Khanya Modipa slays entrepreneurship… and a career at Google

The South African CA talks about her life in San Francisco, and the journey that took her there.

Having recently started a job as global process manager at Google, Gauteng-born CA Khanya Modipa (30) is “living her best life” in San Francisco. She’s also a businesswoman, bringing her passion for a healthy lifestyle into her fitness brand, Slay with Kay fitness. That’s not to say her path hasn’t come with significant challenges.

“I ended up with a career in accounting because of a Lamborghini,” says Khanya, one of the finalists for SAICA’s Top 35 Under 35 chartered accountants of 2021. “It was one of those career evenings at school and I saw a Lamborghini make its way onto the school grounds. I remember asking the owner: ‘What do you do?’ and he said, ‘I’m a CA’. That pretty much sealed the deal for me.”

Yet Khanya doesn’t believe that money should be one’s only motivation when it comes to choosing a career. “Many students pursue a career as CA (SA) because of the significant opportunities it provides – the kind that come with a big pay cheque,” she says. “The problem is you have a minimum of seven years before you even see those four shiny letters behind your name. The path to those letters is riddled with self-doubt, exam failure, little to no work-life balance and carrying the expectations of your family on your shoulders.”

It takes a toll, she admits. “I suffered with depression and anxiety for a very long time because I never took the time to reflect on what was happening. It was very hard, but I’m doing better now. I understand why many people feel like money would be a big enough motivator, because so many people want to survive their backgrounds. Yet, you have to come to a bigger resolution in your mind to help you overcome the challenges that come with this career path.”

That’s not to say that the opportunities the career presents are not considerable. When she was approached by a Google recruiter via LinkedIn over five years ago, Khanya was sceptical, but followed up after her friends urged her to do so. “I think I’ve interviewed at Google over five times and just kept failing at it,” she says. “Each time became more and more discouraging. I think in my mind I just believed that I was not ‘smart enough’ for Google. I remember checking to see what my odds were to get in and one article said, ‘it’s easier to get into Harvard than it is to work for Google’ – that was not reassuring at all.”

The final time she was contacted by the Google recruiter, Khanya decided that this would be her last attempt – it had just become a demoralising exercise. “As fate would have it, that’s when I got the job,” she says. “I’m glad I didn’t give up; it’s been the most life-changing thing that’s happened to me to date. Working in the office and being in spaces that I would see only in movies and magazines has been so surreal. This is the Disney World of tech!”

That’s not to say that working in a demanding environment in a new city hasn’t demanded some big adjustments. “I’ve come to accept that all opportunities come with challenges, but that doesn’t mean it's not a blessing,” says Khanya. “I practise gratitude as much as I can: it helps bring perspective and purpose to my day.”

Khanya is also still actively involved with Slay with Kay, a fitness brand she started at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when gyms had to close and purchasing gym equipment was forbidden. “I really felt moved to keep people motivated and focused on what they could control during this tumultuous time,” she says.

“I took it upon myself to start showing people how they could exercise at home using household items. I’m grateful my mom took no issue in me using her brooms, couches and 5kg mealie meal to get the job done! The unusual exercise garnered quite a bit of attention online and I quickly gathered over 40,000 followers.”

She then collaborated with fitness training app Sudor, which helps people access on-demand workouts at an affordable rate. This led to her branching into selling fitness apparel in a full range of sizes, from S- XXL. “It was really frustrating to see how many people were not given the option to look good simply because they were considered overweight,” she says. “So, my sister and I teamed up to create a fitness apparel company that focuses on all the issues women worry about when it comes to the gym, from bra size, tummy control to colour and cut. Slay with Kay Fitness aims to meet people where they are, because nobody should have to earn their way into feeling good about themselves.”

Having multiple interests is important to Khanya because she believes in pouring her energy into different things – no one arena can provide complete fulfilment, she says. “I think we’re taught from a very young age to just be this one thing, when in reality, all of us are multifaceted human beings. We carry so many different interests, skills and talents, and they can't all possibly fit neatly into one career.

“People who are successful are usually those who take time to know themselves very well. How can you possibly know what you are good at or what you enjoy, if you keep doing the same thing every day? You have to go out there and challenge yourself.” Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, she concludes; make an effort to learn about what gets you excited.