- Player: Shameem Kumandan
- Company: Washtub Industrial Laundry Service
- Employees: 87
- Est: 1995
- Visit: www.washtub.co.za
1You need a clearly defined market
When Shameem Kumandan launched Washtub Industrial Laundry Service in 1995, it was a small operation run from her backyard in Cape Town. She needed R1 000 monthly for her five-year-old son’s ADHD therapy and so she started a laundry service for Stellenbosch students.
Her backyard operation started growing, and as it grew she found bigger premises. Within two years she’d moved into the industrial market, not because of any strategic planning, but simply because business in that sector had come her way.
“We had no long-term vision,” she says. “Each time we grew it cost us cash until we found additional clients to balance the costs. It was organic.”
Washtub was growing, but by 2008 Shameem was learning a valuable lesson. Organic growth can only take you so far. The lack of a clearly defined market expansion plan and strategy was actually becoming the business’s biggest barrier to growth.
“We would drive to Sea Point, make a list of hotels, and market to all of them,” says Shameem. “We had no knowledge of business needs, and we therefore weren’t profiling our prospective clients and finding businesses that suited our specific offering. We just took anyone who came our way.”
Know who your customers are
This had two consequences. First, Shameem and her team were wasting a lot of time and effort on unqualified leads, when they could have been targeting the right customers.
Second, they were contracting with clients whose needs and expectations were a mismatch to Washtub’s offering. This, in turn, damaged the company’s reputation and brand. Altogether, the cost of new client acquisition was high.
“Our shift came when I contracted the services of an experienced marketing director. She taught us the value of pre-qualifying leads and customer profiling. Previously, we were scrambling for any client we could sign a contract with, fighting other laundry services.” Known as ‘red oceans’, this common sales tactic just leads to blood in the water.
Focus on your top ten biggest customers
Instead, Shameem and her team started focusing on the top ten customers they wanted. “We studied the needs of those clients, created a customer-centric solution for them, and then pitched our business to them. We were no longer just knocking on doors, but actively targeting the right clients whose needs matched our solutions.
“We knew we could offer them an exceptional service, and because we were focused, we could unpack and prove this solution to them.” Through this new sales methodology, Shameem and her team signed The Westin Cape Town. “The Westin was one of our pre-selected top ten clients. It’s the cream of the crop in the Cape.”
Shameem still services a number of clients, both large and small, but the company as a whole has a much deeper understanding of which clients are best supported by their service offerings.
2Invest in growth
Organic growth is often necessary to begin with. It’s difficult to source funding — either debt or equity funding — without a track record or assets to use as surety for a loan. For this reason, many businesses are bootstrapped in their early years.
However, there comes a time when you do need to start investing in your growth, while also protecting your cash flow. For many years, Shameem poured everything she had into repayments, instead of protecting her cash flow.
Knowing what she knows now, if she could go back, she’d protect her cash flow instead of repaying loans used to purchase state-of-the-art equipment she’s invested in over the years as quickly as possible. “In 2011 I travelled to Europe to see the processes and technology available in our industry.
Save for new technology that will set you apart
“I came back with a new understanding of what was possible, and we started saving for new technologies that would not only set us apart in the industry but also help us better serve our customers, particularly in the healthcare market.
“We invested in machinery that is 100% automated; at no point in the wash cycle is linen touched by human hands, thereby eliminating any possibility of recontamination. The machinery also uses recycled water, halving the required water usage of conventional machines.”
From a competitive perspective, the machinery would differentiate Washtub from its competitors, but the way in which Shameem financed her purchases limited her growth.
“We would finance new machines, and then focus on repaying the loans as quickly as possible, pouring all our cash into repayments. I didn’t understand I was actually limiting my growth,” she admits.
“Our growth was slow because we didn’t have enough cash — I was too focused on repaying our equipment finance.”
Shameem has since learnt that managing finance doesn’t just mean having little to no debt. “Once we stopped trying to repay our loans as quickly as possible, we were able to free up cash for other things, particularly investing in marketing spend. This has made a huge difference to the business and our
3Focus on your numbers
In every business, there are areas where money can be saved without damaging the integrity of the brand or quality of your service. In fact, in some cases those savings can enhance the overall capabilities of the business. Most importantly though, savings free up valuable cash flow that can be used to fund further growth.
“We started our eco-smart journey in 2008 when South Africa had its first energy crisis. We were looking for ways to reduce our electricity usage. As a business that ran 24 hours a day and was powered by electricity, we knew there was a serious threat to our business continuity, and that we needed to find ways to reduce our consumption.
Always reduce consumption where you can
“We started with what we could change quickly and have maximum impact, and once you’re on the journey, paying attention to your numbers, it’s incredible what you can find to reduce consumption.
“For example, we invested in a coal-fired boiler, changed the motors on our machines to variable speed motors, which use half the energy, created natural light in our warehouses, taught staff to switch off lights and conserve energy in even the smallest of ways, including boiling smaller kettles. It’s all added up to significant savings.”
The lesson is simple: Once you know your numbers and dig into the details, there are many areas where you can save in your business — which, in turn, frees up cash for growth.
4Automate your processes
When an entrepreneur starts out they are by necessity jacks of all trades. Shameem was no different. She was financier, office liaison, admin assistant, HR and sales all rolled into one. However, as the business grows, it’s essential to hire the right people and delegate these tasks so that you can start focusing on the business and strategy, instead of working in the business and performing operational tasks.
“When I applied for government funding, my network facilitator introduced me to a consultant who explained the concept of capacity building to me. It was a big shift in my mindset. Instead of thinking I had to do everything, I started thinking about how to develop policies and procedures.
“It was all in my head, and I’d been wanting to document everything, but I didn’t know where to start. She got me on the journey. Today there is a document and procedure for everything, from answering the phone and giving directions to our premises, to washing and sanitising our linen.”
Stay plug-in to your business until you reach your goals
It’s been an integral part of Shameem’s growth strategy. “You can’t separate yourself from the day-to-day operations of your business and focus on growth until all your processes are documented and ingrained,” she explains.
“Working on your business means recruiting people to execute those tasks, training them exceptionally well, while you go to work on planning, executing and achieving the business’s long-term growth strategy. It also means knowing your business; knowing your numbers and which areas can be improved upon and developed.
“Finally, in order to maintain control, policies and procedures need to be monitored carefully. Checklists are created that are ticked off daily. I insist on absolute discipline in this regard. An unyielding, relentless drive to maintain excellence in every action and choice we make has had a noticeable impact on the business, the integrity of our solutions and our growth path.
5Invest in your people and yourself
Shameem’s introduction to an external consultant opened her mind, and from then on she embarked on a self-learning journey.
“I went from a small business owner to having a much bigger vision. I started working on the business and not in it, and that required a dedication to personal growth, but also helping my people to grow.
“On a personal level, I think there’s enormous value in getting help from an external source. Often a fresh set of eyes helps place our objectives in a better perspective. I’ve learnt that the input from a suitably qualified professional is invaluable.
The benefits of multiple SWOT analysis’
“In addition, a SWOT analysis conducted at different stages of a business cycle will yield different insights. An external professional is completely objective about what products and services work or don’t work.
“As business owners, we can be emotional in our decision- making; external consultants help you to remove emotion from the equation and focus on the facts and figures.” In addition to consultants, Shameen continues to increase her business acumen through courses like EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women, an executive leadership programme for established women business owners.
Shameem hasn’t only focused on her own development though. “I’ve always been passionate about people and empowering and training them, but we’ve now taken this to the next level. Every Monday we hold training across a wide range of topics, from finances to health and safety.
Look after your employees
“As a business owner, the health, comfort and stress levels of your employees all impact their happiness, overall efficiency and productivity; over and above this, I believe we have a commitment to support our employees where we can.”
Because the business is focused on automation and innovation, a lot of processes that were previously performed manually now have a technical element, and this also takes training and educating staff, as well as managing their fears.
“We’re a manual labour intensive industry. As you automate, there are fears that people will lose jobs. Instead, the opposite is true. When we automated in 2013 we increased our staff complement by 43%. We still need people; people need to watch the machines and look out for snags. Pillowcases still need to be counted, but now they can be scanned instead of manually counted. There is less room for error, and our employees are being upskilled.”
AnaStellar Brands Founders Top Tips For Taking On Entrenched Competitors
Launched in August 2016, AnaStellar Brands has seen strong growth over a short period. According to founders Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling, success depends on getting the fundamentals right.
- Players: Michelle Dateling and Anastasia Dobson-du Toit
- Company: AnaStellar Brands
- Est: 2016
- About: AnaStellar Brands is a female-owned South African company, with a focus on the development, marketing and sale of innovative brands in the FMCG, cosmetics and pharmaceutical sectors. All of the company’s brands are manufactured and packaged within South Africa.
- Visit: www.anastellar.co.za
Anastasia Dobson-Du Toit, a qualified pharmacist with a BCom degree and Michelle Dateling, an optometrist, met while both were pursuing an MBA at Wits University in 2010. Anastasia had spent years working in her family’s pharmaceutical company, which was eventually sold to a multinational. Michelle, meanwhile, was working as an optometrist and also has a stake in an optometry business. A few years after successfully completing their MBA degrees, both were looking to start a business.
“Initially, there were six of us — six ladies who had been in the MBA programme together. We all felt that there was no gain in simply getting an MBA. We needed to actually do something with it, so we decided to start a business together,” says Michelle.
As often happens, though, several members of the group withdrew for one reason or another, until eventually, only Anastasia and Michelle were left. Having exited the family business in 2014, Anastasia was ready for a new challenge and Michelle was also keen to venture deeper into the realm of entrepreneurship.
The industry they settled on was a challenging one, but also one that Anastasia was intimately familiar with: Pharmaceuticals. They launched AnaStellar Brands in 2016, a company that produces consumer health products that target the body and its functions in a holistic way.
“We make use of a mixology of targeted ingredients in a safe, cost-effective and convenient way, ensuring continued compliance and thus effective results. Our products focus on the nutritional requirements of women throughout the various stages of womanhood, including prenatal supplementation,” says Anastasia.
Of course, making inroads into an industry that is incredibly competitive and heavily regulated isn’t easy, yet the company has enjoyed impressive growth over the last 18 months. How did the founders manage to establish and grow their start-up so quickly? Here are their tips for taking on entrenched competitors.
1. Focus on what you do best
“We focus on the development, marketing and sale of products.” says Anastasia. “We don’t manufacture anything ourselves and we don’t handle things like warehousing and distribution. When we launched the company, we knew that we wanted it to be a South African businesses — that the money should stay in the country and stimulate the economy here. However, we also realised that we didn’t have to manufacture ourselves in order to accomplish this. There are plenty of South African businesses with the necessary capacity, just hoping for the business. So, we focus on the development and branding, which is where our strengths lie and contract the rest out. Trying to manufacture on a large scale when you are a small start-up is just too costly.”
2. Don’t give your company away
“Bootstrapping a business isn’t easy, so saying no to funding can be hard. However, you have to be very careful when it comes to taking outside funding. Although people were offering us money for something that didn’t truly exist yet, we decided to rather fund the business ourselves. Equity is cheap when a start-up is young, and a founder can end up regretting giving a big chunk of the business away. Also, you can quickly find yourself in a situation where you are no longer your own boss. If at all possible, fund the business yourself,” says Anastasia.
3. Know your market and customer
“Although we only launched late in 2016, we had spent a lot of time researching and preparing before this. We analysed the market carefully and really looked at our competitors. We tried their products and took photos of shelves in stores. We knew exactly what the market looked like, and we knew how we wanted to position ourselves by the time we officially started doing business,” says Michelle.
4. Build intellectual property
At the end of the day, all you really have is your brand and your IP, so you need to focus on those when launching your business. You need to know exactly what you want your brand to be. You need to sweat the details. Logos, packaging and marketing materials are important.
You need to stand out and you need to be able to compete with large multinationals. We spent time and money on good packaging, for instance, even creating boxes that are printed on the inside. This adds to cost, but helps build the brand,” says Michelle.
5. Have a clear marketing strategy
“A start-up doesn’t have the marketing budget of a large business, so you need to be strategic and targeted in your marketing. We decided to recruit a sales force to target the doctors who would prescribe our products, instead of spending money on traditional marketing campaigns. This was a strategy that really worked for us. You need to look at what the most cost-effective marketing solution is for your business. A young business needs to see a great ROI when it comes to marketing, otherwise it isn’t worth it,” says Michelle.
6. Protect your IP
“A good lawyer can be expensive, but it is absolutely worth the investment. You need a lawyer to look at any contracts you sign, and you need someone who can help you to protect your IP. Too many start-ups launch without worrying about IP. By the time they come round to it, it’s often too late. Get a good IP lawyer and protect your brand from day one,” says Anastasia.
7. Hire carefully
“As a start-up, we hire a lot of young and inexperienced sales people who we train and help grow,” says Anastasia. “The problem with this, however, is that you can spend a lot of time and money training someone, and then quickly lose them to a bigger company once they have gained some experience. Make sure that you aren’t simply training someone for the competition. Hire employees who are committed for the long term. It’s even worth including a clause in employee contracts that state that employees need to repay the cost of training if they leave the business within a certain period.”
VP Of SAB and AB InBev Doreen Kosi Explains What Drives Success
When SABMiller and AB InBev merged in 2016, two organisations known for exceptional systems, processes and a winning attitude became one. Incredible growth and an enduring long-term vision are proof that the right culture can go a long way. Doreen Kosi unpacks the personal success mindset that drew her to SAB, and reveals what it means to be a part of a winning team.
- Player: Doreen Kosi
- Company: SAB and AB InBev
- Position: Vice President: Legal & Corporate Affairs — SAB and AB InBev, Africa Zone
- Visit: www.ab-inbev.com; www.sab.co.za
Anything is possible
If you put your mind to it and ask for help when in doubt, you can achieve any goal you set for yourself. As a leader, you don’t need to always have all the answers. That’s why we build strong teams made up of specialists in their fields; we all need to learn from each other. I’ve found it’s important to steer your team, but also to be led when necessary. Ultimately, real success is achieved when we work collaboratively.
Quick collaborations build solutions-orientated teams
SAB/AB InBev has an open plan office culture. As an exco member, I don’t have an office, I have a desk. In my previous positions, I’d arrive at my office, close the door and start working. Since joining this organisation, I’ve realised how collaborative it is to work in an open plan environment. Instead of sending emails to discuss setting up meetings, you can address an issue then and there, in five minutes, and find a solution. It encourages team members to reach out, share thoughts and ideas, find solutions, make immediate decisions and move on to the next challenge or task.
Partnerships drive success
Beyond your own organisation, when you work with the collective you stand a better chance of succeeding. More minds are better than one because they bring about diversity of ideas and ways of doing things. Surround yourself with positive people and support them as well.
When you build partnerships between corporates and SMEs, you increase the chances of leveraging off one another, learning lessons, sharing risks and driving shared success and growth. When you all grow together, your impact on job creation and improving lives increases. But, it’s important to take ownership and be accountable for your own actions and results. When you do this, you have a collective commitment to improve the lives of more people in more communities, and also to build communities by developing people and creating authentic and sustainable jobs that can be measured.
Top players encourage best-of-breed behaviour
When everyone is working side by side, and you have an office full of top performers, the bar is constantly being raised. You’re exposed to best practice and you start shaping your own behaviour accordingly. Don’t hide your stars. Expose their way of thinking and doing things to everyone around them. Pay attention to what top performers are doing around you as well — what can you learn from them, and how can you adjust your own style to get more done?
Top performers are drawn to winners
Long ago SAB and AB InBev made the decision to focus on cultivating a winning culture, and it’s worked. This is a company of winners and owners. It’s a place where results and personal goals are aligned. There’s an overriding culture that if you’re focused on results and have personal accountability, you cannot fail. There’s a huge amount of focused energy when you walk through the doors of any SAB/AB InBev office around the world, and it’s because of this. When you create an organisation of winners, other winners want to join you.
The result is a team of high performers drawn to each other, all pushing each other to greater heights. If you don’t accept mediocrity, if you’re driven by the exceptional, and you build your teams with people who hold the same values, eventually, you’ll attract more of the same individuals.
Understand your personal philosophy and live by it
If you want to build a team of winners, or join one, you need to be disciplined in your goals. You need to strive to manage yourself well in all aspects of your life, and to be emotionally intelligent. I have a dual philosophy I live by. Make decisions, stick by them and live with the consequences; and ‘lift others as you climb’. This isn’t my original quote, but I believe in it strongly.
Hand-in-hand with self-discipline is resilience
One fundamental truth that experience has taught me is that successful professionals and entrepreneurs are resilient and not shy to get up when they fall. They pull themselves together and start over again, no matter how many times they fail. Never give up. The less successful are those who give up when things get tough.
Believe in yourself
There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The one pulls people towards you, the other is a turn-off, so be careful how you build and embrace your confidence, but whatever you do, believe in yourself. To the point above, it’s how those who fail get back up and try again. Understand your worth. Never sell yourself short. Self-motivation is key. I think it’s clear that I believe in the value of teams and partnerships, but you can’t add value to a team if you aren’t confident in your worth and what you bring to the table. Confidence also opens up many possibilities.
When you’re confident, the possibility of people warming up to you and being open to supporting you are very high. And don’t forget: Success is hard work. Work hard, be authentic, persist and develop a thick skin. Things won’t always go your way.
Personal growth is key if you want to be successful
Never stop learning. If you can, learn something new every day. Concern yourself with what is going on in your surroundings and recognise the phenomenon of global citizenship. SAB/AB InBev has such an incredible growth and innovation culture that we drive within the organistion, but ultimately it starts with the individual. For example, we have a global Best Practice Programme.
Any team can submit a ‘best practice’ solution, and if it’s tested and is better than the current solution, it will be rolled out across the organisation. It means we are all constantly looking for ways to improve our systems and processes, we focus on innovations, and we’re competitive. But most importantly, you can’t develop best practice solutions if you aren’t personally focused on growth. The two go hand-in-hand. We learn all the time.
Knowledge evolves and we cannot stop the hands of time. Networking opens new possibilities and ideas and builds contacts from which you could benefit. When your networks expand, you have a bigger pool of resources and support. This works for both individuals and entrepreneurs.
Simple steps to successful entrepreneurship
Doreen offers her top tips for building a successful career and business:
- Define your own success and become a champion of your own dreams.
- Clarity breeds action. Identify what you want to do. Do a proper due diligence of the market and identify gaps carefully before you start up. Have a clear idea of how you want to close those gaps and convert your idea into a bankable business idea.
- Keep your idea simple and do not shy away from repeating the same actions until success is imminent.
- Have the courage to get started. You might not get everything right but do start anyway because unsuccessful aspirant entrepreneurs fail, along with their ideas, for fear of acting on their dreams.
- Have a game plan: Be realistic about your idea and craft a solid strategy around it before execution.
- Map out a measurable execution roadmap and keep it in constant check.
- Focus: Do not become distracted at all costs.
- Always go back to basics and ensure constant relevance of your plan. Use the time to ensure that you are ready to adapt when the need arises.
- Recognise stumbling blocks and understand them for what they really are.
- Use your fear to your advantage: Embrace your fear because it will take you out of your comfort zone.
- Find positives in negatives and work on them to reach your success.
- Be ethical and fair in your dealings with others.
Relax Spas Founder Noli Mini Shares Her Insights On Building A Business Of Value
While Relax Spas is all about rest and relaxation, the business itself is the product of hard work. Founder Noli Mini explains how she got her unique business idea off the ground.
- Player: Noli Mini
- Company: Relax Spas
- Founded: 2010
- About: Noli Mini started in 2010 as a ‘mobile spa therapist’, going to different hotels and offering mobile spa treatments. The concept has evolved and Noli has set up bases, including two spa suites, at various hotels and guest houses. An additional aspect of Relax Spas’ offering is to provide spa treatments at corporate offices and on corporate wellness days. She also has her own range of massage oils and is introducing her own brand of beauty and skincare products. To complete the circle, Noli will soon be launching her beauty and spa training institute.
- Visit: www.relaxspas.co.za
Previous experience in an industry is key
Working in an industry before launching your own operation is crucial, since it provides you with the understanding and expertise needed to successfully launch your own business. By working in other businesses first, you gain a realistic idea of what the industry is like. You also experience different environments.
You see what works, and what doesn’t. You can cherry pick from different companies and create an organisation and culture that will work for you.
Know what you’re getting yourself into
Passion and a fun business idea are important, but you also need to understand the basics of launching a company.
- How easy will it be to develop your product or idea?
- How will you market it?
- What sort of financial controls will you put in place?
- What regulations must you comply with in your industry?
- Are any licences required? What are the labour laws?
These are all questions you need to be able to answer before launching.
Build a good team around you
The combined effort of a team is almost always greater than the sum of individual contributions. Find people that can complement your skillset and bring tools to the table that you don’t have. Improving your business acumen and knowledge is important, for instance, but you don’t necessarily need to go to university to do it.
You can also increase your knowledge by surrounding yourself with the right people, particularly mentors who can guide you in both a personal and business capacity.
Create a buzz around your business by sharing your story
People love hearing stories, and I believe that just about every start-up has a great story to tell. Offering to write free editorial content for magazines is a great way to do it. Another is to speak at conferences. These strategies require effort, but they can greatly increase your reach and position you as a thought leader in your industry.
Use every single opportunity you get to market your business
You need to live and breathe your brand. Marketing is about more than spending money. You can market your business by sponsoring charity walks, wellness events and golf days in your community. Collaboration is another good strategy. There’s no better way of building a business than to get out there and shake some hands. You need to get to know people. Also, be authentic in your networking so that people get to see and know the real you.
Establishing strong relationships with your clients and business partners is of paramount importance. One way you can do this is by face to face weekly or monthly visits, depending on the demographics of your business. Another way is by keeping in touch using email or telephonically. Remember, human interaction is key. People love feeling appreciated. Also, remember that customer service is important, as a person will usually base his or her entire opinion of a business on a handful of personal interactions. So, you need to make sure that those interactions are positive. It’s all too easy to lose a customer forever.
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