When Luvuyo Rani decided to quit teaching and start his own business ten years ago, most people thought he was crazy. That he sold his merchandise from the boot of his car also led many to question his integrity.
Born and raised in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, Rani says that when he was a teenager he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. All he knew was that he had to have a fulfilling career.
So after finishing high school he studied to become an educator. While teaching at Kwamfundo High School in Khayelitsha in Cape Town, the Department of Education introduced Outcome-Based Education, which meant teachers were expected to use computers. Rani says he watched as his colleagues, who lacked basic computer skills, struggle to use the machines.
Watching their difficulties, the now-40-year-old entrepreneur realised that other people in the community must also be facing the same problems. Realising computers were the future, Rani started selling them from the boot of his car, and he also fixed broken machines.
It was tough going at first, and it took him and his business partner, his brother Lonwabo, three months to sell just four computers. Despite the slow growth of their venture, they never gave up on their dream.
It wasn’t long before they decided to open an Internet café at a Khayelitsha mall. Their company, Silulo Ulutho Technologies, was born. Among other services, the company offers basic computer training, they assist clients to create mobile accounts such as email and social network pages. They also offer internet access and teach students how to do online university applications.
When the business began to thrive, Rani realised he and his brother needed another partner, someone who could assist with fixing the computers and help with marketing.
“My brother and I had no money to pay another person, so we had to make him a partner in the business,” he says.
Starting the Internet café with only 10 computers, Rani says demand quickly increased. The company now has 18 centres in the Western Cape and 15 in the Eastern Cape.
In a 2012 interview with DESTINY MAN, Rani said he and his partners wanted to expand the business to other provinces around the country and also offer franchises.
The franchise dream has become a reality. They now offer budding entrepreneurs an opportunity to run their centres and own a 50% share for a period of two years. After the two-year period the entrepreneur can purchase 100% of the particular centre and thereafter just pay franchisee fees.
Rani believes that the key to running a successful business is simplifying things, not taking on too much at once, and most importantly, loving what you do.
“It gives me great joy when I meet people in Khayelitsha and they tell me that the training we offered them helped them to get a job,” he says. He adds that seeing young people being inspired by their work and wanting to start their own businesses is what makes all the hard work worthwhile.
While there are still challenges, such as getting the right people for senior management positions, the highlights outnumber the difficulties by a long way.
Last year Rani received international recognition, being named as one of the Junior Chamber International’s Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World.
“Getting international recognition means that we are doing something right,” he says. “I love what I do, not because it’s a business that brings in money, but because of how our business has been able to transform people’s lives.”
The company now employs 140 people. Rani says their aim is to have at least 100 centres around the country by 2017. They’ve come a long way from being that tiny venture operating from the boot of a car, and the future certainly looks bright for Silulo Ulutho Technologies.
Additional reporting: News 24