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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Ann Gadd

Business as art.

Juliet Pitman



Ann Gadd

Ann Gadd left the advertising world because she wanted to pursue her dream of becoming an  artist. As a natural-born business woman, the world of struggling painter was not for her though,  and so she made a thriving business from her passion instead.

If making it as an entrepreneur is tough, making it as a commercial artist is even more so. But for Ann Gadd, the business of art and the art of business are not so very far apart. A combination of entrepreneurial flair, marketing suss and enormous artistic talent has helped her to secure the kind of commercial success that most artists only dream of.

Known for, amongst other things, the phenomenal success of her ‘sheep paintings’ there can be no doubt that part of Gadd’s success derives from a unique artistic style and subject. But it’s equally true that she is an astute businesswoman and marketer.

For many artists, marketing is a dirty word, but on that point Gadd has this to say: “Don’t be under the illusion that as an artist you are in anything other than a business. You have a product and you want it to sell. The way I see it, you can either do that successfully by marketing your work well, or you can retain a misguided sense of ‘integrity’ and leave it to fate whether your work sells or not. I simply didn’t have the option of not being commercially successful. I had a family, two children and a bond.”

She goes on to add: “I’ve always maintained that an artist needs to have something unique and different. You should never try to ride on someone else’s style. But I also know that the minute you have something unique and good, other people will try to copy it. So my strategy with my sheep paintings was to get them out in as broad a market as possible, as quickly as I could, so that there was never any confusion about who had the original idea,” she says.

Broadening a market

It was a strategy that drove decisions uncommon in the artistic world. Instead of restricting her works exclusively to galleries, Gadd published books of the sheep series, a move that many artists might argue diminishes the value of the original work.

She begs to differ. “The books act as a ‘brochure’ for the work, getting it out there to a far broader market. They also help to stamp my ownership on the artistic style. And while only a few people might be able to afford a painting, many more are able to purchase a book, so publishing broadened my market considerably,” she says.

It’s all part of her strategy to take her art to as many people as possible. “I realised that many people don’t visit art galleries either due to time constraints, lack of interest or because they feel intimidated by the sometimes austere atmosphere of a gallery. This means that none of these people would ever get to see my work if I restricted myself to galleries alone,” she adds.

It’s a strategy that’s worked remarkably well, driving a growing groundswell of public demand for her work. “The public really created the demand – they loved the sheep paintings. I remember taking seven of my sheep paintings to a gallery on the Thursday and by the Monday they were all sold,” she relates.

The gallery wanted more paintings, even offering to pay cash for them upfront. Unsurprisingly, they also wanted exclusivity. Gadd turned them down but she learnt an important lesson. “The minute you create something desirable, people want to own you. You need to know when to step away from the gold they are offering you and retain your independence,” she says.

Independence is part of Gadd’s DNA – she took an unprecedented step, not to mention an enormous risk, publishing the first sheep series book herself. “I had an agent in London who was very enthusiastic but couldn’t get the publishers interested. Everyone said it would never work and that I’d never sell more than 1 000 copies.

I didn’t believe they were right so I published the book myself – and proved them wrong,” she says. As a result she’s managed to reap the full financial rewards of book sales, and not just the royalties.

Thinking business

There can be little doubt that Gadd’s business experience from a ‘previous life’ in advertising has stood her in good stead as an artist. “From business I learnt the ability to make decisions quickly without endlessly debating what to do. It’s meant that I could catch the demand for the sheep series early on and really make the most of it,” she says.

She also thinks like a business person, placing important emphasis on professionalism and service. “I try to treat every customer as I would like to be treated. More often than not, I try to give something away with each transaction – this might be free couriering, a free item, a personal touch such as including a free card, often in which I have written the receiver a personal message.

I have also attempted to break the archetypal mould of an artist of being unreliable, by delivering commissions on time,” she explains.

It’s a practice that other early-stage or single-operator entrepreneurs can learn from. Just because you don’t have the corporate office, staff complement or high turnover of a large company, doesn’t mean you should not behave like a professional business. “If you want people to take you seriously – whether that’s as an artist or a business, or in my case, both – then act accordingly,” Gadd comments.

Ann’s advice to entrepreneurs

Learn from a seasoned business woman.

  • It often seems that success has come easily to successful people, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Remember that for every success there have usually been previous failures. The only difference with successful people is that they don’t let the failures prevent them from moving on to the success that might lie just over the horizon.
  • Take risks and find the courage to experiment – but be realistic. Accept that not every risk will pay off.
  • Push yourself to offer the world something unique, instead of simply emulating others.
  • Marketing is about talking to your people and you can only do this if you spend time with them. I use my shows to listen to what people like and dislike.
  • Its easier to fulfill a desire than to create one, so build your business around giving people what they really want – not what you think they want, or what you think they should want. To do this, you have to get inside their heads.
  • Stay close enough to your market to pick up immediately when something has struck a chord – and make sure you have the systems in place to be able to ride the wave and maximise the opportunity when it comes.
  • If you believe in something you should persevere – even when others tell you it won’t work. It is possible to win out in the end.

Vital stats

Player: Ann Gadd

Company: Ann Gadd, commercial artist

Launched: 1997

Contact: +27 (0)21 554 1235;

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

Women Entrepreneur Successes

Third Prize Winner Of The Workspace/MiWay Competition Shares Top Lessons Learnt

Mpho Mpatane recently won third prize in The Workspace/MiWay Business Insurance Entrepreneur Competition. Her company supplies general and women-specific protective personal equipment and clothing in the mining and construction industries. This is her story.





Two months ago, I won third prize in an entrepreneur competition. It was one of the most intense experiences I have ever undergone, as it ran over a seven-month period. Minatlou was the only start-up in the top 10 finalists and mentally, I had to motivate myself daily to keep going, and to keep growing.

I’ll be honest: It wasn’t easy. I relied on family and friends to keep me motivated. There were times I doubted myself but then I would get a phone call from my dad asking me how business was going… and then I would snap out of my doubting space, get refreshed energy and get back into my competitive mentality space.

Lessons Learned On The Start-up Journey

In retrospect, the lessons I learned on this journey are invaluable. I learned that in business there are certain steps you cannot skip or try to cut corners in order to try and move ahead. As an entrepreneur, you constantly have to work on the business itself and also for the business. You must have your house in order before you invite other people to come and visit. I know now that one must be willing to learn and once you have learned, put those lessons into action.

Before The Workspace/MiWay Business Insurance, I was focused on setting up the business; I was not big about marketing or social media. So now I know that in order to have the right people know about my business, I must reach out to them and not rely on word of mouth only to create a sustainable client base.

Right now I am busy changing my company name, from Minatlou 251 to Phepha Solutions Group, and after that first step, I will create a social media presence, a brochure and an online presence such as a website. I’m also creating a small clothing line for corporates to see the calibre of our out of the box designs of corporate uniform and our standard of manufacturing.

Assistance From Winning The Competition

What’s amazing is that The Workspace has come forward to assist me where possible and as much as they can. The CEO, Mari Schourie, actually reached out to me while away on maternity leave to ask me personally what they can do to assist me in addition to what I won in the competition.

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

This made me feel motivated and it also demonstrated that what I am offering is of good value and that I am going to succeed, this business is going to grow and thrive.

I won a beautiful office for a period of three months, which comes with administration support from The Workspace in Selby, with undercover parking, boardrooms to use for meetings and so much more. I have also gained a family in the process.

I won sessions with a business strategist who is helping me develop a formal strategy to move my business forward and help it grow. I have also won consultation sessions with a marketing company to help me grow my business and help me have a proper marketing plan in place plus help me improve on my sales. I won services of a cash flow specialist to help me in that area. My prizes are priceless and what I love the most is the fact that they are helping me build and strengthen my business from within.

My Next Steps

In the short-term, I’m working hard to add at least six retainer clients to our books, gain entry into the highly competitive mining industry and manufacture for them as well. I want to boost sales and get more clients. Proper brand awareness and getting industry related accreditation is on the cards, as is renovating our factory.

In the longer term, I now have a five-year plan, with goals and steps along the way. The next five years will be about growth and scale if possible. I want to be able to do cross border transactions and also export our merchandise to Africa, starting in the Southern parts and expanding slowly.

So yes, I have had to work incredibly hard, but the most comforting fact is that I am not on my own. I have support at my back and mentors challenging me to grow and develop. This period of time has been the most brilliant period of learning and growing in my entrepreneurial journey so far.

Top Tips For Entrepreneurs

To all those entrepreneurs in South Africa working their tails off to succeed, these are the lessons I have taken to heart:

  • Be bold. Take chances.
  • Do research and always try to stay ahead of your competitors.
  • Try to have fun, enjoy what you do.
  • Have passion and be willing to work hard for what you do, people will believe in your vision.
  • Be honest in your business dealings, if you can’t deliver on your promise for any reason inform the client and do your utmost to correct the challenge, don’t lie.
  • Be willing to learn, invest in your own knowledge base. Expand your thinking, explore, and ask questions.
  • Be willing to help other upcoming entrepreneurs. Share information with them, as they don’t have to struggle long and hard like you did. This will help with the development of sustainable businesses and a better quality of future entrepreneurs.

Note: To celebrate their first-of its-kind collaboration at Village Road, The Workspace and MiWay ran a competition for South Africa’s entrepreneurs that saw the winner/s given a major advantage to further grow their business. The Workspace and MiWay joined forces at The Workspace premises in Village Road, Selby where they have launched an entrepreneurial hub and business development programme.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

5 Crucial Start-up Lessons From Sibongile Manganyi-Rath Founder Of Indigo Kulani Group

Sibongile Manganyi-Rath quit her corporate job at 26 and established infrastructure and real estate development company Indigo Kulani Group. Today her business has expanded to include IKG Start-up Capital, which is dedicated to creating world class entrepreneurs throughout the African continent.

Diana Albertyn




Vital Stats

  • Player: Sibongile Manganyi-Rath
  • Company: Indigo Kulani Group and IKG Start-Up Capital
  • Established: 2006
  • Turnover: Over R100 million
  • Visit:

Being born into an entrepreneurial family didn’t immediately lead Sibongile Manganyi-Rath down the self-employment path. “My father unwittingly set me on the path very early,” recalls Sibongile. “He had a small business in Soweto where he sold used bottles back to larger corporations such as Makro and various other glass bottle recycling agents. I often joke with people that my father was in the recycling business before it became fashionable.”

It was the early exposure of working in her late father’s small businesses that taught Sibongile the crucial principles and values that have helped her build the successful business that Indigo Kulani Group is today.

Here are her start-up lessons:

Lesson 1: Starting small doesn’t mean staying small

I consider myself very fortunate that I grew up in a family that was considered financially and materially poor. The fundamental principles my father taught me of running a small operation — such as financial discipline, hard work, sacrifice and persistence — were extremely valuable.

Related: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs

I learnt the importance of customer service when I was 12 years old and ran one of my father’s fresh produce stalls at Dube village train station. I had to observe why our sales were declining or increasing and each evening I had to report the daily revenue to my father. It was often in the region of R150 per day. I also had to make recommendations on improvements to ensure that we could offer better fruits and veggies than the other older ladies that were next to our stalls.

At the time I didn’t realise the value of the lessons I was learning from this process. It is these lessons that gave me the courage to quit my job in 2006 and start my own company.

Lesson 2: Passion for what you do is vital for a start-up, but it also carries you through the hard times

It is my belief that even in the era of digitisation, there are still fundamental principles about business that will not change. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand their market and the needs that they are addressing. You need to have a strategy that continues to evolve with the needs of your customers, particularly in our current digital era where needs of the customers change very rapidly through the options that they are presented with.

Passion gets you through the loss-making period, often referred as the ‘valley of death’. It’s during this time where your passion gives you courage to persist.

Financial literacy and discipline in working capital management is important because at this stage the business needs a lot of growth capital to generate more revenue before the start-up can reach a break-even stage and make profits.

Lesson 3: Collaboration and partnerships are vital

It’s my passion for what I do that gave me the courage to build a company that seeks to break the mould in a male-dominated industry. We make a positive contribution to our society through our various infrastructure projects, including delivery of more than 200 schools in South Africa’s rural areas.

We have also been involved in building and managing clinics, housing, and water and sanitation projects in many previously disadvantaged communities. The passion to extend this positive impact fuelled the growth of the company where my partners and teams come from very diverse backgrounds — ranging from investment banking, engineering, project management, healthcare and education — to ensure that our services to our clients offer a holistic approach.

However to succeed in this, entrepreneurs need to understand that collaboration and partnerships are important. Empires are not built by individuals but take a collective mindset with a single vision.

Lesson 4: Aim for profitable growth through bold inspirational leadership

  • Our holistic approach to the sector in which we operate has not only been beneficial in offering our clients an integrated service, but being a multi-disciplinary services company also gives us access to diverse clients and revenue streams.
  • Our company’s business model is ‘intrapreneurial’. A divisional organisational structure ensures quick decision-making and response to market.
  • We have highly skilled individuals, and our overheads are cross-subsidised by complementary skills sets across projects. We remain profitable by managing our resources cost-effectively.
  • Most importantly, we manage our resources weekly through EXCOM and reporting.
  • Incentives are critical and linked to project performance and achievement of targeted revenue and profitability, managed through quarterly performance reviews and targets reviews.
  • Inspirational leadership means leading by example. This inspires the collective that achieves its strategic objectives.

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

Lesson 5: There is always someone out there trying to beat you at your game and take away your customers

Knowledge about your customer is fundamental because without your customers you have no business. Integration of technology into your business enables you to understand how customers use your services and products, which offers key insight into your customers’ needs.

This building of digital customer relationships provides your business with an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage in the tough market we operate in today. I still embrace the physical human relationship where I stay close to my customers and ensure that I understand what is troubling them and how they can be better served.

Sibongile’s game-changing advice for budding entrepreneurs

Keep your vision, but let your strategy be flexible. Collaborate with other people, find advisors that don’t cost you money. Talk to venture capitalist and private equity guys, there is always someone willing to not only invest their money but their ideas, experience and networks. But, be open to give a little bit of equity; it has to be worth their while.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

Don’t miss out on these 50 female trailblazers making an impact in the South African and international entrepreneurial space.

Nicole Crampton



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Here are the 50 top South African business women to watch in no particular order

  1. Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling
  2. Charlotte Aubin
  3. Rapelang Rabana
  4. Lynn Baker
  5. Dylan Kohlstädt
  6. Noli Mini
  7. Stacey Brewer
  8. Nonkuthalo Thithi
  9. Daniella Shapiro
  10. Xoliswa Daku
  11. Lorren Barham
  12. Allegro Dinkwanyane
  13. Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
  14. Karen Carr and Hanneke Schutte
  15. Michelle Royston
  16. Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
  17. Magda Wierzycka
  18. Jennifer Da Mata
  19. Thuli Magubane
  20. Tracy Kruger
  21. Monalisa Zwambila
  22. Keri Stroebel
  23. Claire Reid
  24. Ramona Kasavan
  25. Carrie Leaver and Shona McDonald
  26. Donna Rachelson
  27. Mahadi Granier
  28. Liesl Esau
  29. Prudence Spratt
  30. Joyce Mnguni
  31. Janine Starkey
  32. Shamila Ramjawan
  33. Busi Skenjana
  34. Benji Coetzee
  35. Jerusha Govender
  36. Lauren Edwards
  37. Ouma Tema
  38. Annabel Biggar-David
  39. Jennifer Glodik
  40. Ntsoaki Phali
  41. Tara-Lee de Wit
  42. Kim Coppen-Watkins
  43. Mogau Seshoene
  44. Andy Golding
  45. Lien Potgieter
  46. Ezlyn Barends
  47. Rabia Ghoor
  48. Katy Valentine
  49. Leah Molatseli
  50. Lynette Ntuli 

“Globally, women entrepreneurship rates are growing more than 10% each year. In fact, women are as likely or more likely than men to start businesses in many markets,” says Karen Quintos, EVP and chief customer officer at Dell.

The growing momentum of female entrepreneurship can clearly be seen in this comprehensive list of 50 of South Africa’s finest. Although this movement has far from reached its peak, for those looking for inspiration, lessons or businesses to invest in, look no further than this list of female pioneers.

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