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Investors are knocking at the door of tech startup founder who once sold wire cars

By Daniel Mpala

24-year-old South African, Karidas Tshintsholo may have grown up in a shack —selling wire cars— but his agritech startup Khula! is now in the sights of investors.

The startup’s business-to-business (B2B) marketplace helps small-scale farmers to bring their products to formal markets, by offering them cost-effective logistics services.

In April, Tshintsholo, who founded the startup in 2016 together with Mathew Piper, was awarded the Revenue Growth Growth Early-Stage Award by the Anzisha Prize in recognition of posting the greatest early-stage financial gains for an Anzisha Fellow in 2018.

For Tshintsholo (pictured above), the award is a recognition of the hours that he and his team have put into building the company.

“We still have quite a long away to go, but it’s good to get a pat on the back along the way,” he said.

Tshintsholo told Ventureburn this month that after growing six times in its first year, the startup continues to grow.

“At the moment we’re already at nine times growth from the figure that helped us win the award. We’re in a position where we’ve raised much of our seed round just from revenues.

“It’s put us in a much stronger position when negotiating with interested investors, we’re not taking any deals that we’re not happy with,” added Tshintsholo.

So how did Karidas and Piper manage to grow their startup revenue so fast?

For Tshintsholo it all started with “baby steps”.

“We had to put product development first, making sure we had a usable product that is practical for the real world. After that it was linking the first farmer with the first client, and iterating the product to make their experience as seamless as possible,” he said.

He added that as the startup grew its user base, the two founders started to realise that there were other revenue streams — more than what the duo initially thought.

“My rule for new businesses is that the first deal is always the hardest — and it could take you up to three years — but the second is slightly easier because you now have some reference, and likewise with the third deal,” he said.

He also advised young entrepreneurs not to worry about revenues or profits. “Great revenues or profits are always a consequence of great user experience. They’ll come later,” said Tshintsholo.

He urged prospective young entrepreneurs to “start small”.“Start with one client and offer them services they cannot do without the next one will follow,” he said.

Your clients, he pointed out, need to become “your sales people”. “If not, you’re probably doing something wrong”.

“Invest as much as you can into your customer or user base. Even if it means you’re left completely broke, you’ll thank yourself later,” he also advised.

Khula!, however is not Tshintsholo’s first venture.

In 2011, he and Nkululeko Maseko founded Push’Ismokolo (also known as SA Textiles), a Pretoria-based clothing company that manufactures corporate clothing for various companies and aims to employ youth from the Ekangala community where it operates from.  i

Despite this, Tshintsholo shrugs off being called a “serial entrepreneur”.

“Haha, I’m not too sure how much I believe in the term ‘serial entrepreneur’ anymore. Are those even real? What do they eat?” he said.

“I’ve learnt over time that it’s best to throw your efforts into one business at a time, especially when a business is still in an early stage, you can pay quite a high price for being distracted and end up losing all the businesses that you’re working on.

“In the tech world you always need to be thinking at least five to 10 years ahead at any given time, and that needs your headspace to be present at all times.

He explained that although he still holds shares in SA Textiles, he has had to “take a step back” from daily operations at the textile company.

“It just wasn’t practical for me to be in both at the same time, I had to be real with myself about how to get the most value from my time,” he said.

Tshintsholo, who said he grew up in a shack when he was young, describes himself as an “entrepreneur by circumstance”. “I learnt how to hustle from watching my mother make ends meet for us every day.”

“There is only so much that my mom could do for me while growing up, and it only stretched as far as food and shelter,” he explained.

He added that he quickly learnt that if he wanted anything more — like Christmas clothes or a phone — he had to work for it.

“And that’s where my entrepreneurial journey began,” he said. At the time, Tshintsholo said he didn’t “call it entrepreneurship”.

“But now I realise that I’ve been on this journey longer than I thought. I was selling wire cars, sweets in class and even ran a car wash throughout  high school,” said Tshintsholo.

From these humble beginnings Tshintsholo has not only started a clothing company that employs young South Africans, but is also making an impact on the country’s agricultural sector.

Last year, Khula! won the grand prize at the 2018 MTN Business App of the Year Awards. In addition, earlier this year the agritech startup came out tops at the Chivas Venture 2019 SA final. Not bad for a company founded by an “entrepreneur by circumstance”.

Featured image: co-founder Karidas Tshintsholo (LinkedIn)

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