The world of building and construction is a tough one to break into, but one entrepreneur in Botswana is doing just that. Laurettah Sibanda, founder of Atlantis Construction Group and Developments (Pty) Ltd, is building a reputation for quality project delivery and a great approach to service.
Lionesses of Africa was in Botswana recently to find out more.
What does your company do?
Atlantis Construction Group & Developments is a full service building contracting company offering services from architecture, residential and commercial building and construction, renovations and maintenance. In addition to general construction, the company is also involved in real estate development with a particular focus on residential developments.
What inspired you to start your company?
The idea to start the company came about while I was working as a candidate attorney and needed to supplement my income. I had played around with some business ideas but I couldn’t find anything that interested me enough to pursue. One day my cousin who is a self employed building contractor came by to visit and was discussing how there was a great demand for building contractors in town and I saw this as an opportunity to make extra money.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Through our highly qualified professionals, we are fully invested and committed to providing professional and quality craftsmanship to each of our clients. Every client is treated like they are our first and only client and we are with them through every step of the construction process. We ensure that each project is completed on time and that the quality of work is consistent and of the highest standard. We have highly qualified project managers who act as the client’s very own assistant in the building process, from start to finish.
Tell us a little about your team
The Atlantis Construction Group & Developments team consists of 8 permanent employees who ensure that all four branches are fully operational and run smoothly. We also employ around 60 employees on a project to project basis. Our team consists of highly qualified professionals who take pride in their work and have been in the construction industry for several years. Each member of our team is vetted to ensure that their principles and standards are on par with those of the company. Although they work on a project to project basis, there is a common understanding of the quality of work that is expected of them.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
My father’s grandfather was a well know bus owner and operator. He was the first black man in his home village at the time to own his own buses. From the stories that have been passed down to us, although he had never received any formal education, he was an astute businessman who managed to grow his business from just one bus to a fleet of buses. The entrepreneurship bug was passed down to my father who started and still runs a media and advertising company with my mother. My entrepreneurial journey has been very colourful and nothing short of a lesson. After graduation, while I was still applying for candidate attorney articles, I decided to start my own company. At the time, so many mining companies in Zimbabwe were closing down due to the lack of funds to keep the operations going. I started a mining company called Blackburn Mining with the aim of raising capital to acquire and operate a gold mining property in Zimbabwe. I put together a great team of highly qualified mining professionals and prepared a proposal that I guess was so good it grabbed the attention of an executive of a private equity company in the USA. A meeting was set up and I arrived with nothing but a pocket full of determination and hope that we would secure the funding needed. Unfortunately, we did not secure the funding as one of the requirements was that we had to provide at least 50% of the funds needed. Mind you at that time I was a recent graduate with a minus balance in my bank account. A few years later, inspired by the family business in media and advertising, I decided to start my own media company that would publish an industrial magazine. With the little money I had saved up I registered the company, had a logo, letterhead and website done and recruited sales personnel to sale advertising space. Once all that was done, I had used up all the money I had saved up and could not finance the company further. And like the story of many young African entrepreneurs, the business failed because I couldn’t secure further funding needed to keep the company operating. After that experience I gave up on ever running my own company until 2016 when I met up with my cousin. At that time, there was a boom in the construction industry in Botswana and he was doing really well for himself. Although he did not have a formally registered company, he had a group of men who he worked with. I offered to act as his agent and help secure contracts for him from friends, colleagues and clients for a fee and if he would let me offer the clients pre and post construction cleaning services. After a few months of referring clients to him and running the construction cleaning company, I decided to start my own contracting business and recruited him as a subcontractor. With two failed businesses behind me, I was determined to do things differently this time. As you know, the construction industry is a capital intensive industry and my previous ventures had failed due to the lack of funding. Although I was afraid of failing again, I was determined to be innovative and to think outside the box. From my previous experience, I have learnt to keep my expenses really low so instead of hiring full time employees, we recruited employees who work on a project to project basis and I encouraged them to bring with them all their tools and equipment of trade so as to reduce our cost of acquiring equipment. After two years of operating as a general contractor, I formally registered the company and reinvested the profits we have made to expanding into three other countries. As of to date, we have operations in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia and are working on completing the formalization of the operations in Zimbabwe and Zambia by the end of the year.
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
I hope to begin working on our first residential development in 2019. I would also like to see the company diversifying into building materials supply within the next 5 years. My father always says that shelter is one of the most important basic necessities and I believe as long as humans still need shelter there are endless possibilities for future growth.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
There are so many challenges that come with being an entrepreneur and in order to succeed, one has to be their own problem solver. Its always a good feeling to overcome any obstacles that come in the way of your dream. I believe the most satisfaction I get from being an entrepreneur is coming up with an idea and working hard to bringing it to reality knowing that it will not only benefit me and my family but other people around me.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
My advice to other women is that they should never give up. Fall down 7 times get up 8. As discouraging as it is to fail, always learn from your mistakes and find ways to improve on your shortcomings.
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