I AM EMERGE is a creative agency founded by Brian Makwaiba and Oscar Monama. This agency comes up with creative concepts to enable access between township businesses and the bigger markets outside their horizons. It is with this idea in mind that in 2012, I AM SERGE developed their creative idea and founded the Vuleka Mobile App.
The Vuleka Mobile App is an app through which spaza shop traders place orders for fast moving consumer goods that Vuleka then delivers in bulk to their doorsteps. Bundling these orders together in bulk purchases enables Vuleka to obtain discounts, which are then passed on to the individual shop owners. The app is also linked to a virtual wallet payment system so that all payments are cashless.
Makwaiba and Monama started their business after seeing how traders in Alex struggled to buy their stock in bulk, spending time and money travelling to their suppliers and usually paying a higher price than necessary. The two founders started with just R3 000 in their pockets and initially struggled to make a profit because any income was used to purchase more stock for their traders.
Three years later, the business is thriving and expanded into other townships including, Thembisa and Soweto, and are now getting more orders than ever before. According to Makwaiba they receive orders of R3 000 per spaza shop on a weekly basis, which brings them an income of between R60 000 and R180 000 each month.
In 2017, Vuleka Mobile was awarded R150 000 at the SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards. Makwaiba claims that winning this prize has changed their lives for the better and being recognised by the SAB Foundation has boosted their status in the industry.
“Being part of the SAB Foundation programme has helped us scale into two other townships and we have increased our customer based almost three-fold. We have moved to a bigger warehousing space meaning we can carry more stock and can therefore service more spaza shops. Before the programme we only had three employees but we have now managed to grow to 13”, shared Makwaiba.
When I AM EMERGE was founded, they wanted to do more than just service spaza shops, they wanted to make an impact in the communities they serve. The business understands that their main customer base is the older market, most of whom are not technologically savvy. When they received complaints from clients who were struggling to operate the app and didn’t have smartphones, the founders decided to employ Field Service Agents (youth marketers) living in their areas of operation to take orders manually from the spaza shops and help to arrange deliveries.
The founders say that being part of the SAB Foundation was an amazing journey and that they will be forever grateful for the opportunity. Makwaiba shares that the SAB Foundation did not only assist them with funding but also equipped them with essential tools to help them grow their business. Through the workshops they attended they picked up entrepreneurial skills including financial management, which they had struggled with before the programme.
With the SAB Foundation funding they received, they have moved into a new warehousing space which acts as a central distribution centre for their goods into different communities. They also bought marketing material for their business and several computers for their staff members.
According to Makwaiba, starting a business is not an easy task, and is a stressful journey that requires hard work. However, he still believes it to be a worthwhile endeavour and says that people who have passion to start their own ventures should definitely go for it.
“Don’t be afraid to fail and experiment and do thorough research about the field you want to go into and seek guidance from mentors or people who have been on the same journey,” shares Makwaiba.
In the next three to five years, I AM EMERGE plans on expanding their business into even more areas. “I see us having expanded into the rest of the country and also into some countries in the rest of Africa. “I see us impacting many lives and growing informal businesses and lives in townships, and I also see the business expanding to other informal businesses apart from just spaza shops,” concludes Makwaiba.