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Women Entrepreneur Successes

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

The best start-ups don’t follow the expected norms and restrictions of established industries. They spot gaps, think outside the box, and bring skills together in new and exciting ways.

Nadine Todd

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Jerusha Govender

Vital stats

  • Player: Jerusha Govender
  • Company: Data Innovator
  • Launched: 2015
  • What they do: Data analytics and communication
  • Visit: thedatainnovator.com

Some people are born entrepreneurs

They’re always looking for ways to service a need, solve a problem and make seemingly disparate skills and disciplines work together. Jerusha Govender is one of those people, but it wasn’t until she found herself jobless that she took the plunge into business ownership.

It was at that point — forced into entrepreneurship — that she needed to critically evaluate what she had to offer that the market needed. She had to draw on her experience and what she knew about her industry to come up with an innovative, ground-breaking offering. Here’s how she did it.

Related: Kate Moodley’s Believes Your Self-Development Should Be A Non-Negotiable

Building up experience

Trained in medical science, Govender moved to Johannesburg from Cape Town shortly after finishing her degree.

“Degrees are tricky things for entrepreneurs,” she says. “You need the skills and the theory, but if you’re a creative problem solver, there often isn’t a degree that neatly packages what you want to do. I wanted to use science to help people, but no degree gave me the necessary skills. Only work experience could do that.”

Govender contacted a company in Joburg that she admired and they gave her a job. “It didn’t take me long to realise that this wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. I wasn’t reaching my earning potential or stretching my creative wings.”

Luckily, she was headhunted and the new position gave Govender the opportunity to combine the data analytics skills she had acquired while studying with tech skills she had developed over her varsity and early career years.

“My creativity was given the opportunity to develop. I was tasked with pulling data and stats together, analysing them and creating infographics that allowed NGOs to easily understand their data and what it meant for them.”

When one door closes…

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And then motherhood beckoned. Govender fell pregnant and went on maternity leave, hoping she’d see the close of the project or be moved to a new project.

“Although many contracts weren’t renewed, I believed I was a high-value employee and thought I’d be kept on. Unfortunately, an economic decision was made to replace me with lower level staff instead of keeping me on and essentially paying for my maternity leave.”

Govender was shocked. “It wasn’t what I’d planned at all. But it was also an incredible, life-altering opportunity.

“I had to force myself to stop, think and remain calm,” she says. “This was what I had wanted — to own my own business. I wanted the opportunity to pull all of my skills and experience together and offer something new and innovative to the market. I didn’t want to work in the boxes that I’d been stuck in. This was my chance.”

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

Within a few weeks of her son being born Govender had registered her business, Data Innovator.

Okay. Now what? It’s all fine and well to have the necessary skills and even a great idea, but if you can’t take that idea to market and get people to actually pay you for your product or service, you don’t have a business.

“I contacted everyone I knew,” says Govender.

Use your existing network to get off the ground

“That’s one real plus point to working for a few years before you start your own business. The industry gets to know you, you build up a track record and you develop the necessary experience and expertise to be really innovative in your field.”

Govender let her entire network know what she was doing, and that she was available for project work. “That’s when I realised that even though I had experience and a network, I had no track record as a business owner, and particularly in the framework that I had personally developed. I knew there was a gap in the market, but I also quickly realised that I had to prove it to my potential clients. The only way to prove a hypothesis is to get a case study.”

And so Govender took on some work for free. This is always a tricky position for a new entrepreneur to be in. On the one hand you need to develop a track record, prove yourself and get clients on board. On the other, it’s very difficult to raise your prices and start charging customers who have enjoyed your work for free.

“It was important that I was upfront and transparent about what I was willing to do. I had spotted a gap, and I needed to prove it, but going forward I would be charging. As long as I was straightforward, my clients accepted being charged down the line.”

Spotting a gap in the market

“We’re educated to have a boxed approach in everything we do,” says Govender. “This can be limiting, but it’s also a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Govender’s experience was in the social space, and she recognised that there was a critical need for social development organisations to be able to demonstrate value to their donors.

“Money comes in, but social development organisations aren’t equipped to critically check what’s working and what’s not working. This takes data. For example, non-profits (such as social development organisations, NPOs, CSI, SED, donors and academics) know where they need cash and what they’re doing, but they can’t prove this intuitive knowledge to donors. That takes hard data. The next problem is that hard data is boring. You need to take that data and tell a story. You need to communicate value.”

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

This is where Govender comes in. “I read journals in my field voraciously, and so I knew that creative data use was already big overseas, but wasn’t being offered to social development organisations in South Africa. There was a huge gap. I focused on communications. Not the data and analytical side of what I do, but the fact that I can communicate what that data says in a meaningful and compelling way.”

Data Innovator combines strong graphic design, storytelling and analytics, underpinned by monitoring and evaluation (M&E) principles to create an offering that social organisations desperately need.

“I can’t do everything myself, and so I’ve built up a network of individuals who work remotely on a project-by-project basis. Together we offer an incredible service.”

A free project or two, at the beginning, is good to get the ball rolling. Govender’s business is now based entirely on referrals, and they have kept coming in since she entered the market.

“The gap was there and evident, but no one was stepping up to take on the work. It requires a data scientist who understands the importance of the communications side — and actually sells on the communications side.

“I’ve had to be innovative. I’ve had to take risks, carry costs and trust in the value of what I offer. We test what we do for clients first on a single report. Once we prove what we can do, we secure larger contracts. It’s incredible what you can achieve when you believe in what you do.”

Lessons learnt

  1. Business is business. It took me some time to realise that not-for-profits also have budgets and a bottom line. If you can’t prove how you positively impact that bottom line, don’t expect business to come your way.
  2. Understand which stakeholders are affected by your solution. If you want to do business with a company, understand who cares about the project and who it impacts. Those are the people you need to build relationships with.
  3. Bright-eyed idealism isn’t a business strategy. You need to understand the specific objectives that must be met on your client’s side. Look at the landscape strategically: Who are the players? Who do you need to build relationships with?
  4. Build up a team of advisors. I reached out to people in the industry whom I admire and realised that people want to give back. I worked my network and developed a body of people who are offering advice — and contacts.
  5. Never stop networking. Networking is important to source new business and skills. People often don’t realise what they don’t know, so talk to people and find your own new opportunities.
  6. Good skills are hard to come by. Show great contractors how much you value them to keep them on board.
  7. Rushed, bad products cost money. Pay more and get top-class work the first time rather than cut corners and pay to clean up messes. It’s detrimental to client relationships, and when you rely on referrals, this can kill your business.
  8. Work with partners. I work with partners to create a shared value proposition for clients. This gives each partner access to markets, resources and skills that we may not have. For example, Data Innovator partnered with Seed Academy to offer M&E for Enterprise & Supplier Development services to corporate clients, helping them achieve measurable impact of their ESD programmes. Data Innovator provides the M&E skills and knowledge, Seed Academy their corporate network and ESD knowledge. I have access to new markets and Seed Academy is seen as innovative and providing value-added services to clients.

Related: Where Others Have Failed To Execute Prudence Spratt Have Hit The Sweet Spot

Do this

Critically evaluate your skills. What can you do? Don’t think ‘this is my job title’, or ‘this is what my degree says’. Think: ‘What are my core skills that other businesses or consumers need?’ And then package an offering around those skills.

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

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Designing Her Destiny

Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.

QuickBooks SA

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In 2011, Emmerentia van den Hoven took a leap of faith when she decided to leave her graphic design job at an agency and pursue her real passion – and it has paid off tenfold. Here’s her story.

“When I started planning my own wedding eight years ago, I fell in love with wedding design and wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Designing for brands had become a set of rules rather than being creative, and I’d always wanted to work for myself. So, in September 2011, I turned my seven-month-old side gig into a fully-fledged business and launched Oh Yay!

I have to hustle every month to get new clients because every client will use my services maximum twice – first for the wedding invitations and then for the stationery on the day – so I don’t normally have returning clients.

Because my main business is seasonal and usually once-off per customer, I have branched out into branding for small businesses in the beauty and lifestyle industry. I also earn a passive income through the Oh Yay! online shop where I sell wedding décor items.  Oh Yay Kids – my other online store – is my passion project. I launched it just before my second child was born, adding items to the store that I made for my two boys when I saw a need for it. I then expanded into prints for nurseries and kids’ party stationery.

I work for myself and have no employees, so the fact that QuickBooks lets me load all my services, products and prices in one place makes running my business so much easier. Being an entrepreneur is difficult because you don’t know if you’ll be successful or not. But if you believe in and love what you’re doing, it reflects in your work and the service you give.”

Less admin, more of what you love

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When Oh Yay! was launched, along with her dream of being an entrepreneur, came the nightmare of other administrative tasks. But that changed in 2018 when Emmerentia started using QuickBooks.

“When I was using spreadsheets to balance my books, I was spending 80% of my time on admin, which left very little time to tend to customers’ orders. I now spend no more than 25% of my time on admin, which is important, especially when it comes to the speed at which I send quotes. You don’t get any work if you don’t send out quotes and it’s tough to juggle the admin with your actual job of running the business.

Numbers were never really my strong point, so having a professional quote done in record time not only projects professionalism, but the format also changes the way new clients see me. In my industry, the quicker you can send a quote out, the likelier you’ll get the clients’ business. It gives legitimacy to my business. The QuickBooks system operates so seamlessly that clients communicate with me differently, like I have my own accounting department, when in fact, I’m a one-woman-show.

I used to dread doing admin, but now it’s so easy and quick. I’m not just saying this – QuickBooks changed my life.”

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.

Diana Albertyn

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business

Embrace technology every chance you get.

Nadine Todd

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A company that’s been active for more than five decades in an industry that’s hundreds of years old doesn’t sound like a recipe for innovation — and yet that’s exactly what Luci Nouwens, owner of Nouwens Carpets, is focused on.

The modern carpet has a history that goes back thousands of years. And despite the hipster trend of reclaimed and hard wood flooring, the carpet still remains a popular choice for consumers.

In South Africa, a name that’s synonymous with quality carpeting is Nouwens. When Cornelis Nouwens arrived in the country in the 1950s, bringing the skills of a trade which he had mastered alongside his father in Tilburg, the hub of the Netherlands’ wool textile industry, he passed on the skills and the love of the craft to his family and to workers in the Harrismith region in KwaZulu Natal.

More than 50 years after her father started it in 1962, the company remains family owned, and is headed by Luci Nouwens, who has been with the business for 48 years.

“We have maintained our reputation for premium quality all this time by paying meticulous attention to crafting standards and selecting only the finest raw materials,” says Luci. “Equally important is that we have innovated at every opportunity, embracing technology without ever compromising the traditional craftsman’s spirit.”

Innovation drives growth

Businesses that innovate are able to grow and hire more employees. As a result, they grab a bigger share of the market. That’s true regardless of the size of your business: If you innovate, you can scale up.

In 1968 Nouwens launched a pure karakul wool carpet that was extremely hard wearing and took the company into the commercial carpet market. Luci recalls the manufacturing of the carpet as “a major feat of unique textile engineering.” Another innovation in 2005 was the introduction of a totally new style of flat weave wool carpet, a very clean, minimalist and natural look requiring much less wool without compromising on wearability.

“These innovations are just two of many that have allowed the business to boost its market share over the years,” says Luci. “But beyond that, innovation has enabled Nouwens Carpets to form the backbone of economic activity and upliftment in the local community around Harrismith. This has allowed us to make substantial investment in providing education and skills development for the local population, to ensure that the craft is preserved for generations to come.”

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

Innovation enables sustainability

Innovation in technologies and how they are applied is key to enabling a manufacturer like Nouwens to create new business value, while also protecting the planet.

“We have used technology to enable sustainable manufacturing, for the benefit of the business, the community, and our customers.”

Nouwens selects equipment, materials and manufacturing methods based on their degree of sustainability and protection of the environment. The company is also a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa and submits its products for VOC testing to ensure that harmful emissions are significantly reduced.

“Ultimately, we are driven by a passion for textiles and the ability to constantly find better ways to produce beautiful products. After the downturn in the economy, we started to produce more cost-effective commercial nylon yarns, and in 2017, we became the new kid on the block for synthetic grass. The bottom line is that a true entrepreneur does what has to be done when the time comes.” — Monique Verduyn

The role of disruption in creating value

A disruptive business is a business that challenges and potentially changes the status quo. From a mindset point of view, a culture that questions ‘why’ can help foster organisational and market disruption. But disruption for the sake of disruption is self-defeating, it needs to be on the back of making things better and based on commercial principles, i.e. people or market players actually wanting to be disrupted.

The starting point is this: Does someone, or a market, value what you’re producing? If the answer is yes, you have a commercially viable disruption. Disruption that is valued by its target market has the best chance of resulting in success.

Get that right and you’ll have a customer base, you’ll gain traction and you’ll attract investors, provided you’re also making a meaningful and sustainable difference to your target market or community. — Ian Lessem, CEO, HAVAIC Investment and Advisory Firm

Collaboration

Team up with customers and competitors.

There’s more power in collaboration than competition. We’re stronger together than when we’re apart. When it comes to working with competitors, consider this: They may have something that you don’t, or vice versa, and 50% of something is always more than 100% of nothing. You’re then positioned to add value before you add an invoice, so your clients benefit from your relationships, and the market wins. From there, you become your client’s go-to-person, because you’re putting them first.

Customers are also a great source of knowledge: They might just have the answers you’re looking for, but are you asking them the right questions? They often know more about an entrepreneur’s business than they know themselves, because they’re on the receiving end of your offering. One way to collaborate with customers is to ask them more questions about yourselves, themselves and their clients. Harness their perspective and develop yourself to give them what they want, not what you think they want. — Wes Boshoff, founder, Imagine Thinking

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

PR

Know what your audiences are interested in

As a brand, there are many ways to ensure your audience is paying attention to you, but you can’t expect them to find you unless you’re sharing content that captures their interest. If you send out press releases, don’t be too rigid or plain. Audiences want to be engaged, and not to have to deal with long, cumbersome information. An infographic, along with a video or pictures will make your release easier to ingest and more memorable. People don’t want boring figures, they want relatable stories.

One way to be relatable is by tapping into influencer marketing. This doesn’t mean you need celebrities with the highest followings to endorse you. Micro-influencers are proving to have just as much clout as those with larger followings. Evidence shows that micro-influencers have a more established and deeper connection with their audience, which translates to loyalty and a readiness to follow their advice. The trick is to find the micro-influencers who are speaking to the audience you want to reach.

Big data plays a key role in painting a picture of who is ‘out there’. With the right information, you can tailor your content to a specific audience. Big data can show you what topics and problems are trending in your industry, so that you can get the jump on them. Use big data to deliver your own insights on current topics, shaping and leading the conversation, converting your audience’s attention into action. — Madelain Roscher, founder and managing director, PR Worx and Status Reputation Management

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