ALWAYS HAVE A DREAM
“Having faith and hunger to achieve will give you an extraordinary life,” these are the words of 24-year-old entrepreneur Koko Mlambo. He tells us how his never give up attitude led to a life of achievements.
Koko was born in Cape Town and he was the youngest and only boy to four sisters (16), (11), (3), (2), his mom was a single parent. He says that he has only seen his father five times in his life and that he only met him when he was nine and his family took a trip to Durban.
“We were living in a one-bedroom wendy* house in Langa, we went to school and my mom volunteered at the ‘Churchiar Old Age Home’ (a government home for the disabled elderly) for three days a week. She received children grants as the main income, so we would live from hand to mouth. Sometimes we would sleep with no food but I thought that was the way life was supposed to be. I thought that was normal because my friends would be going through the same problems. This type of situation is very common in townships.”
Koko says that his family’s financial problems, surprisingly opened up the door to a place where he learned many life lessons.
“When I was 10, my mom couldn’t afford to keep me and two of my sisters at home. She sent us to a free boarding school, ARC City of Refugees. It was predominantly for orphans and refugees but because of our situation they gave us space. We were there for the rest of my primary school years. When I first heard we were going, I was excited but nervous because I was leaving my mom and friends. I would only see them over the school holidays when I would go home to Langa.”
“The boarding school was fun, I met many people who I could relate to – because we were all going through difficult times. Staying there also made me feel very grateful because some of the kids were going though worse times than me. The biggest life lessons I learned there, were discipline and how to work as a team. They made sure we did chores and we sticked to a routine. We were also exposed to a building manner of communicating rather than one that broke you down.“
After completing Grade 7, Koko returned home and he says that he experienced a culture shock.
“I found it difficult to deal with the amount of freedom, it was too much, it was overwhelming. At first I dealt with it because I kept going back to the lessons I had learned. But as I grew up, I lost myself and it got really bad when I was 16. I started paying attention to what the world thinks and peer pressure got to me. I was comparing myself to people and I would sit around, drinking and smoking, complaining about life.”
“After matric I took a gap year, it was the most depressing year of my life. I was unemployed and I would get bored, I drinked, smoked and partied non stop.”
“I had lost track of who I was but the Soccer World Cup woke something inside me and changed my mindset. I always had a dream of being a soccer player, and after the world cup I was so inspired to pursuit. I was reminded of my childhood dream because I saw a player that was called for the Bafana squad that I had played with when I was younger. I remember being told by coaches that I played well and that I had the talent but not the discipline to become a professional player.”
“A week later, I took my soccer boots and a bag and I left for Joburg. I had this hunger to be a professional soccer player, my level of ambition was very high, I was not scared. There was a degree of being naïve because I was 19 and I didn’t know anybody in Joburg but I just knew that I had to do this.”
At the time the financial situation had improved at Koko’s home and his mom bought him a ticket to Joburg.
“A family friend fetched me and took me to his shack in a bush in Soweto. He was very apologetic about where he was staying but I told him it’s really okay. I was fine with it, I felt so excited and determinded by being there.”
“My mom sent me money and I used it to look for a place to stay, I stayed in Kempton Park for six months. One day, I was at church and a pastor told me that there’s another pastor who was a soccer agent. I spoke to him and he told me to show up at the next practice. I played but I was very unfit. Luckily he was impressed by my skill and I was signed to play for Africa Academy. I felt like I made it. I was being paid to play soccer it was my dream come true.”
“During that time, a team from Benoni also tried to sign me, I was so excited I was finally making it. But during a pre-season practice, I broke my leg and my soccer career ended. I had never felt so low in my life, I began questioning why this was happening to me. I felt completely broken.”
That same month, Koko went back to Cape Town.
“Things were bad when I got home, my mom was sick. Even though my family had moved and we were now staying in a house in Langa, the house was packed because all of my sisters had children and were staying there. We were about seven people in the house.
“Things were tough, I didn’t have much hope, but I still focused on my dream of financial independence and changing my family’s life.”
“I knew I couldn’t sit around and do nothing, so I got a job at a clothing store asking people if they wanted to open accounts. I worked hard for three months and I displayed excellent working ethics.“
“During this time I met a gentleman that I would later learn he was a franchise owner of the Global Direct business. He told me that I have the potential to work in his business and that he was hiring. I thought why not and went for the interview. I felt nervous and didn’t know what to expect because I only had three months’ work experience.”
“In the interview, he told me that theres’s always potential in the business for employees to become Franchise Owners like he did. At first, I didn’t believe him because it was unheard for someone with my background to own a business. But after I saw the success of other entrepreneurs in the business, one in particular – who was homeless at one stage in his life – I felt again the same determination that I had when I embarked on my soccer dream.”
“I began as a trainee selling short term insurance products to people door-to-door, I enjoyed it. At the same time I learned about setting goals. In 12 motnths I had grown from a junior position to a level where I could become a Franchise Owner. I took the chance and today I own a Global Direct in the Cape Town CBD. My business employs 30 people and I have moved out of Langa and live in a two bedroom flat in town. I am finally financially independent.”
A defining moment for Koko was when he could help someone that he had grown up with.
“He was two grades below me and we went to boarding school together. We would play soccer and became friends. Last year he came to my business for a job interview and I was able to employ him. I am now mentoring him with the hopes that he will own his own franchise.”
Koko concludes by saying, “always have a dream – a dream is like a painkiller. Dreams get you up and going – it motivates you. Have a dream chart, make it visible. Have a positive attitude and believe that success is 99% attitude and 1% ability. Put action in your dream and have a great work ethic. Work hard on yourself then you’ll be better at what you do. The Koko I was before and the Koko I am now, is completely different. By investing in myself and working on my abilities I created my own destiny.”
Koko is a Global Direct Franchise Owner.