By Motlabana Monnakgotla
Zibusiso Mkhwanazi employs the ‘strategic creative firepower’ he uses in advertising to help businesses innovate and survive the current crises.
Today, he is the Group CEO of M&N Brands and co-founder of Avatar, but Zibusiso Mkhwanazi’s entrepreneurial journey started in primary school, when he would sell sweets to make transport money. The sugar rush was his first taste of entrepreneurship.
Later, in high school, during the holidays, he sold ice-cream in the sweltering streets of Johannesburg’s Central Business District, sometimes rewarding himself with KFC chicken at the end of a long day.
Somewhere along the way, he discovered a love for computers that would groom him to one day start his own website development business.
“My mom didn’t have the means to take me to varsity, so she gave me R2,000 ($118). I put it in the stock market and significantly turned it into about R14,000 ($820). I used that money to start my website business at a time when creativity was not implemented in the website industry,” says Mkhwanazi.
He also bought his first suit so he could attend meetings, printed his first company profile and started buying student website samples for about R2,000 and selling the designs to corporates for about seven times that amount. All of that enabled him to commence his business in 2001 when the internet was still new for most Africans.
“We saw a gap, the internet was growing, but ICT companies were designing horrible websites because they are not designers, but we knew people who could actually design and make something look really good,” he says.
He worked with big brands and that accelerated the growth. In 2006, the company merged with Krazyboyz, a digital solutions company present in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
In 2012, Mkhwanazi co-founded Avatar with business partner Veli Ngubane to move from web design to integrated marketing.
“We were just about ideas, whether for the web, the radio, TV or print; it was about ideas that solve human problems. We were building communication according to human truth and human insight, like how the consumer wants to be spoken to,” he emphasizes.
Mkhwanazi left Krazyboyz with nothing except a few customers and since then, Avatar has grown at over 100% every year according to him. In the first year, the company turned over about R1 million ($60,000) and today, is one of South Africa’s largest black-owned and managed advertising agencies.
Like most business affected by the coronavirus, Avatar has had its share of issues and has had to adapt.
“It is very important to be there for our clients in a time of need, so we try as much to accommodate them. What we did was pivot as a business and said ‘we have strategic creative firepower that we create advertising work with, what if we could use the same firepower to help companies innovate, because coronavirus means they have to change very quickly and all of that requires innovation’,” says Mkhwanazi.
As a business, he adds, that is what they do daily, solving problems in creative ways.
“Some companies are not built around innovation, we became their center of innovative thinking to help them rethink themselves and that is how we are helping many corporate companies survive the coronavirus under ‘the new normal’. The ultimate aim is to save as many jobs as possible,” he says.