Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|November 1, 2020|11 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

How A Terrified Aunt Sparked Protection For The Poor

You wouldn’t blink if you saw the bespectacled and bearded Ntsako Mgiba walking down the streets of Cape Town. He’s a quiet, unobtrusive, cautious entrepreneur who makes a living out of giving people a fighting chance of saving their lives in their own homes.

Unfortunately, South Africa can be a dangerous place to live from house robberies to murders, crime is a harsh reality. It’s a sad state of affairs but in 2019/20 thieves broke into a home 58 times a day. Government crime statistics say a criminal pulls a gun an average of 394 each day – that’s 15 times an hour.

This crime preys heavily on the poor. Of the 1.3 million house break-ins in 2018 most were in some of South Africa’s poorest communities.

Many wealthier people can afford to defend themselves with electric fences, alarms and 24-hour response. South Africa has one of the world largest private security industries.

With a plethora of privatised armed response companies, boomed off neighbourhoods and business parks South Africans spend about R45-billion a year on privacy protection. It is three times the size of the South African Police Service, reports Daily Maverick.

But the poor don’t have that luxury and peace of mind – a gap spotted by Mgiba and his young team of entrepreneurs.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic but even more pertinent now due to lockdown, and the economic impact it is having, the people who are hardest hit by crime are township residents and small business owners.”

Three years after starting with nothing Mgiba makes a good living selling security to people who erstwhile couldn’t afford it.

It was an idea that sprang from a personal trauma back in 2017 when Mgiba visited his aunt in Empucukweni, a small township in Witbank, Mpumalanga. On that day a gang of armed robbers smashed their way into the house.

How did you fund the project?

Fundraising. That’s always going to be a challenge for any entrepreneur. We went through our own journey. We started off with entering startup competitions and grants. We wanted a way to raise capital without diluting ourselves too much in the early stage. At that point we have no validation, we had nothing, we just had an idea. We didn’t want to give away half our business just for someone to give our idea a try.

We looked at startup competitions. Luckily, we found favour in them and we won a couple of them to allow us to try and build a business. All the while we were still in varsity, that was a nice cushion where we didn’t have to worry about rent and meals. Got your meals from res and we were on campus.

Winning those competitions allowed us to focus on just product development. We put all our money on the product. We didn’t get it right the first time. We didn’t get it right the second time either. Only on the third time did we get it right.

A lot of the times the money we won we would take and we would find out we can’t go ahead with these basic products.

Eventually, we got an MVP together. This gave us enough validation to bring on some angel investors to come on board. They helped us align our focus to refining the product to solving the issue.

“What made it worse was we realised the next day that our house was not the only one that was broken into. The robbers jumped the wall and broke into six other homes on the same street. After that event, we realised things might have gone differently had we been notified after the first incident. Chances are we could have connected with our community.”

The last straw that led to a new business came two weeks later. Yet again robbers brokes into Mgibas aunt’s Witbank home.

“For me, that’s when it got serious: while I’ve grown up in the suburbs, I was able to leave the township and go home, but for my aunt, she couldn’t go anywhere. She’s a vulnerable target living in a women-led household and it applies to all the other women-led households in the townships that can’t afford security.”

This sobering experience set him thinking and talking to his business partner Ntandoyenkosi Shezi, a fellow engineering student from the University of Cape Town. Between them, they sat down to design a low-cost security system to protect vulnerable families in a way they can afford.

They called their invention Jonga, which means ‘to watch’ in isiXhosa. It’s made up of two parts – a hardware section mounted on the wall and software in the form of an app. The hardware looks a bit like a book that sticks to the wall. It’s that small.

“What we’re trying to do is to encourage communities to look after one another, watch out for one another. We believe that a connected community is a protected community and the evil of the incident we experienced led to the construction of the business.”

The device’s success is that it can be repositioned throughout the home. It also is built to last; you only need to recharge it once every six months from a micro-USB cable.

“We wanted to make something that was plug and play so that it could be delivered to your door and allow you to be able to install it in your own privacy.”

We believe that a connected community is a protected community and the evil of the incident we experienced led to the construction of the business.

- Ntsako Mgiba

Multiple alarms can be linked to the app. Which means whole communities can keep an eye out for each other’s homes. Once triggered the sensor sends a notification to multiple users that are paired on the app, not just protecting one home but others nearby.

“What’s more, because it’s wireless it still works when there is load shedding. Load shedding is a big challenge in the country overall, but in the townships more so because a lot of the times homes have faulty electrical wiring and we didn’t want something like that to affect the utility of the device.”

Since the beginning of 2020, the Cape Town-based team has been installing devices all over the country. One of the advantages of seeing this gap is that it’s high turnover in a mass market.

One of their biggest deals so far is a partnership with security app Namola, one of South Africas’ most successful consumer alert apps with a network of 400,000 users. It has responded to some 55,000 real incidents across the country – form calling ambulances to send the police.

For a monthly service fee Jonga devices can now be linked to the Namola app, allowing users to bank on the app’s offerings.

They’ve also just come off the back of a trip across the country to Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga – the province where the idea was born amid a gatvol aunt – as well as Rustenburg, North West Province.

In the provinces, they’ve installed devices in shipping containers for a Coca Cola initiative called “Bizniz in a box”, which gives small businesses a home inside shipping containers.

“We found the device is perfectly suited for these sorts of businesses; the containers are not always in areas where there is access to electricity. The fact that they are wireless and battery-powered is a perfect solution for these businesses.”

The team has set some major goals for the future as well. By 2021 they are planning to have installed between two and five thousand devices.

“We sat down and said what do we need to do to have a social impact? We thought about something that everyone should have but only some people can afford to have it and make it affordable. The bigger picture is we want to be the leading company in Africa for affordable alarms. We don’t want to be exclusive, we want to be able to allow any community the option to be able to opt-in and make their homes safer.”

An ideal that many South Africans already owe their life, limb and property to.