People over profit. That has been the motto for IT Networks founder and CEO, Ruby Moodley since she first stepped into the entrepreneurial driving seat 14 years ago. She may not have known or even spared a thought of becoming an entrepreneur, but it was something that was always in her blood.
Ruby grew up in Laudium, a community suburb based in the southwest area of the City of Tshwane. Growing up during the Apartheid era, Laudium was classified as a so-called Indian township associated with the all the social issues and characteristics of disadvantaged communities, much of which still prevails to this day. “We lived from hand to mouth growing up, but I was always surrounded by strong women who were key individuals to the woman I would grow up to be,” says Ruby. With a teacher as a mother and a self-made entrepreneur for a grandmother, who ran her own business, despite not being able to read or write, Ruby credits the influence of the women in her childhood for the traits of resilience, tenacity and the fiery personality she embodies today.
The Road to Becoming An Entrepreneur
“When I left school, I had no financial backing to study full-time, so I worked, saved up some money and studied part-time through UNISA. I did not know I would be an entrepreneur, but the way things worked out, I had the good fortune to work within the motor industry for a long time, moving around various areas of business, from finance, to marketing, to sales and exports, I was just learning,” she shares.
Later, Ruby would find herself in a consulting role, working long hours while having to adjust to life as a new mom with a 6-month-old to care for. “I realised I needed some flexibility in my job. The company I was working for wouldn’t allow it, so I took a leap of faith. With no client, no business plan, with nothing, I took a mortgage out on my house for some capital and just like that, IT Networks was born,” shares Ruby.
IT Networks is a resourcing, training and HR outsourced service provider in the ICT sector. The company provides a full-service solution to clients, sourcing, training, placing and managing people on a project basis, within the IT sector. “Our core focus at the moment is the gig economy. We work with people who are solo-preneurs, freelance workers who prefer flexibility, managing their own time and working on different projects at the same time. We see this as the working environment of the future,” explains Ruby.
Nine years into her entrepreneurial journey, Ruby came across the Innovator Trust online and applied to the Enterprise Development (ED) incubation programme. “Back then, I was going through a very difficult personal time in my life and there was no reason for me to even be looking for a programme to join. I remember being at my lowest when I received the call to come in for an interview at the Innovator Trust,” she recalls. With no expectation, and realising she had nothing to lose, Ruby gave it her best shot and was successful.
The Importance of Long-term Support for SMMEs
“My life changed while I was at the Innovator Trust. It was in those years that I truly defined what the unique selling proposition would be for IT Networks, and I also managed to establish a second business, ViZIn, which has become the training arm of IT Networks. As women of colour, we are often invited to be on other programmes that feel like a checklist exercise but the type of access to networks, skills, and knowledge that I gained from the Innovator Trust’s Enterprise Development programme was phenomenal,” says Ruby.
The Innovator Trust’s ED programme is very specific in its targeting of businesses with primarily IT-based service offerings and goes a step further in focusing on black, female owned tech businesses. Over a longer period of 2-years, the content of the incubation programme covers core business knowledge areas such as Finance, Marketing, Technical Support and Development as well areas such as Presenting, Media, Pitching and access to bespoke business workshops. Through the programme, Ruby had the opportunity to be placed in a Management and Leadership programme run by the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) as well as the Raizcorp Accelerator programme which propelled her development as an entrepreneur and growth of her business. In 2020, Ruby graduated from the Innovator Trust’s ED programme as a Top Achiever earning the award for the highest turnover for that fiscal period.
Supporting the Small Business Owner
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, access to finance remains one of the major issues hindering the growth and success of small businesses. Compounded with a lack of skills, poor systems and in some industries ‘bullying’ by larger corporations, one begins to understand why the failure rate for South African SMMEs is among the highest in the world (70%-80% of small businesses fail within the first 5 years). The case for robust incubation opportunities that favour long-term support, guidance, and mentorship by sound leadership for small businesses is thus imperative. “Being on the Innovator Trust programme, you are not alone. If you need advice, there is always someone from their team to reach out to. The team has always been inclusive, and they value walking the journey with you for the long-term. They've empowered me, not just my business. Yes, the business is important, but the person is where the development happens. If you strengthen the person, you will empower communities, the economy and so much more. I don’t think they understand just how integral they have been to me as an entrepreneur,” she adds.
Lessons in Building Trust and Reputability
“Entrepreneurship is waking up every day and holding on by the skin of your teeth. In the beginning, it was difficult and today, it is still challenging for me. Being a female definitely adds to it, you simply just have to work 10x harder than male counterparts to get ahead. My biggest learning has been to remember that you always have the right to refuse. There is still a long way to go in terms of taking smaller companies seriously and bigger companies will try to bully you. Where larger companies have tried to take advantage of us, I’ve turned it around to make it clear to clients that they are also lucky to do business with us because we understand our value and we truly believe we know how to support their business, and take their business to another level. I believe that if you retain your ethics and values, you will stay the course as an entrepreneur. I've learnt that my clients respect me and they respect my feedback. Your word should be your word, clients take what you say as gospel and that’s a huge responsibility. It speaks to the trust and reputation which you must build over time as an entrepreneur.
A Look Ahead – The Future of The Working World
With the future of the business world changing rapidly and much of that transition due to the advancement in the technology sector, the need for innovation across industries is perhaps more critical now than ever before. “Evolution has happened. Where people were initially built to be working in the third industrial revolution with one person working in one role for 20 years, that has changed, and that model is no longer viable for where we are today. Unfortunately, our education system has not changed,” comments Ruby.
“The next challenge for me is to relook at the training environment in order to bring about improvement and innovation in that area. The name of our second company, ViZIn stands for Vision, Gen-Z and Innovation, and this entity is our way of looking to the future of the working world and the way people work. Already, within IT Networks and ViZIn, we are building systems and automation into our company to be the future of recruitment. We are going to be pioneers in this space. I know this because I have sought out companies far and wide to support us in this endeavour and have found none who are able to offer what we plan to. I want to leave behind a legacy. I know what it feels like to be disempowered by your community so it's for us to continue with the seeds of entrepreneurship that were planted long ago by the generation before us. I may not sit under the shade of those trees but generations down the line, there will be our grandchildren that will reap from the seeds that we are sowing at this stage.