Tell us about yourself.
My name is Mashadu Madau and I am a soldier for entrepreneurship in Africa.
That means documenting and advancing entrepreneurship in Africa, and I am doing that is by creating a digital platform where aspiring entrepreneurs can get access to resources that they need to start growing their businesses.
I grew up in Soweto and I’ve never had a role model that was an entrepreneur. I went all through high school not really understanding who I was or what I wanted to do and that suffocated me. I tried to go to varsity - studied accounting and it went horribly, the same with economics.
Is rejecting the traditional route of what is expected of them and following their passion something a lot of people are able to do?
If you can follow what people feel you should be doing but it's not who you are then you are extremely strong. I respect people who suffer the pain of going to a job they hate; that takes a lot of courage and heart. Killing yourself every day to do a job that you hate but doing it regardless because you feel like there’s a point to it. I will never disrespect people who work normal 9-to-5 jobs.
If having a 9-to-5 job in a specific profession is who you are, it’s who you are. If you feel like it fulfils you then that’s amazing and you are incredibly lucky to be a person that does what they love doing. If you aren’t and you still force yourself to go to that job you hate, I still respect that because that takes a lot out of people.
What are the biggest hindrances for people wanting to pursue entrepreneurship as a viable option?
The biggest thing is the socio-economic landscape of South Africa. I have no doubt there are a lot of young black professionals who would be great entrepreneurs if the burden of providing wasn't so heavy. There is a disproportionally larger number of white entrepreneurs than black in South Africa, especially those that have businesses that have scaled incredibly because of being well-resourced.
What would have to change that would allow anyone to become an entrepreneur?
The change is already happening. Young black professionals now will be parents in 20 years and their sons will have a much different experience of life, education and entrepreneurship than they did and that is going to make a massive difference to whether they become entrepreneurs. This enabling environment increases the probability of them becoming entrepreneurs; of them taking the risk because their parents have stable jobs and are living comfortably.
My mom is a teacher and to her it's crazy that I want to be an entrepreneur because her journey in life has been to take the traditional route of going to school, getting a job and staying in that job for 25 years. Giving me R50 000 to bootstrap my start up for 3 months is insane to her but in the future, I want to be able to give it to my son and not worry if it comes back.
Vusi Thembekwayo once said “We are the generation of entrepreneurs that need to get burnt. We are the ones that need to get scarred. We are the ones that need to show others that ‘wait, shit is rough but it is worth it’. We are the ones that are going to get hurt the most and we are going to take a lot of shit and it is our responsibility to try and make it work, even with the constructs. Our sons and grandsons are going to have an easier path, simply because we are the ones that have started on this path."
What do you think the future holds for entrepreneurship in South Africa?
I am very optimistic. I am inspired daily by the entrepreneurs that I meet and the people who are in entrepreneurship development for the right reasons.
South Africa currently has one of the most enabling environments for start-ups. The trendy thing for brands to invest in now is entrepreneurship development for their CSI initiatives and how they will create spaces and funds for entrepreneurs. I hope that trend lasts at least 20 years to see whether that builds the environment that can completely shift the way that young people experience entrepreneurship.
The psychology of most entrepreneurs is insanely different from most people and we need to put that into more people. The re-education of people needs to happen to show them that entrepreneurship is something they can pursue. "You can be an entrepreneur" must be spoken of in the same light as becoming a lawyer or doctor when inspiring kids. Entrepreneurs are equally as important and it should be encouraged just as much.
There seems to be a certain glamour around entrepreneurship and it is romanticised with a lot of misconceptions. What is the biggest misconception about entrepreneurship that needs to be corrected?
I hate that it is romanticised. It's disgusting that South African entrepreneurs that are considered successful sell this perception that it's a very linear road where you start a business and then become successful with the houses, cars, and travelling.
Yes, it is exciting when you start and incredible when you become successful but there's a point where you’re going to wish you had a psychologist to talk to when you cry in the middle of the night because you really don’t know what is going on anymore.
The thing that's not highly spoken about is the psychological impact the journey of entrepreneurship has on people. There's a need to speak about the emotional side.
What are the biggest obstacles stopping you, right now, from achieving what you would like to achieve?
I've built Mash Starts-Up and I am trying to help as many people as I can. What is the next step? How do I really help people? Not just broad information about incubators and funds but how can people come to Mash Starts-Up and get value that has a long-term impact on their business. We have 5 different features that we are considering to put on the website but how do we do that? Which one is the right one? How do we decide which one will be of more value to people than the other?
Every day is a process of trying to calm myself and saying "You're crazy to think that anyone would give a shit about you tweeting, posting and instagramming about entrepreneurship. Who the hell cares? You were crazy to interview 17 entrepreneurs in the same day asking them to advise other entrepreneurs. You were crazy in building a website to help entrepreneurs start building and growing their business.”
This is what is causing my anxiety. A very popular entrepreneur said to me last week "My biggest fear in being an entrepreneur is that I am going to be caught. I am going to be found out and people are going to think this is a scam" and I resonate with that.
What advice would you give to any entrepreneur that is going through that anxiety of not being sure if what they're doing is important enough or if people will care?
The biggest piece of advice that I'm always getting from my mentor is that entrepreneurship is a very selfish thing. You see a problem that you feel a lot of people care about. You put a product or service into the market that you are not necessarily sure about completely. You find a problem and create the solution.
During that process, protecting your mind is the biggest thing because we live in an age of noise. What was vital for me was creating something, silencing the noise, and then resurfacing to ask people who had experienced the product to tell me if there was value. I then asked for the advice and mentorship so I can go back again and remodel the product and I put it back out there with more value and test it again.
That is the advice. Testing and learning. It's a constant cycle. Sooner or later that pit of despair where you don't know if people care disappears because you are so immersed in the work of what you're trying to build.
What is the New Youth Network and what is it that you’re trying to do?
The grand vision of the New Youth Network (NYN) is to create a more enabling environment for African content creators. We want to create a singular platform where you would get access to the best content creators in Africa.
What really hurts me is when I go on YouTube and I can't find something of high quality to watch that is South African. If I can’t find a website that talks about the latest fashion advice from someone, I am forced to look at an American website and that bothers me.
We are trying to create a more enabling environment for African content creators to scale their platforms to match those of American platforms. The first thing that we did was create our own platform. Mash Starts-Up is a platform owned by NYN.
We find the best content creators in Africa. Our twitter handle right now has around 3000 followers which is a substantial amount and what we are trying to do is sharing the content people are making. That puts the content into more people’s eyes. I don't feel like we should be consuming as much American and European content as we do.
In South Africa, we spend data like we're spending money. If I am at home and I have bought data with my money and you send me a video and it’s shit, I'm going to kill you (laughs).
Not so long ago I saw make-up bloggers fighting each other on Twitter and I was so shocked. Imagine I shut off everyone that wrote about entrepreneurship. How stupid would I be to do that? I would be killing myself because I benefit from other entrepreneurial content. We can both grow and benefit.
There's a negative form of community. It has cliques and content creative’s who feel that they are the elite class don't want their bundle of joy disturbed. That breeds outsiders that are completely discarded as people who want to attack an establishment.
What are your plans for the future?
We believe the current model of entrepreneurship events is flawed in that it often hinges on one individual sharing their journey and hoping that an audience of diverse individuals with differing experiences can learn something from it. This is a game of probabilities which offers little value to a majority of the audience and the impact is often unquantifiable.
The Power of Ten allows ten different people involved in different businesses and with completely different experiences to share their journey, mentor each other and trade with each other.