LEARNING CURVE | Ncholu committed to being counted in the oceans sector
A commitment to taking up space in the marine sector led Daniel Ncholu not to give up. Struggling to enter the sector only pushed the 65-year-old to achieve his goals.
The owner of Alliance Launch Services has gone against all odds to succeed in the maritime industry.
Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started?
Living in Bluewater Bay I was influenced by the bunkering activities in Algoa Bay. I was invited to a bunkering stakeholder’s meeting hosted by SAMSA. One of the items was transformation and the opportunities that were available in the industry to facilitate entry to the previously marginalised community in Nelson Mandela Bay.
I found a willing partner in Godfrey Needham of Offshore Marine Services (OMS) and was under his tutelage for some years.
We decided to form a 100% black-owned special purpose vehicle to operate in Port Elizabeth under Alliance Launch Services.
What is your core service?
The primary business is operating utility vessels out of Port Elizabeth harbour, where we carry a wide range of items and, prior to the lockdown, ship crew members leaving on vacation or seafarers joining their ship. We also take repair technicians or surveyors to passing ships to conduct inspections or repairs.
We run a 24-hour operation, capable of conducting services in daylight and at night.
What makes your business unique?
Ships maintain a stringent timeline and cannot wait for days for the weather to improve. Therefore, we own and operate a unique fleet of purpose-built, robust, industrial-strength service vessels.
All our vessels are equipped with high power inboard robust diesel engines, crucially designed as reliable propulsion engines for work vessels.
If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?
One can only start by partnering with an existing player as the costs are prohibitive. These vessels are purpose-built, so cannot be bought “off the shelf”. You need essential knowledge and experience as this is a specialist industry.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced?
It was difficult to get in as the existing operators were too busy to show us what to do. Finding the right partner to get us started was our most difficult task.
Obtaining funding for a start-up business is also challenging. We had to be creative in setting up a funding model to make our venture come to life.
Obtaining clients was difficult as the pool of clients is small in Port Elizabeth.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?
Make sure you do your homework. Be sure that you are prepared to work the crazy hours required.
What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations?
You are only as good as your last performance. No-one remembers the 100 successful engagements – only that one where you didn’t get it right. Keeping the operational successes at 100% is a never-ending task.
Ships do not understand delays. There can be no excuses keeping a large tanker waiting because the launch is late.
What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?
Associate with successful people. Know what you are doing and how to do it properly.
How do you measure success in your business?
Success is assured when we earn more than we spend.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
Having the best vessels, then empowering the best staff to follow the best practices. Cutting corners and doing deals that cannot stand scrutiny are not permitted.
What is your company’s vision?
Our vision is to be counted as one of the prominent Off Port Limits (OPL) Launch Services in South Africa – by 2025.
What is your target market?
Our clients are almost always ship’s agents. Without their support, we cannot operate.
What have some of your highlights been in running your business?
Learning about life and business in the diverse commercial world of the marine industry. The urgency, necessary attention to detail and interacting with many different parties has been exciting.
How important is social media and an online presence for your business?
Social media is the new way of doing business. We are building a website, but utilise WhatsApp and other platforms regularly.
How many people do you employ?
Our team comprises 17 people.
How did you acquire funding for the business?
We devised an in-house solution which we took it to our potential partners. They signed up without hesitation.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?
When we realised no-one was going to give us anything, we regrouped and become far more strategic.
What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?
We have enjoyed strong support from SAMSA. Using the recently launched bunkering service to ships calling in Algoa Bay as a catalyst, SAMSA created the monthly stakeholders forum in Coega Harbour, encouraging this strong interaction and business incubator.
What do you say are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?
Vision, determination and innovation.
What do you say are the key traits of a successful employer?
Empathy, sharing the vision, showing your employers that you will work as hard, and long, as you expect them to.
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