Tech Pioneer Rapelang Rabana: “Don’t Be Afraid Of Sharing Your Idea With Others”

BY DOLA ADESANYA

Rapelang is such an inspiration; she has shown that even from the youngest of ages, life is exactly what you make of it. At a young age, Rapelang left her mark in the hugely competitive telecommunications sector dominated largely by huge conglomerates. Another crucial lesson learnt from this vibrant lady is that it’s best to opt for an environment most conducive for your talent “I didn’t want to go into a corporate environment. When you enter corporations, you have to subscribe to their systems of strategy. These have very masculine traits – it’s all about outwitting and outstripping your competitor. I didn’t want to go into something that was so against who I was – I didn’t want to spend the next forty years of my life in that kind of environment,” she explains. Rapelang discovered what suited her strengths best and by that, she was able to create value and influence how the world works.

Rapelang Rabana is one of South African’s foremost telecoms’ entrepreneurs. At the age of 23 she co-founded Yeigo, a free mobile VoIP service, together with fellow University of Cape Town business science graduates Lungisa Matshoba and Wilter du Toit. Established in Cape Town in 2005,Yeigo, offers a software application that allows VoIP(Voice over Internet Protocol) technology to operate on mobile phones, offering voice, SMS, and chat services at rates dramatically lower than those of traditional mobile service providers. Simply put, this innovative product saves users money by directing their voice calls via their data connection (GPRS, HSDPA, Edge, 3G or even Wi-Fi if their phone supports it), rather than over the voice network. The only cost incurred by a Yeigo user when calling another Yeigo user anywhere in the world, is the data cost of connecting to the Internet.

Founders of Yeigo: Lungisa Matshoba, Wilter du Toit and Rapelang Rabana
Founders of Yeigo: Lungisa Matshoba, Wilter du Toit and Rapelang Rabana

The inspiration for this innovative technology began shortly after Rapelang and her colleagues completed their studies at the University of Cape Town. Having been students who couldn’t afford the high cost of prepaid calls, they saw a gap in the South African market for a more affordable mode of communication. Armed with a laptop, an internet connection, and their imagination, the trio were able to produce a world-class innovation.

In 2008, there was the need for a significant venture capital funding to enable the company provide its full range of telecommunications services, Yeigo therefore established a key partnership with the Telfree Group of Companies. Rapelang oversaw the company’s integration into Telfree and she was later appointed as Global Head of Research and Development for Communications Pioneer Telfree. In 2010, Telfree was awarded the Outstanding Regional Achievement Award for Excellence in Mobile Content at the United Nations World Summit Award (WSA) for its Telfree MzansiSMS product. This is the first time an African mobile company has been recognised by the WSA.

For young, would-be entrepreneurs, Rapelang advises that you shouldn’t be afraid of sharing your idea with others, “A lot of people think they have to keep it a secret or it will be stolen by a competitor – this happens a lot less frequently than it’s made out. The reality is that if you have a really simple, effective idea, even if you keep it under wraps until the day it’s launched, the very next day someone will launch their own product to compete with it”. Rapelang also suggests that you first identify the unique competitive advantage for your idea – what is going to make your business successful? What is going to sustain its success? “You need to do a lot of research, engage people, join business networks and talk to people in the field about your idea. What makes your idea different?” she stated.

In 2011, Rapelang Rabana was chosen as ambassador for the 2011 World Summit Youth Awards (WSYA), a UN information communications technology initiative. Listed on Oprah’s 2012 ‘O’ Power List, mentioned by CNN and is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. Commendably, all of this she achieved before the age of 30.

Dola Adesanya || is an astute lawyer with a good business acumen. She loves everything motivational.

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