Collins ChecheInstinct South Africa

Favorite quote: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find that it was all vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes to make it possible.” – T.E Lawrence.

What is your story (tell us about yourself)?
Whenever I’m asked this question, I feel a bit like a nomad. I was born in Kenya but grew up in Botswana before coming to study in Cape Town, so my identity is tied to all three places. I have a lot of nostalgia for these places, my family and my heritage are from Kenya but at the same time a lot of the friendships that I built over 17-years are from Botswana. But if there was a place I could call home, right now it’d be Cape Town. I really came into my own when I landed in the Mother City, I felt anchored. The relationships I cultivated, the people I met, the shenanigans I got up to, all of it has played an incredible part in who I am today. Gaborone is a small city, you sort of knew everyone, if not by name, then at least by face and I kind of took that with me to Cape Town. But I was very quick to realize that it’s a whole new world out there. This is where I really became a dreamer not just from imagination but in experience and interaction. This is where I stopped being shy about writing and really embraced it as a part of who I am, met people from all over the world that unlocked the potential that was simmering under the surface. I’m a little introverted but that perspective used to be inward looking but I’ve learned to put myself out there to stretch a little more beyond the things that feel familiar and comfortable. And by no means am I the finished article but I’m a little more adventurous and I’m excited for where that will take me!

When did you start your first business and what inspired you to start?
My first business was long before Instinct, even though it didn’t feel a lot like ‘business’ back then. Sometimes I’d do English homework for a couple of my friends and get paid enough to buy a pie or two for lunch! When Valentine’s Day came around, sometimes I’d write out cards or make little mixtape CDs for a couple of friends even though I didn’t have a valentine myself! I had a neighbor whose dad made us collect the oranges in their backyard and sell those. I have to say though, that many of those ideas were really just driven by the need for a little pocket money here and there, I can’t say it came from having an entrepreneurial mind or anything like that. And in some ways, that’s how my life has taken shape now, spotting little ideas that can be turned into businesses. I don’t go after all of them, but it’s definitely become second nature to spot these little ideas.

What is the Key Objective(s) and Vision of your business? (Has it changed overtime or is has it always been this?)
Making safety everyone’s responsibility. Regardless of what position you hold in society or within your community, everyone has a role to play when it comes to safety.

Our vision changed a few times in the very beginning but once we established this, it became the cornerstone of everything that we’ve done to date. It’s our filter, the lense through which we look into the market, the problem and how we configure our solutions.

What challenges did you face in your journey? What’s the biggest obstacle you had to overcome (are still overcoming)?
Constant or consistent self-belief. A lot of the journey has felt like you’re always feeling in the dark and that eats at away at you on a daily basis. Am I on the right path? Will this work? Am I crazy? Maybe I should just get a regular job? Does it get easier? You face this self-doubt every day and at first you wish it away as its crushing you or you hope to get to a point where they won’t be there anymore, but as time passes you realize that they’re like white noise. That if you focus on what you can achieve, competing with yourself everyday and not against the voices, they begin to fade away. Once you deal with the internal self-doubt, it makes rejection from people on the outside feel like water on a duck’s back.

Besides the self-doubt I think it’s constantly feeling like you’re out of your depth but I’m finding that the antidote to this is to approach those situations with curiosity. Not being afraid to say, ‘I don’t know’ and being ready to take the responsibility to educate yourself and dive in. Don’t get hung up on the technical terms you don’t understand, it took me six months to wrap my head around a business plan and within three months of having created it everything changed, a lot of it became irrelevant. And that’s not to say you shouldn’t know what those things are but don’t let it cripple you if you don’t. Focus on how you can provide value and reach out into your networks, you might have a mate who’s better at numbers than you are, ask for their help with your financials, ask them if they know so and so and you’ll be surprised how far your network extends.

How did you manage to navigate your company through this period of the Covid-19 pandemic? (What business strategies/operational adjustments have you made over this period and how has it impacted your business model?)
This period has been unprecedented for us as much as most people. Our main target market in schools, were shut down on and off throughout the pandemic which made it incredibly difficult to build any kind of momentum. We pivoted to other markets but none that presented an opportunity in the way schools do. Managing the team has been the core focus throughout the pandemic, our strategies operational or otherwise can only be executed by the people we have. Collectively as a team everyone had their personal struggles, physical, mental, bereavements to family and friends and it was clear that coming out of this together was a core priority for us as a young team. We’ve iterated our project several times trying to figure out a route to market and we’re positive about the near future with things seemingly starting to return to normal.

How do you approach networking and building partnerships in your industry?
A lot of it is cold calls/emails, tapping into extended personal networks but there’s a lot of people who have a passion for safety so finding these individuals is not difficult. Often, they have public profiles so reaching out into the ecosystem itself is not a problem, the main challenge is getting people to buy into your vision long term. My advice is to leave no stone unturned, go into DM’s, interact with the people you want, you’ll be surprised how accessible people can be. Another golden opportunity is a lot closer to home and is within reach of your current network of people. Make a list, know who you want to approach and start to look for the links within your network, ask a friend or a colleague. I guarantee that the people you want to reach out to will seem a lot closer and within reach once you see the potential of your network.

Do you have (or ever had) a mentor in your journey, and do you believe it helped (if yes, in what way)?
I’ve had several mentorship figures through this journey. I think if you pay attention to the voices around you and within your vicinity, you’ll find mentorship nuggets there. Some are family, a lot are friends who’ve become family, and many are industry leaders in their own right. It doesn’t always present itself as mentorship but if you open yourself up to learning and engaging then it becomes almost second nature to absorb the right kind of information when you need it.

What is your perspective on the South African entrepreneurial landscape before and after Covid-19 pandemic? (Would you say the “new normal” context drives more or less opportunities for entrepreneurs?) How can entrepreneurial policy development aid in expanding opportunities in this new context?
It’s growing and changing very quickly. I think we are seeing a unique shift in the perception and uptake of youth in the 20-35 age bracket. Not sure if that’s attributed to covid but perhaps with people having a little more reflective time it’s played a role. There is still a lot to be done in shifting gate keepers, increasing representation that is indicative of the talent pool and building support structures that bridge the gap for talented folk, providing the necessary resources for them to realize their potential. So much of what we know about entrepreneurship is based on free market assessments of first world countries. But it’s clear that we need to establish best practices that work for our context not just in South Africa but Sub-Saharan Africa.

In your opinion, what are the secrets to being a successful entrepreneur?
Ha! No secret at all. For many of us the entrepreneurship journey is going to be a lot like Sisyphus, rolling this boulder uphill only for it to roll back downhill and forcing you to take it up again the next day. But it’s that commitment to keep going at it, knowing that at some point you’ll get to a place where the boulder rests and you don’t have to chase after it. If you can add value or create a small wave of impact every day, those ripples become big waves over time. I haven’t figured it out so I could be wrong, but this is how I look at it every single day.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Stay hungry, keep learning, take every opportunity that comes your way AND don’t give up, especially not on yourself!