From selling sweets during his schooling days, and on the streets of Johannesburg CBD, to creating a ground breaking advertising agency – Zibusiso Mkhwanazi’s story tells of a life spent searching for a reason to live differently from the crowd, and also creating a media conglomerate that promotes African excellence.
Zibusiso’s rise from the ashes is a quintessential African tale – a search for new challenges and never settling for the ordinary. It is a story of a man who never set an end point to his journey in business and in life, but who never forgot to experience life and the lives of those around him.
To understand Zibusiso’s rise to the top, let’s take it back to Bramley Primary School, where he was running a business of selling sweets to his classmates in grade 4, the sugar rush was his first taste of entrepreneurship.
After making a bit of money, it dawned on him that he could maximize his profits if he’d roped in some of his friends to do his bidding.
“It registered in me from a young age that the plan was not to work hard, but to work smart.”
He asked his friends to sell sweets for him and paid them in sweets, this made him more profit than when he was selling alone. The business got so successful that the school banned them from selling any longer.
When he got to Bedfordview High School, he continued his entrepreneurial journey by selling ice-cream in the sweltering streets of Joburg’s CBD during holidays, where he’d sometimes rewarded himself with a KFC meal after a long day.
At the age of 15, Zibusiso found the internet, and his life changed forever. He was so fascinated with the world of technology and the impact it had on everyday life. He went to the library almost every day to equip him self with knowledge so he could know more about the internet.
One night, he walked into the kitchen and found his mother, who revealed to him that she won’t be able to send him to university. He took the leap into the unknown.
“I had a choice to be helpless or do something to help myself, I chose helping myself. That one conversation made a business that I intended to start one day, become a reality overnight and I have never looked back since.”
Although his mother didn’t have the means to take him to varsity, she still managed to give him R2 000 that he invested in the stock market, and significantly turned it into about R14 000.
He used the proceeds to start his first official business, Csonke, a web design company. And also enabled him to buy a suit for meetings, and company laptop.
He started buying student website samples for about R2K, and sold the designs to corporates for about 7 times that amount.
In 2006, his company merged with one of its biggest competitors, Krazyboyz, and became top 5 biggest web development agencies.
During this time, he met his future business partner, Veli Ngubane. He realised there was something in Veli and decided to tag him along in his next venture.
In 2012, Zibusiso alongside Veli, left Krazyboyz with nothing but a few clients, and co-founded AVATAR, a full-service marketing agency with a strong digital focus and emphasis on diversity.
According to the pair, AVATAR means a digital representation of oneself, basically connecting the physical world to the digital world in advertising. AVATAR helps clients build great brands and engage better with customer experiences.
In its first year of operation, the company generated over R1 million, and today it is South Africa’s largest black-owned integrated marketing agency, boosting clients like H&M, Caltex, Sanral, DeBeers, Westbank, and Wits University amongst others.
The agency generates over R200 million, and employs a team of more than 70 marketers across Joburg and Cape Town – including writers, developers, creatives, producers, strategists, account managers, and many others.
In addition, the two have expanded their empire under the holding company M&N Brands, which owns Avatar PR, Avatar Agency CPT, Avatar Agency JHB, Bozza, Mela Events, and Zkhiphani.
The story of Mkhwanazi and M&N Brands is one of discovery. It has much distance left to run. He is still selling sweets at heart, still finding new adventures and still remembering to reach out a helping hand to those who need one.