These days, marketing agencies take all sorts of forms. It followed then that a good place to start our interview was with, ‘So what exactly do you do?’. “Almost everything except sleep – that’s the one thing we don’t do!” laughs Shibambo. “We’re an ideation, specialist services agency. We sell ideas and sometimes our clients ask us to execute them too. We’re more focused on the consumer than the brand.”
While the idea for the company was Shibambo’s, she didn’t want to go it alone, so she roped in Mohube, a former colleague at SA Breweries (SAB) and advertising veteran Mandla Mazibuko to help realise her vision.
The company’s just over two years old, but is clearly disrupting the advertising space, with big names like Nestlé, SAB, Tiger Brands and the Bacardi group on its client list.
Shibambo explains that while she loved her job at SAB, it was while working in the organisation’s experimental marketing division that she knew she wanted to start her own business.
“The problem was that I couldn’t identify the gap in which I wanted to play. I knew it would have something to do with connecting consumers to products. There are plenty of players in above- and below-the-line marketing, but I wanted to deal with the overall campaign picture. I know and understand the black consumer, so I spotted an opportunity in the market for speaking to them and finding ways to be relevant to them, without being expensive and aspirational.”
Shibambo started out as a one-woman show, but credits her friend and mentor Glen Netshipise (21) for helping her find her feet.
“After I left SAB, he took me in and not only me office space, but also a reason to wake up in the morning. I was hustling hard – doing anything I could, from styling to stage-managing – to earn money. Watching him successfully running his business, seeing him the way he treats clients and suppliers and maintains relationships, was a big help. He also gave me my first gig and my work with him helped me build up my capital reserves. After a few months with him, I got down to the business of registering my company, having a logo designed and becoming tax compliant.
“I didn’t have start-up capital – it was more of a dream. I was determined to self-fund, as I didn’t want to take on debt before I’d even made any money,” she recalls.
Nine months later, when she had her first official brief and a little more budget, she brought in her partners officially.
Despite leaving a secure job to join the venture, Mohube says it was an easy decision. “I’d been struggling to find a sense of purpose and I didn’t want to be building someone else’s dreams. The financial part was a little tricky, as I also have a daughter to support and I didn’t receive a salary for the first three months. But I had the support of my family and friends, so I knew I’d get through it.
“The biggest learning was getting help from very unexpected quarters. A small number of people were willing to give us their time and effort. We didn’t want to join an incubation programme, as it comes with strings, or to worry about paying them back. We’re more for paying it forward!
“As business-owners, we need to help each other, as the future is about entrepreurship. That’s what will turn our economy around.”