Growing up in the village of Ha Mabote, young Mapota Mapota knew he was destined for life in the creative lane.
The youngster would assemble bicycles from discarded scrap metal and tyres and then hire them out for a fee to his friends.
A mere 10-year-old at the time, Mapota would surprise his family, friends, neighbours and teachers with his genius hence many are not surprised by the audacious entrepreneur he has become today.
The 23-year-old sits comfortably on one of the unique chairs he created so artistically from old car tyres and pallets.
He speaks of a happy childhood in Ha Mabote, where he is running his small but flourishing business, and this burning desire to be “different” and not be someone’s employee.
“I have always loved using my hands to earn a living. Even when I was a kid, I wanted to have lots of money and knew I never wanted to be employed by someone but to be my own boss,” said the former Tsepo Primary School as he stroked his artwork.
“And maybe this is why I started recycling used bike parts to make my own cycles and hire them out to my friends around our village.
“I was a happy child so coming up with ideas on how to make money wasn’t that difficult for me. I always had one good idea up my sleeve.”
One of those ideas has since made Mr Mapota and his childhood friend, Thabang Monyatsi (24), entrepreneurs in their own right whose chairs, tables and cooler boxes could hold their own against household appliances from any reputable shop.
“After passing my COSC (Cambridge Overseas School Certificate) at Methodist High School, I decided to do a three-year Electrical Engineering diploma at Lerotholi Polytechnic in 2010. The reason I went for this course was because I simply wanted to be my own boss; I wanted to do my own thing.”
With his eyes firmly on the ball, Mr Mapota decided not to wait until after graduation to realise his entrepreneurial dream.
“A year into my studies, I decided to save and invest part of my NMDS (National Manpower Development Secretariat) stipend, into my dream.
“I wasted my first-year grant but then realised my mistake and vowed never to repeat the blunder again, so I bought a motorcycle with my second-year grant. I would distribute car-polish around Maseru using this motorcycle.”
His friend, Thabang, was doing Civil Engineering at the same Lerotholi Polytechnic, and the two decided to open a makeshift food outlet in Ha Mabote, towards the end of their third-year.
With business booming, the two Mabote youths decided it was not proper that their customers had nowhere to sit as they consumed their food, which was mostly pap, stew, homemade bread and broiled meat.
“One thing for sure was that I didn’t want to spend our profit on chairs, so I decided to surf the internet for ideas. I came across many business concepts on how we could make use of secondhand material to build our own chairs for the customers.
“I came across beautiful chairs made out of used car tyres. That’s when I decided to give the idea a try and although the first product was not that striking, at least the customers had somewhere to sit.”
That was in 2014. And as time went by, the two friends continued to experiment with different designs until they perfected their art that the customers would marvel at the creation.
“People started showing interest in our designs and we would be asked to make them some. With time the furniture business grew and we now have so many customers and we have taken in two youths from this area to help. Some of the customers even bring their own designs when they want something exclusive,” he said.
However, Mr Mapota said despite the high demand, their business would never compromise on quality for the sake of quantity.
“We only use low-profile tyres because they are thin and strong enough to carry any weight. We have also moved into producing furniture from used drums. We collect this used material from different sources and some community members now who know the types of tyres that we need and always keep them for us,” Mr Mapota said.
Their furniture, he added, is being sold in Maseru and Ladybrand in South Africa, and feedback from the customers has been encouraging.
In addition to the furniture business, the partners are also into the car-wash and car polish sale business, and of-course, the food outlet.
Asked if he sees himself as contributing towards a cleaner environment through the use of material that could be lying around, in their products, Mr Mapota beamed with pride.
“We all know used tyres are burnt everywhere for different reasons, polluting our environment in the process. So we strongly see ourselves as a major player in ensuring that our environment is clear and the air we breathe is not polluted,” Mr Mapota said.
“Maseru City Council has already given us space to advertise our products free of charge after municipal officials saw our merchandise and appreciated the contribution we are making towards a clean environment. We are honoured to be making a living out of a business venture which is also contributing to a bigger picture in this country.”
However, the two business partners are worried about the future.
“Our biggest challenge is as the business grows and orders pour in, getting tyres is slowly becoming a nightmare because guys spinning cars always beat us to them. They put the tyres around their spinning area in Masianokeng,” he said.
“We are further competing with people making bricks (setene sa mangopeng) as they use the tyres to burn their products and make them stronger. And because they are not particular with the quality, they take everything that comes their way.”
He further said some conmen were targeting their potential customers and tarnishing their image through shoddy work.
“A very angry man once came here complaining that we had sold him a very poor quality product. After calming him down, he soon realised that the person who had made the furniture for him was not us, but someone pretending to be us.
“Not only did this alert us of such fraudsters, it also made us realise that we would soon have serious competition. This also showed us that we needed to be on our toes and never rest on our laurels.”
Mr Mapota urged fellow youths to use the internet wisely and not devious purposes.
“The time has come for the youth not to use the internet for mischief and entertainment only but also to research ideas.
“I am not advising them to do something which I haven’t tried. I used the internet to come up with these beautiful designs and there are more ideas on the net they could still take up and make a life for themselves.”
Mr Mapota spoke of how he also enhanced his car polish sale initiative when he was still a student at Lerotholi Polytechnic.
“Like I said, I was using a motorbike I had had bought from my Manpower savings, to deliver the products.
“However, I knew selling polish wasn’t enough to make the kind of money I wanted, so I had to come up with ideas on how I could attract clients. Because of my Electrical Engineering qualification, I can maintain and repair broken hoovers, which are the basic equipment for any car-wash business.
“For every business that buys polish from me, I repair all their broken hoovers free of charge. All they need to do is pay for my transport and material I would use. This has set me apart from fellow polish suppliers, and enhanced my business.”
However, Mr Mapota said he still finds it difficult to convince his mother that he does not need to be formally employed.
“Although I don’t see myself being employed, my mother isn’t very happy with what I am doing at the moment. She feels this is not good enough for me but I am working extra hard to prove to her that being my own boss is actually a very good idea,” Mr Mapota said.
“In fact, what parents should do is encourage their children to make good money and build their own legacy through hard work.
“I want to build my own legacy now and not when I am an old man. We are different people. Some believe in being employed while I am anti-employment because of this hunger to be successful and build a lasting legacy my family will be proud of.”