The life of an entrepreneur might sound glamorous when you’re on the outside looking in. But with more experience, the perception of entrepreneurship keeps changing. We had a chat with Tumelo Mokoena and he was open to share about his personal experiences in his entrepreneurship journey.
SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS AND BACKGROUND
My name is Tumelo Mokoena, I’m 29 years old, a second born in a family of 5 boys, only boys. I graduated from the National University of Lesotho in September of 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics. I started my t-shirt printing business (Graphite Ink) right out of varsity. I bought my first ever suit, for my graduation, using the money I made from printing t-shirts during the 2012/13 academic year.
I started the Graphite Ink as a means to make a living because I had already made up my mind even before graduating that I did not want to be employed at all. Initially, the idea was to print t-shirts for individuals and small groups with affordable prices; but now we are able to print even for big corporations.
WHAT WAS YOUR KEY DRIVING FORCE TO BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR?
I have heard people say that true entrepreneurs are born, not made, and I absolutely agree with that. I was born an entrepreneur. From a very young age I could see opportunities where others couldn’t.
I have an intrinsic ability to see an opportunity in the midst of chaos, an urge to solve any problem that I come across. This is what has driven from as far back as I can remember (probably from the first day I came into this world..lol).
HOW DO YOU MARKET YOUR BUSINESS AND WHICH TACTICS HAVE BEEN MOST SUCCESSFUL?
We primarily use social media. I am however, aware that about 40% of the work we do is a result of referrals from our clients. We used posters and flyers not more than 5 times in all the years that we have been in business, and there isn’t much we got out of that.
WHAT KIND OF CULTURE EXISTS IN YOUR COMPANY, AND HOW DID YOU ESTABLISH IT?
The first thing that I made clear from the very first employee I had, was that I do not want the “master-servant” relationship. We have a rather relaxed family-like relationship and yet when it comes to work, each one is expected to do their very best.
In terms of clients, we do everything in the best interest of the client. This does not mean we blindly design or print whatever our clients want even when we can see it is not the best product, we always take time to advise our clients on what could be the best final product. As a result, best designs and quality products are what set graphite ink apart.
HOW DO YOU GENERATE NEW IDEAS?
Our ideas are mostly influenced by our clients and social media trends. We are always listening to what our clients are saying, what they expect to find in our shop and we bring their ideas to life.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST FEAR AND HOW DO MANAGE FEAR?
I am afraid of dying having not fully lived. I believe I am on this earth for a purpose, and that is to serve the world with the gift God has given me. I do not think there is a better way to manage my fear, other the courage to co-exist with it as I live each moment like its my last.AND I can not say that is what I am doing at the moment, but I am trying my best to live my life according to the plan of God for my life.
DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS SOME SORT OF A PATTERN OR FORMULA TO BECOMING A SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEUR?
Yes. Every true entrepreneur knows that the way into entrepreneurship is through problems. The starting point to becoming a successful entrepreneur is, therefore, to identify a problem that is very close to your heart and then go against it with all your strength. An entrepreneur is successful when they have solved a problem. I believe it is as simple as that.
IF YOUR HAD A CHANCE TO START YOUR CAREER OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
Having been in business for as long as I have, I have made so many mistakes (which I learnt from) which led me to take a longer route to get to the place I am at this point in my life. I wish I had gone to business school to get a clear understanding of how business works. Again,I wish I could have worked for someone or a corporation dealing with things that are of interest to me before going solo. This would have enabled me to learn first hand from the people who have walked this journey before me.
IF YOU WERE TO WRITE A BOOK ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY, WHAT WOULD YOU NAME IT?
It’s NOT What You Think.
Entrepreneurship is not like maths where 1+1=2 all the time. 99.99% of the time things do not go as one anticipates. You will fail your clients, you will loose money, a lot of money, there will be times when you have no money to pay your employees, let alone pay rent. You will go around knocking on doors that will be shut closed on your face. There will be more times than not when you have more months left at the end of the money.
In all these things, a true entrepreneur always has an urge to keep going. Entrepreneurship is HARD WORK. It is SACRIFICE. It is COMMITMENT to the hustle than the rewards. Those who come in not for the hustle have already failed before they start.
WHAT KEY ACTIVITIES WOULD YOU RECOMMEND ENTREPRENEURS TO INVEST THEIR TIME IN?
We live in an ever changing world and that requires every entrepreneur to always be at par with each trend that comes. I would encourage entrepreneurs to be avid readers and consumers of relevant online content such as podcasts, news and YouTube videos. It is also very important to follow other entrepreneurs who have walked and seemingly mastered the entrepreneurship journey.
Equally important are mental, emotional and physical health. It is crucial for every entrepreneur to jealously guard these three. There is no point in building a business only to die young because you neglected these three areas of your life.
ANY FINAL REMARKS?
We live in a time when most people are under pressure to be who they are not. The statement “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” also seems truer now more than ever, yet if you look closely you will find that it’s just artificial grass.
We all have unique gift(s) from God and it is our responsibility to discover what they are and to serve the world through them. You will be surprised how happy and fulfilled you will be serving the world with your gift. The Bible says “a man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16). Find your gift, nurture it, the world is waiting on you.