2 February 2015
Jeffrey Mulaudzi has not looked backed since he first seized the opportunity to build a business on the potential offered by the Fifa World Cup, hosted by South Africa in 2010.
Just 18 at the time, Mulaudzi decided to offer bicycle tours of Alexandra, one of Johannesburg’s oldest townships, to the many tourists and sporting fans visting the county.
His business has proved sustainable and, today, Mulaudzi Bicycle Tours is ranked as one of the top five activities in Johannesburg by international travel website TripAdvisor, and has won him many awards.
The real deal
Mulaudzi, who has always had an interest in learning foreign languages, was studying French in 2010 when his tutor asked to be shown around Alexandra, a township outside Johannesburg.
Mulaudzi, who was born and raised in Alexandra, decided the best way to show his tutor the “real” Alexandra would be by bicycle, which would allow him to interact with the community.
After a successful tour with his tutor, Mulaudzi saw an opportunity in introducing his home to others – not just the usual tourism sites, but the lifestyle and people.
He started by making tour brochures to hand out at hotels. “One day I went to an hotel and dropped my brochures off, and the concierge thanked me and then dropped them in the bin as I went out.
“Luckily a guest waiting by the concierge saw him doing that and asked for one, which was rescued from the bin. He then called me for a tour for the next day.”
With the money from his first tour, Mulaudzi started paying hotels to display his brochures and the investment very quickly paid off. The money he earned went towards buying more bicycles, so he could increase his tour numbers.
Promoting local culture
Today, Mulaudzi has three tour guides and hosts an average of three tours a week – although this fluctuates depending on the time of year. He is also seeing a growing number of South Africans take his tours to experience township life.
Tours cost R200 (around $18) for two-and-a-half hours, or R400 ($37) for four hours. The cost includes bike hire, helmets, water, and lunch. Participants also get to taste umqombothi, a traditional African beer.
Mulaudzi uses the tour to introduce people to Alexandra residents, giving them the opportunity to share their stories.
“We make it so that there is communication . so that Alexandra residents can communicate with people from different countries, and visitors can see that they don’t have to be afraid of Alexandra, the place that we come from.
“We are also people, and I want to show it’s not a place where you will come and be killed or something like that,” he says. “I want people to better understand and know what kind of people live in the township as well.”
His tours also include an introduction to Alexandra’s history, with a visit to the infamous hostels erected by the apartheid government in the 1960s, and the home where Nelson Mandela once lived.
Toursits also visit local businesses and shebeens, which helps bring in business for other entrepreneurs in the community.
Mulaudzi’s entrepreneurial success led him to win the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in the 2013 South African Turkish Business Awards.
He has also been named as one of the 12 finalists for the 2014 Anzisha Prize, a pan- African competition that recognises entrepreneurs between the ages of 15 and 22 who are using business to bring change to their communities.
Mulaudzi says he has an “entrepreneurial heart” and, while his township tours are his first business, it will not be his last. He is looking for partners African Public Bicycles, which will allow people to rent bicycles to travel to a destination, leaving them there to be collected by the company.
“At the moment the bicycles are costing around R60 to hire . and if it could be subsidised by a company . which could get advertising on the bicycle, I think it would be a very good thing.”
His plan is to grow this model in South Africa and extend it across the border.
“Bicycles are the best form of transport to see a country and interact with people. In a car you get stuck in traffic, and if you are walking you can’t cover as much distance. Bicycles make sense, and I think, when you think about traffic, we are going in that direction more and more as a continent.”
‘Never give up’
“Not everyone can be an entrepreneur, but once you realise and understand that you are an entrepreneur, you must never ever give up,” Mulaudzi says. “Many people can start, but not many people can finish . but the only way you can finish what you started is to never give up.”
He adds that entrepreneurs should consider every failure a lesson: “Entrepreneurship is not easy because you always start with losing. I have never read a book that was written by an entrepreneur that says it is easy and you just need to start and you will get money. Never. It’s all about investing and reinvesting . and learning from your mistakes.”
This is an edited version of an article published by The Anzisha Prize. Republished here with kind permission.