Entrepreneur and innovator Ntuthuko Shezi is the founder and CEO of Livestock Wealth, a fintech company with an investment platform that offers crop and livestock investment opportunities to people who are not farmers, but like the idea of being part of a farming enterprise. Livestock Wealth also has a funding model to help farmers who need working capital for their expansion projects. Shezi talks to Peter Mashala about wealth creation through agricultural investment and bringing farming closer to communities at home and abroad.
In 2001 Ntuthuko Shezi, known as Shezi, graduated from the University of Cape Town (UCT) with a degree in electro-mechanical engineering – a degree he says gave him career options that would put him on track for financial success. The first person in his family to get a degree, Shezi was driven by a goal to create family wealth and release people from the burden of poverty.
Born and raised in Ndwedwe, a tiny rural town in KwaZulu-Natal, his interest in agriculture was rooted in a childhood spent in a community with a strong farming culture, mainly in sugarcane. “Agriculture was the economic backbone of my community. As I grew older, I realised that agriculture, with some innovation, is an industry that holds endless opportunities for young people, especially in Africa,” says Shezi.
The family’s involvement in farming has had a major influence on Shezi’s entrepreneurial spirit. His mother kept a few cattle and some sheep mainly to pay the school fees and provide milk for the family. His uncle contracted on sugar cane farms when the cane was cut.
“He owned a tractor and a loading bin. I was always with him, helping out during school holidays and on weekends,” he says. This is where his practical business learning and training started. “I noticed that farmers do make money, because even in a small dusty town, you’ll have a grocery store, a filling station, a bank and a car dealership.”
BRIGHT CAREER PATH AHEAD
After matric Shezi was awarded a bursary to study electro-mechanical engineering at UCT. And then, in his second year, his mother passed away. As the oldest son, the death of his mother pushed him to step up as a guardian to his four siblings while he was studying.
Shezi says he had always loved business and sold sweets, vetkoek and recycled bottles even while he was at primary school. But he acknowledges that his mother’s passing strengthened his entrepreneurial drive.
“My mother’s pension money wasn’t much, but I had to stretch it as far as possible. At least until I finished studying and found a job,” he adds.
He came up with an idea to boost the family income by starting a video arcade games business and he bought four machines and put them in the cafeteria on campus. “The business did well, and we banked decent money every week,” he says.
Then he started learning about online share investment. His first account was with Charles Schwab, a broker and investment advisory website through which he bought his first shares. “I bought shares locally from companies such as MTN and Old Mutual, and from international companies registered on the New York Stock Exchange,” says Shezi. He read everything he could find on Warren Buffet and took Bufffet’s investment advice to heart. “One piece of advice he gives is never to invest in something you don’t understand.”
When Shezi completed his degree in 2001, there were several job offers lined up for him, including one from Transnet. “But by the time I finished my degree I knew I didn’t want to fix trains. I was already too interested in business,” he recalls. So, he took a job with Accenture South Africa, a fintech business, where he quickly started climbing the corporate ladder.
But he says an entrepreneur always has ideas and not being able to do anything with those ideas can be frustrating. “I started planning my exit from the formal job sector in 2010 and gave myself three years to do so. I paid off my debt, downgraded my car and sold my apartment to rent a smaller place.”
He made a significant amount of money from the sale of his apartment, which gave him a good savings base. “I bought the place for R140 000 and sold it three years later for R450 000,” he says.
In 2013 Shezi resigned and started his first business, a mobile panel-beating operation. “We offered mobile services for scratch and dent repairs, fixing cars at the client’s convenience, mostly at their homes,” he explains. This business is still going strong and has a branch at OR Tambo International Airport that repairs cars for travelling clients.
Through this operation Shezi met some high-profile businesspeople, business owners and senior executives of large corporate firms, whose cars he fixed. “Some of these guys are my mentors today,” he says.
Shezi had worked with the idea for Livestock Wealth for some years, but he started knocking it into shape in 2014. He pitched the idea to the CEO of the Innovation Hub, who immediately liked the concept. “He invited me to his office to put me on the incubation programme run by the Innovation Hub. We were given an office and started attending business workshops to hone the idea,” he remembers.
When he needed to pilot the concept, he found a farm in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal, owned by Bill van Lelyveld. “A friend of mine knew Bill was selling his farm and gave me his contact details. I met Bill and explained what I wanted to do,” says Shezi. “He liked my pitch and agreed to lease us a portion of the farm and become an advisor to the project.”
Shezi bought 40 open heifers from Bill, who gave him free use of a bull to breed the heifers. By July 2015, 26 of the 40 heifers were pregnant. There was a lot of work behind the scenes in public relations and marketing before the launch of the company.
“Right from the start, we wanted to create something authentic that people could trust. We appointed Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo as our auditors to boost our image,” explains Shezi.
“We created a website and launched Livestock Wealth, going live on 13 October 2015. We had such good publicity at the launch that within three weeks all the cows were bought,” he adds.
The launch of Shezi’s company set the stage for people from all walks of life to invest in, and profit from, farming in South Africa. This opportunity is open to the global market and people can invest in livestock and crops in South Africa just as if they were buying stocks and shares.
HOW THE MODEL WORKS
Shezi says the model allows people to invest and own cattle without having to farm and bridges the access-to-finance gap for mainly emerging farmers. Through the crowd-farmingTM model, Livestock Wealth facilitates the connection between farmers who need working capital and investors who want to invest in growing assets.
“Our vision is for every piece of arable land in Africa to be used optimally to produce high-value products,” says Shezi. According to him, the model is simple with Livestock Wealth acting as an agent and buying cattle on behalf of investors.
“Let’s say you don’t have a farm, but you have an uncle who has a farm, and you want to own cattle. You would approach your uncle to sell you one or two cows and he would manage them on your behalf,” explains Shezi. “In this arrangement, you would pay your uncle management fees, which he would deduct at point of sale.”
Shezi says Livestock Wealth has four products on offer: pregnant cows, free-range oxen, macadamia trees and vegetable gardens. An investor could pay R18 730 for a pregnant cow. After 12 months he (or she) can take back between R20 603 and R21 352 when the calf is sold as a weaner, which translates to a profit of between R1 873 and R2 622 depending on the price of weaners. “This is a return of between 10% and 14% in 12 months,” says Shezi.
Another option would be investing R11 529 in an ox, six months before slaughter. The investment period for the ox is six months and the investor makes a profit of between R576 and R807 depending on average weight and the beef price.
The other two investment options are longer-term – five years for vegetables and six years for macadamia trees. Investors can purchase a newly planted macadamia tree for R2 000 and earn profits of between R1 948 and R2 164 after six years, which is the time it takes a macadamia tree to come into full commercial production. “The farmer buys back the tree after six years once it is fully grown,” explains Shezi.
Lastly, investors can buy into vegetable gardens for a once-off payment of R8 200 for five years. “After five years, the investment has matured and will earn a healthy 61% return or about R5 000 profit. This equates to a total income of R13 200 over five years that you can cash in or reinvest to grow your wealth,” says Shezi.
“Livestock Wealth’s commission is built into the prices, which are fixed,” he adds. “The model offers excellent returns compared to many other products on the market. We only work with practicing farmers who have a proven track record and a business plan with proper financial records. We run credit checks and work with a network of farmer management agents, experienced farmers acting as advisors and mentors to our partner farmers,” he adds. The mentors ensure that farmers apply best farming practices to safeguard investors’ money.
Livestock Wealth currently has 72 partner farmers, black and white, in Lichtenburg in the North West, Richmond in KwaZulu-Natal, Tzaneen in Limpopo and Senekal in the Free State. The company holds R100 million worth of assets.
Shezi is well on the way to realising his early vision of creating family wealth and leaving a solid legacy for future generations. He has achieved this through responsible capitalism and by following the maxim – “Do well and do good”.