Startup Africa News had an amazing interview with the founder and CEO of Bulb World, a leading cutting-edge LED Manufacturing company specializing in not only general lighting but also the development of specialized and custom LED technology

QFor those who don’t know you, tell us in a few words: who is Ketshephaone Jacob, and what is The Bulb World?

I am a young entrepreneur from Botswana inspired by humble beginnings and inspired to make a difference in his community.
I am a former teacher and Media Studies graduate who first conceptualized and later established the company in 2017, whose concept was ignited around a time when Botswana was experiencing numerous power cuts and power shortages and the Government was calling for prudent consumption of energy by both households and business.
The Bulb World is a leading cutting-edge LED Manufacturing company specializing in not only general lighting but also the development of specialized and custom LED technology, Head Quartered in Gaborone, Botswana with its factory operations running out of Selebi-Phikwe a mining town located in Central Botswana.
The Bulb World offers a comprehensive suite of lights for residential, commercial, and industrial use and is committed to providing our customers with superior quality lighting products. The drive to offer a diverse experience and build a trusted name in the electrical market are the main drivers behind our service excellence, capitalizing on our growing distribution network, manufacturing facilities, and qualified 65-member human capital.
Our products are currently available in 352 outlets across Botswana this includes retail giants such as Spar, Pick and Pay, Shoprite Group, Builders Warehouse, and other local distributors. The workforce has doubled from 30 to 65 employees directly and over 200 indirectly when compared to 2018.
The company continues to upgrade its service offering, and further, widen its geographical coverage beyond the borders of Botswana. Currently, underway is a five-year growth strategy looking to expand the service offering into SADC and set up distributors across the African continent.
Lastly, we remain resolute in giving back to our community and changing lives, this is evidenced by our company launching a social responsibility project named “Lesedi ke Mpho” (loosely translated to mean light is a gift). With this initiative we have partnered with private sector corporates to retrofit boarding schools in less fortunate communities with LED lighting, we have successfully completed a project in partnership with the FNB Foundation at Lobatse Secondary School.

Q: How did you get to know about Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize competition, and what did you do differently to be selected among the Top 10 oustanding African entrepreneurs this year?

Firstly, I would like to thank and appreciate the Late Reginald Tebogo Selelo (Chief Operating Officer – Botswana Investment and Trade Centre) who suggested that we enter Africa’s Business Heroes competition. We will forever be grateful, May His Soul Rest in Peace.
Making it into the Top 10 required us to prepare a five-minute pitch for a panel of investors, business leaders, and professionals where we were authentic with our story and shared the journey from where we started as a brand that had no market to sell to and now, we are retailing in over 300 stores with revenue growing by a certain percentage year on year.

Furthermore, we were required to pass the due diligence checks done by Price Waterhouse Coopers,

Q: What lessons have you learned from the ABH program?

The main lessons I have learned are:

  • I have refined my skills in financial reporting and pitching, through pitching to business legends and receiving advice from them.
  • Successfully passing the PWC Due Diligence has given us affirmation that we are on the right track as a growing business.
  • I now have a connection to an ecosystem of entrepreneurs through the group sessions and interacting with other entrepreneurs from the Top 50 through to the Top 10 which will be beneficial as we seek to expand into the rest of the continent.

Q: How do you plan to use the experience and lessons from the program, to impact local business in Botswana and South Africa?

I am going to start by applying some of the lessons learnt into the company which will feed towards its growth leading to skills development for both Botswana and South Africa. This growth will see us creating more and more employment in both countries.

Secondly, the aim is to grow our CSR initiative “Lesedi ke Mpho” which will enable us to light up more underprivileged community boarding schools in both countries.

Next year we are looking at setting up a graduate trainee program that will run for 12 months, and it is a platform we are looking to use to impart and equip young graduates with skills that ready them for the job and entrepreneurial market.

Q: The ABH initiative is ongoing for another 7 years, who is eligible to apply and what tips can other startups take note of to enable them to participate next year and in the other upcoming editions?

The ABH competition is open to entrepreneurs of all ages and genders, all industries, and all levels of society. Their mission is to showcase and grow local talent who are creating a positive impact in their communities and beyond.
Applicants should follow all the Africa’s Business Heroes social media pages (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) for more information regarding opening dates for applications.

To be eligible for the competition, one must meet the following criteria:

  • The applicant should be a founder or co-founder of the company
  • The applicant should have African citizenship or should be the child or grandchild of an African citizen
  • The company should be registered and headquartered in an African country, and primarily operate in Africa.
  • The company should be post-idea stage. Business should be three years old or more and have at least three years of revenue history.

Q: How do you plan to use your share of the money you will be getting in November this year from the ABH?

The funds will be utilized in the following way:

  • A percentage of it will go into the company for the business expansion into other markets, resulting in the creation of jobs for more youth throughout Africa.
  • We will also put forward some cash to ensure we gain more traction on our CSR initiative “Lesedi ke Mpho” whose main aim to is light up public boarding schools in rural areas.
  • Lastly, we will invest in improving and developing the leadership skill set of the team through a management course

Q: What problem is your business solving in Africa, or in communities in Botswana and South Africa?

The global population of people without access to electricity is at 13% (940 million people). Bringing it closer to home, only 63% of Botswana’s population has access to electricity.
The provision of sustainable, affordable, reliable energy and climate action are some of the key drivers in bridging economic development.
Human activities continue to cause a rise in greenhouse emissions, and we cannot deny that the effects of climate change are being felt around the world. One of the key sectors greatly affected especially in Botswana is the agricultural sector. As a developing country, there is still a high dependency on agriculture for food sources and development.

Q: Do you think this is the right time for your startup to solve the problem?

With the current global pressure implored upon all individuals to save energy, LED lights are the simplest and most cost-effective way of reducing energy consumption with energy savings of about 90%, and therefore contributing to a greener environment.

The cost of replacing the incandescent bulb with LED bulbs may seem expensive at first; however LED lights have more than double the life span, are financially more viable in the long term and contribute to a greener environment.

Q: Does your solution fit in the market? (Do people want it)?

Lighting remains a need for everyone throughout the world, Africa deserved its very own lighting brand that answers to its specific needs. For example, we have an E-light, a bulb that gives 3hrs of lighting after a power cut and we all know how much this is a need as the continent continues to experience chronic power shortages.

Q: Tell us more about your team, why are you the best to solve this problem?

We are blessed with a young, dedicated, and talented team, most have been there since inception and treat the company as their own which is what every startup deserves. There is a saying that “Teamwork makes the dream work”, because of this unity and drive we make solving the lighting needs of our people a priority.

Q: How innovative is your startup? (technological/social innovation).

From manufacturing a light bulb that will give you power after a power cut, light bulbs that save your electricity consumption as we produce LED lights, to having germicide machines using light to harness germs and producing solar-powered street lights to save power and also reduce the governments lighting bill, I would say as a start-up we are really trying our best in the field and it can only grow from here onwards.

Q: What is the social impact of your startup and what makes you different in the market?

Lighting one’s home makes up at least one-quarter of total electrical bills. In a country where only 63% of the population has access to electricity and continuously rising electricity tariffs, I wanted to manufacture a bulb that is energy-efficient, gives value for money in savings to one’s monthly energy bill, and is also durable.

Furthermore, I remain resolute in giving back, making an impact through entrepreneurship, serving my country, unlocking hope, and inspiring Batswana that despite numerous mountains to climb, no form of innovation is impossible and we can put our country on the list of countries that manufacture energy-efficient products.

In turn, I also have an opportunity to create employment in a country where the number of unemployed youth goes up every year.

Q: How are you scaling up the startup and how do you measure your success?

We started doing house-to-house sales, to now retailing in over 350 stores countrywide in Botswana, to now after just 3 years retailing in a few stores in South Africa. Our revenue has grown by over 3000.7 % which we forecast a 584.30 growth projection over the next 3years. From inception, we had 4 employees, and currently, we have 65 youth hired in Botswana and 6 hired in South Africa. The numbers speak for themselves and we are truly humbled by the support.

Q: What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs and new startups in Botswana and South Africa?

People still look at entrepreneurship and think that it’s being your own boss and managing your time. For a business to survive:

  • one needs endurance. Running a business is like running a marathon, and only those with determination and endurance make it to the finish line.
  • there’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice required as you take this journey.
  • If you have a team, invest in them and care for them like family.
  • Listen to and accept feedback whether it is positive or negative.
  • never lose faith, trust the process, and be very intentional with your network, and look for mentoring from entrepreneurs who are already succeeding in their respective businesses.

Our company has encountered many challenges, made even tougher by the fact that we were breaking into an industry that already had industry known giants, but because of all the aforementioned tips, that did not deter us.

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