All month long SME South Africa will highlight young entrepreneurs, innovators and influencers who are shaping the future, as part of our Youth Month 2017 coverage. Follow #YouthAmplified on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
In 2008, Katlego Malatji (27), then a student at the University of Pretoria had the idea to host a ‘send-off’ picnic for his circle of friends who were all headed to different universities. The first picnic was held at the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens.
“We decided we’d do one every quarter when everybody came home. That’s where the name homecoming came from, and from there it grew,” says Malatji.
Three years later Malatji met his business partner, Neo Moela (26), also a student at the University of Pretoria. They made the decision to grow the scale of the picnics.
What started out as a small picnic for 20 people is today an events planning and marketing business, Homecoming Events.
In the early days of the business, they relied heavily on social media to market their events, they took advantage of the large Facebook following they had cultivated as students.
They also had early supporters like Cassper Nyovest, who helped catapult their picnics to greater success. Their final picnic titled “End of an Era” was attended by 16,000 people, making it the largest event they had hosted.
In 2016 the duo launched ‘Homecoming Africa’, a music, culture and lifestyle festival series. They successfully secured local and international artists to perform, including American hip-hop artist O.T. Genasis, Nigerian singer Wizkid, Kwaito group Trompies, hip-hop group Morafe, and rapper Nasty C, among others. Their first festival was held at Silver Falcon Rugby Club in Pretoria, and the founders plan to expand the festival to the rest of Africa.
Other Homecoming events include the upcoming seventh installment of their food and music festival, Tshwanefontein, which is in collaboration with Park Acoustics and whiskey brand, Jack Daniels.
A post shared by HomeComing Events (@homecomingevents) on
Malatji talks to SME South Africa about how social media was critical in transforming their popularity into a business, and their plans to take over the continent’s social scene.
Q: What inspired you to turn a small get-together into a business?
In the beginning it was just about fun and reaching out to old friends, and as the holidays went on more people came to meet new friends and we realised that there’s such a great market for it. At the time outdoor intimate picnic setups weren’t a thing socially.
Most importantly, when we decided we’re going to go full out in 2011, Tuks Rag had canceled their Spring Day and we organised one of our picnics within 24 hours and people came by the thousands.
We then realised okay, we might be onto something and here’s an opportunity to not only to fill a gap in the social space, but also to make some decent money.
It gave us direct access to the specific niche market that we were trying to attract. As much as we wanted to do big events that attracted anybody and everybody, there was a specific consumer that we were targeting, and social media allowed us to zoom in more on that consumer.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced at the start?
We’ve had a very blessed journey. Most of our problems came a lot later in the journey than at the beginning because I think at the beginning ours was a very simplistic approach, to say, let’s do the absolute basics, let’s get people into the experience. Things weren’t very expensive at the time, we needed such little money that we could borrow it.
Our biggest challenge was that corporate support, like sponsors, came very late for us.
Q: How did you organise sponsors and performers at the start?
We went a long time without either. Homecoming went for about three years without any artists or any music for that matter. It was literally just a picnic, which made a lot of people fall in love with it.
It was different, all you could hear was the hum of human voices of people actually talking and interacting. In 2011 we decided to bring in some music, so an artist came in and performed for us for free because we decided to do a charity drive.
People pulled in favours at the beginning, I mean Cassper Nyovest, my first time ever meeting him was at a Homecoming picnic in 2011, when he was still on the come up, and those were the sort of relationships we leveraged off of.
So we relied very heavily on our immediate circle and on artists who support our vision, but we also used our platform because we had something good to trade with. We [would say we] might not have a lot of money, but here’s a great platform for you to speak to young people of a specific demographic, who come here in their large numbers, and we then trade it.
A post shared by HomeComing Events (@homecomingevents) on
Q: What was the ‘pull’ at the start?
The authenticity. We struggled for a long time to get even our close friends to come out there, but we targeted some people and said come for free. We didn’t charge them at the time, the money [we had] was all going to the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens, but people needed to see it to understand it.
When people came and began sharing images on Facebook, everybody saw how authentic and relaxed it was and that gave them a very different outlook on what it was and that’s what we saw for a long time; and also the whole ‘Pretoria loyalty’ [played a role], so even when we were growing up and coming up, we always kept it appropriate for that crowd.
Our message was very much ‘this is the people’s product, it belongs to the people’ and the people of Pretoria in particular, and in that way we built a good support base at home which then gave us a regional, provincial and eventually, national pull.
Q: How have your specific events grown since first starting out?
We’ve actually evolved from Homecoming Picnics to the Homecoming Africa Festival. We’re now in the marketing space as well.
Q: What inspired you to branch out to marketing?
We realised that we were the best link. [Corporates] are struggling to overcome the communication barrier between their brands and the youth. We are able to use our event platforms and our connections in the industry, and we said to corporates: let’s show you how to do it, or come to us and we’ll come up with strategies for you to improve your communication with the youth.
Q: What can we expect from Homecoming Events in the future?
You can expect us to really distinguish ourselves as market leaders. We are going to redefine the Homecoming Africa festival in terms of the musical direction, and just getting people back to a place where it’s not about the headliners or whatever, but about the experience.