Rivoningo Mhlari. Picture: SOWETAN/VELI NHLAPO
Rivoningo Mhlari. Picture: SOWETAN/VELI NHLAPO

Uber’s disruption of the transport space is the sort of impact that Rivoningo Mhlari wants to make.

Mhlari is the founder of Rikatec, a start-up vehicle information management system company.

Popularly known as Rivo, he is not your typical CEO. At 24 he is one of the youngest technology executives in SA, and one of the youngest entrepreneurs to feature on the Forbes 30 Under 30: 2018 technology list.

Rikatec is an SA information management system for vehicles. It uses data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict and detect vehicle wear and tear and possible breakdowns.

It "improves prediction of vehicle longevity, [provides] assistance in determining insurance and warranty premiums and can assist in enhancing the resale value of motor vehicles", says Mhlari, who founded the business with fellow student Jesse Matheri in 2013 while they were at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

At 13, Mhlari set his heart on becoming an accountant after seeing "a group of impressive, bold, well-dressed black men" pictured in a business magazine with the caption "chartered accountant". It set him on his journey into the world of business.

He was raised in Phalaborwa, Limpopo, and is proud of his small-town heritage. He says he would love to bring innovation to the area’s mining sector.

After matriculating at St John’s College in Johannesburg, he went on to graduate in finance and accounting from UCT in 2016. He believes that tertiary education tends to make people risk averse, discouraging entrepreneurship.

Mhlari stayed the course despite being turned down 11 times when he applied for financing to get his business off the ground. He found a stable support system invaluable. "My parents are very proud of me, but they didn’t always understand or appreciate my vision."

He believes that one of the things holding Africans back from economic progress is an aversion to pursuing careers outside the "normal" paths to success, such as medicine, law and accountancy. Doubt and fear from friends and family, he says, often extinguish dreams of making it in business.

Rikatec holds a number of patents and is certified by the Independent Communications Authority of SA.

Its main value proposition is its ability to work with any car manufactured since 1996.

The business model revolves around three revenue models tailored to the needs of prospective clients.

Customers can buy the data-capture units and pay a monthly subscription for the monitoring service. Alternatively, Rikatec finances the cost of the device plus the service and you pay it off monthly, like a loan. A third option is a once-off payment for the device calculated over an agreed period.

A major concern over companies like Rikatec is data security. But Mhlari has an unshakable confidence in his business, its patented technology and his team. "I dare someone to try and hack our system."

It’s hard not to admire his sense of purpose and work ethic.

Rikatec business administration and human resources manager Adele Dalasile says these qualities, together with Mhlari’s drive and passion, are why she chose to work with him even before they’d established an office or gone to market with their product.

Aside from running the business, Mhlari gyms twice a week, fits in a round of golf every Monday, plays soccer for various teams in the Joburg area when he can and heads out of the city on weekends.

Thapelo Moagi, Rikatec’s data manager, says: "We do not work for Rivo. We work with him."

He describes the company’s culture as inclusive: everyone is made to feel they’re part of the decision-making process.

Mhlari believes in networking, mentorship and creating opportunities for young people to gain experience, create value and equip future leaders.

As interns, Xola Ndlendle and Luyanda Dlamini are beneficiaries of this philosophy. They liken their Rikatec experience to being part of a family, and describe Mhlari as professional and "very cool".

Mhlari knows the fourth industrial revolution is no longer an abstract concept. It is here and he wants to be a leader in this exciting new way of doing business.

He does not believe he has succeeded as yet.

"Success for Rivoningo and success for Rikatec are two completely different things. What does success look like? If I consider myself successful today, then I am scared for the future, what do I have to look forward to?"

His energy and passion for improving people’s lives through technology are infectious and can be seen in the spirit he and his partner have instilled at Rikatec.

As Moagi puts it: "Rivo is the best CEO I’ve ever worked with. This will not be his last time in Forbes."