The Clowdy founder shares how he went from Tembisa to tech.
Mongezi Masombuka, or Mongi as he is affectionately known, has carved a remarkable path from the unassuming streets of Tembisa to the forefront of the tech industry. His early years were anchored in the comforting embrace of his grandmother, who played a pivotal role in shaping his life.
“I was born and raised in Tembisa, and for most parts of my life, I lived with my grandmother, who was my rock and guardian,” he fondly recalls.
Life was not without its challenges. Mongezi’s mother passed away when he was just four months old, and his grandmother stepped in to provide him with a stable and loving upbringing until he was nine.
His journey was marked by another significant revelation – a diagnosis of ADD, now known as ADHD. “It’s essentially a difficulty in maintaining attention for long periods, a challenge I continue to grapple with to this day. It’s a testament to my inability to focus on a single pursuit, which is why I find myself founding new companies nearly every year,” he says.
Mongezi’s childhood was spent shuttling between Tembisa and Ivory Park, a neighbouring area. He describes his upbringing as tumultuous, shaped by his inquisitive nature and a hint of mischief. “I was quite the inquisitive child, very naughty,” he admits with a smile. At the tender age of seven, he discovered a passion for colouring books. “That’s where I think I’ve always been a creative child. I used to finish colouring books, demonstrating my fascination with colours and the act of creating.”
After matriculating, Mongezi faced a financial hurdle that many students encounter – the challenge of securing funding for university. As a result, he took a gap year. During this period, the spark of entrepreneurship ignited within him. “I was bored and drawn to reading, which was a passion I had retained from childhood. I gathered some friends who were already enrolled in university, and we started a tutoring venture. We tutored in maths, science, and accounting, with me focusing on maths. We tutored students from grade 10 to 12,” he shares.
Mongezi enrolled at the University of Pretoria for accounting sciences. However, he admits that the decision was more of a compromise than a passionate pursuit. “I enrolled in accounting because I was indecisive about my career path. I had diverse interests and abilities, making it challenging to narrow down my focus,” he confesses.
The boredom of formal education
Mongezi found formal higher education to be uninspiring. The daily commute from Tembisa to the university proved gruelling, and adversely affected his grades. He recalls, “I wasn’t reaching my full potential due to these constraints.” The combination of financial limitations and the drudgery of formal education led to a pivotal decision.
Mongezi’s departure from formal education was a turning point in his life, setting him on a unique trajectory. He candidly shares, “I detested formal higher education. I couldn’t afford a phone or a laptop, making it difficult to access necessary resources. Meanwhile, my fellow students had MacBooks and drove to school. They had access to ample resources, while I had to make do with limited means. I even remember having amaskopas [popcorn] for lunch because I couldn’t afford more.”
The leap of entrepreneurship
Determined to chart his own course, Mongezi launched into entrepreneurship with the ambition of becoming the next tech mogul. “I thought I could be the next Zuckerberg, especially during the era when apps were the big thing,” he reminisces. Despite his lack of IT background, he embarked on a venture called Mohiri, which aimed to connect landlords with tenants in township areas.
The road was fraught with challenges. Mongezi lacked coding skills and technical expertise, making it difficult to realise his vision. He partnered with individuals who, like him, possessed diplomas in accounting. “We were both from a commercial background and had minimal technical know-how,” he says. They joined forces with other partners, but the project was plagued by technical limitations, resource constraints, and financial challenges. "Money started running out, and the project ultimately went bust,” Mongezi acknowledges.
However, Mohiri was not a complete failure. It was during this time that Mongezi gained his first real taste of business and the intricacies of launching and managing a venture. He learned the valuable lesson that entrepreneurship is far from the glamourised Hollywood or Silicon Valley portrayal. “I thought it was like in the movies, where you have a groundbreaking idea, draft a business plan, and an investor magically appears with a million dollars,” he says with a rueful smile. “But I had a rude awakening early in my career.”
Mongezi was only 22 or 23 years old at the time, and the experience broadened his perspective on entrepreneurship. He acknowledges, “It was a rude awakening to the reality of entrepreneurship. It wasn’t the fairytale journey I had envisioned. It taught me the importance of resilience and adaptability.”
As he explored the world of business, Mongezi couldn’t suppress his creative drive. In 2018, UDARKIE was born, a venture that initially began as a side hustle centred on customised T-shirts. It all began with a single T-shirt design that generated significant attention, sparking the idea for UDARKIE. Reflecting on this period, Mongezi shares, “The journey with UDARKIE was a testament to the power of creative expression. What began with a single T-shirt design evolved into a thriving business. It reinforced my belief that passion and dedication can transform a small endeavour into a thriving enterprise.”
UDARKIE flourished and contributed to Mongezi’s evolving entrepreneurial journey. It wasn’t just about selling T-shirts; it was about embracing creativity and using it as a gateway to entrepreneurship.
His next enterprise, Clowdy, initially started as a technical support company, but it has transformed into a full-fledged cloud and business solutions provider, specialising in Cloud and BI.
Mongezi’s journey with Clowdy saw the establishment of significant partnerships, notably with Rain, a pioneering South African telecommunications company. Building these alliances was no small feat.
I wasn’t just an ordinary Rain user; I was a Rain client who became deeply invested in enhancing my connectivity. I recognised the need to assist people who grappled with configuring their Rain routers, especially those who weren’t tech-savvy. While Rain marketed their service as ‘plug and play’, it was far from straightforward. Many individuals required hands-on guidance to navigate the intricacies of the system.
In my pursuit, I stumbled upon the social media profile of a key figure within the company: Michael Jordaan. I decided to take a chance and sent him a direct message. I probably sent 20 emails and 30 direct messages, often being met with silence or redirection to different departments. “To my amazement, he responded, and our conversation eventually led to a pivotal breakthrough. Unable to divulge much due to his shareholder status, he graciously connected me with the CTO at the time.” All in all, it took six months just to secure a meeting with Rain.
Mongezi’s unwavering persistence played a pivotal role in achieving his goal. “I just never gave up. While I was pursuing that meeting, I was also actively servicing Rain’s clients,” he recounts. This determination and hands-on experience caught the attention of Rain, ultimately leading to fruitful collaboration.
His journey, from a challenging start in Tembisa to becoming a successful tech entrepreneur, serves as a testament to the potential within each individual to transcend adversity and construct a brighter future.