You’re in your first year of varsity with a head full of dreams. Your excitement for the future is palpable and you find yourself gravitating towards another first year with similar ideas and you become fast friends. Your name is Kamohelo Mothibedi, his is Buntu Mdaka and these are the origins of what would later become a company that provides support and business development skills to youth-owned companies.
“We stayed at the same res together, both studying accounting, and we used to always have these long chats at night dreaming about things that we wanted to do to change the country, change the world. Some of it was far-fetched, some of it was realistic, but we were both always doing something on the side outside of our studies,” Kamo says.
Buntu hails from eNgcobo in the Eastern Cape and Kamo from Soweto, but he says of the progression of their relationship, “We had the same sort of vision for our lives. We weren’t too clear on what our solutions or what our business would eventually look like, but we kind of shared the same core vision; we knew we wanted to do something to help transform the country and provide some sort of access to opportunity. We just saw that as a big gap that every black South African was facing and we wanted to see what would be the ways to try to address that.”
Underpinning their entrepreneurial dreams were their chosen studies along the CA route. Kamo says of the journey, “What you learn with this particular qualification is how to deal with failure, and sometimes having to deal with it on a very regular basis, and pick yourself up, not let it define you, and try and try again.” He continues, “You just kind of learn how to [not] let it define you, be as resilient as possible. And secondly you learn so much more from your failures technically, on a technical level, by the time you get it right you’re so much richer for it that you potentially know more than someone that would have done it the first time.”
As they began their careers in corporate, they gained success in their investment banking and business consulting roles. “But the more you climb that corporate ladder, the more the itch to wanna do something. Because you realise that the stuff that we were talking about back in university, we are seeing for ourselves. It’s still relevant, the challenges are still there, and now you sort of have a more practical view of how you think you could fix it. We started talking about it again as we were in our corporate roles and from then on it started being about formulating what the business looks like.”
They took the plunge and Galelo Advisory Services was born. “When we were racking our heads around what to call it, oftentimes you get into the trap of wanting to give it a cool sort of English name, especially those consulting type of names like “Elevate” or any of those things. We just wanted to have a clear name that says what we do, and what we do is support the youth to grow. And ‘support’ translated into Xhosa is Galelo.”
“We were fortunate that our preparation was then met with opportunity at Multichoice.” Galelo is a beneficiary of the Multichoice Innovation Fund itself and later became the company that Multichoice works with to administer the fund on their behalf. The MultiChoice Innovation Fund assisted Galelo with initial working capital which allowed them to achieve their business goal of giving start-ups access to funding. In five years, they have created 145 jobs and helped more than 20 entrepreneurs in raising R150m to fund their businesses.
Galelo also works with about 35 production houses on production accounting. From large format productions with budgets of 40-50 million all the way through to the smaller production houses of about 700 thousand, they’ve worked with the companies to streamline their accounting. “We also done work for ABInBev, specifically for their Thrive Fund, which was also a fund which aimed to transform their supplier chain. Those deals were quite technical, they were mergers and acquisitions type of deal where we were buying equity on behalf of a black group. That was a really great project. Some of those companies are running today and thriving.”
As he takes me through the list of projects that they’ve worked with, I ask Kamo of some of his proudest milestones. It’s a difficult reckoning but he responds with, “I think the first time we met a black owned company that was looking for funding and opportunity and we got them over the line.” He also says, “Just seeing people grow from where they were to where they are now. And even the contractors and employees that we’ve hired; we hired people who were going from internship to internship and never getting a permanent job. And to see them get a permanent job and to be able to afford a car, it gives them that independence and job dignity that they were looking for. The contractors that we use, the guy never had a house and managed to get a house for his wife and kids. So those are probably some of our proudest moments; the impact that you’re able to make in people’s personal lives, its more satisfying that the revenue itself. It’s what the revenue means for them in their personal lives.”
On some of the challenges, he says “When you’re helping SMEs, you become involved in their journey. It’s as personal to you as it possibly can be because their success becomes your success. So, when you see someone not doing too well, that presents a challenge, and you have to try to help them solve for it and assist them as much as possible without necessarily being disruptive because it’s their business. And also the amount of investment that’s needed in the country to get it there and the fact that there’s limited resources. So, by virtue of that, it’s like ‘Who makes it? Who doesn’t make it?’”
On where he’d like to see the company move to in the future, he says “As much as possible to be the central place where businesses are able to find funding all over the country and find access to procurement opportunities, particularly with large corporates.” He adds, “The agenda remains the same, no matter where you are as an SME. It’s still access to opportunity to grow my revenue and my business and its access to funding. And those two problems don’t go away, I think the issue is access. So someone has to be brave enough to wanna knock down those doors. We’ve been brave enough so far, we hope to continue doing that nationally and in the rest of Africa.”
“We represent that SME who is sitting there and has a really good idea, but circumstances are hindering them from growing further with that idea. We don’t want circumstances to stand in the way of how far people’s ambitions can go. And if we can unlock that for a country, it’s endless what we could do.”
Maya Angelou once wrote, “I go forth along, and stand as ten thousand.” In the pantheon of companies in service to others, Galelo is alone in its vision but stands as ten thousand by its impact.