Behind Marketing Startup Cheri Yase Kasi’s Meteoric Rise

Updated on 29 November 2017

Subscription Form (#66)

Behind Marketing Startup Cheri Yase Kasi's Meteoric Rise

With just a laptop, a cellphone and a car, Sunshine Shibambo launched a business just over two years ago. Today she is considered a game-changer in the local marketing and advertising industry.

“Simply put, we come up with really cool concepts for brands, SME’s, personalities, agencies and event promoters … we are the rising fixers in the advertising and marketing industry in SA,” says Shibambo.

Known for pulling off the impossible,  Cheri Yase Kasi Smart Creatives (CYK) have become the go-to agency for big brands such as NestléSABTiger Brands and the Bacardi group when looking to tap into the black consumer market, a market that CYK are well-versed in.

Most recently, they were the brains behind cognac brand, D’usse’s South African launch. They are also a celeb-favourite and are called on to help with some of the country’s biggest celebs.

CYK is today reported to have a turnover of over R1 million, hitting this milestone having started the business with almost no startup capital.

This Shibambo says, they achieved by finding innovative ways of doing things and at the same time making sure their execution is impeccable.

“This is the great part of our marriage where the different skill sets come in, with the creative heartbeat balanced out by a sound business mind”

“Our business is a movement, we hope to take the industry to another level of consumer engagement. I have been pioneering in that space and relish at creating ideas from scratch for brands, celebrities and agencies.

Mandla Mazibuko (the company’s executive creative director) and Tumi Mohube (who is CYK’s strategic director) are the ones who pull out the swords when the time comes to slay and keep the ship on course. This is the great part of our marriage where the different skill sets come in, with the creative heartbeat balanced out by a sound business mind,” she says.

“So the brilliant idea is scrutinised in a manner that ensures it can be sold [to big business] in the language they understand. Remember, for creatives the bottom line doesn’t matter as much as it would to a ‘normal’ business person, hence you need the person who will watch out for the bigger picture and other processes,” Shibambo says,

The road to getting CYK to where it is today wasn’t an easy task, Shibambo asserts, it was, however, the foundation that she and her team laid out in the first months that made their growing success possible.

Starting Strong Off The Blocks
Launching a business from scratch without any large seed funding in the bag was a challenge, so Shibambo’s immediate goal from day one was to leverage her extensive network to get customers, that paid off in a big way.

“I called everyone who would take my call after you leave a comfy job and told them what I was attempting to do. I told them I’d be back for briefs and work once I had all the required paperwork and got to it. I registered and the ball just kept rolling from there. I called my mentor and asked to see him. I ran him through what I was thinking, how I wanted to fill a gap in the market by attempting this new way of working with Cheri Yase Kasi. An old friend who got wind of my resignation gave me work for the end of year so I was set for the last 4 months of 2015 and I was comfortable with that, at that time.”

Growing Pains
In those first few weeks, she faced a number of challenges, the most pressing being the lack of a body of work to show for Cheri Yase Kasi, she says.

“The first 6 months were not profitable at all and I lost a lot of money finding work for free or paid to build a portfolio to attract the correct clients and corporates.”

There were also a few teething problems particularly around pricing that cost the business, Shibambo says and adds that knowing how to charge people for your time and services is a skill every entrepreneur should learn first.

“Incubations are kind enough now to offer free workshops/ training courses that will help you build a model. I didn’t know what I know now, and boy did I mess up. Basic understanding – I never used to mark up my items or charge for my physical doing of work or charge for that extra last-minute request you throw in.”

Paying the bills and maintaining her life was also a challenge, she says.

“I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone so I relied heavily on my friends, family and parents. It was easy asking for help in the beginning but you realise business is constantly asking for help. And learning something new every day.”

Laying The Foundation For Success
Focus and being fearless were two key ingredients in the foundation that put CYK on the best possible track for success, Shibambo says.

“I was willing to take the good and the bad as it came and approached everyone with no fear. I cold called marketing departments, procurement offices, I called people I had helped out once before, I stalked LinkedIn and told anyone who would listen what I was doing. Social media was the only tool I could afford to show what I was doing and that become a daily billboard and call to action for the services I offered. It took many sleepless nights generating this work and content but it paid off.”

Rejection was also a big factor in the early days that she had to face and find her way around.

“I was rejected more than I can count but I’m a believer and believed God had steered my life in that place at that time for a reason.”

CYK – The Perfect Partner For Big Brands
Shibambo managed to secure clients such as Ndalo Media, Unilever partner Jalibird, and Tiger Brands’ Fattis and Monis, in the first few months and she credits three important elements – “confidently selling our vision, passion and ability” she says.

“I have the skill to identify the problem and give clients the comfort to trust in our brand. I was always very honest with clients about what we could and couldn’t deliver on. All the brands you mention were people I sold Cheri Yase Kasi’s ideology of working to or who had seen the quality of my work when I was in corporate environments and trusted me enough with the brands. Ndalo Media were new to me and I had always admired Khanyi Dlomo, the moment I was given the opportunity to pitch I knew I had to blow her and her team away and from that, I have gained another business mentor and advisor.”

She adds that it is her fearlessness and in-depth understanding of the consumer they want to speak to that these brands chose CYK.

See also: How BrownSense Founder Built One Of SA’s Fastest Growing Networks For Black Entrepreneurs

Making Sense Of The Dollars
Managing the business’ finances is laden with traps that many startups fall into and avoiding these mistakes was another focus for Shibambo, who says that while the business is currently in good financial health they haven’t yet hit the jackpot.

“Who said the money is coming in? PAYESARS and VAT are a real thing as you grow. We manage our overheads, cash flow and our procurement partners better now. This means we are not in the red anymore and breaking even in the 2nd year. Give us a few more years and we will be confidently saying the money is coming in, we still need to make the profits. We are just happy we are no longer at a loss because we have become better entrepreneurs along the journey.”

“I also secured cash flow from mentors so I could take on the work at low interest. The banks were never willing to give me any money for the business. I was seen as a flight risk so I negotiated heavily on 30-day or less payment terms for work with 50% upfront and this made executing cash flow burdens much easier.”

Looking Into 2018 And beyond
Two years down the line, Shibambo says many things have changed since they launched the business and have learnt many lessons along the way.

“We are structured better and have policies in place that govern our culture and how we engage with clients and procurement. We have accountants and a lawyer we trust with our lives and I believe 2018 is the year where we will see our strategies come to fruition and clients investing more of their budgets with smaller agencies. 2017 was the year of learning and I can’t wait to put those into action.”

“Just Do It” And Keep Pushing
Shibambo says if there’s one thing she would tell aspiring entrepreneurs, it is to take the leap despite the panic. She also went through a period where she doubted the decision to start the business but, she says,

“[I kept asking myself] what am I doing? Why not freelance and float around for a year whilst I figured out the next step? Should I be asking friends for work? Do I need a business plan now or when the business is rolling? Do I draw all my savings and get staff, an office, internet blah blah. I worked myself into a state whilst I was (on vacation) in Thailand but just by logging of my daily life; changing my routine over that period, walking more and eating fresh food calmed me enough to make one decision. Just start. Get some advice from those that know, but start. Register the company and let’s see what happens.

She says failure should not stand in the way of starting your business, it is the best way you are going to learn and eventually succeed.

“I was blessed enough to have mentors who gave me four months of security whilst I navigated the foundations of becoming an entrepreneur and being clear in my vision. The pressure that that took off my shoulders gave me the courage to wake up each day and figure it out. My first year was an adventure of naïve mistakes, dismal fails, ended relationships/friendships and I attempted many ambitious quests with pure determination to get the business up and going. [I wanted] to create some noise in the industry, and boy did I ruffle some feathers. No one really encourages you to go the entrepreneurial route; so, you can imagine how much negativity was constantly thrown my direction. But I kept my focus on Cheri Yase Kasi and nothing could break my determination.

Get Weekly 5-Minutes Business Advice

Subscribe to receive actionable business tips and resources.

Subscription Form (#66)

Feeling Stuck?