Nomsa Seisa is a seasoned entrepreneur and business executive who recently took over the reins as CEO of the dynamic education technology company Rekindle Learning from founder Rapelang Rabana.
Nomsa, you joined Rekindle at the start of 2017. Tell us what the experience has been like for you in this industry?
Wow, it’s been a steep learning curve, but it’s been a fantastic year. The highlights for me naturally include this opportunity to step up into the position of CEO, with Rapelang moving to Chief Digital Officer of BCX. Signing a couple of our contracts this year and, thereby, gaining a little bit of traction out there, has been a major highlight for us as a team.
Overall, it’s just been a steep learning curve and I’ve learned a helluva lot operationally in terms of using technology within the business as well as when it comes to people management.
What are the big opportunities you see for Rekindle to make a difference?
What excites me is that, as an SME, we can actually help other SMEs. For me, learning is really important, but what you find with SMEs is that they generally don’t have big budgets to develop their people and get the most out of them, and that gives us the chance to say we are going to present them with this opportunity, so it’s something that they can afford and, consequently, they can profit from our training.
Rekindle is rejoining Telkom’s Futuremakers enterprise development programme, which will be a major boost for you.
It’s a major boost because now we have access to funding to enable us to scale. Rekindle was a startup but now we can move to the next phase of growth for the business. They are giving us the opportunity to do that, as well as to align with Telkom – they are a giant and, for me, this will give us credibility as well as market access.
We have spoken to Futuremakers and they obviously have other startups in the business but there are other SMMEs in their fund that we will be able to have access to and to collaborate with and offer our sevices to. I think that is where we will really get value and where Rekindle will make an impact to the SMMEs as well as the greater market.
“You have to have the ability to say to yourself ‘I don’t know’, even if it is the smallest thing, and then recruit resources or get in touch with people who are going to teach you so that you can learn.” – Nomsa Seisa.
You’ve had an interesting career path through the ‘profession’ as well as in your own entrepreneurial ventures.
I’m an accountant by profession and I graduated with an accounting degree before I worked at one of the big three accounting firms. I started my career properly when I joined a company called Accenture and was put in a technology stream where I was delivering ERP systems for financial institutions. My next move was to a company called Fleming Asset Management and, as I was very interested in financial performance in investment, I went into the asset management space and it was while I was there that I realised I really wanted to do my own thing.
At that stage I was already passionate about entrepreneurship and passionate about employing other people and making a difference out there, so I sat back and tried to find my purpose, although I think my first business wasn’t about finding my purpose – it was more about the journey and looking at an opportunity that existed and saying, ‘OK, let me invest and see what skills I can develop in terms of creating an organization’.
Tell us about that first business journey?
I bought into a South African franchise called Camelot and opened up a spa in Botswana. You always hear people saying that franchising is a readymade business but, in this case, it was actually not the case. I had to build this business from scratch and create processes and recruit people and get funding. It was a great experience but also quite a painful experience.
Over and above that, I then started a company called Ethereal Holdings which was in the renewable energy space, because that’s what I was very interested in but, as you know, there’s a lot of research required in that space, which brought with it numerous challenges.
I had always known Rapelang and we had spoken on many occasions, and I had always followed the progress of Rekindle so, at the beginning of last year when she expressed to me what she required, it so happened that I was going through a slump in my business and when the opportunity came through I thought ‘why not, as long as I’m allowed to maintain my entrepreneurial spirit as well as learn from her… because there is so much you can learn from Rapelang.
She taught me the ability to use systems within a company without having to use a lot of resources, as well as critically analysing the best way to achieve an outcome without having to put in a lot of resources.
“It really is about being willing to learn from people who are going to teach you. There is a lot of communication and sharing that happens for entrepreneurs… otherwise you don’t survive.” – Nomsa Seisa.
In the entrepreneurial space life is a roller-coaster ride. What has been your secret to dealing with setbacks along the way?
In terms of not knowing the processes when you invest in a business – or buy into a franchise – for me, I went about dealing with setbacks by getting support. You have to have the ability to say to yourself ‘I don’t know’, even if it is the smallest thing, and then recruit resources or get in touch with people who are going to teach you so that you can learn.
However, you have to learn quickly and then implement those learnings. For me, I knew nothing about spas and beauty therapists and all of that, but I had to sit down and ask myself ‘what is this and how does it work’ and then I had to find a way to make my margins. Teach me how to do it and make me understand what it means… that was my experience of owning a franchise in the spa and beauty sector, and it was the same with getting to grips with the technology of Rekindle.
I had to sit with Rapelang and she had to explain to me about the business and the industry, and I even went out and spoke to our suppliers and stakeholders to help me in my learnings. It really is about being willing to learn from people who are going to teach you. There is a lot of communication and sharing that happens for entrepreneurs… otherwise you don’t survive.