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.

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