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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

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden

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You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden

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Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck

luck

This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

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Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black

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Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

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