iTorho is completely disrupting the classifieds market. A free platform that enables entrepreneurs to list their offerings, manage bookings and client information, as well as receive payments, it is the brainchild of Njabulo Khulu, founder and developer of iTorho, a subsidiary of Torho Technologies.
Clients can share their iTorho link to their social media pages for marketing purposes. Plus, the platform leverages artificial intelligence to identify revenue-generating opportunities. Currently, it is home to hundreds of businesses around the country across 27 categories ranging from catering and cleaning, to fitness and finance.
With the economy shedding over five million jobs in the early part of 2020, South Africans are being forced to find ways of surviving financially, with many taking their skills and turning them into small businesses.
Why did you decide to branch out with your own business/venture, rather than work for other companies or corporates? I was a professional but deep down I am an innovator. I was always obsessed with the skills that would make me a better businessman or understand business better to solve African problems which led me to embark on the professional journeys that I did.
In 2018, I thought it was an opportune time for a new challenge by building capacity in a new industry, one which had excited me. I wanted to learn more about the fintech industry and be a part of the tech ecosystem. This led me to leave my job, enrol for postgraduate studies at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) in Futures Studies and develop a startup business supported through incubation and government funds to launch our product.
Give us a brief history of your media venture? What gave you the idea? How did it begin, and how has your business journey unfolded? I could no longer ignore the elephant in the room. Youth unemployment at 58% was a shocking statistic that I needed to do something to solve. The love I have for my country has made me think of ways in which we can increase the potential for prosperity for people.
SMMES are the largest employment sector in the country and if we can improve the potential to earn for them, this will grow our economy and create jobs; and entice people to upskill themselves because now there is a marketing channel on which they can commercialise their skills and do business efficiently utilising data. That’s what the e-commerce industry has given us – a chance to connect more people to each other.
iTorho – Bookings made easy, is an online marketplace platform for services to connect to clients online for payments and bookings. We are a software as a service business that creates efficiency for small business owners by facilitating payments through digital media. Business owners can manage their bookings and payments whilst being marketed through the platform for clients/customers to book.
The business was initially focused on the catering industry but had to pivot to include other services during Covid-19. We went through a strenuous period during Covid-19 as our events-focused services business had declined. We took a while to get back on our feet but are now excited to continue building a platform for the future which we believe will change our ways of working.
As a result of Covid-19 you have directed your business towards assisting SMEs. How has it changed and why did you take the decision? We were always focused on SMEs. We had more enquiries for different services to be listed which drove us to include further categories on our service list. During Covid-19, we had to service the market that was available like essential services, but our business was not geared for that industry creatively and has thus affected our performance. As a result, we have decided to not venture too far away from lifestyle, events and wellness services especially with Covid-19 restrictions being lifted and people striving to get their lives and businesses back in order.
What challenges did you face as a media entrepreneur and how did you overcome them? We were too broad in our approach to market. We needed to focus on a region and develop from there and Western Cape became our focus, because in some provinces we dont have service providers. Our marketing efforts were then misaligned and results were substandard as we targeted the whole of South Africa on a minimal budget.
We needed focus on target market and region in order to gain traction in our marketing efforts. The Western Cape is also an ideal place for lifestyle and weddings that it became a natural fit with our services.
Has there been a moment of success that has really stood out for you and that is your favourite on your journey? To what do you attribute your success? Working with the French South African Tech Labs has really empowered our business for growth with business development tools. We also worked with Dimension Data as part of their Enterprise Development Programme and having access to quality providers in the industry gives us confidence and skills required for success.
What characteristics do you think make a successful media entrepreneur? Willpower, tenacity, calm, emotional maturity, effective communication and strategy.
Your advice to young media entrepreneurs or those looking to start new media businesses? Get started – you’ll figure it out on the way. Just get started. Even if its blogging, Youtube, or whatever channel you want to build your media business, have faith that you will keep growing through the process.
What, in your view, needs to happen to encourage more media entrepreneurs, and not just that, help them stay the course? Private sector partnerships play a role in growing these creatives, as they can facilitate larger audiences. Government could utilise the new media space created through new entrepreneurs to communicate community challenges and service delivery information. If government sees electronic media as a positive resource and puts funding into its ecosystem development, we could see a digital revolution.
How do you ‘pay it forward’? Financial inclusion. Data retrieved through our platform unlocks financial growth opportunities for SME listed businesses as they can now qualify for finance from banks, that they wouldn’t readily apply. Through their use of our platform, the more opportunities for growth. We are always focused on delivering prosperity to South African SMEs.
Data for good. I have a passion to develop smart cities in Africa, and data is a tool that can help us achieve efficiency and reduce wastage. Through our initiatives, we aim to create data that will help us to build smart cities and communities that are self-sustaining.
What quote or passage do you think encapsulates you and your approach to business and success? “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” ~ Saint Francis of Assisi
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