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Alicen Naicker Tried-and-Tested Tips To Bootstrapping Your Start-Up

When Alicen Naicker quit her job she had no idea what she was going to do next. But she had R2 000 left after paying her bills, and so she sat down and thought about something that everyone needed. The answer? Chairs.

Nadine Todd




Vital stats

  • Player: Alicen Naicker
  • Companies: Quality Solutions and Rent-A-Tainment
  • Launched: 2015 and 2017
  • Visit:

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You can bootstrap a business with limited funds. You just need to get started. Start small, and trade — money in, money out. That’s the secret to launching a bootstrapped business.

Why entrepreneurship: Working in the chemical engineering industry, Alicen travelled extensively in her position. When her daughter fell ill and she was unable to get back to Joburg in time, she realised a change was needed. Her employer was unwilling to change her travel schedule, and so Alicen resigned. Family had to come first. Starting a business wasn’t planned though. After paying her bills she had R2 000 left — and had to make it work.

It doesn’t sound sexy. It’s certainly not a high-tech business. But Alicen Naicker has tapped into an underserviced niche with a huge clientele. Her clients include churches, funeral parlours, schools, crèches, corporate clients and SMEs. She has 1 200 repeat customers on her books, including the Free State Department of Education. She services clients in Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe. And it all started with 50 chairs and a steel table — which was all she could afford with her R2 000.

Related: How Circumstances Forced Jerusha Govender To Become An Entrepreneur And Why She Succeeded

These are the eight lessons Alicen has learnt from bootstrapping her business.

1. Start with a need

“I had limited funds, and I needed to put what I had to work in such a way that it could generate continuous income. That meant I didn’t want to sell something — I wanted to rent it out. What does everyone need, and yet never have enough of? The answer seemed obvious: Chairs. Functions are happening all the time, and people have to hire what they need for them.”

Alicen had a colleague who had a friend in the chair manufacturing business. She reached out to him, and purchased 50 chairs and a steel table.

“While the stock was en route I posted an advert on gumtree and OLX. Before the chairs had even arrived I had my first customer — a man whose wife was having a baby shower, and they needed chairs.”

Alicen rented the equipment out for R800, and by Sunday, as it was returned it was hired out again, this time for a Sunday evening function. Just like that, her investment was working for her, making money.

2. Reinvest your profits

When you’re bootstrapping you’re starting off a small base that you need to grow. The only way to do this is to consistently reinvest your profits into the business. Alicen worked from home, ensuring she had no overheads. All she needed was a laptop and a cell phone.

“I purchased additional stock as soon as I made enough to do so, and put it to work,” she explains.

Related: Women Who Lead: Bonnie Cooper And Esna Colyn On Wearing The Mantle Of Leadership

3. Pay attention to opportunities and pivot where necessary

Rentals were the best way for Alicen to get into business, but she soon realised that’s not where the market was. “A church from Springs contacted me. They wanted to know if they could purchase 50 chairs for R2 600.

“They couldn’t afford to rent each weekend. I had good contacts, and could supply them quality chairs at a very small mark-up. I realised this was a business opportunity, and I’d built up enough cash flow to get started — I could purchase stock and sell it to specific sectors that needed a constant supply of chairs.”

And just like that, Alicen became a stockist and seller of chairs, tables, chair covers, table covers and other related items — for adults and children.

“My stock turnover time is two days. I pay careful attention to the market so that I purchase the right stock — I don’t want to be left sitting with stock that doesn’t sell, as this kills cash flow.” 

4. Keep your overheads low

Alicen works from home and doesn’t have a warehouse. She ensures a quick turnaround of stock to make this work, which means she needs to pay careful attention to what sells and what doesn’t. She has a laptop and a cellphone, and she invites clients into her home.

“It builds trust. I’m happy to do business from home; it’s personal. My clients travel from all over South Africa, and the nature of their businesses is also personal, whether it’s a church or an entrepreneur starting their own business. I’m a start-up — fancy offices and warehouses are completely unnecessary — my focus needs to be on building the business.”

Related: Why Donna Rachelson Believes The Secret To Your Business Success Lies With Women

5. Find alternate streams of revenue

The market for chairs and tables is large, but Alicen had been in the rentals game, and she knew there was a need there as well — and that she could assist business owners with a ‘business in a box’ concept.

“I offer combos: Chairs, tables, jumping castles and so on. You can purchase the entire kit from me, and all you need to do is market and start renting out. I’ve created an additional client base in this way — and as their businesses grow, my business grows. It’s also a great way to supplement income. For example, I work with corporate employees who rent out chairs and tables on the side.”

6. Understand your market

“I’m not a manufacturer, I’m essentially a middle man competing with well-known retail brands, and so I’ve needed to create a competitive niche for myself. First, my mark-ups are extremely low. This only works if I have high volumes though, so I’ve needed to concentrate on building those volumes up.

“You create loyal and repeat customers by building trust, and that’s done by really understanding your products, your market and what your competitors are offering. I know exactly what’s available, and what I’m offering in comparison.

“I can give good advice, because I understand my products, the different chair weightings and qualities, and what they can carry. Schools, churches and funerals — these are all places where you do not want chairs to break. Quality is important. I also always deliver what I say I will. My business is primarily built on repeat business and referrals, so this is important.”

7. Ask your customers what else they need

Your biggest opportunities lie with your existing customers. Alicen recognised that the party rental industry is a big customer base for her, but they don’t always want to invest in high-end products — or they aren’t able to.

“I’ve launched a second business, Rent-A-Tainment, based on this concept. I’ve invested in four Zoballs, which I rent out to my customers who supply party equipment. Zoballs cost R25 000 each to purchase, and they’re expensive to maintain.

“This is an additional revenue stream for me, and I have a pre-existing client base who want them. Before I even launched, my calendar was full. I’m also not one rental company with its clients — I service an industry of rental companies, so the costs will be recouped quickly. The challenge was purchasing them in the first place.

“I was head hunted a number of times in 2016. In November I decided to take an offer that was local, with no travelling. I’m using that salary to grow my start-up and invest in high-end equipment, instead of using my profits and hurting my cash flow.”

8. Don’t quit

“My family laughed at me when I said I was selling chairs, but I knew that it was something everyone needed, and I was right. This doesn’t mean it’s always been easy. There have been times when I haven’t had a cent in my hand, and others when I have more money than I know what to do with.

“Start-ups are all about highs and lows. The important thing is to not give up, keep pushing on, and reinvest your cash into the business during flush times. It will pay off.”

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Too Few South African Women Become Entrepreneurs, But This Can Change

Organisations built by business women and that speak loudly and assertively for business women will send an unambiguous message that women belong in the community of entrepreneurs.

Gugu Mjadu




Although South Africa’s constitutional democracy has been advocating for gender equality for the past 24 years, the level of entrepreneurship among South African men and women is still far less equal than the country’s economic peers such as Ghana and Uganda. This is an indication that a progressive constitution alone is not enough to ensure that women join the local community of entrepreneurs in equal numbers to men.

Illustrating this, are the latest figures from the 2017/2018 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) which show that 13 out of every 100 South African men are involved in total early-stage entrepreneurial activity, compared to just 9 out of every 100 women. 

This research shows that the inequality goes deeper than just the headline figure. A higher percentage of women who do start their own ventures do so out of necessity (34.3 percent for women vs. 18 percent for men), whereas South African men, on the other hand, are more likely to start a business in response to an opportunity (82 percent for men vs. 65.7 percent for women). As research indicates that opportunity-driven entrepreneurs are more likely to create wealth than necessity-driven entrepreneurs, this is definitely an area for improvement for our country.

The GEM study is an annual survey, and dishearteningly, a look at the GEM figures over a number of years shows no discernible trend towards closing the gap, while some of South Africa’s economic peers such as Brazil and Vietnam consistently show an equal number of men and women starting businesses. 

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Gender parity in entrepreneurship needs a consistent stretch of truly high economic growth, north of 6 percent, to shake lose any remaining cultural, psychological and economic chains that are keeping women back. Unlike its counterparts, South Africa’s economic growth over the past few decades has seldom breached 4 percent – hovering around 3 percent since 1994. 

This might also explain the general low levels of entrepreneurship in the South African population, among both men and women, compared to its economic peers – 11 percent of the South African population is involved in entrepreneurial activity. Wealth creating businesses start in response to opportunities, which multiply when economic growth is strong.

Short of a massive economic stimulus needed to propel South Africa’s economic growth upward, is there anything that can be done on an incremental level in order to establish entrepreneurial equality between men and women in South Africa? 

I believe that there are many low-key ways in which to entice more women to become entrepreneurs. One place to start, is to focus on the income-generating side-lines that many South African women are engaged in. A scan of social media shows that South African women are not short of ideas nor initiative. From activities that are traditionally seen as female-oriented such as baking and sewing, to truly innovative social clubs and online initiatives seem to provide an outlet for many women’s entrepreneurial urges. Yet too few of them develop into proper full-time careers.

Programmes focused on women and their side-hustles might find fertile ground to grow them into fully fledged businesses.

Another factor that might entice more women to start businesses is more accessible finance. There is no easy solution, however, as research shows that men are more likely to start looking for finance early when they launch their ventures. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to use their own funds to start a business and thus delay seeking finance until their venture is potentially in trouble making it more difficult to secure finance. 

The solution, if any, lies in education and training deep enough to effect a significant shift in mind-set. Given the poor state of the educational system, South Africa still has a way to go, but it could be argued that any incremental improvement in the education system would boost the country’s levels of entrepreneurship. 

It remains to be seen if an increase in gender equality and representation among bankers and financiers may lead to improved access to finance for female entrepreneurs, but because it is a good thing in itself, gender parity in the finance industry is worth pursuing. 

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

The celebration of female entrepreneurship in popular culture, social media and as part of cultural events remains important and probably cannot be overdone. Awareness of the possibility of success in the business world for females remains fundamental to any young woman’s decision to choose entrepreneurship.

Finally, a strengthening of the profile of women’s business associations in South Africa can become an important factor in increasing the number of female entrepreneurs. Organisations built by business women and that speak loudly and assertively for business women will send an unambiguous message that women belong in the community of entrepreneurs.

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

11 Quotes On Hard Work, Risk-Taking And Getting Started From Beauty Billionaire Estee Lauder

The cosmetics tycoon provides lessons on the importance of passion and perseverance.



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Like most entrepreneurs, passion was at the core of cosmetics tycoon Estee Lauder. From a young age, Lauder was obsessed with beauty, and it wasn’t before long that she turned her dreams into reality. With the help of her chemist uncle, Lauder developed creams and other products that she would sell to local beauty stores in her hometown of Queens, N.Y. In 1946, Lauder officially launched her now world-renowned beauty company Estee Lauder with her husband Joseph Lauder. The business skyrocketed to success.

In 1998, Lauder was the only woman to land on Time’s top 20 business geniuses of the 20th century. In 2004, the year Lauder died, the beauty entrepreneur was named Time’s person of the year. Estee Lauder has become one of the biggest brands in beauty, with a worth of more than $50 billion. The company employs more than 46,000 people worldwide.

To learn more from Lauder and the cosmetics empire she built, here are 11 inspirational quotes on hard work, perseverance and getting started.

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

Best Advice From Business Leaders On What It Takes To Be Great

Top women business leaders and entrepreneurs weigh-in on the lessons they’ve learnt and the advice they’ve received that have helped them build businesses, teams and brands.

Nadine Todd




The best advice I’ve ever received

In the words of Grant Cardone, author of The 10X Rule, follow up, follow up and follow up: ‘90% of business lies in the follow up’. I always do, and believe that you should follow up so much that they tell you to go away, and then follow up again two weeks later. I chased a client in Cape Town for two years. When their promotions vendor let them down, I was top of mind and I got the deal. — Erna Basson, founder, Erabella Hair Extensions

Choose either to remain the best expert in your field operationally or choose to be the best in business — you can’t be both. It was a tough decision, but in 2004 I chose to be the best in business. I’ve never looked back. — Lyn Mansour, owner, KLM Empowered Human Solutions Specialists

The underlying ethos of an entrepreneur is one of service and giving. Combined with passion, dedication and commitment, this creates an unstoppable force that can have a far-reaching positive impact on the lives you touch and the people who benefit from your product and services. — Amanda Rogaly, founder of BabyYumYum and Chief Mommy

“When something is not working, you need to take immediate action and make the necessary changes. Nearly every successful company since the beginning of time has had to change strategy.”

Read next: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Networks are useful because you can learn and share knowledge, which becomes a powerful tool in business. There are very few, if any, completely new isolated issues in business.”

Stay grounded, stay focused and surround yourself with like-minded people who support you. Take time to think and stay committed. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey, but if you manage to share it with other entrepreneurs who help you learn and grow along the way, it will help you to succeed. — Lesley Waterkeyn, founder and CEO of Colourworks

To qualify as a CA you have to follow a set programme: Get into a top university, do three years followed by honours; join a reputable audit firm, do three years, then two years as an assistant manager. Move into management and then focus on becoming an associate director, and then partner. I had my whole career mapped out, and got comfortable thinking the world is made up of defined paths.

Then came the global financial crisis, and any plans or programmes I may have had needed to be seriously re-thought.

My late dad said, ‘My girl, take control of your career today. No one is safe, no place is safe and no one can drive this car better than you. Best you realise that if you don’t learn to take the wheel someone else will be in the driving seat, taking you to an unknown (and possibly unwanted) destination.’

And based on that advice, I changed my path, and took control. — Londeka Shezi, director, Agile Capital

When someone resigns, accept the resignation. Never counter-offer. If someone has already decided to resign, there is very little you can do to convince them that they are wrong — you end up paying them more, but they leave six months later anyway. If they wanted to stay but were unhappy, they would have set a meeting to discuss why they were unhappy and not resigned. I’ve never counter-offered, but I have made sure that I have an open-door policy where anything can be discussed in a ‘safe space’ with no judgement.

On a personal level, focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses — that way you feel like you have achieved something every day. — Samantha Gabriel, group managing director, Designers Ink

I’m not an extrovert, but I was once told that if you’re going to be a business owner, you have to be a marketer. How you do that is up to you, but you have to let people know about your personal brand and your business daily. What I discovered was that I didn’t need to be an extrovert — I just needed to be absolutely passionate about what I did, and to share that passion daily.  — Chelsea Evans, co-founder of Plan My Wedding and CEO of YoMilk

Leading and finding balance

“It’s much easier to get things done if you have the support of other team leaders in the organisation. Stay away from the ‘us and them’ mentality because everyone should be working towards shared organisational goals.”

Lead by example. Guide a team and motivate them for optimum performance and results. The leader needs to be the one pointing towards the North Star to show the team where they are headed and why in order to secure their buy-in. For the best outcomes, it’s necessary to align your own purpose and that of your team with that of your organisation.  — Hazel Chimhandamba, head of brand and social engagement, OUTsurance

As a leader, one of the most important skills you can foster is the ability to listen — and being prepared to do so. You also need to lead by example to earn respect. On-the-ground experience and emotional intelligence are crucial. You need to be able to understand the problems and challenges your staff face at every level and be able to relate to their issues. It helps to be able to put yourself in their shoes and show empathy. — May-Elaine Thomson, CEO, Hogan-Lovells

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

We often see life and work as an either/or situation, when in fact life is a continuum that includes many different situations and our many different roles. To me, the trick is to give 100% of yourself to whatever role you may be playing at a particular moment: When you are in parent mode, your children should receive all of your attention; when you are at work, you need to give your all to your entrepreneurial venture.

I strongly believe in nurturing one’s own needs — and without the guilt. We all have something that brings fulfilment. The important thing is that we create the space to nurture ourselves. Airplane safety instructions say to put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else with theirs. That’s because you need to be able breath first in order to be able to help others. We have to find out what makes us breathe — what makes you come alive, bringing joy and meaning to your life. This will enable you to make a difference to others, while still having sufficient oxygen of your own to remain buoyant. — Amanda Rogaly, founder of BabyYumYum and Chief Mommy

Make work a space where you want to be every day. For me, it’s very important that my business has a culture with which I identify and want to be associated.

No matter what, my work space will strive for excellence, quality and innovation but always with heart. I must always remember why I’m in business. — Londeka Shezi, director, Agile Capital

Lessons learnt

“We have to find out what makes us breathe — what makes you come alive, bringing joy and meaning to your life.”


Be authentic. At the end of the day we are all human beings — understanding and caring about your focus area as well as your target market enables you to create something that’s bigger than yourself. We all have an internal BS detector. By identifying with your target market, you circumvent the BS. Instead, you enjoy a relationship based on sincerity and honesty with your target market. This facilitates the opportunity of flexibility and open-mindedness where the business can continue to learn and grow from feedback, continuously refining the best possible solutions, which in turn serve to solidify a partnership between target market and brand. — Amanda Rogaly, founder of BabyYumYum and Chief Mommy

Don’t build silos. Collaborate across teams and departments as you strive to reach common goals. If the leadership team focuses on breaking down silos and all aligning with a common purpose, all the teams beneath will collaborate better.

It’s easier to get things done if you have the support of other team leaders in the organisation. Stay away from the ‘us and them’ mentality because everyone should be working towards shared organisational goals. Managers who have a big vision create bridges between departments rather than driving wedges between them. — Hazel Chimhandamba, head of brand and social engagement, OUTsurance

The bigger the problem you are solving for people, the more valuable you are to them, and the more money you will make. People are always searching for solutions. They will always look for better, faster and smarter ways to accomplish tasks. If you can take a person from point A to point B, by identifying their crucial problem and then offering to solve it, you will be able to create a business that matters. — Erna Basson, founder, Erabella Hair Extensions

Because I worked my way up the organisation, I gained a deep understanding of the organisational structure and culture of the business. This gave me a wealth of lessons that I could use to shape my leadership style.

Once you’re in a position of leadership, trust your team. Don’t ever feel that you need to be an expert at everything yourself — surround yourself with good people in their respective fields; it doesn’t matter if they are better and brighter than you. Your role is to guide them, not to do their work. — May-Elaine Thomson, CEO, Hogan-Lovells

“As a leader, one of the most important skills you can foster is the ability to listen — and being prepared to do so.”

Overcoming growth challenges

“Be agile and remain curious. You can never know everything — I learn something new every day. When you stop learning you stop growing.”


Finding the right people that have the same work ethic and mindset as us, and then shortening the timeframe from when they start to when they can manage and run with a project fully under their own steam is one of our biggest challenges. To overcome it, we’ve adopted a process of screening and psychometric evaluations that help guide our decisions. We also need to ensure that they can fit in well with our team and culture, so each candidate is interviewed by our team. — Samantha Gabriel, group managing director, Designers Ink

I knew that to grow my business I needed to have a Joburg-based branch. This proved to be a huge challenge for me as I am based in Cape Town. After two failed attempts, I realised that I needed a different plan. I then figured that instead of hiring someone in Joburg, I needed to identify a company that was already established in the city and merge with them. If something isn’t working, adjust your thinking or your plan. There’s always a solution, you just need to find it.  — Lesley Waterkeyn, founder and CEO of Colourworks

Overcoming challenges always starts with honesty. Too many people conceal issues until it’s no longer a minor problem (and can even lead to unnecessarily fraudulent activities). Being honest about the situation allows you to objectively analyse it, and more importantly, share the issues with other people in your network in order to get assistance.

Networks are useful because you can learn and share knowledge, which becomes a powerful tool in business. There are very few, if any, completely new isolated issues in business. — Londeka Shezi, director, Agile Capital

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

Business will test you. No matter how difficult, you have to be resilient and make some tough decisions. If you choose to push through, the key is to bounce back differently — if you’re smart, these adverse events will become a catalyst to a bigger and better next chapter. The biggest risk to businesses is having one huge client. Don’t have all your eggs in one basket, diversify your portfolio of service offerings and your clients, keep it fresh and current. Be agile and adaptable, yet always remain absolutely focused. — Lyn Mansour, owner, KLM Empowered Human Solutions Specialists

There’s a fine line between growing and growing too quickly. Learning to manage cash flow along with growth and development was one of the biggest challenges I faced. I needed to learn to keep my overheads tight, maintain control over my finances and invest our profits into the biggest growth drivers of the business.

To achieve this, you need to analyse your sales, evaluate which areas of your business are worth growing, what’s worth spending more time on and what should be outsourced. Every element of working capital needs to be carefully controlled to maximise your cash flow, and effective credit management and debt control are just as essential.

One of my mentors shared this excellent analogy: The fuel in your car is like the money in your business. You could be driving a bashed-up VW beetle and be going places or you could be driving a Ferrari and run out of fuel in your first kilometre. Plan ahead with realistic forecasts so that you know where you’re heading and what you’re aiming for. Don’t spend money on unnecessary things. — Chelsea Evans, co-founder of Plan My Wedding and CEO of YoMilk

Success Mindset

“Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey, but if you manage to share it with other entrepreneurs who help you learn and grow along the way, it will help you to succeed.”

Perseverance. Business is not a sprint but a marathon — you must be in it for the long run. There are few quick wins, so you need to believe in yourself, your product and service and never give up.  — Lesley Waterkeyn, founder and CEO of Colourworks

Be agile and remain curious. You can never know everything — I learn something new every day. When you stop learning you stop growing. Read books that support your chosen route and challenge your way of thinking. Don’t see failure as a negative — it’s an opportunity to learn how not to do something, so fail forward. — Samantha Gabriel, group managing director, Designers Ink

Absolute persistence and planning are everything. Most success comes from sweat, tears and persistence, but it also needs to be calculated persistence. Just pushing forward is meaningless if you aren’t heading in the right direction.

To find that direction, plan ahead. Many entrepreneurs find this challenging, particularly visionaries, but forcing yourself out of your comfort zone will make you a more effective business owner. — Chelsea Evans, co-founder of Plan My Wedding and CEO of YoMilk

Never focus on the 10% that’s negative; focus on the 90% that’s positive. We all need bad days to appreciate the good ones. When a client says no, see it as a new opportunity to recreate your strategy.” — Erna Basson, founder, Erabella Hair Extensions

Curiosity is one of the most important leadership skills because it requires us to ask questions. Instead of saying, ‘That’s not the policy,’ or ‘I hate that idea’ or ‘That’s not your decision to make,’ a strong leader will say, ‘Tell me more. I want to understand your thought process.’ — May-Elaine Thomson, CEO, Hogan-Lovells

For me, a success mindset is based on the desire to win. You need to yearn for success and want to win if you are to accomplish it. It starts with the individual will to succeed, which you then instil in the team so that everyone works together and achieves together. — Hazel Chimhandamba, head of brand and social engagement, OUTsurance

For me, all my wars are won in the mind. I’m vigilant about the thoughts that rent that space, I monitor what I consume from people around me and from the media. My mind needs to be in the right state to keep me motivated to achieve my goals. Some of the most successful people I know are where they are today because they kept going. For me, resilience is passion’s best friend. — Londeka Shezi, director, Agile Capital

Your thoughts become your actions. Only through the adoption of changed thinking and altered actions can you fully realise the potential of your investment in business and your people. Keep reinventing and keep current. Surround yourself with greater people than yourself. Stay curious and keep ahead. Be connected and remain connected. Entrepreneurs are instinctive. Trust yourself. — Lyn Mansour, owner, KLM Empowered Human Solutions Specialists

“No matter how difficult, you have to be resilient and make some tough decisions. If you’re smart, these adverse events will become a catalyst to a bigger and better next chapter.”



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