- Player: Mahadi Granier
- Company: Khalala
- Launched: 2016
- Visit: www.khalala.com
In June 2015 Mahadi Granier made the single biggest — and scariest — decision of her life. She packed up her family and moved to Paris. Her husband, who is French, had found a job, but Mahadi was planning to stay at home with their five-month-old daughter and three-year-old son while figuring out her next move.
She wanted to be an entrepreneur, and she believed that throwing herself into the deep end and moving to a new country was the catalyst she needed. What followed has been a baptism of fire, but also one of the most rewarding experiences of her life. This is what she’s learnt about entrepreneurship since launching her business.
“You need to surround yourself with like-minded people who have the same drives and ambitions as you do.”
By the time Mahadi went on maternity leave for the second time, she had been employed in a senior position at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for eight years. She had a comfortable, well-paying job. She had the perfect set-up. She commanded boardrooms. Yet she lacked job satisfaction.
“I had too much time to think while I was on maternity leave,” she says.
Searching for innovation
“And what I thought about was my life path. Government employment is so bureaucratic. There’s no innovation. I didn’t feel like it was an environment conducive to achieving bigger goals and ambitions. I realised that the energy was dragging me down, and that if I stayed in that role, I would eventually become like everyone I worked with — comfortable and complacent.”
Mahadi’s friends and family didn’t understand what she was going through, or why she wanted to make a change. It was that same confusion that triggered the realisation that she was living and working in an environment that was not conducive to taking a leap.
Taking the plunge
Mahadi saw only one alternative: This seemed like the right time to take that plunge. She needed to radically change her surroundings, and force herself into the unknown terrain of entrepreneurship.
“Sometimes you need to face your fears and take that big leap.”
Unfortunately, while the leap was big and bold, it wasn’t what Mahadi had expected. And yet, from that adversity emerged her business idea. “I realised it was a crazy prospect — new country, new market, new customers, without my social circle of influence.
I was moving to a market I knew nothing about, filled with consumers I didn’t know or understand. But that was the challenge. I wanted to go somewhere where there’s a higher level of expectation; where I was pushed to aspire to a higher bar.”
It was a massive culture shock. The language barrier in particular was greater than Mahadi had expected. Her dreams of arriving in Paris and starting a business were shattered. But that didn’t mean she was ready to give up.
Plan before you make your move
Instead, she chose to stay at home with her daughter, manage the integration of her family into a new culture, and research everything she could about France, Europe and the local business landscape.
“I had gone from boardrooms to stay-at-home mom, which in a way was the exact opposite of what I wanted for myself. But I’d had a reality check. If I wanted to do something real with my life, I needed to build the right foundations.
I also wanted to be a present mother. Part of my challenge was figuring out what kind of a role model I wanted to be for my children, and that meant also being fully present in their lives.”
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Achieving the work/life balance
As a result, Mahadi structured a schedule that allowed her to do both. “I woke up very, very early, and gave myself three hours of work and ‘miracle morning’ routine, before everyone woke up, Monday to Sunday, 5am to 8am. I then worked when my daughter napped, and in the evening after everyone went to bed.”
“Sometimes your greatest challenge can be your greatest advantage and opportunity as well.”
One of the core pieces of advice that aspiring entrepreneurs often receive is to do what you know. In Mahadi’s case, this was almost useless. She knew nothing.
Her past DTI experience was no help, and she was coming to the European market cold. But this also gave her an advantage. She had no expectations, and she was approaching everything with fresh eyes. She also had to seek out fellow South Africans who had already experienced what she was going through, and it was then that a business idea started to take shape.
Ask for advice
“I sought out South African entrepreneurs in France for advice. I had so many questions: Where are the South African entrepreneurs in France? What had their experiences been? What advice could they offer — after all, they’d done this already and they understood the landscape.
“They could tell me what to avoid and where to go. By tapping into this community, my research time was reduced. I found valuable resources and trusted sources. Then I realised that no one was facilitating what I was going through — helping South Africans start businesses in the French (and broader European) market. Here was a gap that could be exploited. I felt like I’d stumbled on a
An idea is only as good as its execution, and Mahadi knew she needed to be more focused than ‘South African businesses abroad’. She needed to do more research. She approached the South African Embassy in Paris with one key question: What was the South African export basket into France dominated by and where did the greatest, untapped opportunities lie?
Finding your niche
Mahadi has her Masters in International Business, and is passionate about the subject. She had put this to use in her role at the DTI, but she now had an opportunity to turn those skills and passion into a viable business that also empowered other entrepreneurs. She just needed to find her niche.
“Before you get too attached to an idea, you need to understand the landscape you’re working within.”
“The first thing I did was look at the existing trade agreements between South Africa and France and within the broader European Union. Second, I looked at the South African export basket into France and realized that it was dominated by agro-processing, automotive, aircraft and electro-technical sectors.
Finding diversification opportunities
“And so, while those exports are in value-added products, they were concentrated in a few products. This presented a diversification opportunity. One such opportunity lay within the clothing and textiles sector.
“On the demand side, the French and global fashion industry at large is always influenced by the same fashion houses — Prada, Louis Vitton and the like. They dominate the market, irrespective of the undeniable demand for a diversified fashion aesthetic. With the South African ambassador’s help, I carved a niche and just like that, an idea was born.”
One of the first designers that Mahadi reached out to was Laduma Ngxokolo, founder of ‘MaXhosa by Laduma’. What she learnt from studying his global success was that designs rooted in African-rich heritage, culture, tradition and customs and fused with western influence provide a unique combination and hybrid that not only energises the international audience but acts as a catalyst for success. This is a crucial determinant of global competitiveness.
Understanding new markets intimately
“But there was a greater observation as well. If you want to break into new markets, you need to understand them intimately — their tastes, their purchasing behaviours, what they’ll spend money on, what does and doesn’t work. I knew I could play a valuable role here, acting as a conduit on the ground. This gave me a competitive edge in playing a business facilitation role.”
Armed with this knowledge, Mahadi saw multiple needs. “First, I needed to empower South African designers to raise their level of thinking beyond local markets and open themselves up to new international audiences. Second, I am constantly interacting with buyers at trade fairs throughout Europe.
“I am gathering intelligence, forging business relationships, networking, gaining new business insights but most importantly, I’m identifying trade opportunities. Finally, I decided to acknowledge the undeniable power of social media as a vehicle to reach remote buyers.
“Therefore, I launched a digital magazine that I market exclusively through social media. To date, the magazine has been read in over twenty countries worldwide.”
“Finding the right partner is an essential step in the overall journey, and in achieving your goals.”
Thriving in the entrepreneurial ecosystem
Another key lesson that Mahadi has learnt — and indeed, is imbedded in her overall business model — is the fact that entrepreneurship is an ecosystem. Business owners work together. Very few successes are isolated.
To carry her idea forward, Mahadi knew she needed a partner in South Africa. After researching the fashion landscape back home, she realised that the best person she could approach was Sonwabile Ndamase, personal designer to Nelson Mandela, creator of the Madiba shirts, and founder of the South African Fashion Designers Agency (SAFDA).
For almost three decades, Sonwabile has been giving back to his industry, training young designers from rural areas to not only become fashion designers, but to build sustainable fashion businesses. He had been looking for ways to increase the reach of his programmes into Europe and Mahadi provided the ideal opportunity.
Creating international market access opportunities
SAFDA and KHALALA have entered into a collaboration agreement, formalising a partnership to work together to create international market access opportunities for young and emerging South African fashion designers in Europe.
Mahadi and Sonwabile are just at the beginning of this journey, and are currently reaching out to funders. With the right focus, dedication and some luck, the next generation of South African designers making international waves will be in the not-t
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.
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.
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.
- Player: Sibongile Manganyi-Rath
- Company: Indigo Kulani Group and IKG Start-Up Capital
- Established: 2006
- Turnover: Over R100 million
- Visit: indigo-group.co.za
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.
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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.
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.
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.
Here are the 50 top South African business women to watch in no particular order
- Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling
- Charlotte Aubin
- Rapelang Rabana
- Lynn Baker
- Dylan Kohlstädt
- Noli Mini
- Stacey Brewer
- Nonkuthalo Thithi
- Daniella Shapiro
- Xoliswa Daku
- Lorren Barham
- Allegro Dinkwanyane
- Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
- Karen Carr and Hanneke Schutte
- Michelle Royston
- Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
- Magda Wierzycka
- Jennifer Da Mata
- Thuli Magubane
- Tracy Kruger
- Monalisa Zwambila
- Keri Stroebel
- Claire Reid
- Ramona Kasavan
- Carrie Leaver and Shona McDonald
- Donna Rachelson
- Mahadi Granier
- Liesl Esau
- Prudence Spratt
- Joyce Mnguni
- Janine Starkey
- Shamila Ramjawan
- Busi Skenjana
- Benji Coetzee
- Jerusha Govender
- Lauren Edwards
- Ouma Tema
- Annabel Biggar-David
- Jennifer Glodik
- Ntsoaki Phali
- Tara-Lee de Wit
- Kim Coppen-Watkins
- Mogau Seshoene
- Andy Golding
- Lien Potgieter
- Ezlyn Barends
- Rabia Ghoor
- Katy Valentine
- Leah Molatseli
- 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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