When he lost his mother at a young age Isaac Mbatha (26) was devastated. However, he refused to allow his despair and loss to define his future or to go down the tubes of nyaope smoking and wayward behaviour. But he pressed on. Today he is a leading, young entrepreneur with a knack of turning challenges into opportunities. He credits his mother for instilling a never say die spirit in him. As a boy he was diligent in helping out in the family business and selling sweets to his schoolmates. From taxi conductor, to helping hand for auto mechanics, today he has built a business empire that is empowering hundreds of people as founder and CEO of Sky Tents SA. As you read this Isaac is providing jobs for 30 people whom he has given a shot at a better future. In the following Interview Isaac shares his story.
Isaac tell us briefly about yourself and your childhood.
I was born in KwaMashu, Durban in KwaZulu Natal in 1991. I went to Bechet School, My father owned a fleet of taxis, trucks and a filling station. As a young boy I would help out with the various chores that come with the business like tallying the daily takings and recording them, ensuring that the vehicles were clean and well serviced. I was also responsible at early age for ensuring that the vehicles had adequate fuel for the next day. I soon learned to drive and do mechanical work on the vehicles. I was forced by the environment of growing up in a family of hard workers to learn to fend for myself and appreciate the value of money and the importance of saving it.
Even whilst at school I would sell sweets and other perishables so that I could raise money for myself. I got a job at Eskom in the Mpumalanga province where I worked as an apprentice and I saved enough to buy my first taxi. In a space of 4 years my fleet had grown to 7 taxis.
Please tell us about your great loss and how it affected you as a child.
In 1996 I lost my mother. That was the saddest time of my life and I was thoroughly devastated by the loss of my mother as she was my pillar of strength. I moved to Newlands in East Durban. I still miss her a lot even today, but I draw strength from the lessons she taught me. I am sure she would be proud of me and what I have been blessed with achieving as a man.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in business, especially when starting out?
At a point in time I partnered with a guy who was my friend and he was down on luck as he had been disowned by his family. We went into business and I put my all into it. However, as time went on and the business was thriving he was able to resolve his problems with the family and went back to them. Soon after he told me that his family had advised him that he could no longer be my partner in business. After some time we parted ways and he took everything. I had to start afresh.
How did your breakthrough come?
I met my mentor and close friend Sanjay Pershad who encouraged me to take the leap of faith and go into the tent making business. This was after he had seen me lend a hand to various businesses which were hired to pitch tents in the township. Sanjay saw the passion in me and said I should go out on my own. Not just to pitch tents, but to manufacture quality tents and sell them to people who pitch tents. It was not easy starting out buy with the support of Sanjay and my father I soldiered on. I was able to acquire machinery and market the business. Soon we had grown and were able to attract talented people to work and grow our vision.
Tell us about your business.
Our business is Sky Tent SA. We are a manufacturer and wholesaler of tents for all occasions. Sky Tents SA has grown over the years and we are now leaders in the manufacture, sale and supply of state-of-the-art tents for conferences, weddings, parties and gazebos. We also custom make tents for our clients. Our products include the supply of military, peg and pole, stretch, frame, alpine, aluminum, luxury, beach, and dome tents.The company portfolio is also diversified as we also supplymobile chillers/freezers, mobile toilets (including VIP), chairs, and tables for a variety of functions. Sky Tents SA supplies to the general public, government departments, municipalities, corporate companies, disaster relief concerns and multi-lateral institutions. All products come with full workmanship guarantee which provides customers with total peace of mind. The company has grown from employing just three people, to providing work opportunities 26. Headquartered in the heart of West mead, Pinetown in Durban.
Tents by their nature have become an integral part of our lives in the community. Almost all functions that we have either as families or the community requires a tent. From umembeso (a cultural event marking the rite of passage of a maiden), to religious functions – you need to have a high quality tent. That is what inspired me to venture into this business.
What makes your business unique to others?
As a company we like to plough back to the communities that we serve. We have a solid CSI programme whereby we partner with various organizations for charitable causes and to fight poverty. At Sky Tents SA we also believe that education is very important and it is the key to change society through skills development. That is why we are among the few companies that are not only involved in up skilling young people, but we also give them the tools to start their own businesses. In that way we subscribe to the notion that if you give someone a fish they will always come back for more; but if you teach someone how to fish you would have empowered them with a life skill that will help them fend for themselves and improve their lives.
What is your advice to young entrepreneurs?
To all the young people out there I would like to say that the future is in your hands. You just have to work hard and be consistent in everything that you do. No matter what it is that you are involved in you have to put your all into making it a success. Sometimes you will be disappointed as doors will be shut in your face. But remember that for every ‘No’ that you encounter you are a step closer to your ‘Yes’. Keep pushing and never give up.