INTERVIEW WITH VUSI THEMBEKWAYO
by Craig Bishop
INTERVIEW WITH VUSI THEMBEKWAYO
by Craig Bishop
Interview with Vusi Thembekwayo
By Craig Bishop
Chaos theory holds that tiny events can cause great change within any system, no matter how stagnant or ponderous that system may appear. An offshoot from chaos theory is the better-known Butterfly Effect, which posits that a butterfly flapping its wings in Hong Kong can cause a hurricane in New York.
“This is my entire hypothesis,” says South African venture capitalist, global business speaker, serial entrepreneur and CEO of MyGrowthFund, Vusi Thembekwayo. Speaking to the Innovation Summit just before his global inspiration speaking tour – the second one this year – Vusi says that he has his sights set on building the continent’s largest venture capital firm. “I am that tiny butterfly flapping its wings. One of the greatest fallacies that humanity has been saddled with is the conviction that it takes big things to make great things happen. This is not true. Look at Nelson Mandela. Until 1990 he was just a guy in jail. What made him great was his fortitude, his strong self-belief. That’s what made him the legend he was.”
A man who had to quit university due to financial constraints, and who wore out shoe leather pounding Johannesburg malls with his CV in his hand, Vusi recently sold a majority share in his management consultancy business Motiv8 to private New York investors Watermark. He used part of the proceeds to launch MyGrowthFund, a venture capital company which aims to establish and build entrepreneurship and funding nodes in the rural and township markets of South Africa.
Aged just 25, he ran a R400-million division in a R17-billion multi-national. He now also serves on several boards. On his website, Vusi describes himself as an investor, a speaker, but also a disruptor, and perhaps this gives valuable insight into the mind of an entrepreneur. “Being a disruptor is more about going against the grain than leaving a smoking trail in your wake. It’s about doing better, smarter things, that benefit everyone – except those that are holding on to the past by their fingernails,” the site states.
Accordingly, by 2030 Vusi hopes to have built 300 sustainable businesses by finding and nurturing high-growth entrepreneurs through funding, incubation and enterprise development platforms. Under MyGrowthFund, Vusi has just launched #Top40, a mentorship programme which has selected 40 entrepreneurs from more than 1200 applications of entrepreneurs generating R1 million annual revenue and looking to grow. The selected 40 businesses will undergo an 18-month mentorship programme with Vusi and a group of professionals who specialise in finance, marketing, HR and IT.
Vusi says the asset class of venture capitalism is not properly understood on the African continent. “There is a phenomenal opportunity for this to create opportunities and to transform the social landscape, be it academia, research institutions, and to change where we are going as a people. The first issue is that of borders. This continent is saddled with fictional borders for 54 countries drawn up by men at the Berlin Conference , so we are trying to connect the continent with itself!”
The former Dragon’s Den South Africa panelist likes to study one new thing each year, from the theory of colour in art, to quantitative mathematics. He has studied complexity theory and says he sees business as a natural extension of chaos theory. “The world is a chaotic and complex by nature. It is going through a process of self-discovery, grappling with issues of identity and indigenization, commodities recession, corruption. I enjoy that chaotic, complex space. It is how I see business. And, from this existential angle, the moment any business ceases to be of value, it ceases to exist.
“When I was younger, it was all about the money and the position, being seen with the right people. Now I have matured, I have come to see that being wealthy and doing good are not mutually exclusive. Good business is good business! Making a difference becomes its own reward.
“This is a very difficult message for many young entrepreneurs to hear, especially South African ones. We work with a lot of young black entrepreneurs and the reason there is not an FNB equivalent or a Virgin Active equivalent built by a young black entrepreneur (and, yes, there are historical, structural reasons, access to capital reasons), but it is also because often business is seen as the instrument to acquire consumption, rather than as providing a value service.” This is common amongst young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, says Vusi. “They are for the first time in several generations discovering the means to access things, so you need to show them another way.”
Having said that, Vusi still believes South Africans are in a unique position. “The average youngster here faces more issues around diversity which enables them to gain a deeper sense of emotional intelligence to deal with their fellows.
“You know, every single human being walking on this planet has a bullshit voice inside their head. That voice that tells them, ‘Not you. Not now’. It takes time and experience to see that this voice is only a pale reflection of yourself. If that message tells you that you are going to fail and you do fail, then it was correct, wasn’t it? So my message to you is, what is your own response going to be to that inner voice of doubt? How will you react? This is why some people succeed and others do not. It boils down to a deep, embedded certainty that you can succeed!”
Vusi certainly believes in himself. A self-proclaimed petrol head, one of his claims to fame is that he once raced against the king of petrol heads Mika Hakkinen. Business guru Clem Sunter once described him as “riveting”. Africa needs this sort of courage and self-belief. As Vusi’s website says, “Vusi doesn’t just inspire revolution. He initiates it.” Watch this space.