Good research key to success

Starting and running a successful business is not a walk in the park, says Mandla Thabethe, founder and owner of Sosiba Entertainment in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.

"There are many hurdles and derailments that you come across on your journey to becoming an entrepreneur."

Thabethe is a businessman, an actor and a producer of television comedies and advertisements. He produced Family Bonds, a comedy series that was shown on SABC1 early this year. He also produces educational promotional spots and advertisements for SABC in which he sometimes appears as a character.

Thabethe says it was tough starting Sosiba. He still recalls the days when he would even fail to pay the Internet cafe fee of R5 to read his e-mails.

"With every cent I got, I had to buy food and save for the back room I was renting," he says.

"I remember the time I pitched an idea at the SABC. The SABC panel told me that they were not interested in my idea but they promised to come back to me in case they changed their minds.

"They did so two weeks after my pitch. They sent me an e-mail telling me that they had decided to go with my idea. It took me three months to hear the news I desperately needed to hear.

"At the time I pitched my idea, I was struggling to save a cent that would stay in my hands. I had to choose what to do with my money, and food and rent would take priority.

"Three months after my pitch I decided to call the SABC and ask about the future of my idea, which is when I heard about the e-mail. I went to check my e-mail just to make sure that what they were telling me was true and found out that it was."

Why did he start his own business?

"That goes back to the time when I was still an actor 10 years ago. I always had the idea of starting my own production company. I spoke to many people, who only showed interest in the idea. Nothing happened until I realised that I had to do it on my own. And I did.

"That is how Sosiba Entertainment was born. The SABC education spots were my first project. I didn't make enough money on that, because it was a small project.

"I started my own business because I wanted to create a vehicle through which I was going to produce and promote my own ideas.

"I also wanted to create a platform that I could use to discover and promote other people's talents. So far I have managed to achieve some of my wishes. The SABC education spots and Family Bonds are my brainchild. We wrote and produced them."

Thabethe says he has had his share of rough times. After his first SABC education spots, he struggled to get other projects and everything started crumbling. This put such a financial strain on him that he could not pay for a new Microbus.

To survive he had to take any odd jobs that came his way. Once he took a job as a runner.

"A runner is the lowest rank of all jobs in the entertainment industry," he says.

He owed money to almost everyone he knew, but the entrepreneur inside him kept him going.Thabethe was determined to realise his dream.

His wife Mapula, a chef, helps people organise events such as weddings and functions.

The Thabethes spotted an opportunity and decided to open an events division at Sosiba. Mapula now manages the division and it has clients as far as Botswana.

Sosiba also has a music division. Thabethe wants to turn this into a music-recording studio. He says he lost a huge amount of money by investing in artists.

The venture failed because of poor research. Thabethe says he learnt this the hard way.