clients I want to work with.
And because I ensure that I do a good job when I get the work, I get more clients from word-of-mouth from my current clients.
I also use Facebook and our website for advertising.
What is your company’s vision?
To be one of the leading electrical contracting companies in the industry through innovative products and services that improve safety and consumption of energy for all our clients.
What is your target market?
Residential, commercial and industrial properties for both the private and public sector.
What have some of the highlights been in running your business?
Successfully completing the biggest contract the business ever had on time as per specifications; purchasing assets that increase the value of the business; and successfully filing a patent for the overload protection device.
How important is social media and an online presence for your business?
Online presence is important for my business as some of our new clients we get from social media and through our website. Our clients get a lot of information from our website about the company and previous work done.
How many people do you employ?
I have employed up to 15 people to date and am planning on increasing to 30 employees this year — 15 employees for the contracting department and 15 for the manufacturing department.
Do you have any plans for expanding the business and how would you go about this?
I am working on a new product and when its commercialised the company will have to rent a warehouse where assembling of the product will take place; we’ll have to employ a minimum of 15 people to run that department.
Depending on how well the product sells we will be expanding to other locations.
How did you acquire funding for the business?
I have been self-funding the business and haven’t received any funding yet. In 2018, I did get a grant from Nyda for purchasing tools and equipment to help grow my business, which helped a lot in the growth of the business.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?
How important it is to get comfortable at being uncomfortable.
In business there are a lot of ups and downs — even when things are written in black and white they can still change, for example losing work you were sure you had in the bag.
I learnt very quickly that this will be an uncomfortable journey and that I need to get used to it, and learn to adapt fast for me and my business to survive.
It’s rough out here.
What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like Port Elizabeth?
PE is a small town when it comes to business; people know each other and news travels fast.
One of the advantages is if you create good relationships with your clients, and you ensure you produce a good quality end product, you will have a good reputation which will bring in more work.
The challenge is some of the construction companies and in private sector already have electrical contractors they have relationships with and have been working with them for years, so penetrating into that market is tough.
What in your view are key traits of a successful entrepreneur?
Passion for your business; perseverance which helps entrepreneurs get through the tough times; and hard work, which always pays off.
What in your view are key traits of a successful employer?
Delivering on your promises and keeping your clients happy by providing a good service and quality products.
Constantly investing a portion of your profits back into your business.
What do you wish people knew about your industry?
It’s not an easy industry to work in. Safety is very important, and it’s important that you know what you are doing and do it as per specification or regulations, because lives may be lost if the installations are not done properly.
You will be held accountable when working with electrical installations.