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Basil Phupha has come a long way from his teenage entrepreneurial forays, when he would buy sweets and biscuits and sell them at a mark-up to the sugar-deprived kids neighbouring his grandparents’ farm in Dewetsdorp outside of Bloemfontein.
The 29-year-old self-starter now owns his own agricultural and agro-processing manufacturing company, Basil Business Opportunities (BBO), and has a staff of seven – one permanent and six temporary employees.
While he’s no longer selling sugar highs, Phupha has, in some ways, always stayed on the farm: “From when I started working at age 19, agri-business is the only thing I have ever done. It’s become a passion – maybe even an obsession – to see something I started from nothing working for me and for others,” he says.
After growing up with his grandparents, Phupha left the family farm to work for an agro-processing equipment manufacturer in Germiston. He started at the bottom, learning every part of the manufacturing process – from cutting, bending, welding and assembly to installation and training – before working his way up to junior management.
He resigned in 2017 to start his own small poultry farm back home in Dewetsdorp. “I was producing 1 500 dozen eggs per month with 600 commercial layers and 1 250 kilograms of broiler chicken meat per six-week cycle.”
He was happy and may have been content to spend his years farming in the Free State, but the entrepreneurial spirit that had been sparked during his teen years drove him to find a new opportunity. That came in the form of an agricultural and mining business incubator course. He focused on the manufacturing side of agri-business and before long BBO was born.
“My work experience gave me the idea because not only had I learned every single process of manufacturing, but clients had always encouraged me to start my own business because they were not happy with the service they got from my former employer. I started my own business as there was clearly a demand, and I already had a relationship with the clients.”
Using only the best food-grade stainless steel and manufacturing equipment to customers’ specifications ensures Phupha’s products are sought-after quality, but he believes his early lesson in the importance of good customer service has been the real foundation for his business’ success. “We give our clients what they want at a price that meets their expectations and budgets. Our turnaround time is also efficient and deadline disciplined.”
It’s a strategy that’s paid off, with BBO boasting a client list that spans South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini. But this success did not come without much-needed guidance. In addition to product development mentorship from Seda, Phupha also benefited from being selected for the SAB Foundation’s Tholoana Programme run by business incubator Fetola.
“Fetola helped me address one of the biggest issues I struggled with since starting my business: access to market. Sure, I had relationships with people in the business through my previous job, but that was not enough to sustain or to grow my business. My business mentor taught me how to market my business and since then I have begun to penetrate the market.”
He’s paying it forward now by assisting other SMMEs in the agricultural and agro-processing sector. “As someone who has struggled with start-up funding, I really understand that start-ups don’t always have the money to buy the equipment they need for their agro-businesses. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation, excuse the pun!” he says.
“Once I was more established, I decided to help where I could. BBO already supplies start-up SMMEs with equipment on an instalment payment basis and we’re currently in talks with funding institutions, such as the National Youth Development Agency, to develop an equipment funding model that benefits both parties.”
The Covid-19 pandemic hit BBO hard, as equipment manufacturing was not considered an essential service under Level 1 regulations, necessitating Phupha to shutdown operations and leave projects in limbo. “My company still needed to be compliant during this time, however, so I had to make sure that I paid my compensation fund even though there was no cash flow. It was a huge problem as we had months with no income.”
BBO is operational again under Level 3 regulations and Phupha says he’s relieved to have been able to complete outstanding projects and start marketing his business once again.
Ironically, his early start-up cash flow woes were his saving grace through hard lockdown: “I learned early on not to use money unnecessarily, because I will always need it later in the business. That tough lesson has paid off.”