14 August 2009

Zeze Oriaikhi-Sao: Celebrating Africa's richness

Zeze Oriaikhi-Sao, MD, Malee Natural Science
All Zeze Oriaikhi-Sao (27) wanted to do was change the perception of the African cosmetics market as more than just great raw materials with Malée Natural Science, which she started in 2009. Her dream was to create a world-class African beauty range in Malée, which is environmentally kind, sustainable and the type of products that she’d want to use herself. And with the opening of her Hyde Park store, in Johannesburg, Zeze’s dreams are well on their way to taking on the global giants.  

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I think I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak of some sort. I remember as a child, drawing comics and photocopying them at my dad’s office and reselling them to earn extra money.

What were you doing before starting your business?
I have a BSc (Hons) in Informatics and worked for British Telecom as network integrating engineer and then as a database analyst. I realised I wasn’t crazy about the industry so started a small media consulatancy with a family friend and, as a partner in the consultancy, my real dreams of  being the next L’Orèal or Estée Lauder became real, weren’t that far-fetched and attainable. When the partnership dissolved, I enrolled at business school for a Masters in International Business at Grenoble Graduate School of Business. On completion of my course, my now husband got a job transfer to South Africa. I arrived in the middle of the recession with a unique skill-set and found getting a job difficult. This, to be honest, was the catalyst to me biting the bullet and starting Malée.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
For me there was a lot of planning – it had been years in the making. I started off as a consumer of products and knew what I’d like in a range of beauty products. I started to learn about ingredients out of interest. Business plan-writing and the concept of a business larger than a “mom and pop” came from my Masters programme. I think this taught me discipline. I believe in business plans in the beginning; they’re a framework for your thoughts and ideas, feasibility studies as a reference point and guideline after you’re up and running.

What was your start up capital?
I started Malée from my home; the dining table was my office in the beginning. I drove around a lot, sourcing suppliers so was on the road often. To put my idea in motion and end with a finished product, with research and development and my first production run, I started with a quarter of a million rand.

What was your big dream for this venture?
My big dream per se is still the dream I have today – to change the perception of the African cosmetics market, to create a product that’s world-class which will compete on an international scale, tell an authentic African story, and put Africa on the global cosmetics map because we’re better than just raw material suppliers.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
I don’t think there is a rule here. If anything, I can say what has worked for me. “It’s good to talk,” so put what you’re after out there, talk about it and be open to the opportunities that might come your way because of it.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
I think this is where the planning and a business plan comes in; when you’re looking at the market and competition, you’ll see your unique selling points (USPs). As an individual, you’ll only know this when you’re out there living your dreams.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
Another positive of a business plan. You need to make sure that you’re selling for a profit; that margin is determined by your cost and your projections for growth, volume, reduction in costs/growth in costs and break-even targets.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
In the beginning, the most difficult thing for me was finding the right suppliers. I don’t think there’s an easier way of getting around this, but sometimes I made decisions that cost me money and I had to have it redone and pay more money for the same job.

How do you keep yourself motivated?
My strong support network; my husband and family. Their belief in me is priceles. A compliment about Malée from a complete stranger makes it all worthwhile

Which three character traits do all entrepreneurs possess?
Belief in their vision/dream, the ability to be persistent and the ability to adapt, learn and get the best out of every situation.

Do you believe in internships for your business?
I certainly do! I interned and this gave me a chance to discover my strengths early on and find confidence in them. To intern with me, applicants should send in a CV and a letter of motivation to info@maleeonline.com.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* This will not be easy.
* You will need to be patient.
* You may believe in your idea but that doesn’t mean everyone else will.
* You will need to be persistent.
* Be ready to adapt.

Get in touch with Zeze Oriaikhi-Sao from Malée via email: info@maleeonline.com, visit: www.maleeonline.com, check out the Malée Facebook page and find them on Twitter: @Maleeonline.

13 August 2009

Mike Eilertsen: Go with your gut

Mike Eilertsen, LIVEOUTLOUD
& Sir Richard Branson, Virgin
Mike Eilertsen is CEO of LIVEOUTLOUD, Southern Africa’s largest all-encompassing luxury lifestyle brand. He’s been moving and shaking in the entrepreneurial space since he was at school, showing that tenacity and innovative business goals get you what you want. He’s a finalist for the Sanlam Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 award and, since 2007, has managed to turn a R300 investment of waitering tips into a competitive, successful and sustainable business empire.

Have you always been entrepreneurial or is it something that’s grown over time?
It has always been something that I knew I wanted; I started my first business before I even knew what a business actually was. In grade five, my weekly R10 lunch money went to paying the two bestmarble players a couple years ahead of me R5 each for all their marble winnings of the day. I then divided the marbles into starter packs and sold them for R10 to the mothers in the parking lot after school. Business was shut down when my parents called the school after I asked them to take me shopping to spend my R930 profit.

What were you doing before starting your business?
I was a waiter for all of three months and, after the owner of the prominent Sandton meat restaurant where I was working refused to serve a patron’s wife a vegetarian meal, I decided I wouldn’t work for anybody again. A week later the Breakfast Boy was launched. I took the R300 I’d earned in tips and ploughed it into a business where I hoped to be selling breakfasts and coffees across all major intersections, stadiums and large gatherings across Africa. That was just the beginning and it's developed and grown since then. LIVEOUTLOUD – The Collection started in November 2007.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture? Is a business plan really necessary?
Not at all. All you need is a good idea, a great way to differentiate yourself and the courage to see it through. I believe people spend too much time planning and not enough time doing.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
All an entrepreneur has to focus on is differentiating the product and service, while creating a goodrapport with the consumer. Combine this and then stand in front of people face-to-face so they can see what you’re about, and feel your enthusiasm, and the money will follow.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
They must look at what their industry is doing and go out of their way to change the rules of engagement. The industry we are in doesn’t feel we play by the rules and that our product is unconventional, but that’s a good thing. The difference is that we are turning away business in print media, something unheard of in an era where magazines are shutting down constantly.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
He/she must charge the amount people are willing to pay. Without telling family and friends about the product (without saying it’s yours), ask them to pay for it. If they’re reaching for their wallet, your price is not too high. Ultimately you gauge the price on whether or not you are selling.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
A lack of financial control. I loved the sales side of the business and never paid attention to what the accountants were doing. No matter how much we sold, we just didn’t make enough. I only solved this recently by employing an experienced full-time accountant who pulls me over the coals every now and then when I don’t follow procedure!

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Spending money they haven’t made, and not employing a great accountant.

How do you keep yourself motivated to continue?
You need a fellow businessowner who you can call on those lonely days to offload. They don’t need to give advice, but just remind you about why you started, and that we’ve all been there. This isn’t amentorship role – I recommend that for the first year of establishing your business you shouldn’t have a mentor. They have a tendency to guide you, but also tell you what can’t be done. Entrepreneurs have to go on gut-feel for the first year, defy the odds, and do that which would make most mentors cringe.

Which three character traits do all entrepreneurs possess?
Courage, drive and they’re all dreamers.

Do you believe in internships for your business?
Yes, we have an obligation as leaders to foster youth leadership, and show South Africans how easy business can be. We have a policy at LIVEOUTLOUD to accept interns whenever possible.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Overemploying: Dreams of having an empire and hiring hundreds of employees fill our heads from the day we first think of opening a business. As a result, each penny made is reinvested into staff, growing the company and doing what is believed to better the company as a whole. I had 47 employees when the market changed and the recession took hold, and overnight turnover dropped. An organisation’s employees are its biggest asset, but they are an even bigger liability when things get tight. High overheads are what kill a business, and even if you survive, your morale and productivity is affected by retrenching.
Lesson: rather employ fewer, but more skilled individuals. This will make your business strong and lean.
* Effective financial control: Having ineffective financial control is like driving a car with a blindfold on. Yes, you might move forward for a while, but sooner or later you’re going to crash. Initially I hired friends with accounting degrees or bookkeepers. They weren't well-informed on tax structures and effective financial control. This resulted in money being put into projects that were doomed to fail.
Lesson: Employ a highly-skilled, well-established financial controller. No matter how expensive they may seem, they will give your business security and direction. After yourself, your accountant should be the next hired.
* Celebrating a deal prior to the paperwork being signed: “A verbal deal isn’t worth the paper it is written on.” These words echo in my head as disappointments follow you throughout your career. We all know the story – the meeting that finally results in your client saying YES; you allocate resources, time and a celebration to the new project only to find out your client didn’t have the jurisdiction or funds have run dry. Despite being an exceptionally optimistic person, life has taught me to celebrate only the signed deals!
Lesson: Push for the signature or purchase order. Don’t settle for an email confirmation or the classic “please go ahead” as these are the pitfalls we in sales fall for over and over again. Have the contract ready so when the client says yes, they sign something straight away to get you going.
* Being too involved: Start-ups require you to be involved in all aspects of your business, but as your company grows you find yourself still doing the things your employees should be doing. By being too involved on every level, you’re no longer leading and you won’t have the time for vision, strategy and the bigger picture.
Lesson: Employ people who are leaders in their own right. This will allow you to rest assured knowing they are doing what’s required.
* Employing your clones: You don’t realise you’ve done it until someone points it out. As human beings, we’re comfortable around those who are similar to us. Gregarious people enjoy the company of other enthusiastic individuals. Accountants like others with logical and analytical personalities. No matter who you are, you tend to be impressed when hiring those whose traits you relate to. In my case I’m a hunter sales personality with weak administrative skills. Three months after opening we had a team of six others exactly like me, and not a contract, procedure or file in sight. Once the “clones” were pointed out, I diversified completely, targeting those who were as different from me as possible.
Lesson: Choose your non-negotiable requirements. For me these were loyalty and big dreamers, and I only employ people who share these traits, but they have every other skill I don’t. This will ensure a strong, adaptable business team.

Get in touch with Mike Eilertsen from LIVEOUTLOUD via email: mike@liveoutloud.co.za, visit:www.liveoutloud.co.za, check his Facebook profile, find him on Twitter: @MikeEilertsen and on LinkedIn.

07 June 2009

Bessie Mogale: Research your market

Bessie Mogale, shop owner
Bessie Mogale didn’t let circumstances get her down. She started a tuck shop (or spaza) from her Gauteng home in 2005. Her business was spotted and she was given the opportunity to participate in the Coca-Cola 5by20 Programme by completing the Coca-Cola South Africa Women Empowerment training course. She’s now well on her way to achieving her business dream of one day growing her tuck shop into a franchised supermarket chain.

According to SpazaNews, there are an estimated 40 000 spaza shops in Gauteng alone – 100 000 across South Africa – contributing a turnover of R7-billion a year. Each spaza employs two to three people, each supporting a family of four.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I have always been an entrepreneur – it all started with a bag of oranges. I sold each orange at a profit and when my mom found out she told me to use the money to replace the bag. I then used the change to buy sweets to sell to all my school friends, much to her dismay. It was then that she told me that I took after my grandmother who had owned a butchery, a grocery store and other shops.

What were you doing before starting your business?
Before the tuck shop, I was unemployed and when my husband left for Botswana I had to raise three boys by myself. As an unemployed mother, this was going to be quite a challenge. Opening the tuck shop was the only way I could make sure that we had food on the table and that the boys received a good education.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
In my case it was all about having the passion and determination to create a sustainable business. I didn’t have a business plan, instead I used the knowledge and skills I picked up over the years. However, after attending Coca-Cola's "Women Empowerment" training course, I realised how important it is to have the correct skills and structures to run a successful business. Without these, your business has a higher risk of failing along the way.

What was your start up capital and where did you work from?
I started my little tuck shop in a one-roomed shack, with enough money to buy one crate of cold drink, a few bags of maize meal, sugar and tea. It was a trying time, but I was determined to do better and make my venture a success. I knew that I needed more skills and capital to grow the business, so when the opportunity to gain such knowledge presented itself through Coca-Cola South Africa’s "Women Empowerment" training course, I did not hesitate to attend. Not only did I gain financial and human resources, as well as business management skills from the training course, but I also received R3 000 start-up capital and a container to use as my tuck shop.

What’s your big dream for this venture?
At the moment, I run one tuck shop, which I would like to see grow into a supermarket to franchise across the country.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
It is all about research. You need to read and engage with people in order to understand the market.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
Again it’s all about research and more research. Through research you can find out what makes you different and then develop that differential advantage to better your business venture.    

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
Talking from personal experience, I would say conducting ongoing market research is the best way to find out what to change for your service offering. When I started my tuck shop, I asked my customers what new products they would like to see in the shop, which I then went ahead and purchased.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
When I started my tuck shop I employed an additional worker. We worked well for some time until it came to my attention that he was stealing from the tuck shop. The only way I could solve the problem was to let him go.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Firstly, being product-driven instead of focusing on the customer. Upcoming entrepreneurs need to keep in mind that in order to succeed they need to provide a need/want to their customers, and no matter how brilliant your offering is, if it does not satisfy a customer’s needs it will not be bought. Secondly, new entrepreneurs tend to spend more money than they will make, which may lead to early financial problems. 

How do you keep yourself motivated?
I was raised by independent businesswomen; my mom and grandma. Watching them work hard and strive for the growth of their businesses remains an inspiration and motivation for me in my quest to grow my business.

Did you have a mentor?
I did not have a mentor, but I did look up to my grandmother when growing up. She was a strong businesswoman, whose tenacity helped sustain her businesses and our family. I believe that every up and coming entrepreneur should have a mentor, who will advise and assist them as they grow their ventures. 

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
With regards to a spaza-shop specifically, I would say between six to 10 months and if it doesn’t work, try tweaking your offering by getting new products that are of interest to your customers.

Is it ever alright to give up on a dream?
No, dreams are meant to be followed. Dreams are the things that challenge us to do better and grow as people, if we were to stop following our dreams, we would stop growing as individuals.

What’s your life motto?
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” In my case: “When life gives you oranges, start a business!”
Do you believe in internships for your business?
Yes, I do. The skills and knowledge gained from undergoing an internship can help up and coming entrepreneurs grow their ventures and reach the goals that they have set for themselves. Unfortunately I do not have a formal internship programme, however I do share the knowledge and skills I gained from Coca-Cola South Africa’s "Women Empowerment" training course with a few women in my community.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Always conduct market research ahead of starting your business.
* Beware of who you partner with.
* Always know where you want to be in the future and have a clear vision of your future plans.
* Never give up on your hopes and dreams.
* Equip yourself with the relevant skills needed to run your business.