In her new position, Ogaufi Setlhogile has taken charge of the company’s Botswana operations so that Jacob may focus more on regional expansion through the influential South African market. The company’s “Lesedi ke Mpho” social responsibility initiative is a part of the conversation as Jacob speaks with Staff Writer KABO RAMASIA
Q: Kindly tell us who Ketshephaone Jacob is and his entrepreneurial journey so far.
A: Ketshephaone Jacob is an entrepreneur whose story is an inspiration because he is from humble beginnings but was determined to make a difference in his family and community. My passion for entrepreneurship was ignited when I was in primary school where I bartered and sold fat cakes to make pocket money. I had always wanted to venture into something that would improve lives and benefit my society and country.
So, in 2016, I conceptualised The Bulb World and established it in 2017. The concept was ignited around a time when Botswana was experiencing numerous power cuts and shortages and the government was calling for prudent consumption of energy by both households and businesses.
Q: What are the key lessons drawn from the Africa’s Business Heroes training?
A: ABH has given validation to The Bulb World that we are on the right track as a growing business in that we have so far been able to respond to the requests and due diligence. One of the panel judges gave the feedback that it is crucial that as the business grows, it will be key to ensure that we hire the right talent to support in steering the business. Using the ABH network has supported us in gaining market access into other jurisdictions.
Q: How did you get to know about this opportunity?
A: We were nominated by the late Reginald Tebogo Selelo, Chief Operations Officer (COO) at Botswana Investment and Trade Centre, who said he firmly believed in our company and believed that we could go far in the competition.
Q: As a leading businessman in the manufacturing space, what can you share with young and upcoming businesses for them to survive?
A: People still look at entrepreneurship and think that it’s being your own boss and managing your time. While this is true, there is more to it – there’s blood, sweat and sometimes tears as you take this journey. We have encountered many challenges that were made even tougher by the fact that I was breaking into an industry that already had established giants. But that did not deter me. The one advice that I can give to young and upcoming businessmen and women is to never lose faith, to trust the process, and to be very intentional with their network.
Q: The Bulb World is a vibrant youth-run enterprise in Botswana. What has sustained the business amidst challenging economic conditions and uncertainties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: I couldn’t have done this without my team. In some instances we needed to make personal sacrifices to ensure that we keep the business afloat. Batswana have been incredibly supportive and we remain forever grateful. Our lights have been flying off the shelves.
From a retail listing perspective, there has been some issues caused by COVID-19 in that shipments were taking longer. This meant that retailers were receiving their stock late, and this opened up shelf space for our product offering.
The point is that people will always need bulbs as lighting homes makes up at least one quarter of the total electrical bill. In a country where only 63 percent of the population has access to electricity and of continuously rising electricity tariffs, our energy efficient bulb gives value for money by reducing monthly energy bills and is durable.
Q: Do you mind once gain to say what motivated you to venture into business and what were some of the challenges you met?
A: Hardship has been my biggest motivator. Through the journey of building and rebuilding myself and The Bulb World, I have faced many hardships and continue to encounter more. There continues to be challenges with venturing into business. Sometimes I have been looked down on because I was young, but I am happy to say that we are slowly changing this narrative.
Along the way we have met with sceptics who asked if our bulb would not burn their homes down, but this has never deterred me. If I am to share the full details of my entrepreneurship journey, I’m afraid I might take up the entire paper. I promise to one day do it justice by writing a book where I will share the story of my hurdles and hardships.
Q: Given the success of The Bulb World, what are some of the managerial tips you can share with aspiring businesspeople?
A: We cannot yet say that The Bulb World is successful. It is more of a work in progress. To share some of my learnings, I would say focus on your vision and try and shut down the outside noise, first and foremost.
Invest in your team and care for them like family. Listen and accept feedback, whether it is positive or negative. Hiring the right skills sets is critical. We have always had a vision of turning The Bulb World into a large corporate and therefore the current organisational structure is set up to fulfil this vision.
Q: Considering that the Bulb World is expanding internationally, can we expect to see you shifting your role to focusing more on international growth?
A: I have recently appointed a youthful Country Manager, Miss Ogaufi Setlhogile, who has been with the company since inception. She will take charge of Botswana operations whilst I focus and dedicate more time to regional expansion operations as Africa CEO. For the next two years, the focus is on penetrating SADC through the influential South African market. The five-year growth plan is to ensure that we have a presence across the entire African continent.
Q: Please share any extra information relevant to this conversation.
A: The Bulb World is big on youth and woman empowerment. Our team is 100 percent youth 70 percent of whom are women. Impact is also one of our key values, hence we have started a CSR initiative named “Lesedi ke Mpho,” meaning Light is a Gift, in which we are partnering with private sector corporates to retrofit boarding schools in less fortunate communities with LED lighting.