From a vegetable seller on the streets of South Africa to a multi-million dollar business owner

Abu Mubarik December 01, 2022
Sibongile Manganyi-Rath. Photo: IMD

Sibongile Manganyi-Rath is a South African entrepreneur who went from street hawking to building a multi-million dollar business. She was born into an entrepreneurial family which led her toward a self-employment path.

As a kid, she assisted her late father to sell used bottles back to larger corporations such as Makro and various other glass bottle recycling agents. Through that, she acquired vital entrepreneurial lessons at a young age that guided her to establish a thriving multi-million dollar venture years down the line.

“My father unwittingly set me on the path very early,” Sibongile told Entrepreneur. “I often joke with people that my father was in the recycling business before it became fashionable.”

She also learned the importance of customer service when she was 12 years old and ran one of her father’s fresh produce stalls at Dube village train station. According to her, she had to observe why their sales were declining or increasing and each evening she reported the daily revenue to her father which was often in the region of R150 (now 8 dollars) per day.

“I also had to make recommendations on improvements to ensure that we could offer better fruits and veggies than the other older ladies that were next to our stalls. At the time I didn’t realise the value of the lessons I was learning from this process. It is these lessons that gave me the courage to quit my job in 2006 and start my own company,” she said.

At age 26, Manganyi-Rath quit her corporate job to venture into full-time entrepreneurship. She started an infrastructure and real estate development company called Indigo Kulani Group, in a field widely believed to be dominated by men. The company, which has now expanded to include IKG Start-up Capital, is dedicated to creating world-class entrepreneurs throughout the African continent, with a turnover of over R100 million (now $5 million), she told Entrepreneur.

Manganyi-Rath has been making positive contributions to South African society through various infrastructure projects, including the delivery of more than 200 schools in South Africa’s rural areas. Her company has also been involved in the building of and managing clinics, housing, and water and sanitation projects in many previously disadvantaged communities, she said.

For others who want to be like her, her advice is “keep your vision, but let your strategy be flexible.” In addition, she wants upcoming entrepreneurs to develop the spirit of cooperation and collaboration with other people, and find advisors that don’t cost money. 

“Talk to venture capitalists and private equity guys, there is always someone willing to not only invest their money but their ideas, experience and networks. But, be open to give a little bit of equity; it has to be worth their while,” she advised.

Manganyi-Rath, an IMD Executive MBA alumna and award-winning entrepreneur, was recently named Africa’s most influential woman in business by CEO magazine.

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