Lesego Mokae runs a 100% black female-owned engineering company that specializes in metal fabrication, plant maintenance and steel products supply. Mokae started the business with her co-founder, Tebogo Mosito, from her garage in Maile, a small area in Rustenburg, South Africa, known for mining.
Her business now services six mines: Impala Platinum, Bushveld Vametco, Electro Hydro World, Pilanesberg Platinum Mine, AngloAmerican Platinum and Royal Bafokeng Platinum and was a national finalist at the Productivity Awards for Most Improved SME in the Emerging Sector category. Mokae plans to grow the business and have four branches around South Africa in the next three years. She also plans to enroll 30 learners for internship and learners hip programs in the business.
So far, Mokae has received an award for being the most influential person in business and government (SADC South region) by CEO Global and a Forbes Africa 30 under 30 business leader 2019 award.
Hello Lesego! It’s great to have you on LLA, Can you briefly describe yourself and your business?
I am an award-winning entrepreneur (won an award for most influential woman in business and government in engineering sector in the SADC South) and Forbes Africa 30 under30 2019 young leader.
I grew up in rural village in Rooikraal and later moved to Segwaelane which is also a rural village. Worked as a brand ambassador for a bank, got promoted within 4months to a consultant then worked my way up until I was a manager leading a team of 15people. I resigned later on to focus full-time on the business.
Growing up, I was so fortunate that I was the ‘boy’ of the family, well even now with my manicured hands I’m still required by my dad to assist with fixing the roof, erecting a tent or general building /maintenance. The transition was quite an amazing one as I grew up working with my hands and enjoying it.
Ditsogo Projects is a 100% Black women-owned company established in 2012, but started operating in 2015 due to challenges we encounter in this male-dominated field. We specialize in steel fabrication, plant maintenance and the supply of steel products. Since our operation we have given jobs to more than 55people and we plan on growing the business and employing more people.
We are so proud to speak to a lady leading in the engineering/mining industry, this is quite rare, can you share what inspired your business journey?
Growing up in areas surrounded by mines, I was fascinated about how majority of the youth wanted to work there rather than have companies that will service those mines and my love for constantly fixing things sparked the love for engineering. Ditsogo Projects was born out of an identified GAP of lack of ladies in the engineering field, the passion to inspire, motivate and carry the torch for those who will follow our footsteps.
What has your experience as an entrepreneur in a male dominated? Industry been like so far?
Honestly, being an entrepreneur in a male-dominated field is hard but achievable when you know what you are doing and competent in your work. We had good and bad experiences (insults, abuse, people not wanting to work with us because we are women (we were seen as weak and therefore incapable of doing the job. However, I realized that when we stood our ground and delivered beyond expectations we got the recognition we deserved and referrals especially from those that doubted us.
One advantage of working in a male-dominated field is that it made us strong both as individuals and as a team, it allowed us to use our femininity and also reveal our strong characters lead and still stay in business for more than 3 years.
How would you describe entrepreneurship and what’s the biggest misconception about entrepreneurship that you’ve heard?
I would describe entrepreneurship as the ability to identify a GAP, take necessary steps to be able to close it and after closing it you teach others how to close their identified GAPs in order to create more entrepreneurs to curb current socio-economic challenges.
Biggest misconception about entrepreneurship I heard was it is easy to be entrepreneur and I always tell people that to register a business is easy but to get it off the ground and sustain it, that’s another decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
There are times where you will be without income for months, the business taking months or even years before it can make profit and having employees relying on you for their income that is why if you are not passionate and goal driven you won’t make it as an entrepreneur.
Another misconception is that when you are a woman things are easy especially with the government trying to incorporate/advocate for women empowerment but it’s not. As a matter of fact, it’s even harder when you are a woman as they constantly put you through tests sometimes impossible ones to set you up for failure (just so that they can say you are incompetent, you don’t belong in the male-dominated fields.
As an entrepreneur, you must have encountered different kinds of people, what have you learnt most and what will you say has been the highlight of your journey so far?
Throughout my journey, I have learnt to involve the team in some decision making that involve them and found that they easily execute well and are motivated because they feel valued. I also learnt to embrace diversity and opinions as people are different and we can learn to collaborate by combining our strengths and work on fixing our weaknesses. Success knows no color, age, gender nor socio-economic background. Never ever underestimate the power of experienced people and learn from them, yes some are not learned but it does not mean they won’t contribute positively to the team.
You made it to Forbes 30 under 30 list, that’s huge! What will you say is responsible for your success?
Being on Forbes 30 under 30 list was a pat on the back for a job well-done. Sometimes, as entrepreneurs we don’t give ourselves enough credit for the changes we make in our communities and economy. Such an achievement has given us a platform to make our brand visible, reminded us to continue being torch-bearers for generations to come, gave us the strength to hold on even though it is hard.
The contributing factor has to be our great team, those people are the ones who will suggest we go rest, initiate some of the important things that has potential to make the company great (i.e. feedback sessions, give us referrals and be brand ambassadors for the company), be on top of their developmental areas and ensure the workplace is a contusive environment for all to work in.
What unique challenges have you faced in your entrepreneurship journey, and what’s kept you going?
-Lack of working capital, one of us had to go and get a job in order to assist with the cash flow of the business. One other thing that helped was that we had the same vision for the company
-Doors being closed on us because we were inexperienced and women- we found a company that was in the same industry to volunteer and we were lucky as we got a service –level agreement to use their facilities until we got our own workshop
-Competing with big companies and not being a preferred supplier because we are new in the industry, overcame that by offering a value-adding service and spending time with our clients to offer them tailor-made products to suit their needs.
What are your aspirations for “Ditsogo” and can you share your five-year plan for your business?
Aspirations for Ditsogo Projects is we would like to see the company being a leading manufacture in Africa.
Our 5 Year Plan
– We plan on having a school that teaches critical skills such as engineering and other skills that will make them sustain themselves when they can’t find jobs.
-We plan on having a branch in all the 9provinces in South Africa in a form of franchising.
-We would also like to diversify and grow our business to be worth billions.
Care to share some strategic helpful tips for upcoming female entrepreneurs to be successful in this path?
-Do research about the sector you would like to get into and take necessary steps to get the experience if don’t have, you can enroll for a course, a learner ship, do on the job training or even volunteer. Learn from people who have walked the path you would like to undertake and please remember when you get an opportunity to meet your mentor know what you want. Do not waste their time.
-Never ever compromise yourself or your business in any way as this can have serious consequences both on you as an individual and your business. Ladies in your lifetime you will get a lot of offers from men such as a sexual favor in order to get a contract please DO NOT take it as this kind of favors have a way of coming back to bite you. It is not worth it.
-Ensure you take care of your brand. I understand us youths want to have fun and enjoy our youth but remember what you post on social media/what others post on social with regards to you can have a negative impact on how potential clients see you. Please have separate accounts for your business and personal life to avoid unnecessary drama.
-When you start making money please pay yourself first by having a retirement annuity, having a structure of entities/rather a side hustle that will bring in a secondary income, savings for yourself and the business, business insurance please include buy and sell agreements in case one of the partners dies or cannot work anymore.
-Know your business inside out. Learn necessary skills example if you don’t have a financial background you can hire an accountant but I suggest you know the basics because if you don’t you might miss an opportunity to grow the business or your business might close down for something that could have been avoided.
Please tell us 3 things about you that most people don’t know?
-Most people say I have an un-approachable and intimidating look. I might seem unapproachable but I am an introvert with an extrovert personality once I get comfortable with you.
-I was raped twice but the incident that tore me apart the most was that I was raped by my then boyfriend who felt entitled to my body. I am absolutely against such mentality and got the shock of my life, when I opened up most guys were saying I shouldn’t be in a relationship if I can’t let my partner own my body. I have set up a foundation to educate, motivate and help survivors like me to speak out and heal.
-I would love to be an interpreter for blind and deaf communities. I would love the opportunity to learn sign language and braille.
The LLA Lady Boss Series is a weekly interview series that highlights the achievements and entrepreneurial journeys of African female entrepreneurs. The idea is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through enterprise and business.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.
If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things in enterprise, email email@example.com, and she could possibly be featured.