Up&Ap: Lesley Ncube on building Shumiphone, the entry-level smartphone designed for South Africa’s market

He established Thatha Manufacturing, a computer and smartphone manufacturing company in 2018. Thatha Manufacturing specializes in producing the Shumiphone, a smartphone designed for entry-level users, with a strong emphasis on meeting the preferences of the South African demographic. The Shumiphone devices are engineered to be user-friendly and affordable, in order to meet the needs of the average South African consumer. His unwavering commitment to affordability and accessibility has been evident since the conceptualization phase of the project, as his inspiration came from his own community, where the desire for internet access clashed with the challenge of costly smartphones.

We recently had an opportunity to conduct an email interview with Lesley Ncube, (pictured) the founder and CEO of Thatha Manufacturing to get more insights about his motivation and vision for the project. Below are excerpts….    

QUESTION: Who is Lesley Ncube? Give us some background about your personal and professional background.

Lesley Ncube: Lesley Ncube is a Durban-born computer scientist who studied at Tshwane University of Technology who had a passion for the technology industry since he was 14 years old inspired by Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs’ achievements in the industry and wanted to make the same impact on the world so he worked in the technology industry and then established his own computer company Thatha which is a computer electronics manufacturer based in South Africa.

Q: In your professional journey, who do you look up to for inspiration and why? 

LN: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs because of the impact they were able to make through their innovations and their ability to make life easier through technology which is what I thrive to achieve as well.

Q: Growing up, had you imagined, or did you have a dream, of working in the mobile phone industry in future, and as a designer of handsets?

LN: Growing up, I couldn’t imagine I’ll be designing mobile devices or any devices for that matter. I knew I wanted to build a Technology company but didn’t know exactly what I would do in the industry.

Q: What informed the decision to set up Thatha Manufacturing?

LN: From 2014, I took on many development projects including working with computer hardware so as phones were getting popular, I decided to make my own device as I didn’t own a device of my own prior to that and in 2018, we incorporated the company Thatha and launched our first market-ready device in 2020.

Q: Tell us more about the Shumi brand and its product portfolio.

LN: The Shumi project has two product offerings – the Shumi 2 which is a device that cost R2500 (about $133) with 128GB storage, 4GB RAM and 16MP Camera, and the Shumi 3 project which has 256GB storage, 6GB RAM and 48MP Camera, which cost R6299 (about $334), our flagship phone.

Shumi 2 smartphone model from Thatha.

Before anything was built, it was thought about and discussed, so don’t be afraid to dream because that’s the thought and don’t be afraid to speak about your dream because that’s the discussion and most importantly, don’t forget to do because that’s the construction. – Lesley Ncube

Q: Related to the above question, what’s the target market for the Shumi branded mobile devices?

LN: Our target market is anyone looking for a high-end, good looking mobile device but can’t afford devices that cost over R10,000 but still produces that same performance.

Q: Currently, there are several models of entry-level smartphones in the market, including South Africa. Why would someone choose the Shumi brand over other models out there? What’s the brand’s key unique features which keeps it way above the competition and other available brands in the market?

LN: Our product design is very good, the performance of our devices is high end, our devices use the best Android software which is customized by our engineers for better performance, and with our products, you get fair pricing on high performance, so that’s value for your money. Another benefit to using Thatha-branded phones is the Africa-developed apps which are pre-installed in our devices, thereby showing our confidence in promoting African technology.

Q: From your website, you’ve devices under ‘Shumi II’ and ‘Shumi III’ project. What’s the difference between the two categories and the features of the devices under each category?

LN: The Shumi 2 which is a device that costs R2500 with 128GB storage, 4GB RAM and 16MP camera, Android 10, and the Shumi 3 project which has 256GB Storage, 6GB RAM and 48MP Camera which costs R6299, android 12 is our flagship phone.

Shumi 3 smartphone model from Thatha.

Q: South Africa already debuted and tried out the MiFone brand earlier. What makes you confident that you can be successful in this space? What lessons, if any, did you learn from the founders of the Mi-Fone brand? 

LN: Sorry, I never heard of them but, yes we learn from brands such as Apple, Samsung and Huawei, Xiaomi on how to approach the market and succeed in it.

Q: Manufacturing has its challenges. As one of the pioneers in mobile device design and manufacturing in the continent, which major challenges have you faced? How have you addressed these challenges?

LN: In the manufacturing industry, access to capital when needed becomes a challenge as things are constantly changing and you need to innovate, we address this problem by partnering up with government and financial institutions in order to raise funds for working capital.

Q: Any plans to venture into the international market by exporting Thatha-branded smartphones to other countries? 

LN: Yes that is our main goal to be a global company and we aim to achieve that by or before 2030.

Q: What can the market expect from Thatha Manufacturing and the Thatha brand going forward in terms of innovation?

LN: We aim to expand our mobile, PCs, Laptops, fintech and IoT product offerings and reach a wide range of products and expand into emerging markets and mature markets.

Q: Any final comments?

LN: Before anything was built, it was thought about and discussed, so don’t be afraid to dream because that’s the thought and don’t be afraid to speak about your dream because that’s the discussion and most importantly, don’t forget to do because that’s the construction.


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