Thokozani Potgieter

ClearView SA owner and entrepreneur Thokozani Potgieter is determined to weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. Photo: Supplied

Entrepreneur with a clear view for opportunity during times of crisis

From losing all his start-up capital to a scam to the COVID-19 pandemic, one KwaZulu-Natal entrepreneur has plenty experience weathering life’s ups and downs. He shares his story, and insights.

Thokozani Potgieter

ClearView SA owner and entrepreneur Thokozani Potgieter is determined to weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. Photo: Supplied

Thokozani Potgieter is well accustomed to reinventing himself and his window cleaning business in times of crisis: First bankruptcy, then drought, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I did the windows for car dealerships, such as Audi and Volkswagen, the worst days of South Africa’s drought. It made me very aware of how often they need to wash the cars and how much water this process uses – at least 25 to 30 litres,” explained Potgieter, whose KwaZulu-Natal-based company ClearView SA primarily focuses on cleaning windows, cladding and signs for commercial buildings and residences. 

“So I put together a proposal to wash their cars using a high-pressured steam cleaner — it only used about four litres of water on a large SUV. My clients saw how much water we saved and it made them very happy.”

Opportunity in crisis situations

Seeing opportunity in problems and crisis situations is what the entrepreneur from Ncandu Park does best.

Not long after his car steam-cleaning brainwave, his team was cleaning bird droppings off the windows and signage at a private hospital when another idea hit: Why not use steam-cleaning at medical facilities, crèches and other public spaces to kill germs, bacteria and viruses with high heat? 

“I realised we could use high-pressure steam-cleaning inside doctors’ rooms, baby cubicles, and waiting areas with furniture. It would allow us to deep clean in hard-to-reach areas without any harsh chemicals that could cause breathing problems for patients,” Potgieter recalled his strategy to expand his business to offer these services. 

Problem-solving spirit

The ClearView SA team in action. Photo: Supplied

It’s this same problem-solving spirit that pushed Potgieter to kick-start his business with just R800 in 2014 after returning from a two-year working holiday stint in the United Kingdom (UK). 

During his time in Manchester and Warrington, he’d saved around R150 000 with the dream of buying property or investing in business. But he lost this start-up capital to scammers who promised quick returns in a pyramid scheme. 

Heartbroken but undeterred, Potgieter used a R800 loan from his sister to buy a telescopic pole and hire a ladder for his first commercial window cleaning project at Newcastle Corner Mall. 

From there, he leveraged all he had — selling the phones and laptops he’d acquired in the UK, as well as all his household furniture — to buy and rent the equipment he needed to get his ClearView SA off the ground. 

But there were still days he had to eat expired food from the bin outside his local grocery store just to make ends meet, he recalls.

“I didn’t even have R2.50 to buy a vetkoek. I ate from the bin, I slept, and I walked 10km with my ladder to complete my job the next day. I didn’t want to cancel on my client.”

Lockdown challenge

Despite the tumultuous journey he’s had as a young entrepreneur, Potgieter says he’ll continue finding ways to innovate and strive for excellence during South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown.

“It’s tough, but I’m using this time to strategise, plan and work on my marketing to see how I can recoup my losses.”

One of his immediate goals is to expand into industrial environments and also train his team to use rope descent systems so they can tackle 50-storey high-rise buildings.

And he has one more, even loftier, goal:

“My dream is to one day compete in the annual Window Cleaning World Cup. Last year’s winner from the United States cleaned three office-style windows in just 17.02 seconds. I want to beat that record.”