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Molemo Kgomo Of Ntombenhledolls Turns Business Into Child’s Play

When Molemo Kgomo of Ntombenhledolls struggled to find an African doll for her daughter, she created her own. It seemed as if there was a business idea there, but business was slow… at first.

Monique Verduyn




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Back in 2005, Molemo Kgomo wanted to buy her toddler a doll. She was emphatic about giving her black child a black doll that would reflect who she is. This was no easy task.

“I wanted an African doll that would help my daughter embrace her heritage and skin colour, but I could not find anything suitable,” Kgomo recalls. “There were a couple available, but none that I wanted her to wake up to every day in her young, impressionable years. They were simply not true representations of black people.”

On their travels, Kgomo and her mother found a few that they liked in the US and Germany, but that was not good enough for her. “What about people back home, and on the rest of the continent?” she says. “That was when I made a commitment to creating my own range of African dolls for Africans.”

Related: Sonia Booth Wants You To Reinvent Yourself

A clever business idea

Kgomo designed the dolls using herself as a model. Her search for a manufacturer that understood her vision and goals led her to China. “The company I found was open to experimenting until we came up with the right product,” she says.

“I also left them with Peter Magubane’s book, Vanishing Cultures of South Africa as reference material. Getting the skin tones, the hair and the curves just right was a challenge, but they did it.”

The shipment arrived and she was ready for business. What she hadn’t counted on, however, was a poor response from retailers who felt there was no demand for them. Kgomo’s only route to market was via word-of-mouth, the mothers at her child’s playschool, and her own mother’s gift store.

“I had no real marketing strategy, which meant I sold around ten dolls a month,” she says.

Going online changed everything


Fast forward to early 2015, when a call from a friend changed everything. In March, with the help of Mpumi Motsabi, who became a reseller, she relaunched Ntombentle Dolls and discovered that this time round, the market was ready for her beautiful, full-bodied dolls with eyes that open and close, and short, natural African hair.

But she also did things differently. “We established a digital footprint for the business, creating a presence on social media networks like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Customers also contact me on WhatsApp and via email.

Creating an ecommerce-enabled website was the clincher that changed the business’s future. Coupled with digital word-of-mouth, the online store has boosted sales in a way Kgomo had never imagined. Great media coverage has also helped to drive sales.

Interviews with personalities like Siki Mgabadeli and Khuli Roberts generated interest and sales almost overnight. Marketing the dolls at expos and neighbourhood markets all around the country has been a big plus, too. Her concern now is making sure she has enough stock to fulfil the growing demand.

Related: Quick Shift Deva Kate Emmerson On Crowdfunding

Staying in the game

Having funded the business herself, with the support of her husband, the one thing she has learnt over the past decade is the value of patience.

“Success does not happen overnight, and you have to be aware of how receptive your audience might be to your product. I believed in the dolls, but I had to wait for the market to be ready. That’s why passion for what you are doing is critical.”

Networking in the real world and online has been invaluable. “To new entrepreneurs, I say get out there and tell people what you are doing. You will be amazed at the number of contacts who can set up the right introductions.”

What she finds most inspiring today, is how attitudes towards African dolls have changed. “Skinny, ‘Barbie’-type dolls are not representative of our young girls,” she says. “As adults, we can choose to wear weaves, but our children should grow up with a love for their thick African hair.

It’s great to see parents are more aware than ever of how we need to teach our children to love themselves by providing them with positive images that represent the various ethnic, cultural and racial groups in South Africa. And this is not just about catering to the black market – many South Africans of all races are eager to expose their children to different races and cultures from when they are little.”

Looking ahead, Kgomo is keen to have the dolls manufactured locally and is keeping an eye out for a suitable company. The fabrics used to clothe the dolls in traditional outfits are sourced in South Africa, and local women are contracted to do the intricate beadwork required for the accessories worn by the Zulu and Ndebele dolls.

She is in the process of developing a new range that will be launched soon, including a doll for boys and an Indian doll. Comic books featuring heroes with whom South African children can identify with are also in the pipeline.

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.


25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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