Lethabo Mokone: entrepreneurship runs in the family

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The CEO believes local IT entrepreneurs should bring products to the global stage.

Makwa IT is the brainchild of young and ambitious entrepreneur Lethabo Mokone, founder and CEO of Makwa IT. The name Makwa is actually a clan name, and Lethabo’s second name, which he inherited from his grandfather, who in turn inherited from his grandfather.

‘Makwa wa go botšwa di taba” means “The one who listens”, and traditionally this would be a name bestowed on a king or community leader.

Lethabo was born into a family of entrepreneurs; his parents are both entrepreneurs and have been running their own businesses since the early ’90s. “Our family business started off quite small, selling from the kitchen and was essentially what is commonly known as a spaza shop, which at its peak, became a big beverage distribution house,” he says.

“My mother was an ambitious entrepreneur, while my father was a hardcore disciplinarian. So, I would say that I inherited the entrepreneurial gene from my mother, and my discipline and leadership skills from my father – a perfect blend for business.”

Lethabo grew up in Atteridgeville, a township located to the west of Pretoria, where his family’s spaza shop was located. The shop was positioned behind their home, and as the area was undergoing serious development, the shop was in a prime location. In fact, it was the only convenience store in the area for some time.

“I am the first-born of three boys in our household and as such, I was the first one to be selected to get involved in the family business due to being older than my siblings. But they followed suit as they became older,” he explains. “I did everything you could imagine in the business, from cleaning the floors, packing the shelves to working at the tills, and would often accompany my parents to buy stock. When we became a beverage distributor, I did a lot of physical work, pushing the trolley, loading, and off-loading the trucks with beverages as we did not have a forklift – I am talking hundreds of cases a day”

Lethabo was in high school when he stuck his hands in the family business, but eventually had to step away from it, to further his studies at college. However, he felt unengaged and left after a year.

But his introduction to computers slightly dates back to the early 2000s, when he got his first PC. “I was one of the lucky few among my friends who had a computer around that time, and I was so intrigued by it, to the extent that I would always fidget with the tower box, just to see what’s inside, how it worked and how can I enhance the performance of my PC.”

His interest and fascination with computers remained and at a later stage, Lethabo wanted to move away from informal business and explore the corporate world. It was by chance and through his network that he ultimately decided to enter the IT industry.

“I tapped into the knowledge that the people around me had about corporate and fortunately some of those individuals were IT engineers. They worked in corporate, but had no business background, so I pitched an idea to start an IT company, where they would bring in the technical expertise, and I would bring in the business know-how and run operations,” Lethabo explains. And so, he registered Makwa IT and positioned it as an IT Security service provider.

“The business began to grow, and we secured our first deal, which was a significant milestone for us, but at the same time created a few challenges among the business partners,” he says. “We all had our own financial commitments, which created differences of opinion in terms of how the profit from our first contract would be distributed,” he continues.

“We secured our second lucrative deal, selling Websense – security product, but this also added to our accounting differences. At the end, we decided to part ways as partners.”

This was a double blow for Lethabo, he not only lost business partners, but he also lost his technical team, and this instability manifested into other financial woes. However, Lethabo never gave up, and instead wanted to get the business back on track.

“I started observing and studying what the big Five IT companies were doing and I realised that they offered more services, which meant I had to start understanding the OEM partner space. I then rewrote my company profile, and added more solutions,” he explains.

Why Makwa IT

Through Lethabo’s innovative thinking, he has positioned Makwa IT as the youngest and fastest growing technology system integrator company in South Africa. Over and above this, Makwa is a purpose-driven business.

“Our purpose is to drive a new era of technology transformation, an era that will create meaningful jobs and make a positive impact on the people of this great continent,” says Lethabo.

“Procurement compliance is a differentiator and linked to the development objectives of the country, and not just social washing. We also work on the principle of shared value, and we want you to work with us for the value we bring to your organisation as opposed to being seen as merely a B-BBEE compliant supplier, and client testimonials speak for themselves.”

Makwa also has an open book pricing policy and prides itself for being transparent with its customers. It possesses the highest OEM accreditations, OEM Partner statuses and invests all its profit back into growing the business, with a specific focus on R&D, job creation and innovation.

According to Lethabo, Africa presents the largest opportunity and a battleground for the world superpowers such as China and the US. These countries have unlimited spend to build infrastructure across Africa and expand their footprint. But Lethabo is passionate about fostering innovation, skills development and locally built products that will leave the profits in African pockets.

“Makwa is laser-focused on building solutions, hardware and software that are homegrown, developed or manufactured by our people to contribute towards our overall development goals,” he concludes.

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