From humble beginnings to owning a prominent insurance business: how mentorship helped an entrepreneur beat the odds

3 min read 18 October 2018

Sbusiso Wanda’s entrepreneurial spirit has overcome extraordinary odds. Having grown up in KwaMashu Township near Durban, with little in the way of education or familial support, he started a butchery business at age 24 and lost it just a year later. A chance encounter steered him into insurance – a venture that lost him one house before it gained him a bigger one. What’s kept him going? The ability to start small but think bigger. And a guy called Dave Gould.

Wanda says Gould, managing director of Vulindlela Underwriting Managers (VUM) has been his mentor for the past eight years. VUM is an underwriting agency providing affordable insurance to taxi owners and emerging businesses under the Santam licence.

Sbusiso and Dave have a dynamic, collaborative relationship that’s helped both men overcome multiple hurdles. Wanda says the best advice Gould ever gave him was to keep going. Entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint. They met at a golf game hosted by Santam for emerging entrepreneurs. At that evening, and one follow up meeting, Gould convinced Wanda to get into short-term insurance.

Gould was able to successfully propose Wanda as the beneficiary of Santam shares through the Emthunzini Business Partners’ Trust, and ongoing mentorship support. This enabled him to boost his panel beating business – which now employs 36 people – and start his taxi insurance business. Here’s how Wanda thinks mentorship makes a difference:

  1. It can be less lonely: Being an entrepreneur can be quite lonely. When it’s just you, you often long for other people to bounce creative ideas off, collaborate with or just to keep you company over coffee breaks. A mentor can fill this space.
  2. It helps the transition: Entering any new market is incredibly daunting. It’s hard to identify the niche gaps to capitalise on. A mentor helps you make the transition into a new venture by giving perspective and guidance based on his or her experience.
  3. It gets you through the tough times: When I first started in the short-term insurance space I put a lot on the line. And I lost a lot, including my house at the time. It was very tempting to give up. But having a mentor made me realise this was a long- not a short-term game. It gave me the confidence to carry on. I’m pleased to say I now have a much bigger, better house!
  4. It’s an ongoing relationship: I’ve now been meeting Dave on a monthly (sometimes weekly) basis for the last eight years. We have the kind of relationship where we learn from each other and I feel like I can ask him anything. I think it takes a while to build the level of trust we have. Which is why mentorship needs to be on-going not once-off.
  5. Access to capital: Ask any entrepreneur and this will be a shared challenge we all face. Most of us are looking for ways to make money fast. So we draw up a plan and immediately think we’ll get a loan. That’s not how it works in my experience. I think a mentor can be very helpful in guiding the process of not only helping you seek investors but also getting your business to the point where it’s ready for investment. That’s a crucial step.

On the other side of the equation, Gould shares his advice for emerging entrepreneurs:

“Entrepreneurs often use capital for the wrong things, which can mean they run into crippling cash-flow problems very quickly. I think it’s important for people to start small, go through the teething problems, then gradually grow their capital and apply for funding from there. You need to get to the point where investing in your business makes financial sense for an investor.”

Gould also believes there is a harmful perception that businesses usually have an 18-month breakeven point. From my 28 years as a ‘serial entrepreneur’ I think I can safely say this isn’t usually the case. Sometimes it takes three to five years to reach this point; in the insurance industry, it’s often closer to six or seven years. I think people need to start something with the correct perspective of the time it’ll take to succeed. If you go in with a long-term mind-set, you may be less tempted to give up when you run into obstacles in the first few years.