Sizwe Cele

As part of our ongoing series of conversations with creatives and entrepreneurs, we took some time to chat to Sizwe Cele a Johannesburg based entrepreneur and founder of Khomba and Socly. We speak about his work in mobility and how he navigates and balances entrepreneurship and good quality of life.

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CN: Introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?

Sizwe: My name is Sizwe Cele. I’m a tech-creative entrepreneur from Durban, I grew up in Johannesburg. My career started in Cape Town. I co-create digital products with an objective aimed at dealing with problems experienced by Africans within Africa. 



CN: Tell us a bit about your upbringing

Sizwe: Uhmm... I was born in Lamountville, Durban. I was raised by my grandmother and aunts (they are my ‘mothers’) between Durban and Johannesburg. 

I grew up within a strict household but I always managed to get into trouble. I was either back chatting or playing too much soccer. I had a very strict grandfather, a warm hearted grandmother, my aunts were super loving. I was raised by them, they are also very strict but open minded. My uncle, Lucky Ntuli taught me to believe in myself. Musa Khumalo taught me to be brave. 

I was introduced to tech at a very young age, my uncle used to tell my brothers and I to name all the parts on a motherboard before we can play videos games.




CN: How did you start your journey in entrepreneurship?

Sizwe: Yoh maaaan, I had just dropped out of mechanical engineering at Cape Peninsula of Technology (CPUT). I spent a lot of time trying to build this construction/ plant hiring app, it was insanely difficult. The knowledge around engineering helped because it allowed me to learn from design, websites, layout, strategy and server script programming. 

It was tough because I had to survive at the same time, but luckily I always had a strong support structure. It was fun though, every step, learning, proving my thought process, doing design, math and coding at the same time, and the love for art, that helped a lot!  



CN: How did your family react when you chose the road less travelled?

Sizwe: They were devastated, my aunts were scared but my uncle/ dad kept on insisting that I can and should do it - that helped. 

The cousins never stopped running their mouths though, but we are all good. I am lucky I learnt at a young age that when people tell you, you can’t do anything they are merely expressing their limitations and not yours. Another thing that’s a massive advantage for me is that I was raised by A LOT of women, women are strong, brother. Those people literally know everything. 4-dimensional chess all the time.


CN: How did you get over those conversations?

Sizwe: I just worked brother, for me you have to just work through everything. I recently went back to praying, but the work never drops. You have been trying, improving, learning, it is easier that way. Actually, everything else bores me now, only what you produce is real. Even if you fail or didn’t make money from something, the ‘working and trying’ is everything. The working and getting more is ideal, of course. 


CN: How do you deal with failure and success?

Sizwe: Failure is intense. I think when paranoia and survival kick in, you start working harder than ever and you know that people are relying on you, you have to focus. 


Success? That’s a lot harder to define the older I grow. There are goals we achieve that we never celebrate, but I try to reward myself with small things. I’m always trying to improve, always trying to fix. 


Although, my favourite current thing (which feels like success) is working with people I look up to, constantly learning from them. I’m enjoying that.



CN: Let's talk about Khomba. How did this idea come about? 

Sizwe: Yoh where do I start, Khomba is crazy man. It started from this one thing Meco and I were dreaming about, hustling/scrapping towards this awesome movement (in our heads at least) where we can solve the most interesting African problems. It’s been my favorite. 


Right now the focus is thinking about movement around public transportation. I’ve had this dream before, I’ve had tourism dreams, I’ve had automotive dreams, I’ve had production dreams, now it’s here, now it’s real. 


Dude, we even made a song! What? We got one of the best writers and composers in the country - Obbie (Igoduka), a close friend of mine to write and compose a jingle. 


We have gone deep in understanding telemetry, diagnostics , connectivity, urban planning/ design just to create one solution. The trickiest thing though, has been keeping it simple and keeping it easy.


CN: What does Khomba do?

Sizwe: It helps commuters find different transportation points, from minibus taxis to trains etc. It helps fleet managers track and diagnose vehicles, we have other cool solutions we will announce when we go live. It’s pretty awesome. 



CN: With Creative Nestlings, the biggest issue has been finding the right talent and also raising smart money. How have you guys overcome that? 

Sizwe: Talent is hard man, it’s one of  the hardest things you can do. I am learning that honest and clear leadership is the best way. Keeping investors inspired is as hard as keeping talent inspired. We have had to shuffle teams to get a fresh perspective on the platform. For the last two months we have been extremely focused and working in a small team. It’s harder but more focused and faster. 


Regarding talent, we are trying to setup a style where people with clear visions for themselves are the best people to bet on. Being skilled and hard working is not enough, you need people with direction and a sense of resolution. Adding great leadership onto that, you get more done in a shorter space of time. 


Also, there is no leadership without empathy.


CN: Any tips for those raising capital?

Sizwe: The best way is to get started, start building, start selling, gain perspective and understanding from all of your people. We spent a lot of time at Taxi Ranks when we started Khomba, we have learnt so much. 



CN: What's the best way to get in touch with investors?

Sizwe: There is no particular way from my experience, I just keep building and keep asking for help. We fell into debt building Khomba, having no idea where clients or investors will come from. But we threw our all into it. By the time we found our partners, we had done a lot of work. Remember that people believe what they see, so we built first. 


CN: So, what’s next for Khomba?

Sizwe: Khomba is currently undergoing a testing phase. The next step would be to just go live on the consumer end. We will then drive deeper solutions as we go. We had to keep it simple.

 



CN: Amazing, Could you tell us about your other business, Socly?

Sizwe: Oh man, that business is so cool but so challenging at the same time. We have had so much fun with it. The fact that we have generated so much momentum in 11 months, it’s crazy. It’s been difficult, from the best to the worst partnerships but we learnt and generated revenue at a fast rate. We currently gearing towards a pivot, can’t wait. 

Socly is insane because it started off as a business we used to extract insightful data at restaurants and events using WiFi. One thing lead to the next, we started creating new methods to extract meaningful customer data for brands. 

Now, we are working on something special with a retail giant, can’t wait to share that with the world.



CN: Great stuff

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learnt so far? 

Sizwe:You have to work with people that take pride in their work, a lot of people are talented and skilled. Most importantly, pick people who work with purpose.



CN: Very true 

When the day is done how do you rest, as an entrepreneur?


Sizwe:I cook a lot actually. It started being a thing I do to rest but it also drains the last bit of energy I have. 

I love soccer, so I try to play as often as I can. 



CN: Yeah, cooking is therapeutic 

Sizwe: Yes, and cheap 😂, try eating out every night. 

I also go out a lot though, even though lately it dropped significantly, I like being in doing new things with new people. Can’t wait until we go live with all new solutions so I can travel and gallery hop 



CN: Who are some of the creatives/entrepreneurs you see doing amazing things on the continent? 

Sizwe: Mlondozi Hempe, is the most amazing talent because he sits on the intersection between art + engineering. PJC Consulting, I love what it has been doing. Atang Tshikare, Zuko Tisani, Laura Windvogel, Ricci (Big Bad Wolf). Laduma of Maxhosa is meticulous. Inga Gubeka. Lulama Wolf is a favorite, a lot about her feels right. Joe Human is a genius, you name it. Caron Williams and Manqoba Nhlapo, can’t forget them - they are the next wave. Tessa Twala, not sure if mentioning her is cheesy but I mess with her work.

I have a special relationship with Ayanda Mabulu and Tshepo, The Jean Maker so I don’t want  to be biased. Tshepo is easy going, he is to be the best amongst all of us.

The biggest moments for me with him was when he got a space on Long Street and opened it up for creatives. When he got the Shaka Zulu clothing line guys from the UK to come for a chat. We were young, Gugu Madlala is a machine dear lord! Good heart, great head, unstoppable machine!



CN: What has your experience within Johannesburg been like?

Sizwe: Jo’burg is socially and culturally stark.  I don’t know what it is but everything here is more intensified, people are shrewd, businesses can be extremely dishonest, but hey man what can you do? I usually tell people that Joburg is my home, so I don’t need to wear a new persona here for it to work for me. 


I think Jo’burg is effective when you strictly focus on work, the culture on the other end is weird for me. I remember living in Cape Town, my friends and I would create for the sake of creating, it was naive but fun. It led to us being broke but we were never bored, always up to something.

Could also be a life stage thing, I don’t know.


CN: How do you feel about the general startup/ business ecosystem in South Africa and the continent right now? 

Sizwe: It’s terrible, the government is incompetent. The private sector is constantly under pressure because it has to drive results. The worst thing is, there is no sense of patriostism anywhere. There is this notion that you must fail before you succeed, which is deeply inefficient. 

I believe the faster you learn how to succeed, the better because your habits are geared towards success. Starting off with failure is tricky because you pick up so many bad habits on the way and by the time you succeed, that can threaten your success.




CN: What do you mean no sense of patriotism anywhere? Also isn’t failure inevitable especially in under resources countries like SA? 

Sizwe: It’s inevitable because the environment is not designed for black success. Being patriotic and owning the fact that this is home. If you don’t make it better, who will? 




CN: True 

How do you as a tech entrepreneur think African countries should be dealing with the 4IR discussion? 

Sizwe: People should stop it with the 4IR discussions until the basics are covered. 

We have new terms every 2 years: iOT, 4IR and so on. How will that happen when essentials like electricity, connectivity, FOOD, skills have not yet been resolved. We need to be honest with ourselves and get the basics right 



CN: What can we look forward to, from you? 

Sizwe: Khomba is going to be amazing, we are planning on going all out there. Starting small and simple and then scale up into much more exciting things. 

Socly is doing some cool stuff in the retail property space, that’s going to be cray! 

I would love to get into health and education. I don’t think I will ever get fulfilled until I’ve immersed myself deeply within those sectors, it’s about adding real value.



CN: Do you feel an innate responsibility to do better for people or you just about building? 

Sizwe: I think we all owe each other a bit of “How can I help you?” But, I have a massive need to built.




CN: What does creativity mean to you?  

Sizwe: Finding problems and solving them.

I used to have a much more poetic one, but for now as long as you solving a problem man, whether you’re a chef (solving hunger) to a hairstylist. As long as you’re trying and long as you are creating.



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