PERHAPS you live in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal or Mpumalanga and are one of thousands of drivers that have let the paying of your traffic fine slide.
Until that is, you received an SMS notifying you of your misdemeanour or another containing a photograph of your car caught by a speed camera. But have you ever stopped to consider who is sending out these messages? Probably not.
The company that searches for your contact details and then sends you an SMS is Mukoni Software, a small IT business situated hundreds of kilometres away in Belville, Cape Town.
The woman behind the company is award-winning entrepreneur Solani Lidzhane, who once worked as a personal assistant before first starting her own recruitment company in 2002 and then moving on to launch the IT business four years later.
Her company carries out the tracing and messaging services as a sub-contractor in the collection of traffic fines for a number of municipalities and metros in the three provinces.
Limpopo-born Lidzhane, says her company is able to send out SMSs to about 90% of those who have unpaid traffic fines but who provide incorrect addresses to traffic authorities.
The messages make quite a considerable difference in the end. She reckons that about 60% of those that receive SMSs opt to pay their fines.
Last year she won R250 000 after being placed first as a national winner of the SAB Kickstart competition, aimed at youth entrepreneurs.
She also won R110 000 when she was placed first in the regional stage of the competition.
The competition money, which must be spent on winners’ business expenses, has helped her buy new and better servers as well as a UPS, which means the company now has a more secure data-recovery strategy.
Over a number of weeks during the competition she also learnt valuable business skills and received help in crafting a business plan for Mukoni Software, which she still refers to as she grows the business.
The 2013 round of the competition opened this month to entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 35. The competition is arguably one of the best enterprise development programmes in the country.
According to the brewer the competition has helped over 3 500 youth-owned businesses and thousands of young entrepreneurs since its inception in 1995, while a recent assessment of the programme’s impact between 2001 and 2007 revealed that 80% of grant recipients are still in business after three years of operation.
Lidzhane she started her recruitment company, Phanda Personnel, after the computer refurbishment company she was doing recruitment for closed the year before.
Initially she sat at home for two months doing nothing, getting bored. During this time she would still receive calls from clients asking to help them with recruitment.
“I thought oh I’ve got a computer at home, I’ve got a telephone line, I’ve still got my contacts, my database, so I can do this from home, so I decided to work from home,” says Lidzhane.
Soon she hired a personal assistant and continued to work from home, meeting clients in coffee shops close to their workplaces.
In 2005 she got an opportunity from one of her clients, Metropolitan Life, to move into business premises, after the insurance company offered her business a five-year subsidised rental agreement as part of an enterprise development pilot project.
At the time she was also able to get free business mentoring assistance, with mentors even helping her to put together a business plan.
Today she also does recruiting for a number of big companies and government departments, mainly in the IT sector as Lidzhane had previously studied IT before changing to human resources.
In 2006 she and her husband Fhulu, an IT developer, started Mukoni Software. Today the business has six employees, while Phanda Personnel employs a further six people.
Mukoni has also been involved in two high profile projects – the development for Brainbox puzzle programme (which ran on broadcaster etv a few years ago) of a back-end system to send out and receive SMSs and the development of a similar system for a local messaging service to allow photos and games to be sent to cellular handsets.
Mukoni Software may have developed the back-end system, but ironically they have to pay the messaging services company a user fee when wanting to send out bulk SMSs to clients.
Lidzhane however says she is trying to improve her business relationships with cellphone networks to ensure that they have the customer numbers to drive down the cost of an SMS that the networks bill them on.
The business woman says that she has unknowingly drawn a lot of her inspiration from her father, who never held a steady job but instead relied on selling everything from chickens to second-hand clothes.
“I grew up from a young age of eight selling vegetables to homes. At school I would go with a cooler box of ice blocks and juices and be selling second-hand clothes over the weekend. “He (my father) would look around at what he has and look at how he can make money out of what he has."
She says back then she didn’t enjoy selling to the community because she was given no choice about it from her father, but that she now realises that her father was preparing her to become an entrepreneur.
“Then I knew that I had clients that I must service on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that the nurses clients would knock off at 4 o’clock and that I must be at their homes at 5 o’clock to deliver tomatoes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
She says many people do see her as a business owner before a woman, but there are those who still find it hard to believe that as a woman she can deliver the goods. But she follows a simple rule – “I make sure whatever we say will be delivered will be delivered before that time arrives”.
Today one major challenge is that being in business with her husband means she and Fhulu often end up bringing work home, but this she explains is the sacrifice one needs to make to run a business.
When she is not working she is cooking for the family or checking her two children’s homework, or is busy with church activities or gardening with her husband. She even washes the car herself.
She may leave the office in the late afternoon to pick her children up from school, but after dinner she is back on her laptop again, and clients even call her at night to sort out problems.
She says many people start their own business often under estimate the huge amounts of time and commitment one needs to get start-up off the ground.
“People sometimes have this perception that you have people working for you therefore it has to be easy, you make a lot of money, you have free time that you can go on holiday whenever you want to,” she says.
“But I guess maybe it’s the stage at which the business is at – the growth stage. You have to make sure everything is there – to see things through to the end,” says Lidzhane, who is determined to do just that.
This interview originally appeared in Business Day on 13 May 2013: http://www.bdlive.co.za/life/2013/05/12/selling-vegetables-for-dad-was-first-step
Stephen Timm is a