Ntokozo Zwanefoongit

Favorite quote: Innovation is purposeless if it benefits only the few.”

What is your story (tell us about yourself)?
I was born and raised on the south of Johannesburg, in Alberton. Growing up I’d always been fascinated about all things space, I had high aspirations of becoming an astronaut, but as life goes, the stars aligned towards software development instead. This unexpected turn launched me into a field that I feel truly leaves me fulfilled. Besides the euphoria I feel from solving software problems, I feel I am also equipped with the tools to contribute towards forging solutions to socioeconomic injustices. Using my hands to serve this way is where I personally derive my purpose.

When did you start your first business and what inspired you to start?
I started my first business with two friends in my last few years of university. My initial motivation was primarily the opportunity to learn as we build our platform, while at the same time solving a problem that we could relate to as university students. Over time as I was involved in various projects, my motivations evolved into aspirations of financial freedom for myself, family, and the broader community.

What is the Key Objective(s) and Vision of your business? (Has it changed overtime or is has it always been this?)
foongit’s vision is to facilitate financial inclusion across the African continent, specifically for those that have been excluded from economic activity in the formal sector. We have been able to identify service inefficiencies, for example how local traditional banks, in South Africa, seemingly focus mostly on the middle class when it comes to financial solutions. So, our vision is to attempt to solve this holistically.

What challenges did you face in your journey? What’s the biggest obstacle you had to overcome (are still overcoming)?
At the very present moment as we have just launched foongit with our minimal viable product, foongitPay, our obstacle is market penetration. Consumers we are solving for still need to be educated about the solution and how it helps them. The other challenge is compliance, which we are working hard at. We are confident we will be able to overcome this hurdle with our new addition to the team with the necessary expertise to address this need.

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?)
Our company started operating around the same time the pandemic was starting to really take a toll on the world. Fortunately, we were somewhat unaffected in our initial stages, as the founding members were already spread across two countries. So from the onset we had to be acclimatized to working through purely digital means. As the team grew and the company’s needs required freedom of movement, the pandemic did pose as a challenge to our operations. We navigated around these challenges by finding ways that would allow us to move forward without steering us too far off our vision.

An example of this is in the creation of our public image we want to create for our company. We would have liked our branding to include images and stories of real people that are a true representation of those we intend to reach with our platform, however sourcing this type of content on the available image databases didn’t quite yield the results we’d hoped for. We then had to re-align our desired branding to work with what we have until the time comes when we can have access to the resources we require.

How do you approach networking and building partnerships in your industry?
Having a shared goal is a great catalyst for building relationships that feed into the organisation. Given that foongit is in its early stages and most of our pressing goals are short term, we’ve accessed our personal network of individuals with a shared goal to help forge the initial team. As we continue to grow in the fintech space, given that it’s still in its infancy in our country, we intend to leverage the broader network of our peers in the same way.

Do you have (or ever had) a mentor in your journey, and do you believe it helped (if yes, in what way)?
Our team has not necessarily had a mentor. Given what we are building, we have not come across one specific individual who has been an anchor. However, there have been other entrepreneurs that we have been drawing inspiration from, the Likes of Katlego Maphai (CEO of YOCO) Nik Storonsky CEO of Revolut, and Ham Serunjogi the CEO of Chipper Cash. These are the fintech start-ups we continue to study closely, to guide us as we navigate this space.

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?
South Africa is still a developing country, despite being considered more developed than most countries in Africa, or even other parts of the world. A pandemic like Covid-19 has left us with many casualties in the entrepreneurial space, and some existing businesses have had to completely shut down operations as a result. Being a developing country, our options are largely limited to accepting things for what they are, and allowing events to unfold more organically as we gradually come out of it. South Africa is an economy that still largely relies on small businesses for job creation, sustainability and growth of the economy, and unfortunately, not all of them were able to immediately switch to a purely online operating model. The demise of small businesses has highlighted that there are no contingency plans for damage control, and policy change in the new context is a great place to start. This can look like improved access to cost-effective internet infrastructure and better access to financial resources that cater specifically for businesses operating in townships and rural communities.

In your opinion, what are the secrets to being a successful entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur in South Africa is unique in that a subset of entrepreneurs enter the market in order to sustain their livelihoods, rather than having a specific desire to solve a broader socio-economic need. This subset of entrepreneurs would naturally have a reinforced resilience to setbacks as quitting is not a viable option. I feel this relentless drive, coupled with a genuine understanding of the market you’re operating in are invaluable traits to possess.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
As a young entrepreneur what I have realised is that I only know so much as an individual, and to extract more value out of what I know, I am drawn to collaborate with others that know something else in order to reach a common goal. So, my advice is to collaborate as much as you can, especially with people that have different ideas and backgrounds to your own. In addition to this, it’s helpful to reconcile with the fact that you will not have necessarily all the knowledge, skills, and resources you need to be able to start in the most ideal setting, so start now, with what you know and have, and figure out the rest as you progress on your journey.