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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Out-The-Box Thinkers Shareen Parker and Silvana Dantu Share Their Partnership Secrets

Finding new ways to grow an established services-based business requires out-of-the-box thinking and solid partners.

Nadine Todd




Vital Stats

  • Players: Shareen Parker and Silvana Dantu
  • Company: African Equations and ZARI Sparkling Grape Juice
  • Launched: 1998

Silvana Dantu and Shareen Parker met in 1996 when they were part of the task team appointed to set up the Robben Island Museum. Parker’s background was education and tourism development; Dantu’s was marketing and media. Together, the women saw an opportunity if they partnered up, and African Equations was born.

Their first long-term project was to manage the Western Cape Tourism Enterprise Partnership for almost ten years. It was designed to provide assistance to SMEs in the tourism economy.

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

Your partnership has proved to be very successful. How have you pursued growth opportunities since launching 18 years ago?

We launched the business based on our respective strengths, experiences and skill sets. Shareen had been involved in policy development and research. I focused on innovative communication strategies and identifying strategic partnerships. Together that synthesis makes us a formidable team.

In a short time we managed to build a respectable company brand, but yearned for new challenges. We felt it was time to go beyond merely providing consulting services to clients. Instead we were looking for an opportunity to take ownership of a product.

That economic opportunity presented itself in the agro-processing sector, and was a culmination of our past experiences, current research and knowledge, and a business hunch.

We’ve found that growth comes when you step out of your comfort zone and explore gaps and opportunities around you.

Where has your growth path taken you?

Our research in the tourism industry alerted us to the absence of appropriate supply-side products. The profile of South African tourists has changed over the last few years. Today, many of our tourists come from non-traditional regions, including the Middle East and Africa, and a large percentage of these do not consume alcohol.

We realised that the tourism industry was not geared to provide an alternative beverage to these visitors that was on par with our award-winning wines. Traditionally, these audiences have been offered water or fizzy drinks instead.

South Africa is the seventh biggest producer of wine in the world, and yet our vineyards have made little to no investment in the marketing and branding of non-alcoholic beverages. Grape juices exist, but as we’ve mentioned, they’re not equivalent to our world-class wines.

We saw an opportunity for a premier product for the high-end market that was non-alcoholic, of good quality, ethical, and beautifully branded.


Many established businesses would jump in, believing they had enough business experience to make any new venture work. How did you approach this new business idea?

Very slowly. We needed to do our market research. We tested 106 grape juices by driving to every wine estate from the Northern Cape to the Cape Winelands to gauge an understanding of what was on offer, the quality of various product ranges, presentation and taste.

Based on this research, we produced our first bottle of ZARI, a high-quality juice made from the Cape Seedless Muscat cultivar, in December 2010.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

This was the first time you had partnered outside the business. Were there any lessons you took from the experience?

We faced many challenges trying to secure a reliable producer/supplier who would mentor and support a new entrant into agro-processing. In order to secure volumes, we had to find a producer who could supply on a big scale.

Retailers demand agreements with reliable producers, but the larger producers are wary of taking risks, and want upfront payments, forecasts and distributors in place.

They also provide little mentorship or guidance. It’s a catch-22 situation. We needed the retailers to find a good producer, and a large established producer to secure agreements with the retailers.

How did you address the problem of scale?

To get around this problem we secured more than one producer to meet the demand from retailers. We also appointed a distribution company that could assist us with forecasts and planning with three major retailers. Large distributors were reluctant to list SMEs and their new products.

We realised that the right producer would have its own network, relationships and supply chains set up with retailers, which would be extremely valuable to us.

Armed with this knowledge, we identified a partner with these resources. We needed to present a mutually beneficial partnership to them though.

Were you able to find the right partner?

We have a producer partnership with Van Loveren, the biggest family-owned wine business in the country. We are in the process of securing the majority shareholding in their processing plant in Bonnievale.

Van Loveren produces high volumes across multiple brands, and has the facilities and networks with big distribution companies to sustain our demand for the local and export markets.

Distribution companies find comfort in our partnership with an established brand such as Van Loveren and we are able to optimise these benefits. Finding the right partner is often the key to growth. You need to be very clear about what you need from the partnership though, and what you bring to the table that they can benefit from.

Related: View Every Interaction Through your Brand Lens – It’s Significant Believes Kate Moodley

Remember this

An excellent reputation goes far and wide. If you want to grow, and you need partners along your journey, your reputation will be one of the biggest bargaining chips you have.

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


Women Entrepreneur Successes

Xoliswa Daku of Daku Group’s Top Lessons For Growth To Inspire Yours

Xoliswa Daku believes in creating wealth through property developments. This principle has been her guiding star, helping her take an R18 million business to R100 million in under four years, while building a sustainable base of R800 million in assets under management. Her growth strategy has evolved thanks to intense and continuous personal development. These are her lessons in growth.

Nadine Todd



Xoliswa Daku of Daku Group

Vital stats

  • Player: Xoliswa Daku
  • Company: Daku Group
  • Launched: 2003
  • Turnover: R100 million
  • What they do: Investment, infrastructure and property development
  • Visit:

Xoliswa Daku completed her law degree knowing she would one day be an entrepreneur. At the time she thought she would eventually have her own law practice, instead of heading up a R100-million property development business, with R800 million in assets under management. These are her lessons for growth.

1. Do what you love

If there is such a thing as the first rule of successful business ownership, it’s this: Do what you love. True passion will not only see you through challenging times, but keep you focused on your ultimate goals as well.

Too many businesses water down their value propositions or get distracted chasing revenue, to the ultimate detriment of the company’s long-term growth strategies.

Xoliswa learnt this lesson the hard way, but has significantly grown her asset base and margins since realising her company was losing its way.

“I began my corporate career at a legal firm, and within a year was head-hunted and offered a position at Wesgro, the official tourism, trade & investment promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape,” says Xoliswa.

Related: (Slideshow) Oprah Winfrey: The World’s Most Influential Woman

“Wesgro was full of economists, but they needed a legal person to assist with policy. The move introduced me to the worlds of business development and marketing, and it was then that I fell in love with the whole process of finding greenfield spaces and packaging an entire development deal, from the investors to other business partners.

“When I left the agency a few years later to join an entrepreneurial business that was in the incentives field, it wasn’t long before I gravitated back to this space. My love for it was the deciding factor, and it’s what has driven me, even when things got tough.”

As with many growing businesses, Xoliswa was so busy chasing growth that she lost her way. “When you start out, you’ll do anything to keep cash flowing into the business. I was consulting as well, and would tackle any needs a client had, from legal issues to BEE and marketing queries. The problem was that it diluted our brand. We had grown to a business with an R18 million turnover, and people were constantly asking me what it was that we actually did. I realised my entire business model was reactive, rather than proactive, and it was entirely my fault. I had no chance of growing a large business if we didn’t focus on our core areas.”

Xoliswa made the decision to offload some of the company’s products and focus. This is where passion played its role, because it helped her determine exactly where she wanted to focus Daku Group’s energies.

The lesson: High-growth organisations are proactive, not reactive. No business can be the master of everything. Choose your niche, focus on which opportunities give you the best margins and above all, ensure you’re following your passion. The more specialist a business, the more successful it tends to be.

2. Capitalise on your base

The most successful businesses (and business owners) are exceptionally good at developing a base and then growing it.

For example, Xoliswa launched the Daku Group when she was approached to join the development team for The One and Only Hotel as the project’s BEE partner and shareholder. The reason the team approached her was because of the reputation she had built at Wesgro. Because she came in while the deal was being structured, she was an active partner throughout the deal and development of the hotel.

“If you’re good at what you do, one partnership leads to another,” explains Xoliswa. “The more a market gets to know you and your reputation, the higher your chances of securing a deal. But you also can’t just sit back and expect work and contracts to flow your way. You have to take that solid reputation and make sure you’re getting noticed by the right people. And that takes planning.

“I started out helping other businesses to grow, and then put those lessons to good use in my own company. I also learnt as much as possible about my sector: The various players, the challenges my potential partners faced, and which opportunities worked and which didn’t.

“There’s so much out there, but you need to understand the landscape and what you have to offer before you can approach potential partners and pitch for deals. No one will come find you and offer an amazing opportunity — you have to go out and find it, and prove that you’re the best fit for the deal. To do that, you need a strong base, and that’s built on knowledge, experience, and successful projects that cement your reputation in the market.”

The lesson: If you’re planning for long-term success, approach every pitch, deal and even research strategically. You need to become the expert in your field; your future partners should benefit from working with you, and you need to be able to prove this.

3. Under-promise and over-deliver

Understand your company’s capabilities, and work within them to ensure you over-deliver, rather than over-promise and then let your clients down.

“We were very strategic about the sites we pitched for within the Prasa tender,” explains Xoliswa. The Prasa deal is everything Xoliswa loves: A greenfield infrastructure development project that called for local developers to pitch their ideas around what could be done with the land around Prasa’s interchanges.

“Prasa published an expression of interest. I always pay attention to what’s happening in the space, looking for development opportunities. Once you find out about a project, you then need to market yourself, and think strategically about what the client needs for the entire project to be a success.

“These pitches are at your own expense, so you want to ensure you’re aligning yourself with their needs — otherwise it’s an expensive act in futility that just wastes everyone’s time. When I was at Wesgro, I was mentored by an economist who was nearing retirement. He was extremely knowledgeable and insightful about what makes certain projects a success, and others a failure. For example, he thought Century City in Cape Town wouldn’t work, because the project didn’t include a transport interchange, or residential and office space. He was right. The original developers sold the project and it’s being reworked.

“This gave me great insight into what Prasa needed to successfully launch a national transport interchange. Whilst Prasa presented various opportunities to developers on an open tender system, I opted for three sites and those were awarded to me. I assessed and recognised that I couldn’t do more than that. I believe it’s important to avoid taking on more than you can chew, even at tender stage. It was important to me that the entire project was a success.

“If I’d pitched for more than three sites, I would have been spreading myself too thin, and I knew it. Remember, all the risk areas of the project belong to you as the developer. You’re bringing three things together: The site, resources and capital. But ultimately the risk is yours — the rewards too — but successful projects are completed because the risks have been mitigated.”

This isn’t to say Xoliswa has any interest in being a small business. She’s always aimed high, and wants to move through Africa and beyond. But she’s building careful foundations to ensure a sustainable business that can handle growth and build on it.

The lesson: It’s always good to aim high. Most entrepreneurs have the mantra that they’ll say yes first and then figure out how to do it. In this way, great things are achieved. But you also have to be realistic. Plan for success, ensure you have all the components in place, and then deliver — but don’t over-promise. If you know you have certain limitations, work within them and deliver an exceptional product, rather than over-extending yourself and only achieving a mediocre result.

Related: Celebrating The Multi-Faceted Woman

4. Learning is the gateway to growth

In 2010, Xoliswa enrolled in an Executive MBA at UCT’s Graduate School of Business. When she entered the programme, Daku Group’s turnover was R18 million. By 2014 it was R100 million. During the two-year programme her company’s turnover dipped. This was expected. Running a company while completing an MBA is no easy task, and there were gaps in the business while she focused on her personal and business development.

It had been a strategic decision — some short-term pain and losses for long-term gain.

“My business was seven years old, and I recognised that something was holding us back. We were experiencing growth challenges, and I wasn’t finding a way to move us forward. We had some incredible projects under our belt, but we had hit a ceiling.”

Xoliswa took stock of what she was facing. “First, I was playing across a lot of spaces: Investment and trade, the legal field, women empowerment, and I was struggling to find mentors. People were coming to me to mentor them. That’s flattering, and I want to give back, but mentors have always been critical for me. I felt that my personal development had stalled.”

Studying further seemed to be the only solution. Xoliswa had already completed her law degree, a certificate programme in Economics, the Management Development Programme (MAP) at Stellenbosch University, and a project management course through Cranfield University. An MBA was the next logical step.

“As a lawyer who structured deals, I understood that growth comes from following a clear path. I’d worked on a lot of different elements and now needed to pull those loose threads together. I believed the tools an MBA would give me would help me do that.

“It’s a tough choice. It’s hard work, and you’re spending hours away from your business. I saw the impact of that first hand. Our turnover dropped. But, without the tools and lessons the MBA gave me, I wouldn’t have reached the next level. My growth had stalled. I’d been working on my expertise, my name and reputation. Now I needed to get the right foundations and systems into place for the business.”

The lesson: Great business leaders never stop focusing on their own personal development. The more you learn — particularly across disciplines — the more you’ll achieve. Business courses, business books, podcasts, mentors and associations are just some of the ways you can hone your skills and learn from your peers.

5. It’s all about the balance sheet

One of the biggest lessons Xoliswa has learnt along her journey is that in many respects, a high turnover is just vanity.

“For a long time we were chasing cash, and it led to far too much diversification in the business. For example, I launched a construction company so that we could build our own developments. The result was two-fold. We diluted ourselves too much, instead of staying niche and focused, and we increased our risk exponentially.

“It’s great to say you’re developing a project worth more that R200 million, but your exposure is R7 million. In those terms, it’s not as valuable. Instead, we made the decision in 2014 to partner with experts, shorten our turnaround time for implementation, focus on maximum returns instead of turnover, and to build our assets under management.

“As a result of this shift in strategy — which is designed to build real wealth — our turnover hasn’t grown since 2014, but we’ve grown our assets under management to R800 million, and we’ve increased our margins. The business is in a much healthier space.”

The lesson: Understand your strategy, and what you’re trying to achieve. A high turnover is meaningless if you’ve got poor cash reserves and limited assets. On the other hand, higher margins can be far more valuable than a high turnover. At the end of the day, it’s all about the balance sheet.

Related: Hold the Testosterone: Must a Woman Behave Like a Man to Succeed?

Lessons from an MBA


An MBA is a large investment, from both a monetary and time perspective. Given the hours of sleep she was losing, Xoliswa was determined to make the most of her Executive MBA through GSB, and to implement what she was learning in her business.

“The reality is that you can be the darling of your industry, with an exceptional reputation, and a decent business — but then the realities of growth set in. Cash flow is a problem, management issues, client issues. These happen to all growing businesses. The question is, what are you going to do about them?” Here are the key gaps Xoliswa identified for her own business.

1. What’s my unique selling point?

I realised that I’d become a jack of all trades within my industry. Daku Group had no clear selling proposition. In fact, we were often asked what it was exactly that we did. You can’t be the go-to player in your industry if no-one is sure precisely what you do. We needed to pare down what we offered, and be more focused and niche. It’s scary at first, but we’ve built a far more robust business by not taking on anything and everything that comes our way.

2. Delegate

I realised I had a disjointed team, with no clear leadership when I wasn’t around. No business owner can be everywhere at once. I needed a senior management team who was on the ground and could build a competent, efficient team. I was outsourcing too much as well, instead of bringing in specialist talent. I realised that I was boxing the business, but not the people. First you need a great team, and then you can build the right financial systems.

3. Understand your strengths

I have no interest in the small stuff. My focus is on creating long-term opportunities through analysis, and providing the right opportunities to investors in synergistic environments. The problem was that even though I don’t like the small stuff, I wasn’t employing people who excel at the finer details. This affected my capital.

As a business owner, your drive, work ethic and independent approach and offering are so important. But you also need to let go. Your teams are the best tools you have to grow your business, but only if you give them the opportunity and space to thrive. Understand what you bring to the business and where the gaps lie, and then find the best people to fill those gaps.


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Women Entrepreneur Successes

To Compete With Disruptors Lynn Baker Advises You To Focus First On The Customer – Not Profit

Exceptional customer experiences are what differentiate the world’s top performing brands from their competitors. Is it at the centre of your growth strategy?

Nadine Todd



Lynn Baker of Executive Presence

Vital stats

  • Player: Lynn Baker
  • Company: Executive Presence
  • About: In 2006, Lynn attended a Disney Quality Service course and implemented many of the Disney Customer Service philosophies at Montecasino Corporate Events, which she ran for ten years. She has since launched Executive Presence, which focuses on customer experiences and building an executive presence.
  • Visit:

Customer experience, marketing, sales. A few years ago, these were separate business divisions, with isolated strategies and teams driving them. Today, the world’s top businesses are using customer experience to drive their marketing strategies, which in turn impacts sales.

“How are the best in the world getting the attention of tech savvy customers?” asks Lynn Baker, founder of Executive Presence. “I can tell you what they’re not doing. They’re not segmenting their markets into generations or LSMs. They’re focusing on their consumers and their pain points. And they’re not making assumptions.”

Lynn has a wealth of examples of who’s driving real customer engagement, starting with Amazon. “Through customer surveys, Amazon discovered that the biggest pain point its customers experience is delivery time. Based on this it invested in Amazon Primeair, whose primary goal is to achieve deliveries within 30 minutes of time of order. A test run in the UK in 2016 delivered a package via drone to a customer’s home within half an hour.”

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

While this is certainly the future of deliveries, Amazon has achieved something immediate as well: It’s sending a clear message that it’s listening to its customers and what they want, and working towards a solution for them. And that’s marketing gold, even if it’s not yet available.

Absolut Vodka

Another example is Absolut Vodka. “Absolut realised that the biggest pain point of its customers was having to leave home, go to the shops, pay and go back home — often only when the bottle was finished. And so, they created a smart bottle that senses when your vodka gets low, sends a message via remote control, orders a new one, delivers the bottle and charges your credit card — without you lifting a finger.”

The future is now

The reality of tech in today’s competitive environment is that often competition comes from unexpected places. “Who saw Uber or Airbnb coming?” asks Lynn. “And yet these are both the ultimate customer experience solutions.” And when you have a product that delivers exactly what consumers are looking for, they market your brand for you.

“Where do you and I start to create a better customer experience strategy? We need to shift our thinking and challenge our mindsets. More importantly, we need to recognise that this is happening in a completely new landscape.”

Marketing based on a better experience

Lynn’s advice is to start with how you’ve traditionally run your business, and then turn this on its head. “Profit has always been at the centre of all business strategies. It’s the traditional business model, and every resource has been focused on achieving it. We need to shift this culture and put the customer at the centre of strategy.”

Related: Celebrating The Multi-Faceted Woman

Lynn’s rationale is simple: If you can focus on customer satisfaction, profits will follow. Focus only on profits, and you will forget customers and their needs.

Here are her three steps to achieving the ultimate customer-centric and profitable business:

1Invest in tech

This is a non-negotiable in today’s tech savvy environment. But it comes with a warning: “Remember that you’re dealing with humans. Nothing will ever replace the relationship we have with customers — only our employees can do this.”

2Make sure you have a northern star

“All customer experience strategy must have a northern star; a driving fundamental that shapes how the business treats its customers. For the Ritz Carlton, the idea is that ‘ladies and gentlemen serve ladies and gentlemen’. This sends a clear message to all Ritz Carlton employees that they are as valued and respected as the customer, and they behave accordingly. If you don’t have a northern star, you can’t be sure everyone is operating from the same playbook.”

3It’s all about the experience

Traditionally, businesses have looked through a customer service lens. This needs to shift into a customer experience lens. What’s the difference? “If you focus only on the ‘point of purchase’ with customers, you have already missed out on three engagement and influence opportunities that are presented in the customer buying cycle.

72% of potential customers have made up their mind if they will buy from you before they even meet you. There are six points to customer experience: Research, consider, engage, point of purchase, use/experience of the product and return customer. Be careful that you don’t only enter the cycle on the fourth point, as so many companies do.

“Customer engagement works across all six points. It takes into consideration every touch-point an individual has with your brand. This can be anything from how simple your website is to navigate, to the smell of popcorn wafting through an entertainment centre a few minutes before the next movie begins.”

Related: How Women Entrepreneurs Can Change the SA Business Landscape

A great example of putting the idea of selling an experience into practice is Sun International’s SunLux sales team, which made the decision to move away from selling rooms and rates, and to focus on selling an experience.

“The entire sales team have virtual reality sets that offer prospective guests a 360-degree view of the experiences their guests have around the resort. If you’re selling a room, you’re in a sea of sameness. Sell an experience, and you’re in a different league to your competitors.”

Do this

Customer service and experience are no longer buzz words. They should be a crucial element in your growth strategy.  

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Entrepreneur Thuli Magubane On The Importance Of A Strong Network When Starting Out

Starting a business is never easy, but it’s even harder without business experience. Understanding the basics of business, and spending some time in a professional environment, can really help.

GG van Rooyen




Vital Stats

  • Player: Thuli Magubane
  • Company: Mint Fresh Advisory Services
  • Founded: 2010
  • About: Mint Fresh Advisory Services is a consulting company specialising in strategy development, project management, business case and business plan development, Supplier and Enterprise Development and financial due diligence. Thuli Magubane also hosts My Money and Me on Kaya FM.

Thuli Magubane had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur. In fact, she didn’t even study a business-related subject. She had a degree in politics and wanted to become a diplomat, but, as the saying goes, life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Just out of university, she was offered a job in management consulting.

She took the job and loved it. By 2008, she had landed a top job at a bank, but just a few months after she started, the economy turned and she chose to take a voluntary retrenchment package. With no jobs on offer, she started Mint Fresh Advisory Services. The business is still going strong today. Here is her advice for surviving the (often tumultuous) entrepreneurial journey.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

I was a management consultant without any business experience. Because of this, I decided to improve my business acumen. I studied a PDM at Wits Business School, an introduction to investment banking at Trimaster and the Executive Master in Positive Leadership & Strategy programme at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain.

The knowledge I built up through studying was incredibly useful when I started my business. If you don’t have any business knowledge, it’s worth studying a business-related subject, as it can help tremendously when running a company. The important thing is to honestly assess your own abilities and identify the areas that need work.

Perhaps you’re great at crunching numbers, but you don’t know much about marketing. A start-up founder needs to wear a lot of hats, so it’s useful to have at least some knowledge in the crucial areas.

thuli magubane kaya fm

Corporate life was not for me, but it was still an immensely valuable experience. It’s very hard to start a business if you have no idea how a company operates, so I’d definitely recommend  spending some time in a professional work environment. I have a friend who believes that you shouldn’t even start your own business until you’re forty years old with loads of experience.

I don’t know if I would go that far, but experience undoubtedly helps. You need to understand systems and processes, and you need to acquire the ‘soft skills’ necessary to do business. You need to be able to handle yourself in a meeting and send an appropriate email to a client.

When you start a business in a particular industry, it also helps if you’ve done similar work inside a respected operation. It’s easier to land those first few clients if you can point to work you’ve done for a large corporate.

If you want to start a business, you need a strong network

Another reason to get some work experience before launching a business is because of the business network it provides.

It’s almost impossible to launch a successful company if you don’t have good relationships in the industry you’re operating in.

Nine times out of ten, an entrepreneur gets a break because of a contact — your old employer becomes a client, or a business acquaintance decides to take a chance on you. So, start building your network as early as possible. Thanks to social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, this is easier to do than ever.

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

The main reason to start a business is to solve problems and challenges. Whenever I speak to young prospective entrepreneurs, I always ask them why they want to get into business. I get a variety of answers, but in my opinion, there’s only one correct answer: You’ve identified a problem that you believe you’ll be able to solve. Moreover, the problem is important enough that customers will be willing to hand over money for your solution. If you’re not solving a problem, you won’t make it.

Passion is crucial to survival

Passion is not enough to make a business succeed, but it also can’t succeed without it. You need to solve a problem, but you also need genuine passion for what you’re doing. There will be tough times, guaranteed, and all you will have to see you through when business dries up and times are tough is your passion. If you don’t have passion, you’ll be very tempted to throw in the towel.

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