The Entrepreneurship Issue presented by CAN DO!
Photography by Austin Malema/Pixel Kollective
Styling by Chelsea Pitt & Nkuley Masmola
Makeup by Caroline Greeff
Words by Naledi Sibisi
Mashudu Modau currently identifies as an Entrepreneurship Evangelist. The Sowetan born and raised businessman has worked in the South African entrepreneurship development ecosystem for the last six years. His passion for youth entrepreneurship is filtered and managed through the digital content on his platform – increasing access to both opportunities and resources through a centralized hub. Mash Starts Up currently provides podcasts, written articles and other digital content to further facilitate and grow the start-up ecosystem. “When I was a student, I felt so out of place. It was like I didn’t belong there, and I was meant to be doing something else. I finally found what that something was”. Mashudu started to explore the internet and start-ups and began with an online portal for matriculants to download past papers called PAPERSHARE. “I had never felt more alive, happy and fulfilled than I did working on a solution that could help over three thousand students”. The visionary who was determined to focus on the African continent and change the perspectives and realities of the youth as they venture into their own businesses while he provides a better future and outcome for them takes us through is journey and demonstrates how he became everything he is today.
“There have been a bunch of other projects, start-ups and small businesses that helped me get into incubators and accelerators. The experience was difficult. Navigating a system that operates in silos and focuses on a lot of box-ticking instead of impact is dreadful”. From this frustration, Mash Starts Up was born. The desire to help other entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses travel through the process in smarter and faster ways allowed him to take up his current role. Today, Mashudu is the person who encourages, enables, educates and empowers young people to pursue entrepreneurship with the resources they need so that they can have a higher chance of success and growth. “With as many titles as I hold right now, one is the most important to me. I consider myself an Afrofuturist. This is to say that I recognize the value and power of African heritage and culture. I wish to bridge this with technology to amplify and reimagine the future with Africa at its centre. Africa is the new now and we have the opportunity to elevate it to its true glory through content, technology and entrepreneurship”. While there is a certainty and a clear path and plan on Mashudu’s current journey, he finds it important that he does not gloss over some of the core struggles faced on a continual basis. He acknowledges that resources are one of the biggest factors affecting success stories. “The biggest challenge when it comes to starting, building and growing a business are the resources you have access to and can use to enable your growth or success. This does not only mean money. This can be access to mentors, access to incubators, access to information, and access to opportunities”, he continues, “I overcame this by simply using what I had to create as much as I could. This helped me to build things other people could believe in enough to invest their resources into me. In order to really carry the ideas and visions I had forward; the phrase ‘just start’ is truly the crux of overcoming the initial challenges”.
Although Mash Starts Up was founded based on empowering entrepreneurs, certain practices would be essential to keep Mashudu empowered and inspired in his personal capacity. He expresses that he does not believe he has really cracked this aspect of the hustle. “I often say ‘this work life has no balance’. It is important to have your mind and body right. I’ve started exercising, meditating and trying to take more time out to reflect instead of constantly chasing the sun”. When Mash Starts Up was founded, a major focus central to the business would be the ecosystem, what it currently represents and where it is going. Mashudu expands on this by reiterating how the process works. He explains that all the hubs, incubators, government agencies and corporate entities who are investing in centres or resources help to better the performance and success rate of businesses in South Africa. “I have been part of the ecosystem in different roles. I started out as an entrepreneur running start-ups and using these different hubs to grow the business and upskill myself. I then transitioned into becoming practitioner and specialist working with different companies or organisations to empower entrepreneurs in different ways. This included being a community and partnerships manager at Yoco, being a judge for MTN Business App of the Year in 2018, working with the Redbull Amapaphiko Programme as a seeker and acting as a community manager for the Accenture and UNDP Platform YAS and so much more”. The process itself reflects the core values Mashudu operates under namely ‘enabling, educating and empowering’. These specific pillars remain important because he is very big on collective work and building people up as he has been built. “’Build each other up and help each other win’ – this is my mantra. There is no future for the African youth without a conscious and consistent investment in collective growth. The future of this continent is rooted in enabling, empowering and educating the youth in order for them to carry us into the next millennium”.
It is becoming increasingly obvious and certainly admirable to witness Mashudu’s deep rooted and sincere passion for other people. While he references the idea of collective growth, he also talks about having a heightened level of empathy for people. The curiosity to solve complex problems coupled with a high investment in the future of Africa is what he considers the root of his growth. Currently, Mashudu is clothed in a black suit against a matching background and someone on set points out that it looks like a Forbes feature. The idea does not seem too far-fetched when he starts to get into his plans for where he is aiming to take his businesses. “What I love about entrepreneurship is how you can use principals from one type of business in order to build and grow another. I am still very much in the research and development phase of a physical product or possibly designing experiences. I am really interested in the food and beverage industry too. I think that South Africa, or Johannesburg to be specific is in need of a lot more in terms of culinary experiences. I’m also very interested in e-retail as an industry with no specific product in mind. It's a process of finding what I love that makes the most businesses sense as well”.
Considering the fact that he is currently on the CAN DO! Campaign, we naturally branch out into a conversation about fears and overcoming. He gets candid about how he has shifted gears to prevent those fears from driving him. “I think that from early on, the biggest fear is failing. Whether that means not making a certain amount of money or closing doors, whatever failure means to you, it finds a way to consume you”, he continues, “The reason entrepreneurship is such a difficult pursuit is because of how comfortable you have to become with that failure. You have to make failure a friend rather than an enemy. By doing that, it doesn't feel like the collapse of the world you imagined. You will fail. Getting comfortable with this and focusing on learning as much as possible from the failure so much is a method of growing yourself and your business – that is how you become unbreakable”. This kind of project not only encourages more people to take up entrepreneurship in better and smarter ways with the resources the winner stands to gain. Mashudu emphasizes that he is always excited to work with organizations who understand the value of empowering young entrepreneurs in a way that helps young entrepreneurs grow. “I hope young people learn the value of doing work that matters and having a meaningful impact on the world. We are a generation that has inherited a country, a continent and a world that was built on broken systems that don't help the overwhelming majority succeed and grow. We have to change that”.
As a fan of meaningful collaborations between people and organizations to achieve bigger and better goals, Mashudu reflects back on past projects as well as what platforms he is looking forward to working with. “My platform lives as a great statement in terms of what I believe in but I have made a conscious effort to push towards creating a lot more in different mediums and working with other creators or brands to elevate the work that I am doing. I think of Yoco and RedBull Amaphiko are some of the best organizations I have worked with in that regard. These organisations have a deep vested interest in the growth, development and success of entrepreneurs. My dream is to build a company that can develop entrepreneurs and help start-ups succeed at the level and scale of American seed accelerator Y-Combinator”. For someone who has been able to successfully operate a self-funded project, it is inspiring to witness how Mash Starts Up is able to continuously generate income through work with brands and corporates on the digital end of things. In terms of what the future looks like, Mashudu expresses that the process of evolving the business has already begun. “We have recently built out a podcast network called Lutcha which we believe will be a game changer and a pace setter for the future of digital content in Africa. The next five years will see an evolution of how the African start-up ecosystem works and also how media works. We hope to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances to build one of Africa’s most impactful media companies”.
While his journey is still arguably quite young, the accomplishments have been plenty. Ultimately Mashudu continues to focus on the impact he has had along with the impact he continues to make. “I still hope to have an impact on young African creators and entrepreneurs who use the resources we have built to enable them to pursue their dreams. The ultimate form of success is in doing work that changes lives and is rooted in purpose. That is my impact. That is my biggest achievement”.