Meet Mhlengi Ngcobo, The University Dropout Who Owns 5 Businesses at 29

Meet Mhlengi Ngcobo, The University Dropout Who Owns 5 Businesses at 29

  • Mhlengi Ngcobo is the owner of CoffeeMM and four other businesses he founded after dropping out of university
  • Ngcobo revealed he tried getting a degree in civil engineering, but after eight years of failing and depression, he followed his dream of becoming an entrepreneur
  • His companies are fully self-funded, and he spoke to Briefly News about how he managed to raise the seed money for his businesses without investors
  • Mhlengi Ngcobo was named one of Briefly News' Young Money Makers, a project that highlights the extraordinary stories of young entrepreneurs in South Africa

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Mhlengi Ngcobo working a coffee machine at his shop
Mhlengi Ngcobo is the founder of CoffeeMM, and he owns two stores in Stellenboshc. Image: Supplied
Source: UGC

A bicycle, R150 and a head full of dreams - that's all Mhlengi Ngcobo had when he embarked on his entrepreneurial journey. The 29-year-old now owns five businesses, including a coffee business with two stores. But his life almost looked completely different.

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Talking to Briefly News in an exclusive interview, Ngcobo shared his entrepreneurial journey and spoke about the people who helped shape his skills.

The power of a nurturing mother

Mhlengi Ngcobo grew up in KwaZulu-Natal before moving to Johannesburg at age nine. He and his seven siblings were no strangers to financial difficulties.

The 29-year-old praised his stay-at-home mom for raising her children with wisdom and instilling a sense of purpose that no one could shake. Ngcobo lit up while talking about his mother - his smile painting the perfect image of what she means to him.

He told Briefly News that his mother encouraged him to reach for his dreams, adding that nothing is impossible for those who do the work.

"I became the person I am because I spent a lot of time with my mom, and one thing my mom worked on was self-belief and confidence. It's like you have to be the best that you can be, and you should never doubt yourself," Ngcobo said.

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Ngcobo initially chose the wrong career path

After matric, Ngcobo moved to the Western Cape to study civil engineering at the University of Stellenbosch. He spent nearly eight years trying to get his degree, but civil engineering was not his passion.

"I had been struggling so much academically in engineering, and at one point, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. That was just a lot of stress."
Mhlengi Ngcobo in one of his stores
Mhlengi Ngcobo almost became a civil engineer but he struggled and decided to follow his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. Image: Supplied.
Source: UGC

Ngcobo decided it was time to let go of a path he no longer envisioned himself on and called his mother to tell her he was dropping out in March 2017.

The businessman said he remembered her reaction vividly, brightly smiling as he recalled the conversation:

"I called my mom and I told her, 'Mom, I think I am going to drop out and I am going to try and pursue business'."

Ngcobo revealed his mother took a minute to gather herself and phoned him back about 15 minutes later:

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"She said, 'This is very hard for me, and I don't know why you want to drop out after such a long time, after you have come so far. But, I believe in you'."

Ngcobo added that his mom and loved ones have never doubted him and shown him support throughout his entrepreneurial journey. After dropping out, Ngcobo knew he had to hustle to make his business a success because he wanted a better life:

"I knew at that point that the pain of struggling, of having little, was something that I didn't want to ever experience again."

That feeling fueled his desire to succeed and nothing would stand in his way.

Flipping master: How Ngcobo funded his business

When Ngcobo decided to start his coffee business, he had R150 in his wallet and a bicycle. He used the last of his money to buy a bag of coffee beans because he thought it would be easy to sell it.

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"Obviously I thought, 'It's coffee, everyone's gonna buy it.' I was wrong about that," he laughingly recalled.

A year later, Ngcobo revisited the idea of selling coffee, but he had more money this time around. The entrepreneur self-funded his coffee business, CoffeeMM, through "flipping". He started by selling a bicycle. He then used the money to buy a better bicycle before selling it again for more money.

Ngcobo continued the buying and selling transactions until he bought his first car. After selling it, the 29-year-old had enough seed money to start his business.

Mhlengi's entrepreneurship journey wasn't without its challenges

Like all entrepreneurs who came before him and those who will follow, Mhlengi overcame several obstacles to get his business up and running.

From procuring stock on time to making deliveries to fighting to stay ahead in a highly competitive market, Ngcobo has put blood, sweat and tears into his business.

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He owns two coffee shops in Stellenbosch and works hard to distinguish his brand from competitors. The secret to his success is customer satisfaction and the businessman listens to what his customers want.

"If you want to grow a business and you want your business to be sustainable by having recurring customers, you need to focus on quality service and quality products," he said.
Mhlengi Ngcobo is happiest at his coffee shops
Mhlengi Ngcobo loves the purpose entrepreneurship has given him. Images: Supplied.
Source: UGC

Ngcobo added they focus on 'connection' through an approach he coined - 'customer centricity'.

"We are very much customer-centric because if we focus on making sure that we deliver quality service, customers will always tell us what they need, and then we'll try and match their needs."

Another major challenge he faced was funding. Ngcobo said he needed "working capital" to continue funding his business after selling his car. He relied heavily on side hustles to fund his primary business.

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Side hustles lead to more profitable businesses

Mhlengi is a jack of all trades and used his skills to self-fund CoffeeMM. In the process, his side hustles turned into more profitable enterprises, and today, Ngcobo owns five companies.

Aside from CoffeeMM, Ngcobo owns real estate, renovations, web design and graphic design companies. In most of his businesses, the 29-year-old taught himself the skills needed to succeed in the various fields.

Growing his empire

Ngcobo has big dreams for himself and his team. CoffeeMM is about empowering small-scale farmers, but Ngcobo hopes to own roasting plants in Africa someday where farmers can bring their coffee beans to be processed.

Furthermore, he wants to establish strong distribution channels that lead to a global market. Grab your coffee and watch this space, fam; Mhlengi Ngcobo is just getting started.

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In another story, Tinashe Zano worked full-time at his own CA firm while saving money to start his sneaker business.

Zano was named one of Briefly News' Young Money Makers, a project that highlights the extraordinary journeys of young entrepreneurs.

In an exclusive interview with Briefly News, Zano opened up about the struggles he had to overcome to succeed as an entrepreneur and how his company gives back to underprivileged communities.

Source: Briefly News

Maryn Blignaut avatar

Maryn Blignaut (Human-Interest HOD) Maryn Blignaut is the Human Interest manager and feature writer. She holds a BA degree in Communication Science, which she obtained from the University of South Africa in 2016. She joined the Briefly - South African News team shortly after graduating and has over six years of experience in the journalism field. Maryn passed the AFP Digital Investigation Techniques course (Google News Initiative), as well as a set of trainings for journalists by Google News Initiative. You can reach her at: