Healthy dis­rup­tion of SA’s gym in­dus­try

CityPress - - Business - LIZIWE NDALANA busi­ness@city­ – Fin24

Tumi Phake, owner and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Zen­zele Fit­ness Group, is a man with a mis­sion.

He wants to dis­rupt the fit­ness and well­ness in­dus­try by be­com­ing the first black dom­i­nant player in Africa and aims to list his com­pany on the JSE.

Even though his for­mal stud­ies took him into bank­ing, Phake told Fin24 he had al­ways dreamt of be­com­ing an en­tre­pre­neur and run­ning his own busi­ness.

He was born in Katle­hong town­ship and grew up in Tem­bisa on the East Rand, and the 33-year-old de­scribes him­self as “very ad­ven­tur­ous” as a child.

He was ac­tive in sports such as bas­ket­ball, ath­let­ics and long-dis­tance run­ning, cross-coun­try, weight lift­ing and soc­cer.

Phake said he had a vi­sion for peo­ple to achieve their po­ten­tial and im­prove their lives through health.

“In my com­mu­nity there was a lack of ac­cess to fa­cil­i­ties; we wanted to play sports, have ac­cess to gym fa­cil­i­ties, but there was none.”

Phake started his busi­ness on the side while still work­ing at the bank – he did a lot of short cour­ses in busi­ness and fi­nance man­age­ment and then en­rolled at the Univer­sity of South Africa for a BCom fi­nance de­gree.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he worked as a pri­vate banker, man­ag­ing a R100 mil­lion lend­ing port­fo­lio.

He said that, as a for­mer pri­vate banker, he had an ad­van­tage as he was used to deal­ing with ex­tremely wealthy in­di­vid­u­als.

He was for­tu­nate enough to get his first client be­fore he quit his job.

Phake seems con­fi­dent, a go-get­ter: his re­silience seem­ingly lies in his up­bring­ing and sup­port struc­ture.

He was raised by his grand­mother af­ter his mother got mar­ried and left him in a house­hold of twenty other chil­dren. He went to Bryanston High School in Sand­ton. Phake is pas­sion­ate about his mis­sion. He al­ready owns 10 gyms across Jo­han­nes­burg, Pre­to­ria and Lim­popo, and he told Fin24 he plans to spread his wings to Cape Town to­wards the end of 2017.

The busi­ness be­gan in 2014 and now em­ploys 50 full-time staff.


He started work­ing early in life to sup­port his in­de­pen­dence af­ter his grand­mother died when he was only 19 years old. He worked three jobs at a time – he worked in a book store and a mu­sic store, and he wait­ered at a cof­fee shop. Phake said it was when work­ing at the book store that he be­came in­ter­ested in study­ing fi­nance. While work­ing for the bank, he started re­search­ing the in­dus­try, meet­ing po­ten­tial in­vestors and draw­ing up a busi­ness plan. “The first 12 months were all about call­ing peo­ple, banks and other fun­ders, and equip­ping my­self with the right skills for the busi­ness. “Even­tu­ally, fund­ing came from Awethu Project, an en­tre­pre­neur in­cu­ba­tor.” Phake worked from home, re­fin­ing his idea, de­sign­ing the logo, pitch­ing to in­vestors and try­ing to struc­ture the busi­ness.


The first year was ex­tremely hard as Phake had no ex­pe­ri­ence and peo­ple were re­luc­tant to in­vest in his busi­ness. “Ba­si­cally, the first 12 months were about build­ing a foot­print. I got my first client and that al­lowed me to build my first gym. “Awethu Project funded the first gym when it granted me the ini­tial R5 mil­lion fund­ing. The first fa­cil­ity cost around R2 mil­lion. “My ex­pe­ri­ence in the fi­nance in­dus­try helped me. I un­der­stood what in­vestors were look­ing for,” Phake said. He owns all his gym branches and has no fran­chise model.

His ini­tial dream was to be­come a pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball player. He wanted to pur­sue a schol­ar­ship to go to the US but, in time, that dream faded.


We started off with R12 mil­lion, in­clud­ing the R5 mil­lion from Awethu Project.

We are cur­rently work­ing on rais­ing an­other R12 mil­lion by the first quar­ter of 2017.

The in­vest­ment fund­ing is a mix of eq­uity, grant and debt fund­ing.

The other ini­tial R7 mil­lion was funded by a com­mer­cial bank.


Your staff are the most im­por­tant peo­ple in your busi­ness; with­out them your busi­ness will not scale and re­alise its full po­ten­tial.

You need to be­come a gen­er­al­ist as an en­tre­pre­neur and get in­volved in mul­ti­ple tasks to equip your­self to be a strong leader within your or­gan­i­sa­tion.


First up would be the abil­ity to raise R12 mil­lion to start my busi­ness.

Then, be­ing se­lected as one of the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans (2015).

I was also se­lected to be part of the Man­dela Wash­ing­ton Fel­low­ship Young African Lead­ers Ini­tia­tive. This is a Pres­i­dent Barack Obama lead­er­ship pro­gramme and I went to the US to study at Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity through the Busi­ness and En­trepreneur­ship In­sti­tute and meet­ing Obama was a high­light for me.

But my ul­ti­mate suc­cess is ful­fill­ing my dream to help peo­ple reach their full po­ten­tial and change their lives through health.


Never set­tle for a medi­ocre life.

In busi­ness, al­ways sur­round your­self with peo­ple who are smarter than you.


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