Once Called “Too Lazy To Work”, Scorned For Failed Businesses – Now Employs 200 People In 3 Countries
Anda Maqanda called it quits with an unsatisfying day job to start a company against his father’s wishes who pretty much called him “lazy.” He failed miserably at the first attempt and drew scorn when he went back to paid employment. But he made a remarkable comeback and is now the founder of a fast-rising company.
“If at first you don’t succeed, that’s your cue to have another stab at it.” So goes the saying. But I bet we all love the idea of hitting the bullseye at the first time of trying. I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to make it big without failing spectacularly at first, would it? Guess life’s got other ideas.
That is to say; chances are you’d have been at the centre of one or two fiascos in the past by the time you got yourself on the leaderboard. And perhaps no one else exemplifies this not-so-nice life rule than South African entrepreneur, Anda Maqanda whose entrepreneurial journey took him to Bermuda and back.
Yes, he made it back in one piece, and he now probably thinks of the torrid times of the past as a relic of a forgotten past, but the lessons of his entrepreneurial journey remain textbook cases of resilience and perseverance.
Here’s a man who was described by his very own father as ‘too lazy to work’ when he refused to join the long line of unemployed/underemployed South African jobbers and instead start a business of his own. And here’s a man who had to deal with countless “I told you so’s” when his first attempt at setting up a business of his own crumbled spectacularly at the first hurdle. But he prevailed in the end, seemingly getting it right at the second time of asking. Some thick skin!
The Eastern Cape-native is a trained electrical engineer who earned his scroll at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Upon obtaining his National Diploma, he had brief stints at, first Volkswagen, and then, Cape Advance Engineering, before opting to walk away – something to do with disenchantment borne out of undervaluation of his efforts.
It was the year 2008 when Anda decided he was done putting in work on a job that didn’t exactly demand the world but wasn’t all that rewarding either. If he stayed put, it would only be a matter of time before he became a shadow of himself.
When the then 24-year-old related his intention of starting a business of own to his father, he got something of a dressing down; the old man basically called him ‘lazy.’ But the name-calling was mostly out of ‘love’ – sounds like something an African parent would say. (Just kidding, or maybe not).
The rebuke he got from his father did amount to some good, though; it strengthened his resolve to go at it. It’s not like he was most determined to prove the old man wrong, but in truth, that was a source of additional motivation.
So, that year (2008), he launched his power company, AM Group. But that was just the beginning of yet more trouble. The business had barely gotten to its feet before it came crashing down. With no leads and no contracts after several months, AM Group stopped dead in its tracks. And for a moment, it seemed like his father was right after all, and he may have even rubbed it in for good measure.
But somehow, Anda kept his head up. Undoubtedly shaken, but not crushed. He could’ve thrown in the towel, but he took a time-out instead. Showing undeniable courage and a thick skin, he opted to return to paid employment despite the smug looks from people who thought he set himself up for a fall in the first place. Maybe he did set himself up for a fall, alright, but perhaps they also said their “I told you so” too early.
Anda’s first foray into entrepreneurship had ended in shambles but he had learned from the failure and taken it in his stride. And what had he learned? The art of being prepared with the necessary documentation for a business and the necessity of having a viable business plan to measure progress and minimize risks.
Two years after he managed to nail down a paid job, he was willing to let it go and have another stab at his dreams. As would be expected, friends and family forbade him from doing any such thing with the past failure still fresh in memory. But what they didn’t know was that Anda now knew what he didn’t know two years ago.
In spite of attempts to dissuade him, Anda opted to give it another go, and this time he was prepared. With funding from his salaries and pensions, he re-launched AM Group in 2010 because he saw an opportunity in the form of a dire need for excellent, reliable power infrastructure in South Africa. Since that second attempt, he has not looked back and everything he’s touched has managed to turn to gold.
AM Group has grown into an engineering company that offers engineering consulting, design and construction of electrical overhead power lines, renewable energy, and automation. With branches across the continent in Port Elizabeth (South Africa) Nairobi (Kenya), and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), the group employs more than 200 individuals.
Like his first attempt, he had to wait several months to land his first client but this time, he had built the business for the long haul. And when that first big break did arrive, it was well worth the wait.
The first big job came in the form of a contract from the City of Cape Town. Since then, his clientele has grown to include the likes of Eskom (South Africa’s public electricity utility company), De Beers (for which AM Group provided mining and extraction services), Metrorail, Heineken, and the Swaziland Electricity Company, among others.
Not one to be complacent and quite wary of the perils of getting too comfortable, Anda has since extended his tentacles beyond the power sector. The decorated South African entrepreneur now has broad interests in several other sectors. He is the Founder of Kasi5000 (Pty) Ltd (Township Internet Cafés), and one of the co-Founders/non-Executive Directors of Edu-Portal.
For every year he’s been in business, he’s gobbled up some sort of award. Anda was named in Forbes’ list of 30 promising African entrepreneurs under the age of 30 in 2015. A year prior, he was on a hot streak; clinching several awards including the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans Award, Rising Stars Award, Entrepreneur/SME Award, Eastern Cape Premier Award, Youth Entrepreneur Award, and the Oliver Empowerment Award.
In 2013, Anda Maqanda was the recipient of the SAB Kickstart Entrepreneur Award and the EC Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In the earlier years, it was basically the same story of laurels and silverware.
Now, what were you saying, Maqanda Sr.? (Again, just kidding. Or maybe not).
Featured Image Courtesy: HowWeMadeItInAfrica