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Women Entrepreneur Successes

7 Tips For Going Global From The Founder Of Wonderbag

Sarah Collins started with a simple, old-school product and took it global. Here’s how she built an international brand. Here’s how a local KZN business partnered with global giants like Unilever and Amazon.

GG van Rooyen

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VITAL STATS

At a fundamental level, the Wonderbag is not a very modern or sophisticated product. In fact, it’s based on the premise of heat-retention cooking, which many cultures have been using for centuries. But what founder Sarah Collins has accomplished is nothing short of extraordinary.

She has taken this simple technology that has been around for ages and turned it into a revolutionary product that is sold all over the world and making a positive impact on the world. It is sold in places like the United States and UK, and she’s partnered with massive companies like Unilever and Amazon.

So what exactly is a Wonderbag?

“This non-electric bag is made up of re-purposed chipped foam that is housed in colourful, African-inspired printed fabrics with a drawstring at the top to retain the heat. Food is brought to the boil by conventional cooking methods (fire, gas, etc.) and once put into the Wonderbag will continue to cook for up to 12 hours,” says Sarah.

Importantly, Sarah intended the Wonderbag to be, if not an outright social enterprise, something that could have a very positive impact on the world, specifically within those communities that are in desperate need of help.

Related: Joyce Mnguni Lives Out Her Dreams Helping Others Tie-The-Knot In Mexico

“Our Wonderbags are made in Tongaat, and sold through traditional distribution channels, as well as online. However, we also sell the bags through what we call ‘Wonderpreneurs’, who earn money by selling our bags within their communities,” says Sarah.

So, how did Sarah take this seemingly Afrocentric concept global? And what advice does she have for other entrepreneurs looking to take their brands onto the world stage? Here are her seven tips for going global.

1Think big

“I’ve always dreamt big, and I’ve never been interested in playing on a small scale. Although I have a profound love for Africa and South Africa, I’ve also always thought of myself as a citizen of the world. So, my intention from the outset was to take the Wonderbags global,” she says.

“Right from the beginning, I set my goal as taking 100 million people out of poverty through job creation and the facilitation of entrepreneurship.”

2Accept risk

“When you play on a massive stage, the highs are higher, but the lows are also lower. You need to prepare for that, and you also need an appetite for risk,” says Sarah. “That doesn’t mean that you should simply throw caution to the wind and hope for the best, but it does mean that you often need to take some carefully-considered risks. Ask yourself: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’. If the reward is worth it, take the risk.”

3Be realistic

“Entering foreign markets will almost always be harder and take longer than you initially anticipated. So, be realistic (even a little pessimistic) in your predictions, and don’t get discouraged. Know that you need to be determined and keep plugging away at it. I remember arriving in New York for the first time. I knew absolutely no one and it was very daunting. It can be tempting to turn and run, but don’t,” she says.

Related: How Matsi Modise Squeezes More Out Of Every Day While Keeping It Real

4Find a partner

“I’m quite wary of partnerships, since I believe they can often be a waste of time. I have certainly had some partnerships that didn’t pan out very well. That said, a solid strategic partnership can help you get a foothold in a foreign market. Quite accidentally, Unilever found out about Wonderbags and asked why we weren’t launching in the US. A partnership was born that helped us access other markets. Many large corporates are looking for smaller operations that they can support,” says Sarah.

5Do some good

“Many companies, both large and small, now realise that doing good is good for business. You don’t need to be either a for-profit business or a social enterprise. You can be both. Also, large corporates and investors are more likely to support you if you’re doing some good in the world,” she says.

Related: Why Donna Rachelson Believes The Secret To Your Business Success Lies With Women

“If you want to build a successful international brand, it’s a good idea to not just be in it for the money. Great success comes from having a mission, and not just from trying to make money.”

6Just ask

“Being from the southern tip of Africa, many of us tend to place people from Europe or America on a pedestal. We simply think that we can never engage with them or operate at their level,” says Sarah. “It’s not true. Wonderbags are now sold through Amazon, and that happened simply because I sent Jeff Bezos an email. I didn’t know him at all, so I just took a chance. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.”

7Find other markets

“If you want to take your brand global, you need to consider how it can be marketed and sold in various parts of the world. Try to find alternative uses and markets for your product. With the Wonderbag, for instance, we are currently focusing on the leisure market. Being able to prepare food through heat-retention cooking is obviously great if you’re a camper or overlander. Suddenly, we’re selling the Wonderbag to a very different kind of customer,” says Sarah.

Company Posts

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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