Sapho Maqhwazima and Khayelethu Nontsana Cokoto are a partners to keep up with. Their mobile advertising agency, UmoyAir is making headlines as being crowned the next best thing in South Africa. Having met at university the pair knew their relationship was that of the strongest kind, a business relationship. And together they have not only started one, but two successful companies, with the newest and most notorious, being UmoyAir.
Sapho was born and raised in rural Eatern Cape by a mother who practiced as a nurse and father who was an entrepreneur. “My father and mother’s struggles and successes taught me to hone my instincts, to preserve and to hone a strong sense of the self,” Sapho explains mentioning that his family was also closely involved with the apartheid liberation struggle. Being shipped off to boarding school at a young age, Sapho furthers he learnt to be incredibly independent and self aware. Even as a young man Sapho knew his life path would lead to becoming an entrepreneur, “In my matric profile I wrote ‘Invent something and become a millionaire’ under future ambitions. This was quite a bold move, especially for someone who wasn’t one of the highest performers in class,” Sapho jokes. Struggling financially at university to complete his degree in graphic design, Sapho started various small businesses from his dormitory room to make ends meet. “This was the time when I realised how important cellphones were and would be in the future as unconventional means to communicate became a priority to save money.”
Coming from a rural town in Transkei, Khayelethu was raised by her grandparents. Where her grandfather was involved in the apartheid struggle, she explains her grandmother acted as counterpart providing a very balanced life. “She instilled values of Christianity, education and good behaviour. She was a big disciplinarian, which helped me to remain focussed throughout life. After her grandparents passed, she went to live with an aunt who provided for her by sending her to school and university. “I watched my aunt and uncle, work tirelessly to provide for us,” she explains. It is also thus no surprise that when Khaya moved to Port Elizabeth to study construction management at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, that she also worked tirelessly acting as chairperson and president to various campus societies.
It is also here at NMMU where Khaya and Sapho met as students, and from the get-go they already wanted to go into business together, “He was very enthusiastic and passionate about business, and we talked about opening a photography and art shop together.” That dream never became realised as Sapho’s proposed business plan was turned down. He realised then that even though not everyone will believe in your idea, you need to believe in yourself and keep on pushing. Shortly after, Sapho moved away and the two never exchanged new contact details.
After graduation Khaya worked at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality, where as fate would have it, she ran into Sapho only a month on the job. By that time Sapho was already running a business with his brother, but the pair decided to start another one together. With only five months on the job, Khaya resigned and their joint venture, X Spark Design and Advertising was born. “This was challenging due to the lack of funds, knowledge and skills, but what we lacked we quickly learnt,” Sapho explains.
UmoyAir is actually a consequence of X Spark, as Khaya and Sapho saw a need for an affordable means of advertising and market reach. UmoyAir is thus a mobile communications company focusing on client advertising. “We made mistake after mistake, we were literally laughed at and we came extremely close to be taken advantage of by chance takers and losing everything. But we were determined and kept pushing,” Sapho states.
Sapho and Khaya joined MEDO after a client at another developing agency forwarded them an email about ITP applications, and they haven’t looked back since. “I’ve garnered a great value for time,” Khaya explains, “Time is crucial, so get to the point.” Sapho sees the MEDO experience the same as that of a diamond in the rough, “We were the right kind of coal, but needed intense pressure, we rediscovered ourselves.”
Looking to the future the pair sees UmoyAir on the forefront of IT solutions in Africa and to be listed on both the JSE and NYSE. Both add that by then they wants to grace the covers of Forbes Magazine. “All big businesses were once start-ups. I see UmoyAir as not only a South African giant, but an African giant. Our dream is for UmoyAir to stimulate innovation and help bring solutions that will impact positively on the lives of all Africans,” Khaya concludes.