5 Lessons We Learned From the Skinny Sbu Conversation in 2018 #BestofSMESA2018

Updated on 19 December 2018

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skinny sbu socks sibusiso ngwenya
Sibusiso Ngwenya of the brand, Skinny Sbu Socks. (Image: Skinny Sbu Socks, Facebook)

Sibusiso Ngwenya (27), owner of the sock brand, Skinny Sbu Socks took the title of the ultimate conversation starter of 2018 after spurring much-needed conversations around the reality of being an entrepreneur in South Africa.

In September, Ngwenya shared on this Twitter account his thoughts of wanting to give up as his sock brand was struggling. A month later Ngwenya appeared on an SABC news show, asking for R 5 million to help keep his business afloat. On the show he talked about needing funding rather than business advice.

What followed were multiple responses from entrepreneurs, business veterans and others in the local entrepreneurship ecosystem – each commenting on everything from the importance of having conversations around mental health for entrepreneurs, whether there is enough support available for local entrepreneurs (both financial and emotional) and the need to change the conversation around funding.

Below is what we learnt from one of the biggest entrepreneurship conversations of 2018, and what you can learn from their responses. 

1. Taking care of your mental health as an entrepreneur is important

Ngwenya like many entrepreneurs go through multiple challenges, like him, some had to sell their car to save the business.

Shortly after his Twitter post, he announced that he got professional help and he started talking openly about mental health.

We listed several well-known entrepreneurs like media entrepreneur DJ Sbu and Siya Beyile of The Threaded Man who on separate occasions confessed that they also went through difficult times in their businesses.

DJ Sbu, founder of radio station Massiv Metro, called entrepreneurship “not for the faint hearted” and Beyile said on social media that he often battles with depression. Beyile confessed there were months that were hard on him because he put pressure on himself to excel. Beyile then said he had opened up to his family and friends about his condition.

2. Most SMEs in South Africa are struggling

Around 60% of owners admitted to being in operation for less than three years, revealed the SME Landscape Report An Assessment of South Africa’s SME Landscape: Challenges, Opportunities, Risks & Next Steps’ 2018/2019.

The report also revealed that access to funding was identified as a major stumbling block. Only six percent of SME owners indicated that they’ve received funding from the government.

Of the SME owners who indicated they received non-government funding, 50% said they had sourced funding personally and/or from friends and family.

3. Funding is not everything

Mich Atagana, Google SA’s head of public affairs and communication, wrote on Ventureburn about Ngwenya’s TV interview. She said that if young entrepreneurs were going to succeed, they need access to support, networks, and mentorship far more than they need money sometimes.

Atangana also said the offer of advice from Thulani Thabethe from 2Larnie Solutions to Ngwenya, is needed. “If we’re going to grow a culture of entrepreneurship in South Africa, we need more Thulani’s and entrepreneurs like Sibusiso to listen to them.

“If Ngwenya knew he could lean on a support network, would he be on television asking for funding? Would he not use his network to figure out where the problem is? Does the company need better business development?”

4. The number one investor is your customer

Mushambi Mutumaa tech entrepreneur and speaker and founder of Altivex Creative Foundry, an organisation working to African engagement in tech and digital industries responded to the Ngwenya story on his Linkedin profile.

“As entrepreneurs we really need to stop asking for money or expecting it. Firstly, it’s not actually what your business needs today. Funding with no consumer base, no brand trust, no plans for scale; is all pointless. Secondly, you probably won’t be able to give it back in the time period and multiple return an investor would want. It isn’t cheap. But most importantly, it’s not coming.”

5. Don’t give up

Ngwenya announced end of November that he has a new socks range coming out and he’s looking for a new name for the range. He said to his followers that the person with the best idea for the name stands a chance to win R1500. The new range is called IZIGIDI Collection.

Skinny Sbu Socks’ Facebook page told its followers on 8 December 2018 that they can earn R100 for selling five pairs of socks. Also on his Facebook page, Ngwenya thanked the company Creative Mind Space for making a contribution of R250,000 to the NEW World Class Skinny Sbu Socks online store.

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