Thatayaone Dichaba, the founder of DITEC Mobile, shares the remarkable story of how the Stanford Seed Transformation Programme brought a turning point for his business, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when most businesses where going down.
The Stanford Seed Transformation Programme, an investment by De Beers Group, is a year-long leadership programme providing management training, team workshops and networking support for Southern African entrepreneurs.
Its aim is to help them grow their businesses, create jobs and lead their regions to greater economic diversity and prosperity. The programme, based in the Botswana capital Gaborone, is open to established business owners in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
The partnership is in collaboration with a range of Government entities in Botswana, including the Botswana Digital and Innovation Hub (BDIH) and the Ministry of Education and Skills Development.
Dichaba remembers when he enrolled for Stanford Seed Transformation Programme, it was at a time when his business was not doing very well. He was among a cohort which was the last before the onset of COVID-19.
“We [Stanford Seed Transformation Programme participants] met in Ghana, and upon our return, there was a lockdown. We entered the programme when we were going down as a business, and the programme helped transform our business, especially in terms of scaling and gaining new perspectives. We were able to view our business not only through our own lens but also through the eyes of fellow entrepreneurs. This is how much Stanford Seed impacted our business,” said Dichaba in an interview with The Projects Magazine.
Initially, Dichaba was reluctant to apply for the programme but he was coaxed by fellow entrepreneur Arun Iyer of Alpha Direct Insurance, who encouraged him to join the programme. The duo met when they were participating in an incubation programme by the Botswana Digital and Innovation Hub (BDIH).
“We had a conversation, and he suggested that I apply for the Stanford Seed Transformation Programme. Initially, I was invited by the Botswana Innovation Hub, but I was not initially inclined to join. Eventually, I decided to give it a try and applied for the programme, and I was admitted,” he said.
“Hearing from other entrepreneurs who had completed the programme and their insights influenced my decision to join. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey, and when other entrepreneurs encourage you to participate, it makes you believe that you can collectively benefit from the experience.”
The Stanford Seed programme offers a unique and invaluable opportunity for entrepreneurs to gain fresh perspectives on their businesses. One of the key takeaways from the programme, as highlighted by Dichaba, is the importance of being realistic about one’s business.
Dichaba said that as a founder, there is often a natural inclination to shield and protect every aspect of your business, particularly the weaker areas. However, the programme provides a platform where fellow entrepreneurs can candidly point out these weaknesses during the leadership labs. This honest feedback is crucial for personal and business growth, as it allows entrepreneurs to identify areas in need of improvement.
“When you start interacting with your peers, you begin to ask questions for which you don’t have answers. Sometimes you may not want to find the answers, but you can learn from each other. There is also an opportunity for some of your peers not only to network but also to invest. During COVID-19, one of our peers invested in our business, which significantly contributed to our growth,” said Dichaba.
The paradox of Dichaba’s journey when he enrolled for the programme is that, before COVID-19, his business was on a downward trajectory, but in the midst of COVID-19, they were scaling up. Dichaba’s story reflects how, despite the challenges of the pandemic, it also brought opportunities.
“COVID-19 accelerated mobile phone and internet penetration globally because people were confined to their homes. This presented a major opportunity that we leveraged and significantly contributed to our company’s growth,” he said.
‘Stanford Seed offers a transformation programme for businesses. It was through this transformation programme that we closely examined our business and divided it into two companies. We entered Stanford Seed as Ditce Mobile but emerged as two entities: DITEC Mobile, which focuses on wholesale and franchising, and Dichaba Consumer Electronics, our manufacturing arm,” he said.
“This transformation was based on the blueprint provided by the programme. We continue to follow the transformation programme, and there are other initiatives we are working on implementing.”
SHIFT IN LEADERSHIP PHILOSOPHY
Dichaba discovered that his strengths lay outside the traditional role of a CEO. “After the programme, I realised that I’m not cut out to be a CEO,” he candidly admitted. This realisation was a pivotal moment, allowing him to gracefully transition into the role of Head of Research and Development. His transition, to focus on what he excelled at, made way for others to contribute their strengths to the company, ultimately creating a more balanced and dynamic leadership structure.
INVESTING IN HUMAN CAPITAL
One of the remarkable outcomes of the programme was Dichaba’s ability to nurture and develop key staff members based on their individual capabilities. This investment in talent has been a driving force behind Ditec Mobile’s continued success, highlighting the importance of empowering and upskilling the workforce.
ADAPTABILITY DURING COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges, but Ditec Mobile’s ability to adapt and innovate was evident. When businesses were closing shop, Ditec Mobile was seizing the available opportunities. The company quickly pivoted to manufacture infrared thermometers, a critical product during the pandemic, and this decision opened doors to other opportunities, including the production of laptops for government schools thereafter. The ability to shift gears and meet pressing societal needs showcased the company’s resilience and since then it has been on upward trajectory.
NETWORK OF FRIENDS AND PEERS
Beyond the professional benefits, Dichaba stressed the value of lasting relationships forged during the programme. He highlighted the creation of platforms for connection and shared experiences with peers, emphasizing the mutual support and camaraderie among entrepreneurs. These relationships extend beyond business, contributing to personal growth and well-being.
PRAGMATISM AND TRANSFORMATION
Dichaba described the Stanford Seed Programme as highly pragmatic and transformative. He pointed out that it goes beyond the scope of a traditional MBA programme, focusing primarily on self-analysis and peer feedback. The programme encourages participants to build strategies and structures tailored to their own businesses, resulting in significant transformation. This introspective approach helps align one’s vision and mission with the business strategy, fostering a more coherent and effective organisation.
“I have been in business for 23 years and have experienced my fair share of failures. I’ve learned that relationships are of the utmost importance in business. As you build a business, it, in turn, shapes you—shaping your thinking and responses to various situations. I have learned the value of perseverance, as it took us 18 years to establish our first factory.”