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» An Interview with Nothando Moleketi: On Feeding Her Passions & Maximising Her Potential

May 30, 2016

An Interview with Nothando Moleketi: On Feeding Her Passions & Maximising Her Potential

According to career coach Emilie Wapnick, adaptability will be the single most important skill which organisations and individuals will require in order to thrive in the 21st Century. I heard her say these words in her Ted Talk titled “Why some of us don’t have one true calling”. During her talk, Wapnick centres the discussion on a term she has coined, “multipotentialite”. Emilie Wapnick defines a multipotentialite as someone with many interests and creative pursuits. So, instead of having singular talents and passions, multipotentialites have many talents and passions. She also argues that multipotentialites possess very critical strengths, which tend to be overlooked in our society which unfairly favours specialisation. These strengths include: the ability to synthesise ideas and make connections, rapid learning and (wait for it) adaptability. Wapnick also believes that multipotentialites have skills which are critical for innovation, which many argue happens at the intersection of various disciplines. Hearing this prompted a lightbulb moment for me and, surprisingly, a few friends who also liked and shared the talk after I posted it on social media. For as long as I can remember I’ve operated across different disciplines- my academic background is interdisciplinary and my work experience has been interdisciplinary- and I’ve successfully risen to each challenge which has opened up even more career opportunities for me. Does it get any more multipotentialite than this? Potentially yes, it does.
As I was preparing to meet Entrepreneur and Chief Operations Officer (COO) of ReWare, Nothando Moleketi, I stumbled on very interesting facts about her creative pursuits. Nothando is also the Creator and Editor of the Jozi Foodie Fix Blog, a platform she uses to fuse her love of food, travelling and writing. In addition, she’s one of the original Founders of The Wknd Social, a monthly brunch movement that has built a reputation in Joburg for fusing good food, great music and an uber trendy vibe. Nonetheless, besides being an avid foodie and social butterfly, Nothando has built very impressive credentials having carved a career as a Strategist with both Management Consulting and Telecommunications industry experience, and has now transitioned into entrepreneurship and taken up an Operations role at her startup. Food… Telecommunications… Strategy… Operations… Whether Moleketi identifies as a multipotentialite or not, she is certainly no one-trick-pony.
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MR: I’d like to start with understanding a little more about how the idea of ReWare came about, especially since it’s the first of its kind in South Africa to offer certified pre-owned smartphones to consumers. What were some of the case studies and insights that you picked up in your research on the pre-owned smartphone market in other geographies that helped guide your business model and capitalise on this gap in South Africa?
NM: We started by working with a Spanish based company called Zwipit, an e-commerce platform which buys back pre-owned devices from individuals in exchange for money. Zwipit is also a supplier of pre-owned devices for a company called Car Phone Warehouse, in the UK. Car Phone Warehouse is similar to ReWare in that they sell certified pre-owned devices of different grades to consumers. So, Car Phone Warehouse then became a model reference for us because of their success in the UK and their link to Zwipit. Gazelle in the US was another good case study for us, especially since they managed to be successful despite the larger mobile operators like Sprint AT&T having buy-back and sell models as well.
However, the challenge we found in South Africa, as compared to these other international markets, was that the up-take of e-Commerce is still relatively low, especially when it comes to selling phones online. When we initially tested the Zwipit model locally we realised that we came in prematurely. We subsequently spoke to the larger mobile service providers in SA, and they confirmed that the local buy-back model is fairly immature. But interestingly, we were still receiving tons of e-mails and Facebook messages from people asking where they could buy our phones, which led us to believe that there was a market of pre-owned smartphone consumers out there. We then conducted more local research and focused on online classified websites and retail second hand details, which offer a large informal market of people looking to buy and sell pre-owned phones. What we discovered was missing from their models was the guarantee and certification, and consumers want to know for certain that they won’t get ripped off when they buy pre-owned items.
Another big learning from trying out the Zwipit model was that we needed a physical presence in order to be accessible to consumers. So we approached the large retailers. When we pitched to Edcon, they had the right enthusiasm off the bat, they felt strongly that the idea aligned to their consumer-base and they have a significant footprint across the country. Our products were also attractive to Edcon because we stock a variety of smartphones, including i-Phones, which they didn’t stock, but had been getting a lot of demand for. And, because we were targeting value conscious consumers in the market, we strategically wanted to align our business with a retail partner that not only had a strong footprint but also a broad spectrum of consumers in South Africa.
MR: In your former roles in Management Consultant and in Telecoms you’ve had very strong experience as a Strategist. How have you managed to transition from being a Strategist into an Operations role which requires you to keep the nuts and bolts of the business together?
NM: When I was in Consulting I found it a lot easier to develop a strategy for a client, because I was detached from their business and I didn’t necessarily fully appreciate the deeper operational intricacies that would be impacted by the strategy. In my current COO role, I am responsible for using the strategy as a guide to developing a more detailed breakdown of how our operations must support the strategy. I’ve realised that because I have an operational role now, I often get bogged down with the day-to-day running and have to make a concerted effort to take a step back and think about whether everything that I’m doing is in fact contributing to our overall strategy and goal. This isn’t always easy because switching to thinking strategically requires you to engage the creative side of your brain, whereas operational thinking uses the more systematic and logical side of your brain. Being able to effectively think both strategically and operationally is quite a mental challenge.
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MR: You strike me as a woman with many passions- from Strategy, to Entrepreneurship, Telecoms and even food blogging. These are all interests that take time to work on and master. How do you balance your various passions and manage your time?
NM: Balance is a work in progress. But I believe that there’s a time for everything and right now, I don’t think the ReWare opportunity will come around again. So my current focus is entirely on the business and you’ll notice that I haven’t blogged in a few months, instead I’m more active on social media (which I find is less time consuming than writing a full blog post). Even though I’ve taken a break from food blogging, I try to do something food-related at least once a month- like eating at a new restaurant or attending an event. It’s important to occasionally fuel my passion and keep engaging with people in the food industry. Striking a balance between work and my other passions was a lot easier when I was in corporate because it’s a very structured environment and so you can have dedicated personal time.
When I worked at Zomato the appeal of the role was that I would have the opportunity to fuse my passion for food in a corporate environment. But when Felix approached me with the Zwipit project, plus the opportunity to develop ReWare from scratch and also be a minority shareholder in the business I couldn’t turn down the offer, especially because I was at a point where I knew I wanted to work in an environment where I had that greater sense of ownership. However, the challenge in the entrepreneurship space and with having a greater sense of ownership is that it becomes much harder to police yourself while working, which means you end up working a lot more and you sacrifice your dedicated personal time.  I struggle with adrenal fatigue and I know of other entrepreneurs and high impact individuals who do too. As an entrepreneur you can end up pushing yourself so hard because you’re so focused on building the business, that you neglect sleep, eating well and exercise. Balance is so important, but as I say, it’s a work in progress.
And lastly, I would certainly add Ashish Thakar of the Mara Foundation to my guest list, particularly for a more casual chat on unlocking further opportunities on the African continent.
MR: What are some of the more personal things you’ve learnt since deciding to pursue entrepreneurship?
NM: Firstly, when I was deciding to join the startup I was very conscious that the business would require significantly more work and time from me in order to grow, and so I wasn’t prepared to join unless I had shareholding. Secondly, through a lot of introspection I’ve come to terms with the some of the underlying factors that made me feel valued as an individual before pursuing entrepreneurship. For instance, although I had financially prepared myself and saved before making my move into entrepreneurship, I underestimated how much of my identity would be challenged by the fact that I was no longer earning a stable salary, and for me earning a salary was a big part of how I identified as being an adult. Also, if you’re an entrepreneur who is keen to grow their business, when the business starts to generate income you will tend to want to put money back into the business versus pay yourself. Everything in entrepreneurship is self-inflicted.
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MR: Knowing what you know now about working in the startup environment, what are some of the characteristics you look for in candidates who apply to work at ReWare?
NM: I’m actually very passionate about hiring and upskilling people. It’s very easy to hire people who will do what you tell them to do, whereas it’s harder to find someone who will fit into a startup environment which requires initiative, energy and a higher level of resilience. We look for candidates who are likely to display the same amount of passion and energy later down the line as they did when they joined. We also like to use management consulting recruiting techniques, such as case study tests, just to see how analytical people are and whether they are willing to persevere through a problem. I personally like to hear about the passions that candidates have outside of work, because I want to know what they find most meaningful and whether that will align to the role and our business.
MR: This is a bit of an off-the-cuff last question, if you could have dinner with any entrepreneur or industry guru in the world, where would it be, who would it be with and why?
NM: [Laughs] Hmm, the where is easy because my favourite restaurant is Overture at Hidden Valley in Stellenbosch where Bertus Basson serves delicious modern South African cuisine (click here to read Nothando’s review)…
When I think about the who, I would actually love to have a dinner with some of the up and coming female entrepreneurs on the continent, with Oprah at the head of the table. I would love my dinner party to include the likes of Aisha Pandor of SweepSouth, Guiyani Monteiro of We Are Ants, Jewellery Designers Henriette Botha and Jeanine Benjamin, Swaady Martin of Yswara; and serial connectors Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei of She Leads Africa. I’m also very inspired by the women creating products and experiences by African women for African women. These include the women behind The Perfect Hair and Suki Suki Naturals hair product brands, so I’d love to have them at the dinner table too. I would also want to engage with the women behind Travel Noire and Tastemakers Africa travel brands.
If I had dinner with an industry guru, it would definitely be with Lei Jun CEO of Xiaomi currently the third largest smart phone manufacturer and distributor. And, I suspect our conversation would be dominated by the topic of supply chain, I would love the chance to pick his brain on this.
And lastly, I would certainly add Ashish Thakar of the Mara Foundation to my guest list, particularly for a more casual chat on unlocking further opportunities on the African continent.
I find it curious but not coincidental that Nothando would seek out high performing, multi-passionate candidates to join her company or her heavy hitting dream dinner party, because there is serious power in intersectionality. After all, she clearly has multiple passions herself. Harvard Business Review defines entrepreneurship as the process by which creative ideas become useful innovations. And, innovation is defined as the capacity to turn an idea into a successful service, product or venture. Interestingly, one of Nothando’s proudest moments as an entrepreneur was when she saw the ReWare display unit on display at an Edgars store for the very first time, and this was after just 12 months of the business’s existence. I imagine that the display unit was a manifestation of the hard work that her, her business partner and their team had invested in the business- it was proof that they had turned their idea into a successful product. I also wonder whether Nothando could have achieved this feat without the having a strong grasp of the three super-powers of multipotentialites: the ability to synthesise ideas, rapidly learn and adaptability. My guess is that she’s nailed these skills, but balancing her passions and building on the strong trajectory of her business keeps her on her toes. A famous multipotentialite once said, “I’m not a jack of all trades; I’m a master of many”. Whether you identify as a multipotentialite or not, the lesson is to introspect on where your talents lie, explore your passions and pursue career opportunities that maximise your full potential.

Article by: Magcino Radebe | Mbewu Movement Founding Member
Magcino Radebe holds a Master of Philosophy in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (University of Cape Town). She is an Executive Assistant in Financial Services