Over the past year, the BizNews tribe has been introduced to some inspirational ‘Kasipreneurs courtesy of SA’s informal sector guru, GG Alcock. In this interview, we meet the man behind Lebzcafe’, whose iKoffie brand is enjoying serious traction after he won the recent Amstel Entrepreneur competition. In this uplifting discussion, Lebohang Nyandeni shares his background, learnings and ambitions, with GG chipping in on what we can all learn from stories like Lebo’s, explaining what impressed him – and the judges. – Alec Hogg
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Relevant timestamps from the interview
- 00:07 – Introductions
- 01:01 – GG Alcock on what caught his eye about young entrepreneur Lebohang Nyandeni
- 02:53 – Lebohang Nyandeni on his background and what drew him to coffee
- 11:42 – His own blend of coffee
- 13:15 – How his coffee compares to other instant coffee blends and the price
- 15:33 – Marketing in the formal sector
- 20:11 – Where you can find LebzCafe
- 20:24 – Conclusions
Edited transcript of the interview with GG Alcock and Lebohang Nyandeni
Alec Hogg: GG Alcock is our eyes into the informal sector here at BizNews. He’s the author of the ‘Kasinomics series of books, opening many minds in South Africa to the economic potential and human capital that exists there. We’ve previously spoken with entrepreneurs Refiloe Rantekoa, Mbali Khubekha, Ntabiseng Sejake, and Palesa Hlatshwayo. Today we’re meeting Lebohang Nyandeni.
GG, Lebo came to your attention through the Amstel Entrepreneur competition, which he won. What caught your eye about this young coffee entrepreneur?
GG Alcock: Thank you, Alec. The first time I met Lebo, I had my doubts. We went to an informal settlement in Evaton, wondering if we’d find a coffee entrepreneur there. To our surprise, Lebo had an extraordinary story and a passion for coffee. It’s interesting because people generally associate the informal economy with spaza shops and hair salons, but many other entrepreneurs are out there. Lebo has established himself in this sector, offering a great product. These entrepreneurs often don’t get enough exposure despite being resilient individuals who present great opportunities.
Alec Hogg: Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Lebo, could you tell us about your background and attraction to coffee?
Lebohang Nyandeni: Certainly, thank you for the platform. I’m Lebohang Nyandeni, raised in Vaal, Evaton, by my single mother and five siblings. Despite being disadvantaged, I’ve always been optimistic and driven. I was highly involved in extracurricular activities and leadership roles during my school years. I’ve always been interested in business and have held numerous motivational seminars for young students in my community.
I developed my love for coffee through my grandmother. She would frequently send me to prepare cups of coffee, which at the time felt like a chore. However, that laid the foundation for my coffee business, More Coffee. 2018 after completing my entrepreneurship course, I knew I wanted to start my own business. This led me to found the Startup Entrepreneurship Academy, where we host workshops and motivational seminars to inspire young people to start their businesses.
GG Alcock: That’s a remarkable journey, Lebo. And it’s a real testament to your entrepreneurial spirit and dedication.
Lebohang Nyandeni: Yes, it wasn’t an easy road, but I’ve realised that many young people register businesses without starting them. So we bring in speakers to motivate them. I applied for language practice and applied linguistics at the University of Johannesburg in 2019, but my focus has always been on fostering entrepreneurship and making a difference in my community.
You’ll often be drawn to various courses if you’re an entrepreneur. Initially, you feel excited, but over time, you may realise they aren’t what you truly want. That’s what happened to me. Given my passion for media and broadcasting, I started skipping classes and attending acting auditions. Eventually, I dropped out, much to the disappointment of my family. By then, I’d already dabbled in entrepreneurship and dreamed of owning a coffee brand. However, I didn’t know where to start.
After working at VOW FM as a content producer, I worked at a Maboneng store selling Skinny’s Sbu’s socks. A barista visited the store one day, reigniting my dream of owning a coffee brand. This barista connected me with a coffee roaster, and things took off from there. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and sourcing suppliers from outside South Africa, I was committed to my vision.
Eventually, I met another industry player when Skinny’s Sbu closed its store due to the pandemic. I decided to take the money I had and start my own brand. So, I returned to my hometown in Evaton and continued my research. I found a supplier in Cape Town and developed an amazing blend of instant coffee, which I’m extremely passionate about.
Alec Hogg: Your own blend, you say? So it’s neither traditional coffee nor barista coffee?
Lebohang Nyandeni: Yes, I’ve created instant coffee, beans, chai, and hot chocolate blends.
GG Alcock: I highly recommend them, especially if you’re a coffee addict like me.
Lebohang Nyandeni: Given the various challenges South Africans face, like load shedding and rising costs, I felt it was essential to provide a well-balanced, freeze-dried coffee that isn’t bitter.
Alec Hogg: How does it compare to popular brands like Jacob’s, especially in terms of taste and price?
Lebohang Nyandeni: In terms of taste, it’s less bitter and well-balanced. As for the price, 200 grams costs only 130 rands.
Alec Hogg: And how does that compare to supermarket brands?
Lebohang Nyandeni: It’s cheaper. Brands like Jacob’s can go for as much as R170 or R160 rands for 200 grams.
Alec Hogg: Interesting. Can you tell us more about the business model?
Lebohang Nyandeni: Certainly. The coffee gets freeze-dried in Cape Town, and we have a great partnership with the roasters there. We sell online nationwide and are also stocked in Pick and Pay Ola’s Market in Vanderbijl Park. Not only are we selling great coffee, but we’re also running a successful online business.
Alec Hogg: That’s quite an impressive distribution strategy.
Lebohang Nyandeni: Thank you. I’ve always aimed for a well-crafted, well-balanced product, and I believe we’ve achieved that with our coffee blend. It’s doing quite great. And I’m so excited that South Africans are actually receiving us the way we perceive them to be receiving us. So yeah.
Alec Hogg: It sounds fascinating, but you must open some big doors. Presumably, you’ve now got the production and the distribution. GG, are you able to mentor Lebo in any way and, indeed, perhaps open that route to market in the formal sector?
GG Alcock: Absolutely, 100%. I’ve been working with Lebo on this. For instance, Lebo won the Amstel Entrepreneur campaign. One of the prizes for the shortlisted participants was a mentor and a marketing budget. This was a learning experience for both of us because the shortlisted entrepreneurs received top-notch mentors, not just me but people like DJ Zinhe and Lebo Shugasmakx. The lesson is that we should focus on scale-ups instead of focusing on startups. Startups have a low chance of success since they’re new to the business. But if you help a business that’s already been successful to scale up, that’s where the real opportunity lies. It’s not just about money; they also need skills and mentorship. We’ve seen the huge benefits of having a mentor guide them in brand positioning and distribution strategies.
The key is to create connections to find these scale-ups and help them scale up further. One of the big things about business is networks. People like Lebo don’t really have a network within the business community. However, if we can get them into these networks, it can transform their enterprises. So yes, I am helping him, but there is a lot of opportunity and many people like Lebo out there.
Alec Hogg: Well, it’s an interesting story indeed. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter where you come from; it’s what you do with the cards you’ve been dealt. And Lebo certainly has been handling his cards very well.
GG Alcock: Yeah.
Alec Hogg: I’m sure many South Africans will want some of that instant coffee. Could you tell us the website again?
GG Alcock: Certainly, it’s LebzCafe.co.za. He will also be on Takealot soon.
Alec Hogg: Fantastic. Thanks for sharing your story with us, GG. Entrepreneurship is alive and well in South Africa; sometimes, we must take the blinkers off to see it.
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