A win-win project for townships and entrepreneurs
When planning a trip to SA, not many would consider visiting a township. But entrepreneur Ntsebenziswano November believes that can — and should — change.
"I experienced difficulties in finding a place to sleep for friends who were visiting Cape Town and wanted to stay at a local B&B," he recalls. "We searched the internet and found that the information was outdated and we couldn’t speak to someone on the other end.
"That frustration left us wanting to make it easier for people to find places to eat, sleep, party and tour in townships," he says.
Although the business idea was hatched in late 2015, they settled on the name DiscoverIkasi only a year later. November and his business partner, Nobesuthu May, created a Facebook page to test the idea and received much interest. "People started sending us messages asking more about what we were doing," November says. "We had something good and decided to invest in a website. We didn’t even know how we were going to make money out of it but started doing research on a revenue model."
The two decided to charge people for listing on the platform. But as they continued to learn more from similar businesses, they adapted.
We are working on projects that will help market the townships in the best professional manner possible and working on events that we will host around the country in the next few months to help expose the township offerings to both locals and internationals,Ntsebenziswano November
"Being on the Telkom Future Makers programme in 2017 has helped a great deal in fully understanding the business and what it’s capable of achieving," November says.
"It took over 18 months for us to start making money — to date the company has not received funding and has been bootstrapped by my salary at work — but we’re now at a stage where we have a proper business model and different revenue streams."
As a destination marketing company for the townships, DiscoverIkasi wants to be the preferred platform for people who want to find places to eat, sleep, party and play around SA. It is based in Cape Town but services the whole country and is in talks with Lesotho and Swaziland to showcase their rural experiences and tours.
"We are working on projects that will help market the townships in the best professional manner possible and working on events that we will host around the country in the next few months to help expose the township offerings to both locals and internationals," November says.
Bookings vary from 20 to 50 a month but following increased media exposure (including an interview with Shift Africa, a Nigerian television company) there’s been growing awareness of, and trust in, the brand. Equally valuable have been milestones that include winning first place at the Silicon Cape eKasi Tech Business pitching event; signing a collaboration agreement with the City of Cape Town; and sharing their story at the recent World Travel Market Africa.
"We want to present our communities in a new and fresh manner …," November says.
"We want to showcase the beautiful areas in our townships that both locals and internationals can visit without fear."
One challenge for DiscoverIkasi has been getting funding — the process can take a long time; the rate of declined applications is high; and the collateral requirements are beyond reach – but the company is getting grant funding to execute its ideas.
A bigger challenge has been getting recognition from the communities the company seeks to help. People don’t seem to believe a company started by young people in Khayelitsha can do much.
"My partner and I believe in the idea and we have been getting a lot of support from people saying that we shouldn’t give up," November says. "We’ve had to prove to the community what we can do for them in terms of bringing them customers and helping them see the bigger picture of how technology can grow their businesses. So far we’ve been doing well."
It has been inspiring for November to see people and businesses in their community getting customers through the platform. He wants to assist a wider market in the townships.
"We’re coming up with great experiences that will create new revenue streams for the business owners that lead to employment opportunities," he says. "Since the community has seen our progress, they’ve regarded us as the answer to many of their problems and to become the voice of the wider community to help change the perception about townships."
DiscoverIkasi helped a man in Khayelitsha who had sold flowers made from recycled material to tourists for more than 15 years. The company helped him turn his home into a showcase for his work. Tourists now come to him to hear his stories, learn how his business started and purchase his work.
"The biggest success stories come from customers who have booked with us and have been pleased with the platform," November says. "But it also makes us happy to get calls from business owners saying they received an order of R5,000 for their craft work thanks to DiscoverIkasi."
The plan is to grow the business to reach all areas of SA and become the preferred choice for B&B and township experiences bookings. They are planning to pitch a TV series that will showcase experiences and businesses in townships and to host an annual township and rural tourism indaba.
"The biggest impact we want to make is to help townships create more authentic experiences," November says.
"We want to help businesses think bigger and also challenge them to get their communities involved with every experience they create. This will lead to a product that everyone in the community will be proud of and will want to support."