How being township-based became the Lemok Group's biggest selling point
Entrepreneur Lebogang Mokubela wants to help grow the township entrepreneurship ecosystem. Here is how he is walking the talk
The Lemok Group is a black-owned company that operates in Pretoria's biggest township, Soshanguve.
The agency was established by its CEO, a young Pretoria-based entrepreneur, Lebogang Mokubela, in 2014. Mokubela is a marketing and advertising professional who gained experience working at a Johannesburg-based agency before making the leap to work for himself.
When deciding on the location of his newly launched company, Mokubela settled on Soshanguve, a decision he says was driven by his goal to help foster the township entrepreneurship ecosystem.
"The idea of running to Sandton for office space needs to stop. Entrepreneurs need to stay within their townships, create jobs and work towards creating an ecosystem that enables township businesses and stakeholders to be players and beneficiaries," says Mokubela.
Research shows that while South Africa's townships are a hive of entrepreneurial activity, the bulk of the money generated within them is spent in neighbouring towns and cities, with Gauteng Premier David Makhura in 2014 placing the amount of money spent within townships at only 25%.
By operating in and serving the township market, the Lemok Group hopes to play their part in changing this.
Being township-based brings business
Initially, there was no intention of being township-based, says Mokubela, however, it didn't take long before he realised that operating in the township could be their biggest selling point.
"I think I spent about four months just deliberating on a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) for the business as we were temporarily stationed at my grandparents’ house in Soshanguve," says Mokubela.
He found that many of their clients considered them, because of their outlook and location, as a 'breath of fresh air', he says.
"This was because we were township-based and we were very unconventional in our approach. I decided that being township-based with international clientele is a very good USP," he adds.
It wasn't long before the digital agency saw increased demand for their services - which range from web development, web analytics reporting, traffic generation and strategy development (in lead generation and social and digital media).
Within five months of their launch they had landed their first 10 clients including the township-based Van Tuka Lounge. Being township-based also hasn't limited their ability to land a variety of clients which they proved when they landed international clients from Angola and Florida, USA.
Much of their success can be attributed to Mokubela's strong marketing background as well as social media marketing savvy.
"I remember when I started Lemok Agency as a design studio, I was given an opportunity to design an infographic for a client. I posted this infographic on our Instagram page and a few hours later, I received an email from Abdul Hodge (a creative director of Professional Interactive Solutions, a company that creates interactive digital solutions) and that’s how I landed our first USA-based client."
The company continues to do well with Mokubela projecting a 400% increase in turnover this year compared to last year, they have also achieved a 90% success rate in sales conversion.
"The main thing is to challenge the status quo in terms of how business is seen in our townships. Many engage in business as survivalists or to make a quick buck. Very few are in it to create something of a legacy"
Making resources available in the township
In May this year, Lemok launched Tatom, a stationery and printing supplies company with a focus on the SME market. They focus on a wide range of stationery supplies and specialise in large format printing, promotional items and corporate gifting.
This time deciding where to base the company was a no-brainer.
Patience Mlangeni, who heads up Tatom says the company is looking to make office supplies, which are critical in the running of any business, available to township-based SMEs who would typically have to travel long distances to access them. In this way, Mlangeni says they are hoping to play a role in helping to facilitate their growth as well as play a role in helping the township economy realise its potential.
"We often see townships being neglected by big companies, and all of these companies want to be where the big fish are without realising the needs or problems faced by SMEs, so we decided to cater to the needs of the neglected," she adds.
Mokubela adds that the decision to open a stationery business is also about broadening the definition of township entrepreneurship and encouraging more township-based entrepreneurs to launch businesses beyond tuck shops, which continue to be the central economic activity within many townships.
"The main thing is to challenge the status quo in terms of how business is seen in our townships. Many engage in business as survivalists or to make a quick buck. Very few are in it to create something of a legacy. My wish is for Lemok Group (and its divisions/subsidiaries) to inspire a new way of doing business in our townships, starting with Soshanguve," says Mokubela.
The company has expansion plans that include buying more machinery and to create more job opportunities for Soshanguve residents.
Navigating infrastructure and talent challenges
Even with their success, Mokubela says they have experienced challenges faced by many township-based businesses, the biggest being poor infrastructure and the lack of skilled professionals.
"It’s very hard to find good office space in the township. You basically have to use a house and convert it into an office. Another thing is [finding] good talent; most of the well-skilled personnel live in suburban areas and traveling to the township is both a risk and [is] far for them," says Mokubela
Technology has come to the rescue on numerous occasions, particularly when communicating with clients who are based outside the area, he adds.
"With technological advances such as Skype, we are able to "meet" with clients, anytime, anywhere."