From Tenderpreneur to Entrepreneur, NUL Trained Businessman has a Grip on Soft Drink Business

Originally Published by NUL Research and Innovations


Sechaba Makhetha, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) trained entrepreneur is the mastermind behind the famous Phola products. It is the local brand invading soft drink markets.

He has four products in the market currently. His thirst-quenching ice-guava is the newest. His purified bottled water refreshes like nothing you have put to test. His nectar-based juice is a repertoire of ten delicious flavours, you just choose. His 100% fruit juice is an array of five fine flavours that keeps you craving more.

As a government employee, he had an opportunity to become a perdiemprenuer, he rejected it. He later ventured into tenderpreneurship and he rejected it. He is now running an ever-growing soft drink business as an entrepreneur.

He loves business. He smiles as he says this, “business is simple—but we fail because we want to complicate it.” That pretty much summarises his attitude towards business.

But the secret is not in that business is simple. The secret is in how you get to that simplicity.

“When you get into business, you will soon realise it is not about you driving your own Mercedes Benz. Of course you may end with a Benz, but that’s not the point. The point is, on your way to simplicity, there is sweat and tears,” he said.

Here is why.

If you are educated, you are going to have to put up with your friends saying funny things like, “why be so hard on yourself? (u its’otlela’ng u rutehile?),” he said. “Some (with good intentions) have said things like that to me as I was loading tons of boxes into a truck.”

So, some of these folks confuse hard work for “being hard on yourself.”

Then you’ve got to learn to be persistent and patient. “Sometimes the business just ain’t making business,” he said. “You are like, what’s all this for?” Say after trying to convince 20 potential clients, you have just managed to get only 5 of them buying your products.

If you quit, and if you don’t want to be rejected, you will disappoint the clients you already have, hence the saying, “Basotho are not trustworthy in business.” “There were times,” he said, “when I had to spend three months convincing just one potential buyer to provide shelve space for my products.”

“In some cases, I had to learn to be patient if when I was unloading, a Denmar truck came by and I was told to wait for it to unload first. I would wait. Now I no longer wait. That’s because Denmar truck now has to wait if they find me unloading.”

So what is simple about all these pains? When you learn to persist, you are going to discover simpler ways to run business.

He used to buy stickers for quite a fortune in South Africa. Now he gets them for a fraction of the amount right here in Lesotho. Once he spotted an automated M50, 000 ice-guava machine. But he ended up paying for a cheaper hand-operated M10, 000 version. And now he has just made his own machine with a negligible amount of money.

“With time,” he says, “you tend to learn that it’s not the complex that works. It’s the simple.”

But he has not always been thinking this way. After he graduated from NUL, he plunged into the nuts and bolts of Lesotho’s public service. Like many of his peers in those days, finding a job was no headache.

Later, he thought about going into business and he thought about the easiest route there. He would become a tenderprenuer. Looking back, this is how he thinks about his decision, “I have been told that there are two ways to get into business. You can be there to make money (tenderprenuer) or you can be there to make business (entrepreneur).”

You are more likely to go far in business when you are an entrepreneur. That is because in entrepreneurship, you invest. You invest, not necessarily, and not only, your money but your time and your efforts.

In fact, it’s like you are using time and effort to pay for school fees in a college that is called entrepreneurship. The college that will teach you many, many things.

But when you are a tenderprenuer, you don’t invest that much. So when things don’t go right, you quit. You have nothing to loose.

As a government employee, he said he could have as well been another –prenuer; perdiemprenuer. “But I tell you, I have only been on an airplane once and I am so thankful it was just once.”

Had he been fully initiated into the indulgences, the thrills and the comforts of perdiemprenuership, where you make money by rummaging through talkshops from Cape to Cairo, he thinks he wouldn’t have learned to be a hustler he is today.