Arriving in Durban, Lebo Gunguluza only had R60 to his name and a whole lot of nerve in the 1990s.
He was determined to enroll for a BCom at UKZN. His father passed away as a child and his mother worked as a nurse.
There wasn’t much money to get him through tertiary education, as the little money his mother made went on getting him, his brother and sister through secondary education in the late 80s.
Gunguluza missed 2 years of schooling due to constant boycotts at that time, so his mother took her savings and sent him to a multiracial school just outside Port Elizabeth.
According to Gunguluza, it was a great move as he was able to get a good quality education but at the same time, it meant there was nothing left to finance his varsity education.
His dream to study business was influenced by his apetite for risk.
When he arrived, he had no money nor place to stay but at the same time, he also had nothing to lose. It didn’t matter to him that he couldn’t register, all he knew was that he wanted to study business and become an entrepreneur.
By fate, he met a guy on campus who let him sleep over a few nights in his room, while he tried means to arrange finance. On the last day of registration, Gunguluza’s tenacity paid off, as he managed to secure a bursary to pay for his studies at the Pietermaritzburg campus.
Unfortunately, by mid-year, his funder pulled out of the country, leaving him hung-dry. With no resources, he had to find other ways to stay on campus and complete his qualification.
He’s always been a creative thinker. He won a national essay competition on how to launch DSTV during his schooling days. He always tapped into that skill set whenever possible throughout most of his life.
To make some money, he went to Edgars and offered himself to become an agent for the retailer on campus. They agreed and he did so well that he ended up working for the retailer in-store.
He was making enough money to survive, working during the day and catching up on his studies at night, but it was still a struggle to pay his tuition, this forced him to get a loan to help him get through.
He graduated in 1994 with a mountain of debt. Luckily, he was armed with a degree, work experience and an ability to sell. He had tons of job offers on the table, but he chose to work for the SABC as a sales executive.
He wanted to be in an environment that allowed him to be creative.
According to Gunguluza, its important for people to find out where their talents lie, more especially when their young, so that they can make better choices to hone their skill set.
After securing the job, Gunguluza set his financial goals. Growing up deprived, he was determined to make lots of money and never experience poverty again. He set 3 goals: become a millionaire by 25, a multimillionaire by 35 and a billionaire by 45.
He did well at SABC. His drive to succeed was unremitting – in a space of 2 years, he was promoted 4 times and by the of age 24, he became marketing manager for Metro FM.
Despite all this promotions, he still wasn’t earning enough to take care of all his family members back in Port Elizabeth.
Gunguluza then saved enough money to go to the US for a couple of weeks and do a course in specialised broadcasting which would have boosted his earning potential.
When he came back, his gameplan changed entirely, he was recruited by advertising mavericks, Herbuoys, to work for them.
Even though his salary had doubled, he realized the ad industry was a tough business to maneuver in. He was working really hard but still not making much progress. There was no way he was going to make that first million he promised himself.
While busy working, something struck him, he realized how good he was at throwing big parties back home.
“Why am I getting all these people to eat my food and drink my alcohol for free, when I could be making money from them?”…..he asked himself.
At age 26, he took the leap by quiting his comfortable job at Herdbuoys and launching Gunguluza Entertainment. He was fueled by a deep desire to build a business that could take care of him and his family members.
He didn’t have much cashflow in the business, he was forced to put his ability to leverage situations to greater use.
There was a night club called Insomnia in Sandton that wasn’t doing well. He approached the owners and told them he can bring the crowds if only they could let him take the door, while they make their money by selling drinks.
It was a great idea that took off immediately because there weren’t any clubs for young and trendy black people in the north at the time. Most of them were stuck in Hillbrow or the townships. On the first night, he made R7 000, that’s when he knew he was on to a good thing.
Like many young entrepreneurs, Lebo treated the money as his own and not the business’s. After a couple of weeks, he realised that he needed to save the cash he made in a business bank account if he wanted to hire some help. For 4 months ,he did really well, coining more than R5 000 per event.
Everything came to crash when a copycat came along – a celebrity had kept an eye on Lebo’s parties and started throwing his own. The clubbers went to the new establishment, leaving Gunguluza with an empty dance floor.
Gunguluza changed directions slightly, he started booking artists he had known over the years and quickly became a popular talent manager.
By this stage, he was making over R100 000 per event, and also took the opportunity to build his brand, he made sure he was on radio all the time, and also positioning himself as a local entertainment expert.
In 1997, Gunguluza heard that a new youth radio station was about to be launched, and once again, his skill in sales came to the fore.
He was still far from reaching his R1 million goal – but he knew radio and parties, so he called YFM and convinced them to give him half a million rand’s worth of airtime to organise the launch event on their behalf.
At that time, Kwaito was still a big genre and he knew all the stars. He met with stage, sound and lighting guys and also used the media space he got from YFM and bartered with them, he eventually ended up with R4 million in production.
15 000 people came to that party, each of them paying R100 to attend. Gunguluza made R1.5 million, with all the costs covered, and YFM got a fantastic launch party.
The experience reinforced Gunguluza’s view in business that you don’t always need money to acquire things – he realized earlier on that its possible for people to use their resources and barter when they don’t have cash.
Without no sort of funding, loan or tender, Gunguluza finally made his first million by the age of 27.
He never borrows money from the bank, its a principle he still lives by to this day today. He realized loans can cripple can cripple you forever.
Lebo Squanders it…..
Gunguluza spent that first million in one year. He bought a GTI and partied hard, instead of using the money as seed. By the end of 1999, he was flat broke, blacklisted and his car got repossessed.
He hit rock bottom due to his flashy lifestyle.
During that time, he realised that Entertainment was a fickle industry and promoters were untrustworthy. He then made up his mind that whatever he went into next, it would be in a space that paid well and had a structure.
Finding another way…
At that time, he shared a townhouse with his cousin, and was so down & out, that he’d walk to CNA and stand in a corner reading business books that he couldn’t afford. When the stuff saw him, they chased him away, so he’d go home, change his clothes and come back to consume the knowledge again.
He read about Richard Branson, Aristotle Onassis, and Donald Trump, he realised that if he wanted to succeed, he had to change his mindset.
After reading the books, 3 crucial points stood out for him:
- Whatever business you go into, you better know it inside out, down to the last bolt.
- You must always have a strong sales ability in the business
- Cash is king, so whatever money you make, try to retain as much of it as possible and use it to advance the company.
Although he didn’t have much experience in communications, he was a media maven at the core.
Lebo then approached Penta Publications and started selling media space for them. It was a steep learning curve, and he took full advantage of it. He got to know the tricky world of magazine publishing and corporate events.
After feeling satisfied with what he had learned, he left 9 months later and started building his communications business by launching Corporate Fusion.
This venture indicated a new direction for him – the chaos world of big business. Within 18 months of operation, the Corporate Fusion was generating over R2 million, and he only ran it from his townhouse with a single telephone line.
Seeing the success, Gunguluza’s appetite for risk grew stronger, he knew it was time for him to go to the next phase if he really wanted to grow his company into something substantial.
He contacted several big clients and, through his vast knowledge of radio and print media events, he launched a couple of awards shows – lavish evenings that became the talk of the town.
Gunguluza didn’t end there, he also started to build an extensive public sector network by consulting on communication strategies with several municipalities.
At age 33, his company was racking in over R14 million, a result of several big ticket contracts he managed to secure with blue chip companies.
Gunguluza reached his 2nd milestone before the age of 35, and had become a corporate communications specialist by applying his media and publishing experience.
Lighting Strikes Twice
Once again, Gunguluza squandered his gains. He bought a Porsche and traveled the world.
But this time it was different, he didn’t drop the ball himself like the first time, he rather left his company in the wrong hands. He soon lost track with the ins and outs of the company, and when he came back home, he was faced with the biggest crisis ever.
His company hosted an event for one of SA’s largest financial services companies, which turned into a complete mess. It was so bad that Sunday Times went on about it for weeks, ripping the event to shreds.
Corporate Fusion lost the client, as well as R7 million worth of other clients in a space of 3 weeks. Four months later, he was in debt and couldn’t no longer pay salaries, he was forced to retrench his staff.
Gunguluza recalls that period as the most painful time of his life.
Lebo bounces back again…
Despite his titanic sinking, Gunguluza still refused to see himself as a failure and started launching a come back.
He sold the office building he was using back to its original owners for R1 million, and bought a Primi Piatti franchise in Rosebank.
Boasting a background in entertainment, Gunguluza and his wife were so determined to build the restaurant and use the money they had made to pay back all their debts. As a result of his flair for fun, his Primi Piatti became one of the most popular sites in the country, and its turnover growth was high.
It was frequented by Jozi’s WHO’S WHO and was definitely the place to seen in Rosebank at that time.
Despite the Gunguluzas bouncing back from a financial ruin, Lebo’s relationship with his wife soured and they separated in 2008.
He handed over the Primi Piatti franchise to his ex-wife and started focusing on the other businesses he had been growing quietly in the background.
He hardly ever slept at that time. When he wasn’t at the restaurant, he was developing a new media company and creating new business partnerships. By the time he was out of Primi, he had settled all his debts and built a company that had already generated R2 million.
Gunguluza Enterprise & Media(GEM)
With GEM, Gunguluza wanted to establish footprints in these 5 sectors – Media, property, technology, investment and hospitality.
He wanted to use the media business to further develop other businesses within the GEM Group of Companies.
At that point, he was chasing his R1 billion goal, but knew if he had started from scratch, it was gonna take too far long. His strategy was to acquire a stake in existing companies and triple their turnover by boosting their sales and marketing.
It was the same strategy he had used back in the YFM days when he quadrupled the airtime he got, but with GEM, things were on a bigger scale.
Next up, Gunguluza partnered with Uhuru Communications, as well as several other youth and campus publications. He leveraged his public sector experience by launching Municipal Focus, which covered the business of local government with a nationwide distribution to municipalities and government departments.
To this day he still continues to grow his publishing footprint through a series of multiple publications in the country.
The rest as they say, is history….
There’s no rest for Gunguluza, he’s grown GEM into a multimillion rand business and also plans on launching other businesses in different industries.
According to Gunguluza, aspiring entrepreneurs should have a long-term vision for their businesses, work hard, stay disciplined, be patient and keep believing in themselves.