Kerryne Krause-Neufeldt launched her first business when she was 23. She was young, full of energy and passion and had a knack for making things happen.
Those same traits had their downside as well though: She did things too fast, had no staff discipline and didn’t look at the fine print.
The result? Industrial sabotage. Krause-Neufeldt lost everything, and had to start painstakingly from the beginning, with no money in the bank, and having lost the agency for Karen Hertzog Oxigenated Creams, a local market she had personally grown.
“I was determined not to be a failure,” she says. “Losing a business is painful, but it was also a huge lesson, and every choice I’ve made since then has been informed by those early experiences.”
Learning the hard way
Krause-Neufeldt has five core lessons that she has implemented and acted on in her new business, I-Slices Manufacturing.
- The devil’s in the detail. “Dot every i and cross every t. My reps were able to conspire with my investors to take the agency because I hadn’t carefully evaluated the original contract. It wasn’t a good contract and I had no idea. I was desperate for cash and never questioned it until it was too late.”
- ‘I’m not a finance person’ is no excuse. This was Krause-Neufeldt’s biggest lesson. “It’s easy to abscond the numbers to the ‘finance guys’, especially if you don’t have a background in finance. I didn’t even know we weren’t paying PAYE, and ignorance is no excuse. You need a basic understanding of numbers at the very least.”
- Do an accounting course. “I did accounting for dummies, followed by financial management workshops. It was time consuming, but worth it. It was the only way for me to truly be in control of my own business. Now I can spot problems in the figures at a glance.”
- Manage, measure and hold your finance department accountable. “Today we outsource this function, but I still check and double check everything. I expect the company I outsource to to be able to answer any questions I have immediately.”
- Don’t let staff issues slide. “We catered to the salon market and by the time they started complaining about poor service it was too late to start adequately disciplining or monitoring my employees. The measures I put in place just caused anarchy and rebellion. These measures should have been in place from the beginning.”
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Getting started… again
Launching a business requires two core things: A market, and a product that the market wants and is willing to pay for. Krause-Neufeldt had previously come across an Italian eyemask.
“It was gimmicky, but interesting. It soothed the eyes, which always struck me as something everyone needs — lack of sleep and emotional days can lead to tired, puffy eyes, and there’s the added relaxation factor of closing and soothing your eyes for five minutes.”
Now looking for a new product to bring to market, Krause-Neufeldt once again thought about the eyemask. “I wanted to stay within the salon market. I understood it, and I knew what consumers responded to.”
The problem was that the product she had wasn’t in line with the quality she wanted. “I needed to develop my own product,” she recalls. Which is exactly what she did. It took seven years to find a polymer, develop it and take it to market, but the wait was well worth it, and her product, eyeslices, was born.
“When I look back, the lesson that stands out clearest in my mind was the fact that I never stopped pushing. An old contact of mine introduced me to the CSIR, which is where I found the polymer that would become the base of eyeslices,” she explains.
“It was a single page recipe that needed a huge amount of development though, so I set about teaching myself how polymers work. I bought a slow cooker and did experiments in my kitchen. I worked odd jobs to keep the bills paid, and poured everything I had into developing the recipe.
“Research at the CSIR had never been taken far enough, and so no-one could answer any questions I had. By converting a room in my house into a lab and creating a controlled environment, I was able to start the R&D process.
“Then, in desperate need of some assistance and R&D funds, I approached Sasol Polymers. I’d spent everything I had on a licence and performing my own tests, but now I needed to get what I had market-ready.”
The contact Krause-Neufeldt made at Sasol had previously worked at the CSIR and was familiar with the recipe. “It was the most unbelievable stroke of luck,” she says.
The sacrifice to get the business off the ground continued though. “It was now 2003 and I had gotten married, which meant my decisions affected my husband as well. We needed to make the choice together. Did I stop developing eyeslices and get a regular job, or would we pour everything into these final stages, even though it meant cashing in policies and taking big risks. His decision to back me has never wavered.”
I-Slice Manufacturing officially launched in 2007, and over the years patents have been filed, and improvements and advancements made to the product and packaging. “We’re currently in 22 countries, we have IDC funding behind us, and we’re just set to grow,” smiles Krause-Neufeldt.
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- Player: Kerryne Krause-Neufeldt
- Company: I-Slices Manufacturing
- Est: 2007
- Contact: www.eyeslices.co.za • +27 (0)10 224 0134