I had the pleasure of interviewing Scotch Mkhwanazi, one of the founders of Magic Lagoon Charters, a wonderful initiative offering boat cruises ‘with a difference’ on the Knysna Lagoon. Aptly named Orbert, meaning ‘bright one’, by his uncle, one immediately learns that this is someone who, at a very young age, decided that he wanted to make something of his life and in the process help others.
We asked him about his life, the challenges he faces as an entrepreneur and the advice he would give to anyone wanting to start their own business.
What kind of business do you run?
I run a small boat-charter company from the Knysna Waterfront. I currently have one boat, which is an American barrel-back speedboat.
What are your business goals?
I wish to succeed and grow this business. I enjoy the tourism industry and feel that I am filling a gap in the market, as there are no boats like this currently being used to charter guests at the Knysna Waterfront. My goal is not to just offer a boat cruise but rather to also offer an unforgettable experience on one of the most beautiful boats available.
What are your long-term goals and short-term objectives?
My long-term goals would be to have a fleet of boats that cater for both the local and overseas markets. My short-term objective is to secure a share of the market by offering a service and product that cannot be qualed.
Give an overview of specific targets you want to meet as well as the broader direction the business is moving in.
I would like to have at least five boats by 2030. In addition to the speedboat, which is used to explore the Knysna Lagoon and take guests to the Knysna Heads, I would like a yacht that can go out to sea, as well as another boat that can be anchored in the lagoon for guests to disembark and enjoy a swim. An all-weather cruiser for charters, private parties and weddings would complement the fleet too. Once I have these boats, I will be able to cater for everyone’s needs and at the same time create many new jobs.
Why should prospective clients choose your company over the competition?
The boat that I currently have is a speedboat. This is a very unique boat when compared to the boats used by other cruise companies in Knysna, and it definitely appeals to people who enjoy the finer things in life. It is a 1940s barrel back based on a Chris Craft design.
These boats were originally built as runabouts and gentleman racers. It has a 4.3L V6 engine. Top speed is around 50kph, which on water is pretty quick. The interior is fitted with genuine leather. The deck is made from African mahogany and maple wood.
The style and hull shape were designed for inland and protected waterways, which makes this the perfect boat for the Knysna Lagoon.
What would you say to other businesses facing the same challenges as you have experienced?
Being in business is not easy, as you are constantly faced with many challenges. As long as you have direction and goals and the will to carry on, no matter how difficult things get, in time everything should work out. Be patient and have faith and always believe in yourself. There will always be obstacles that you need to overcome, no matter how established your business is.
Tell us about a time you had a measurable impact on a job or an organisation.
I was asked to do tiling and laminate flooring by my previous employer. Although I had worked as a handyman in the past, I knew nothing about flooring or tiling, so there was a lot of pressure. The process was explained to me and I was told to play around with it and figure out how to do it, but that ‘it must look perfect’. I did it and had no issues, and it looked like a million dollars. It made me realise that I was capable of a lot more than I thought.
Tell us about a person or organisation that you admire.
I would definitely say my past employer. He is a very kind and humble man. He took me under his wing and it is because of him that I have learnt what I know today. He also helped me get my driver’s licence, which has made a big difference in my life.
How would you describe yourself in your own words?
I feel that I am a good person. As a Christian, I feel that my purpose in life is to help others.
Describe your upbringing and how this impacts on your business.
I was born in Ulundi and although life was not easy, I was brought up to respect my mother, myself and others. I was not able to complete my schooling and feel that this has been a disadvantage.
I, however, left Ulundi at an early age to join my father, who was working in Knysna at the time. I wanted to seek greener pastures and do not have any regrets.
How do you handle adversity and doubt?
I believe we all go through good and bad times in life and that in business you need to be able to work together with others as a team to solve problems.
How do you plan on growing your business?
When I reach a stage where I am comfortable with the direction the business is going and have invested wisely, I will slowly grow the business by increasing the number of boats.
When do you plan on retiring?
I imagine retiring when I get too old to be able to work anymore.
What failures have you experienced and what did you learn from them?
I tried to start my own business before, but the person I was in partnership with changed his mind about being in business. At the time I did not have a driver’s licence and was therefore not able to continue with the company. It taught me that there would be other opportunities and that I needed to believe in myself.
Does your company help the community where it is located?
At the moment we offer employment to a number of people and this will be an ongoing process as the business grows. Future plans include putting children through school and also donating funds to orphanages and towards youth development in the greater Knysna area.
If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what would it be?
Believe in yourself. Dream big! Everything is possible.
What drives you to keep going when it’s really tough?
I can see the bigger picture. I believe in myself and my faith keeps me going.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I get to meet so many different people from different walks of life. It is rewarding seeing people enjoying themselves and appreciating the beautiful area that we live in.
How does being an entrepreneur affect your relationships with your friends and family?
Having to divide time between running a business and spending time with family and friends is not easy. My top priority besides my business is helping my mother. I have not been able to see her in a long time, but do call her at least twice a week.
How is running a successful business different from what you thought it would be?
I imagined everything would fall into place quickly, but it has been a long and sometimes difficult process.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow as an entrepreneur?
I learn as much as I can about the industry and my competitors. I am currently doing a tourism course as well as a skipper’s course.
How would you like people to remember you and your company?
I would like people to remember me as being approachable and helpful and for having had a wonderful, memorable experience on one or more of the cruises that we offer.
How do you think being an entrepreneur has turned you into a better person?
It has taught me that hard work pays off. I have had to change my mindset and the way I view things.
What is your least favourite thing about humanity?
Racism and undermining others.
If you were 80 years old, what would you tell your children?
Respect others and respect yourself. Complete your education and always work hard at whatever you do. Understand that you have a reason for being on this earth.
What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
I wanted to make something of my life and become someone that others could look up to.
How did you come up with the name for your company?
To me the word Magic means ‘the unexpected’ and that’s what you will experience when you go on a boat cruise with Magic Lagoon Charters.
What would you say are the top three things needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
The finances to start a business, a good team and good management.
What entrepreneurial tricks have you discovered to keep you focused and productive in your day-to-day busy schedule?
Listen to others’ point of view and learn as much as you can from established successful businesses. You can never learn too much.
What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs invest their time in?
Network with other entrepreneurs, share your experiences and learn whatever skills it takes to run a successful business.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Celine Dion is by far my greatest inspiration. I find her music encouraging, especially her song ‘That’s the Way It Is’.
What is your favourite book?
Inhliziyo Iyayazi Indlela by AB Shange.
If you had a magic wand, which are the three things you would change in the world?
I would want the world to be without war or racism, and I would want everyone to be happy.
What is the part of your life experience you would alter if you had the chance to?
I would finish my schooling. This is one of my goals.
If you could chose a handful of people to invite to experience your business, who would these people be?
Generations’ Ronnie Nyakale (Cosmo Diale) and Vusi Kunene (Jack Mabaso), as well as Uzalo’s Masoja Msiza (Nkunzi) and Simphiwe Majozi (Sbu).
Interview and Photographs by Belinda Van Eyssen