‘What’s stopping me?’

26 Feb 2019 - 09:30
Luvuyo Rani of Silulo Ulutho Technologies. Photo: supplied.
Luvuyo Rani of Silulo Ulutho Technologies. Photo: supplied.

Meet the Godfather of information technology in the townships and rural areas.

It’s not a name Luvuyo Rani has given himself, but he laughingly relates how friends and colleagues have dubbed him thus.

This is Luvuyo Rani, UCT alumnus and joint-founder of Silulo Ulutho Technologies. Silulo is a pioneering information technology company that provides public computer courses that are accredited by MICT SETA.

“This year [2018] is our 14th in existence,” says Rani.

He suddenly realises that today – 15th February – is the company’s actual 14th anniversary. A broad smile crackles across his face and hearty handshakes ensue.

Fourteen years ago, Rani was selling computer hardware from the tiny boot of the family’s Opel Corsa Lite. As a high school teacher at Kwamfundo Secondary School in Khayelitsha, he had no money for premises for his burgeoning business.

Indeed, he didn’t even have money for the Corsa’s repayments – the bank was on the brink of repossessing the car.

“It’s very difficult to start a business from the boot of a car, from nothing. And then you build it to having a store and an internet café, then a training centre…”

Now, Silulo has more than 40 stores, internet cafes and training centres in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal.

“It’s very difficult to start a business from the boot of a car, from nothing.”

Unlike your neighbourhood underworld Godfather, Rani’s mission is not to squeeze every drop of money from his clients.

He calls himself a “social entrepreneur.”

The fourth industrial revolution has seen artificial intelligence and automation reaching farther and deeper into traditional employment strongholds, threatening to not only cut jobs but also shrink funding for NGOs and NPOs, who over the past few decades have taken over from governments the task of enabling poor communities to meet their most basic human needs.

Instead of writing funding proposals and hoping donors bite, then, Rani reckons the best way to uplift poor communities is to create businesses who generate their own income and re-invest that money into the people who need it.

With more than 2 500 people now on Silulo’s ever-increasing payroll, and many more benefiting from the company’s training programmes, Rani is putting his money where his mouth is.

Their six courses are accredited by MICT SETA, the Services Sector Education and Training Authority.

He’s not just eager to employ more people. Silulo has put in place a franchise model – this way, people who come on board as Silulo employees can work towards an economic freedom of sorts, by eventually owning their own franchise.

“By 2020 I want 80% of the stores to be run by franchise owners,” he says.

The name of his game is empowerment. He’s not just in business for his own profit.

Biggest challenge

“The biggest challenge is to manage a growing business. When we started, we were entrepreneurs; we started with a passion; it started with selling. We were driven by entrepreneurial spirit.

“The last four years have been very tough. Putting in place systems, processes… That’s why many entrepreneurs will sell or bring someone on board after a few years. It’s a different skill-set that you need. It’s not a start-up anymore.

“Most entrepreneurs will start and grow the business. But to keep it is a different animal.”

And keeping Silulo running Rani has not been easy. Rani was robbed at gunpoint of money that was meant for new premises and was rejected by multiple banks when applying for loans, which are but two examples of the uphill battle he’s faced. Persistence, in addition to business nous, was key to his success.

Rani credits much of his success to the knowledge gained when reading for an Associate in Management (AIM) course at UCT’s Graduate School of Business, which he undertook in 2006.

It’s been a long and tough road for Rani, but gradually his tenacity has been recognised. In 2014, he was named as one of Ten Outstanding Young Persons for his entrepreneurial work by the Junior Chamber International network; has made regular appearances at the annual World Economic Forum; and won the Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award for 2016.

Rani sums up the indomitable spirit that makes Silulo’s continued success almost a guarantee in just one sentence: “What’s stopping me?”