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Start-up Advice

Mama’s Spices & Herbs 10 Smart Start-Up Strategies

Tapping into the lucrative township market with a hunch and R10 000: Mama’s Spices & Herbs founder Mikie Monoketsi reveals her ten smart start-up tactics.

Tracy Lee Nicol

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Mikie Monoketsi

Vital stats:

  • Player: Mikie Monoketsi
  • Company: Mama’s Spices & Herbs
  • Established: 2012
  • Visit: mamaspicesandherbs.com
  • Contact: +27 (0)11 021 2205

In 2011, Mikie Monoketsi had lost everything – her call centre business and marriage. Having read Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, she made a life altering decision.

“I decided to stop worrying about the future and how to turn things around, and just start with something in the now.”

For her, that started with getting out of bed and hitting the gym. It didn’t just get her back in shape and feeling good about herself, it was a networking place that launched her entrepreneurial career.

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

Start-up tactic #1

Find an accessible market

I know that the township market is huge and very lucrative if you have the right offering. As a lover of health, fitness and lifestyle I was surprised at how many people in the townships are misinformed about spices and seasoning and their health benefits.

From this, I realised a need to educate the township market. Through my research I discovered that the spices customers used by townships are cheap and of poor quality, with high levels of salt, MSG, preservatives, additives and bulking agents – which all negatively impact health and contribute to high levels of hypertension and diabetes.

Start-up tactic #2

Get on the ground and get talking

I come from a PR background and I find it very easy to talk to and build relationships with people. I started with informal research in Diepsloot, Randfontein, Cosmo City and Lion Park where I’d park the car, talk with people and visit their kitchens – some of which really shocked me, but you’ve got to humble yourself to people from all walks of life.

Through this research I learnt what they were cooking – skop, mogodu, maotwana, kota (cows head, intestines, chicken feet, bunny chow), potato chips, fish, braai, stews and curries and fried chicken.

This gave me the idea to create my own unique blend of healthier spices that would complement these foods that are already consumed, but offer better quality, with health benefits, and at an affordable price. I’d also use their feedback to adjust recipes to their liking.

Start-up tactic #3

Approach existing businesses to get started

I didn’t want to be like so many other would-be entrepreneurs who procrastinate because they don’t have the resources to start big.

I approached an existing spice manufacturer with the relevant certification including Kosher, Halaal and ISO ratings, and they began blending my unique spice recipes. Now we’re producing approximately 1,2 tonnes of spices monthly for Mama’s Spices & Herbs.

Start-up tactic #4

Use people’s own networks to sell your product

I came up with a ‘business in a box’ concept where individuals could buy spice starter packs and they’d keep whatever they made when reselling.

It worked really well because people trust their friends, family and colleagues far more than a stranger. From there, they’d recognise it at their local shops and would spread the word themselves.

At the moment I have ten sales reps working in the townships on a commission basis, which helps keep my overheads low. They get paid weekly for their sales, and I’ve got 12 consistent distributors who pay upfront for orders and sell amongst their networks.

Related: How the Mad World Group Grew the Smart Way

Start-up tactic #5 Mikie-Monoketsi

Gyms are the new golf (or, leverage your networks like crazy)

At gyms you can network, strike up partnerships, get connected and meet people who can be instrumental in building your business. It was at the gym that I found a spice manufacturer and met an executive producer. He pointed me in the right direction and today,

I’m on SABC 1’s Yo-TV, hosting a four minute exercise programme every Saturday morning. I get to promote my vision of health and fitness, demonstrate exercise, and occasionally throw in a good word about my business!

Start-up tactic #6

Record and cost every cent

When you start your business, ensure that every cent is accounted for, especially the non-tangibles like labour, packaging, cost of sales, and time. I found that because I didn’t cost everything, despite my sales improving I wasn’t making more money.

I realised I wasn’t factoring in the samples I was giving out – and when you’re in food, market samples are critical but you must factor in their costs. I also realised that using the business as a personal piggy bank was hampering growth – a few thousand here and there adds up – and I was no more sophisticated than the spaza shops and road-side shisa nyamas I was supplying to.

I didn’t get expensive software or an accountant, I bought a Croxley notebook and wrote down every expense and invoiced all customers. Once I did that I started seeing a difference.

Start-up tactic #7

Make sales worth your while

In the township market people don’t have a lot of money to buy in bulk, therefore it was impacting my stock management and projections. Turnover was hugely inconsistent – sometimes low and other times high.

I made the decision to leverage economies of scale and incentivise my distributors and direct clients to buy in bulk. I created a tiered pricing structure that really rewarded bulk purchases, and though I lost some business, turnover is now growing at a steady pace.

I’ve also had people approach me from all over South Africa and even neighbouring countries asking to sell my spices. These people are required to pay cash upfront for stock tailored to their needs and target market and are required to find their own delivery mechanism if post isn’t the best solution – I’m not a logistics expert and I’m not afraid to ask them to help.

When post isn’t an option customers take advantage of malayitsha services (informal courier services operating from Zimbabwe to South Africa). Their rates are cheaper and they’re very reliable.

Start-up tactic #8

Stay focused on your vision

I stay focused by concentrating on the present. I create yearly goals and categorise and prioritise these goals according to certain time frames in conjunction with the business and its operations.

Though I’ve branched into a few other product lines I always stay true to my vision of promoting a healthy lifestyle, fitness and longevity. Some of my new product lines include MSG-free spices and seasonings, popcorn sprinkles, homemade sauces, marinades, stews and soups, and spicy health teas.

I recently identified an opportunity in the market and launched our Ready Mix Concentrate Ginger Beer – people find it too much of a hassle to brew their own, so we’ve manufactured a ready mix concentrate that makes 20 litres per 750g (and because of its natural source it’s great for colds and flu, in keeping with my vision). All you do is add water, leave for 24 hours, refrigerate and then drink.

Some customers then tweak it with pineapple and raisins, bottle it and sell to their communities, creating their own businesses. In the first month of its launch we sold 100kg of concentrate.

Start-up tactic #9

Learn your mistakes quickly

I initially dabbled in white labelling but realised it was diluting the brand. The Mama’s Spices & Herbs brand was not growing because entrepreneurs were rebranding with their own packaging and branding. People would enjoy the unique flavours but didn’t know the producer.

It’s been great to discover that while I identified a niche market in the townships, health, fitness and longevity is common to all markets and consumers, which allowed me to open the products to a larger marketplace. Because we’re now focused on brand building, we get to enjoy extensive growth even in neighbouring countries because there’s no confusion of who the spices and seasonings belong to.

Related: How Billion Rand Business USN Was Launched From a Small Kitchen

Start-up tactic #10

Make smart mutually beneficial partnerships

I have partnered with an entrepreneur who started selling potatoes with a one-tonne truck. He’s grown to a six-tonne truck and delivers 15 tonnes of potatoes per month to informal food outlets.

I approached him to tap into his network of customers to sell my best-selling potato and chip spice. He gets to add value to his customers, and to make extra money by taking a cut of the spice sales, and I get added business.

Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Concerned Citizen

    Sep 3, 2015 at 06:36

    This real sounds a great it is good business practices 🙂

  2. Hugh Kukard

    Sep 3, 2015 at 10:00

    Awesome stuff, love the networking you done Mikie. Well don.

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Start-up Advice

How To Develop A Unique Brand Name In A Global Marketplace And Protect It

A helpful How-to-Guide on developing a unique brand name and conducting trademark searches.

Julian Diaz

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As a marketer, I know just how important it is to choose the right name for a company or product. It needs to be easy to spell and pronounce (in various languages if you’re going international). If possible, it should have some positive connotations (definitely no negative ones) that can be associated to your company or product. And above all, it must be distinctive and unique.

The question is how do you work out what is unique, beyond a URL search, and then how to protect it? The answer is trademarks. I know what you are going to say…

Do I really need to worry about trademarks?

Yes, for two reasons.

  1. You might be a small business already trading under a name that already exists in the market. And maybe the other company that has trademarked that name in your industry classification won’t ever issue you with a cease and desist letter when you enter their market, because they are nice people and just don’t feel there’s any harm in letting a company by the same name trade in their market. Or maybe they do. It’s a decision that is totally out of your control. Do you really want to take that chance as you build a global brand?
  2. You’ve invested tonnes of money into building your brand in your market and then all of a sudden another company enters the market with the same name. Trademarking your name protects your brand from being copied or from another company riding the wave of your brand awareness you’ve invested so much into building.

Trademarks are important if you want to build a brand on a solid foundation and protect it in the long-term.

Related: When do I register a trademark?

How hard is it to successfully trademark a name?

According to the US Patent & Trademark Office, there have been 182,000 trademark registrations and 312 000 applications in the past 5 months alone. That’s more words than there are entries for in the Oxford Dictionary!

You can imagine how hard it is, and how much harder it gets with each passing month, to dream up a name for your product or company that is unique and distinctive enough that it can be successfully trademarked and protected in large markets like the US or Europe – especially in the technology industry. But there are a couple of routes you can try when developing a new name if you find your chosen one is already trademarked.

How to come up with a unique company name

When coming up with a company or product name, you can either go with:

  • an acronym (IBM, SAP),
  • a family or person’s name (Ford, Dell)
  • an existing word (Amazon, Apple, Salesforce)
  • a misspelled word that looks or sounds like an existing word (Xero, Google), or
  • a completely new word either made up of a combination of existing words (PayPal, Instagram, Accenture), or
  • a completely new word entirely made up (Skype).

Related: (Infographic)Top 10 Reasons To Rebrand Your Business

How to make sure it’s available

Try Google first. If you don’t get any companies coming up that are using that word as a name in your industry, you’re off to a good start. Keep in mind that even if another company does come in the results, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve trademarked it.

Check the national trademark search database for the country or countries you want to trade in and search for your name within your industry classification:

If you don’ t come across any trademark registrations for that same word in our classifications, then contact a trademark attorney to conduct a more thorough search using their local experts in those markets and advise you further. You don’t need to work through an attorney as you can register a trademark yourself, but working with one can save you a lot of time and increase your chances of getting your registration through the first time.

In conclusion, some advice

My advice to any company already operating and with ambitions to grow globally is make sure your brand name is trademarked and protected.

If it is not, you should

  • conduct your own search in any of the national IP or trademark offices’ databases (some of which are listed above, others can be found through a simple Google search);
  • hire a credible trademark attorney to either register your name or advise and guide you along the process of registering a new name.

Related: What You Need To Know About Naming A Start-up

If you MUST change your businesses name, then

  • hire a brand development agency for the creative process of developing the right name for you. (We didn’t do this but only because we had no idea how time consuming and difficult it would be. Although it worked out well in the end and we love our new name, it did take up a lot of time and perhaps more importantly “headspace.” I could have been focusing on other pressing things requiring that required this level of strategic thinking or creativity;
  • hire a change management agency or consultant to help with the communication and roll-out process of the new name to all stakeholders: staff, partners, customers, and the market. We managed well on our own, but if you don’t have the internal competency for this, or the time, rather outsource this very important and often neglected step;
  • and finally, just pray to whatever god(s) you believe in that whatever name you finally come with gets the green light from stakeholders and your trademark attorney. (Yes. Seriously.)

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Start-up Advice

Entrepreneurship Is All About Overcoming Obstacles

Confronting your own doubts and fears is the essence of being an entrepreneur.

Kimanzi Constable

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Entrepreneurship is not a destination; it’s a journey. On this journey, successful entrepreneurs don’t have an expectation of “arriving” to some finish line. If you do have that expectation, you won’t continue to push yourself to step outside of your comfort and grow. You won’t seek out the things that truly help your business experience explosive results because all those things require you stretching yourself.

On any journey, you have times of joy and more than a few setbacks. During the times of joy, you feel like you can accomplish anything. It gives you the strength and motivation to continue to put in the work that helps your business.

During the hard times, negative feelings and emotions can easily take over. Before you know it, you’re feeling sorry for yourself and you turn to your familiar coping mechanism.

That coping mechanism could be food, alcohol, binge-watching TV or any other thing that takes your focus away from what you want to accomplish in your business. Since you don’t have a boss or company dictating your day and what you accomplish, that time “coping” could turn into weeks of your doing no work at all.

Related: Why You Shouldn’t Quit Your Job To Start A Business

Becoming a successful entrepreneur means understanding hard times are when you need to push. When there are obstacles, here’s what you need to do.

Acknowledge, then process your thoughts

The only way to get through obstacles is to start with acknowledging that they’re there. The gateway to your feelings and emotions is your thoughts. What you think about and focus on is what you’ll attract more of into your life.

When you’re dealing with obstacles, your thoughts focus on what you can’t control and why that situation is happening to you. That can be a dark place.

When you feel your thoughts spiraling, give yourself two minutes to fully feel what is going on in your head. Don’t try to suppress those thoughts – let them out. When you try to suppress them, they grow stronger and threaten to get control.

Related: How To Survive 150 Straight Rejections

Once you have given yourself two minutes, take control of your thoughts. Focus on what brings you joy and what you’re grateful for in your life. It’s hard to be down when you’re expressing gratitude.

Focus on what you can control

Life is messy. Change is hard. Growing a business is not easy and it feels like everything can go wrong at once. There are always going to be things you can’t and shouldn’t try to control.

Related: 3 Key Law Areas To Know When You Launch That Start-up

There are, however, things you can do something about. If your marketing plan is off, you can readjust. If your sales are lacking, you can go back what you know works. If a team member is causing more trouble than is worth helping them, you can let them go.

The point being, there are tangible things you can fix in your business no matter what is happening. Identify what the things are that you can do something about.

Create a plan that will help you get on the path to recovery. Make it practical and actionable. Fill up your to-do list and calendar with the tasks that lead to results.

Ask for help, then take action

Some obstacles feel like more than you can handle. Seeking counsel and support can be the difference between you getting through it or failing.

Don’t try to be Wonder Woman or Superman. Seek help. One of the best things you can do is make decisions that help you recover. Talking and planning with someone who understands and is trained in dealing with a crisis is valuable.

Then, make decisions that are action-based. If a decision pushes you toward the action that helps your business, make it. One of the best ways to recover from difficult situations is to take massive action. Taking action on the things you can control will give you progress. As you consistently take action, you’ll be closer to your goal before you even realise.

Related: What You Need To Know About The Lean Start-up Model

Obstacles don’t have to be business breakers in your life. You can learn from them and use them to make you a stronger and wiser entrepreneur. The most successful entrepreneurs understand that it’s not the crisis – it’s your response that determines how successful you’ll be. Stay strong, process your thoughts, create a plan and then take action.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Start-up Advice

Start-ups: Creating A High Tech/High Touch Environment

Here are some practical tips for creating a ‘high tech/high touch environment’.

Dirk Coetsee

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In this fast-paced tech orientated world things are changing at a frightening yet exciting rate. It is so easy and so quick to create a tech start-up from anywhere in the world and office space as a requirement to start up has become obsolete, your garage will do. Yet because it is so easy and so cost effective for so many to create a start-up it is so hard to stand out amongst this entanglement of serial tech entrepreneurs and innovative start-ups.

The millennial generations’ general paradigm of thinking, which is more open –minded and entrepreneurial is slowly but surely breaking through the barriers of traditional business operations, mechanisms and methods, imbalances are created, however, when tech is the sole focus and people are forgotten in the process. As is so evident throughout history eventually by some means balance is sought in order to create equilibrium.

This writing serves as advice to all tech start-ups to seek balance from the onset in creating a “high tech/high touch” environment. A “High tech/high touch” environment can be defined as a balanced approach where both tech solutions, and of equal importance, team empowerment and inspiring leadership form a potent combination of enduring success.

Related: What Is Limiting Your Entrepreneurial Mindset

Technology by itself cannot solve everything but technology applied in unison with a strong people centred approach can be a powerful catalyst towards solving at least some of this worlds’ major challenges.

Although many factors such as for example fiscal discipline and other management controls play a vital role in your start-ups’ success do not forget to create an inspiring environment for your team within which they feel safe and united in purpose. Key to business growth is the individual growth of all team members and no stone should be left unturned in moving from a toxic and/or culture of complacency to a learning and growth culture.

Co-create an inspiring vision for your team and get their full buy-in. If you cannot do that you might have to put in more effort when it comes to your own leadership skills and/or “free up the future” of complacent and lethargic employees whom simply do not want to work hard to collectively actualise your business’ co-created vision.

Although very hard, it is worth the effort to only hire people that are passionate about and have integrity in what they do. If a sustainable and successful “high tech” environment is the aim ensure that it is underpinned by very smart hiring and training practises further enhanced by a good dose of inspirational servant leadership.

Generally speaking, everyone wants to feel part of something bigger, exciting, and inspiring. It is your responsibility as founder and leader to create a motivating and energetic business climate wherein every team member is empowered to execute at a rapid pace and with a “zero defect” mind-set. A team environment wherein everyone sincerely wants to be great at what they do and are energised by ‘small wins’ on the path to actualising the grand vision of the company is far more inspiring and sustainable as opposed to an environment where ‘subordinates’ are only managed and basically forced to do their jobs.

Related: The Anatomy Of Peak Performance

Sincerely care for your people yet maintain balance,as caring does not mean you treat them like children. Caring means taking great interest in both their career and personal development, and to be tough enough to eventually let those go that does not constructively contribute to a positive growth culture.

Here are some practical tips for creating a ‘high tech/high touch environment’:

  • Have a balanced approach in hiring. Hire for technical and people skills and ensure that there is a clear development and training plan for all team members that is reasonable and attainable.
  • Find your purpose as an entrepreneur and with great enthusiasm model that purpose at every juncture as to inspire others to find their purpose.
  • As ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ guard the positive and growth culture that you model as a leader with all your energy and remove anything and anyone from the aforesaid culture that is counter-productive to your business performance.
  • Sincerely care about and show that you care about each individual team members’ personal and career development.
  • Regularly put having fun and inspiration high on meeting agendas as we generally take ourselves too seriously.

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