“It’s OK to be different. Do what you can, use what you have, where you are,” – Bruce Dube
For someone who’s not yet 30 but deeply philosophical with a head clearly beyond his years and who sits atop a thriving company with presence in five African countries with services which reach millions, there something exciting about this young man.
Welcome to the world of Bruce Dube, founder and Managing Director of http://www.nine80.com, a pan-African digital media publishing company operating in his native South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and as far as Nigeria in West Africa.
Nine80 Digital, owners of numerous digital media platforms which include Youth Village South Africa, SA Hip Hop Mag, OKMzansi, Kasi Lyrics, Diski 365, Viral Feed South Africa, SA Music Magazine, Wiki Mzansi, Hip Hop Hub in his native SouthAfrica; Naija Lyrics and Youth village in Nigeria; Botswana Youth Magazine, BW Online ADS in Botswana and Youth Villages in Zimbabwe and Kenya makes the company, and by extension Dube, a powerful influence on the African youth demography.
In the beginning…
Dube has come a long way in such a short time and is always the first to acknowledge that his journey has been a struggle and far from easy.
“It has been a beautiful struggle,” he reminisces about a life filled with lots of low moments and strings of failures from which he rose to overcome adversity and became a champion.
At 18, he became an orphan after losing both parents within one year of each other. Unable to afford his fees at the University, Dube was forced to drop out of school twice. Depression soon set in for the young man when every wall seemed to hem him in on all sides.
“It was a very difficult time,” he recalled of that period in his life. “But it really compelled me to develop more focus, to be more determined, to really want to see my business dreams succeed because that was my only option. That was the only way out.”
He reached for an inner strength which he didn’t know existed but which he had inherited from his late mother, a self-made businesswoman who made a change for both herself and her community by being focused and determined.
“I realised that anyone could start anything with pretty much nothing,” he reasoned after dumping his 9-to-5 job as a media project coordinator to start his own business even without an inkling of where the funding would come from.
In 2012, he started iConceptMedIA, a web development and audio visual firm which currently has over half a million users per month but the early days were far from smooth sailing.
With the safety net of his day job gone, Dube soon found he was heavily indebted and as a result lost everything he owned. Yet, he would not give up on his dream and he was soon to turn the corner.
“I had a series of failures,” Dube admits. “There was a point where things just weren’t working and I pretty much lost everything. I lost my car, my office, my house, and I’d wake up every morning wondering what I was going to sell so I could get through the day,” he told Nils van der Linden in an interview.
With debts from money loaned by friends and family unpaid, and often going to bed on an empty stomach, he resorted to running his business from the local Wimpy – a multinational chain of fast food restaurants – because they had free wi-fi.
Dube took a look at media trends and saw many platforms focused on entertainment. He also saw a window of opportunity to create a platform that could touch on issues that affect young people — like employment, education, entrepreneurship, and health — and that was the niche he capitalized on to build his media empire.
He said: “We knew we could impact positively on the lives of young people and at the same time actually build a sustainable business because we didn’t really have competitors. We also knew we could potentially go into other markets: Zimbabwe, Botswana, Nigeria. That was the dream.”
That dream, today, has spurn iConceptMedIA, Nine80 Digital, and B Squared Ideas with staff and presence in all five countries.
Dark clouds gathered over Dube in the early days but the adversity and tough time he passed through meant giving up was not an option.
Of that period, Dube remembered how he: “…learned to really persevere. I just kept pushing. I knew what I really wanted to do, I knew what would make me happy, and that was to build my own digital media company.”
He finally overcame the challenge by adopting a more frugal approach with the overall business model, and fostered a business that focused more on giving value to consumers at lower costs by stripping down all the excess that didn’t speak to the core of the business and translate to revenue growth.
“Now I’m so focused on investing for the future because when you’ve gone through hard times, you know it’s not a place you want to be in again. You worry so much about wanting to prepare yourself better so that, if things don’t go so well at some point, you always have a backup plan, you have some other investments, and you’ve diversified your portfolio.”
Dube was selected as a British Council Global Change Maker in 2012, selected by UNAIDS as one of the country’s “Young Movers and Shakers”; was named one of the World Bank’s top 5 prominent young people in Africa and Latin America in 2013 and by November of that year was one of those selected globally to attend the German Marshall Fund of the United State’s Emerging Leaders Summit in Morocco.
In 2014, he was nominated for DHL’s Tomorrow’s Leaders Program and also listed as one of the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young People in South Africa. In June 2015 he was listed as one of SA’s Top 100 Young Bosses by The Sowetan and five months later he was nominated for the 2015 Africa Youth Award for MEDIA EXCELLENCE.
In 2016 he was listed on Brand South Africa’s Top 40 Under 40 Young People In SA List while in 2017 he was recognized by The Financial Mail as one of SA’s Top Young Black Execs and featured in their yearly ‘Black Book’.
Today, Nine80’s properties have attracted advertising from clients such as Disney, Coca Cola and Mr. Price Group.
Dube reckons that the deluge of recognition, rather than just be a reward for his effort, puts him in the spotlight to further collaborate and cooperate in ways that bring maximum value to the society he belongs to.
“These accolades have exposed me to new networks and facilitated room for collaboration, as well as allowing for the opportunity to inspire and encourage young people to stand up and do something about the challenges they and their communities are facing.
A non-conformist, Dube told the website www.howwemadeitinafrica.com that he thinks the popular entrepreneurial advice that seeks to perpetuate the notion there is a formula to doing things in business is unnecessary generalisation.
“I don’t believe there is a particular approach or “conventional way” of doing things in business. A lot of strategies or approaches in business should always speak directly to one’s reality and there isn’t a set formula,” he said.
Unsurprisingly then, Dube is focused on growth and diversification in the immediate future. He looks forward to collaborating with “good partners that are reliable and add value to our products” while also contemplating diversification into manufacturing and processing of Africa’s raw materials so as to draw value from the continent’s resource base
Dube regards making the Forbes Africa Top 30 as an important milestone while he’s most proud of his effort at establishing a business which targets Africa’s fastest-growing demographic – the youth.