Serial entrepreneur Sbusiso Leope, a media personality behind shows with major networks including CNBC Africa and Forbes, is the founder of MoFaya Beverage Co., a line of energy drinks, and author of Billionaire Under Construction—a book that dissects the mindset required to push through failure and prepare for business challenges. But before he reached this level of success, he was terminated from two of South Africa’s most prominent radio stations and suffered a low point during the first two years of launching his energy drink company. We caught up with him to learn a few tips to turn a setback into success.
In a 2015 Instagram post, you shared this statement with your followers: “I’m not poor. But I’m broke. More broke than I have been in a long time. I’m deep in debt—every last drop of blood, sweat and tears, emotions and energy. Everything has been invested in my startup. [I’ve] been fired, laughed at, called crazy and more.” Considering, you’ve overcome that low point in your journey, take us through your thoughts and sources of strength to overcome failure and move forward?
Well, 2014 and 2015 were very low points for me emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, and even relationship-wise. But I feel a certain level of responsibility, especially toward black youth and entrepreneurs. They need to know about the peak experience as well as the valley experiences, otherwise, we are doing them a disservice. Sharing my struggles and challenges connected me with fans, supporters, and followers in a way that I had never experienced before. My resolve to succeed was strengthened. Also, I leaned on:
- Faith – An ability to shut down the noise around you, and tap into what is deep within. It’s knowing that the market will reward you for your efforts.
- Being of service and believing in something much greater than yourself – Understanding underserved communities and markets and honoring their aspirations. We heard back from our customers that they saw themselves in our products. So we knew we were meeting a need with our product.
- Family – My 3-year-old daughter was first in my mind with every decision I made. The challenges also brought me closer to my parents; they became very supportive of me and of the work that we are doing. Lastly, who you select as a business partner is very important; my co-founders reminded me of the great work we were doing but also showing areas I needed to improve on.
Now, our beverage products are available in four African countries (South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, & Namibia’) with plans to supply the U.K, North America, and the whole SADC region).
In chapter 9, you talked about the need for entrepreneurs to prepare for challenges and take a calculated risk. Can you talk us through a personal example?
I believe that to unlock value in any endeavor, you have to take risks, but calculated ones.
When I launched the MoFaya Beverage Co., I understood my job at Metro FM may be at risk but I also knew I would receive income from other activities.
When we entered the market there were already 33 energy drink-producing companies and we were number 34. As the new kid on the block, that meant that we were entering a very saturated market with well-established players. As a startup company, we did not have deep pockets to match the marketing budgets and prowess of established local and multinational companies. Our calculated risk was that the opportunity for a black-owned domestic energy drink was there, however, we had to be very “aggrenotive” (aggressive and innovative) to beat the odds stacked against us; “aggrenotive” is a term we created within MoFaya Beverage Co.