When meeting Marvelous Matlou for the first time, you are immediately struck by his approachability and quiet confidence. The founder of MTalks and creator of iKommerce.co.za the online impact buying platform hails from the North West province, arriving at Stellenbosch University as a student in 2010. Having walked an academic path and with an eye on qualifying with a degree in astro-physics, it was Marvelous’ personal faith journey that changed the trajectory of his life.

Digitising informal economies

While studying, Marvelous realised that he wanted to make a difference; that he wanted to use his life to improve the lives of others. The Somerset West resident established MTalks with the purpose of connecting talent in rural and township spaces directly to projects that can utilise the expertise. In so doing, MTalks provides the mechanism that makes it possible to “digitise informal economies”.

Marvelous’ purpose is to “create impact in the process of product building”. He works with an experienced team of highly skilled professionals who take each project assigned to them and break it down into its component parts. The skills required for each aspect of the project is then sourced from within the community. A core group of contractors take care of the company’s own operational needs – these include specialists such as developers, data scientists, and programmers.

Established informally in 2017 and formally in 2019, MTalks services include data collection, data analysis, introduction of technology to meet market needs, and distribution and deployment of products into communities in a way that is both profitable and sustainable. The company works across industries in both the facilitation and implementation stage of projects and targets those clients who want their service or product to have a positive impact on the communities in which they operate. Both government and corporate clients retain MTalks as a partner. These companies making a tangible difference on all levels of society further benefits them by contributing to their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandates.

“Be ready to show yourself”

To grow the talent base, Marvelous and MTalks rely on word of mouth and set up ‘distribution hubs’ where people can register to be added to the skills database. The company creates awareness of the fact it is possible to “access the world from where you are. You just have to be ready to show yourself”. In doing this, skills are retained locally, and income earned contributes to the growth of local economies. Marvelous says that MTalks is best known for “employing people” or in other words providing opportunities to the individual. As an entrepreneur, he emphasises that money is not the biggest difficulty, rather access to opportunity is the most significant barrier to success. “Collaboration is key,” he says, “in this way you do not go in alone”.

Discovering the power of collaboration

Marvelous has experienced the benefits of collaboration for himself after “knocking on the door” to Stellenbosch University’s Launch Lab with an idea. The opportunities provided by Launch Lab included an introduction to Ranyaka, attending courses, and being connected to a mentor. The Ranyaka Building Business programme has gone on to have three primary benefits for Marvelous: building, learning, and facilitation. Along the way he has met many like-minded people and expanded his network of both potential clients and collaborators.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, MTalks had trouble accessing the market as well as being unable to recruit new talent. Marvelous became aware not only of the need of the business to be flexible, but to pivot and shift focus to the immediate needs within communities. From these needs, iKommerce.co.za was born – partnering with Ranyaka and Living Soils: Community Learning Farm, iKommerce is an impact online buying platform. The platform connects rural and township communities with access to food and employment. The project further goes on to connect buyers of fresh produce in the Stellenbosch and Cape Town Southern Suburbs directly with the growers.

Reframing failures as opportunities to learn

Marvelous is no stranger to adversity and has grown by reframing his failures as learning opportunities. One of his greatest challenges faced to date has been the death of his daughter’s mom. Charassa, who was only five months old at the time, is now two years old and the light of his life. Marvelous had to quickly learn how to care for a baby as a single parent during a pandemic while simultaneously growing his business.

This experience changed his values and his priorities and had him asking “What is meaningful?” He has learned the importance of not severing bonds in pursuit of success. While family has always been important, through his passion for Christ, Marvelous has learned to look beyond family to see the needs of the broader community.

When it comes to the importance of small businesses to the South African economy, Marvelous says that “our current country needs more people who can be employed,” and he believes that it is entrepreneurs and small businesses who can address this need.

In the short term, Marvelous aims to have his business become more well-known while expanding his existing projects. In the long term, he would like to grow his business capacity so that MTalks can take on bigger projects in the future.

His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “Make sure that you are solving the need. Recognise success when you meet the need – even if it is not yet on a big scale. Finally, celebrate your successes. When you celebrate success, even small successes, it builds your confidence.”

Stellenbosch is one of 9 towns that is part of Nedbank‘s Proud of my Town initiative. Ranyaka is the implementation agent for Proud of my Town. Building Business is one of ten programmes that forms part of the over-arching initiative. Enterpreneurial and enterprise development of local SMEs lie at the heart of the programme.