In Conversation with: Kudzanai Thondhlana
I am a 32 year old male, born and bred in this house of stones as a silver-spooned born free. I studied law at UCT and am in marketing and sales by profession. I am co-founder of Creative Natives Africa, a marketing and sales firm based in Harare, as well as co-founder and Business Director of Tribe of Influencers, organisers of the Zim Blog Awards. Prior to that, I was Editor of the inaugural edition of the Book of African Records. I am passionate about entrepreneurship, media and Africa, in particular the untapped potential of African youth.
What is your proudest achievement?
That would have to be winning a FIFA tournament at “Room 10”, my friend Joseph’s place. Those who know Room 10 will know why, but I am still riding the wave of confidence that day gave me. It made me realise that if you want something bad enough, no matter how hard it is or the competition you face, if you give your best then anything is possible.
How did Creative Natives Africa come to be?
It all began as a conversation under an avocado tree with my business partner. The realities of life as an unemployed Zimbabwean had us vice-gripped by the throat and we were vigorously discussing ways to alleviate the burden on our families and our souls. We had always enjoyed debating marketing campaigns we would see and sharing ideas on how marketing in Zimbabwe could better connect with us as audiences, which led to us to considering why we could not be a part of the change we sought. That nugget of enlightenment led to us brainstorm names for what this beacon of our dreams would be called and the services we would offer...and in that moment, Creative Natives Africa was born.
What is your view on the current standing of the creative industry in Zimbabwe?
It’s a wonderful time to be a creative in Zimbabwe. There is so much happening in our space, people are really upping their game and creating amazing work. What I find especially inspiring is that we are benchmarking ourselves against the best in the world and aspiring to create work that can compete on a global level. These are all positives that put us in good stead going forward.
Another big plus is the way people are coming together and collaborating, not only to produce quality work, but to also share notes and ideas. Isu Collections and Industry Girls Network (IGN) are great examples of the results these collaborations can have.
That being said, there is still a lot of work to be done in improving the relationship between brands and creatives, as well as harnessing some of the global best practices and adapting them to make them our own. I truly believe that Zimbabwe has the potential to export creative services and works to Africa and beyond, not just in the drips and drops as it is at present, but at an industrial scale. It’s definitely something we should aspire to.
In your opinion who is excelling in the digital creative sector and who could do with some changes?
I think our media industry is advancing in leaps and bounds in terms of utilising digital tools to engage audiences. There are a multitude of magazines and publications available locally giving us unbridled and in-depth access to local content across a myriad verticals. This creates a robust environment of healthy competition and creates platforms that allow our local content creators to be seen and heard.
It is also fascinating to note that the youth are not being left behind and are venturing boldly into this space with fantastic ideas. Untitled 263 and Structure & Design magazines come to mind, as does Enthuse magazine and Hashtag newsgazine. These new players are not afraid to disrupt the traditional models of publishing and are ushering in custom-built platforms and audience experiences.
In terms of changes, I think that more could be done in harnessing the life-changing resource that is the internet to our benefit as creatives. Access to internet is still an issue for some, although it is a growth area. Besides that, I would love to see local creatives utilise the internet more as a sales tool. Social listening and social selling are big business in other countries and we should not continue to under-utilise such a high reach, low cost medium. Additionally, I would like to see brands and corporates engage more with creatives and give them more licence to collaborate with them in better engaging their target market. Engagement is the currency of the 21st century and there is a lot more that can be done in creating synergies between those two groups to maximise that vital currency.
What has been the recipe for the success in your career?
I would define success as getting things done, so in that respect the recipe is to understand the problem, understand the value you bring and then go for it.
How do you feel about the sustainability of entrepreneurship in Zim?
We are a certified nation of entrepreneurs, out of necessity more than anything else, but that is how most Zimbabweans are keeping their heads afloat. Whether it is a vendor, young graphic designer, farmer or manufacturer, Zimbabwe is awash with entrepreneurs and this is a good thing. Pertaining to the sustainability aspect, we are in a low demand, low liquidity environment and that sees a lot of businesses struggling to make ends meet, usually leading to knife fights to the death when it comes to pricing. This is a race to the bottom where there are no winners, only commercial corpses and carcases. We need more organised businesses, more focus on customer service and offering the customer value for money. That is the golden key to achieving sustainability, as (and when) our economy recovers.
Talk us through the work you did at The Book of African records
I was Editor of the first ever edition of the Book of African Records, which is an Afro-centric, pan-African publication similar to the Guinness Book of World Records. I was lucky to be part of team that had the bit between their teeth and was completely dedicated to making a long held dream a reality and showcase that Zimbabwe can produce a world-class publication. We put the book together in a record breaking time of 3 months, with many sleepless nights included as we researched and put together a resource on Africa’s trailblazers and history makers. The book is testament to the potential we as Africans have to break the mould, be inventors and innovators.
How did the idea for Tribe of Influencers and the Zim blog awards come about?
It seems all good things come from conversation. Tribe of Influencers came about from a discussion I had with a colleague about our local influencer industry and how brands were yet to fully tap into the potential of that sector. I had been a student of influencer marketing for a while and had been watching its development in other countries, and this person and I had similar ideas about how it could be implemented here in Zimbabwe. It took a while as this idea incubated and then early last year we decided to pull the trigger and TOI was born.
In our endeavour to contribute to a viable and sustainable influencer industry, we felt that the necessary first step was to recognise and celebrate the content creators who were doing their thing and excelling at it. This would not only highlight the depth of talent in our local content creation space, but also begin to cultivate that necessary relationship between brands and influencers. So the Zim Blog Awards are serving that very purpose.
What do you have planned for 2018?
My plan is simply to pursue more opportunities, both ones that I have planned to create and those that may arise in the ordinary course of life, as well as continue to work hard in establishing the businesses I am a part of.
In a world of entrepreneurs who is your inspiration?
My mum is one source of inspiration for me. She left formal employment to become an entrepreneur back when it wasn’t sexy to pursue such avenues and I have learnt a lot from watching her journey in self-employment. The other is a man by the name of Jorum, who stays in my neighbourhood. He started as a vendor with a small stall by the corner of a road, selling tomatoes and onions. Jorum plugged away at his trade for years, eventually buying himself a vehicle and graduating into a small shop owner. He is a model of the discipline and fortitude it takes to succeed in this life of self-employment, and is also probably the best customer service person I have ever met.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Don’t just be another black man, be a black man with a plan. Thank you Annette, wherever you are.
Name two things you can’t live without.
WiFi and oxygen, and in that order!
If you could give something up for a year what would it be and why?
Smoking, because the pack says it will kill me.
What advice would you give to young African entrepreneurs/creatives?
Ideate. Create. Elevate.
How would you like to be remembered?
If I could choose, my epitaph would read, “He was a good guy.”
Social media handle/website links
Twitter - @WenyuDutch
Facebook – Kudzanai Gerald Thondhlana
Instagram - @creativenativesafrica
Website – www.tribeofinfluencers.com