This week’s episode of The Matt Brown Show was live from Kwa-Lichaba in Vilakazi Street. The guest on the show was entrepreneur Max Lichaba, CEO of the Lichaba Group.
Lichaba invited 50 underprivileged matric and university students to discuss the intricacies of starting a business. With years of entrepreneurial experience, Lichaba discussed his own personal journey and offered insights and motivation to everyone in attendance. His story is truly inspiring coming from a small mining town in the Free state and built a R120 million empire from nothing.
Matt Brown, the host and creator of The Matt Brown Show, and Lichaba share an entrepreneurial philosophy – Their goal is to create a groundswell amongst the youth, creating the next generation of young entrepreneurs who will, in turn, be an asset to the South African economy. Thus, ongoing discussions like these with young people are paramount.
This event comes off the back of The Matt Brown Show celebrating a pinnacle milestone of 100 episodes. Brown has interviewed over 100 entrepreneurs on his show so far trying to find commonalities, lessons and insights of what makes them a success; and in turn sharing these with his audience.
The golden thread emerging from the interviews was the fact that successful entrepreneurs wanted to make a contribution to society, to something beyond themselves. Similarly, for Brown, providing something of value to entrepreneurs is why he does what he does. He would deem his efforts successful if he helped just one person on their journey. Lichaba shared similar sentiments and thrives on sharing information with existing and budding entrepreneurs in a quest to help them.
His own entrepreneurial spirit shone through as a young man already selling fruit and vegetables in his home town. At school, he realised that he liked working with his hands and his core passion for fixing cars developed. Having a penchant for working with his hands, his entrepreneurial instinct led him to study jewellery design with the idea of starting his own business at some point. He took a job after his studies and hated it; he knew it was time to strike out on his own. The rest, as they say, is history although it wasn’t an easy journey.
“Young people need to learn to separate the business finances from their personal accounts,” Lichaba said. This was a big learning curve for him when starting out. “Most of the business’s money needs to be re-invested in the business and used to equip yourself with the right skills. Your business’s money is never yours to spend.” Lichaba lost everything when he started his business and attributes this due to lack of research on his part. He sold everything he owned to start over. Doing proper research was the biggest lesson he learned.
One of the biggest lessons Brown learned through his own growth with his company and interviewing other entrepreneurs, including Lichaba, was the importance of adapting. “It’s of utmost importance to constantly review your business offering and pivoting and adapting it when needed,” said Brown.
During his Q&A with the students, it was clear that Lichaba, like Brown, is a big believer in building your personal brand as an entrepreneur. “First impressions last,” he commented, “and it’s even more important to make a great first impression when you’re in jewellery design like I am.” He explained that when he started out he would make sure he looked impressive when walking into meetings. He didn’t have transport when he started out and sometimes had to walk far to get to prospective clients. Even though he was sweaty and tired at times when arriving, he would make sure that he looked fresh and tidy when meeting them. These days he can wear what he wants, purely because he built a name for himself over the years.
When asked what the biggest obstacle entrepreneurs need to overcome, Brown said it was asking for help. “Every entrepreneur needs to realise that it’s okay to ask for help, you don’t need to feel like an island, there’s an entire entrepreneur community willing to help. The trick is that you need to ask,” he commented. “The positive response from the youth in attendance is great to see here today and Max and I hope that we’ve imparted some wisdom and tips that they’ll find valuable on their journeys,” he continued.
Ngcebo Dengcebz Mthimkhulu, one of the young people in attendance and future entrepreneur said “I’m a greater person because of today’s talk and it’s definitely been important to me and my future in business, any business. Thanks, Gents”.
The morning was inspiring and Lichaba and Brown shared some valuable learning and insights with young and bright minds. “Just start, at home, at weekends, after work. Just start,” was Lichaba’s answer when asked when it’s the right time to start a business.
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