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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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Diana completed a BA in Journalism in 2010 and has honed her skills as a newspaper reporter, senior communications specialist and most recently worked at a weekly magazine as a writer. She joined the EMTS Group in 2016 as a writer for Entrepreneur magazine and SmartCompany Networks. Passionate about honing her writing skills and delivering exceptional client results, Diana continues to keep a finger on the pulse of industry news and insights.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Infanta Foods’ Marisa da Silva On Why Scaling Is Tougher Than It Seems

Scaling a business is an important part of growth, but it can be a bumpy ride in today’s economy, and it’s easy to make mistakes. Marisa da Silva of Infanta Foods knows this and explains how she overcame it.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

Marisa da Silva’s parents founded Infanta Foods in 1980. It’s a manufacturer and distributor of raw materials and ingredients for the baking, confectionery, milling and biscuit industries. Marisa joined the business in 2013, although she started working there from the age of seven and basically grew up in the factory. Her brother Alex had joined full-time three years earlier. Having completed a BCom Honours degree in business management, she brought to the family-owned business a fresh way of doing things and a keen understanding of how to do business in today’s tough economy.

Related: Spark Schools: Adapting At The Speed Of Scale

Scaling up is tougher than it looks

The Challenge:

Rapid growth can be a perilous thing. Scaling a business is tough, and it presents some serious challenges. But after Marisa completed a business coaching programme, she realised that she wanted to take Infanta Foods from a family business to a family empire. The big question, however, was how to do that with an established business that was already more than 30 years old.

The Solution:

Shortly after Marisa joined the business, she had a lightbulb moment — the best way to start was with a ‘cut, cut, grow’ strategy. “Coaching taught me immeasurable skills, and one of the most important was that there are always ways to cut back on costs. When I introduced that concept to the family, it was like a tinder to the flame. No matter what business you are in, the precursor to growth should be to delve into the company and look at every single expense.”

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And she means every expense — from insurance fees to coffee, stationery, pens and toilet paper. “Think of the business as a ship,” she says. “If you move forward without plugging the holes that are draining your cash, the ship will eventually sink.”

In two months, Infanta’s expenses were down by 23%; the following month they were cut by a further 38%. In the third month the business began cross-merchandising and upselling, pairing a muffin mix with a pie filling, or a hot cross bun mix with raisins.

But then Marisa faced a challenge common to many businesses that are scaling up — operational capacity. “Because our growth happened very quickly, our machines were close to running at 100% capacity, so I did the sums around how many more sales were needed before we could buy additional  equipment. As much as I tried to plan and forecast, things never work out in reality as they do on paper. We reached full capacity in two months instead of three. What helped was that because I had started to do the research a few months prior, we had already started to think about the buffers we could put in place. Forward planning is really essential. On the personnel side, because we were looking at new equipment, we had to restructure and reallocate the team. We also needed to start hiring. One of the problems with hiring people when you need them is that you don’t necessarily get the best candidates — you get the best candidates available at the time. Once again, we had started vetting people months before, so that exercise was not as tough as it could have been.”

Transparency is key

According to Marisa, communicating with staff was critical because when people are empowered with knowledge, they are also supportive. She let them know that the business was in a growth phase, and that she wanted the team to have an opportunity to grow too.

With operations sorted, suppliers became the next big challenge. As a business grows, it often gains much bigger clients. In Infanta’s case, the first big win was a biscuit factory in Mozambique. “We needed to ensure we had the right number of suppliers in place to enable us to fulfil the orders, as well as back-up suppliers, ‘just in case’. We also had to deal with regulations and rules of origin as we were dealing with a foreign country with its own set of rules.”

A big question she says business owners must ask is, can your suppliers provide you with what you need if you triple your business?

“When you’re on a growth curve, take a month’s purchases from a specific supplier, call them and ask them if they could fulfil your order if you tripled it in size. If their answer is no, best you make a plan.”

Marketing was also Marisa’s baby. “The business was old school,” she says. “I relooked the website, our Facebook pages, and our brand awareness. We didn’t even have our logo on the invoices.”

Related: 27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

The Lesson:

Working through these challenges enabled Marisa and her family to 5X the business. It now moves more than 210 000 kg of goods per week. From being purely B2C, it now also has a retail arm operating from the premises in Pretoria, and supplying wholesale products to consumers.

“We showed the market that we are able to innovate,” she says. “The fact that we are embracing new opportunities has changed people’s perception of the business. Now, when customers are looking for a new product, they will come to ask us if we can do it, because they know we have embraced innovation.” 


TOP TIPS

Getting your people on board for growth:

  • Establish process owners
  • Define roles, responsibilities and workflows
  • Make a schedule
  • Focus on group deliverables over individual tasks
  • Educate, educate, educate.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

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

Nicole Crampton

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

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

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

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

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Channeling The Fire Of Authenticity: Asia’s’ Top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh

Joanna Soh’s introspective look into why her YouTube channel is not a ‘side project’ and how she makes a difference to her audience.

Dirk Coetsee

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“The best project you will ever work on is you” – Joanna Soh

The scene was the rooftop of the Cascades Residency in Kota Damansara, Malaysia where the tranquillity of a high vantage point, the colourful deep blue of the pool, and the hypnotic sound of a waterfall created a suitable ambience to interview Asia’s’ top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh.

I only interview entrepreneurs and leaders with a sense of purpose and a deep love for what they do. Joanna Soh is no exception, her smile carries the fire of authenticity, tenacity, caring, and vulnerability. This fire has most definitely spread as Joanna is Asia’s’ top ‘YouTuber’ with well over 1 Million followers and she openly shared her fears and struggles, that in itself is a valuable lesson to all entrepreneurs. Within the willingness to admit to your fears and weaknesses lies great strength and it is an understatement to exclaim that Joanna is a strong woman.

She is driven by the purpose of adding value and making a difference to her audience and is uplifted by the feedback of her fans for they mean so much to her. As I saw a childlike sense of awe and gratitude in her eyes when she spoke about her achievements I was reminded of the master poet Rumi’s’ advice to us all:

“Sell your cleverness and purchase awe”.

Stop making everything so complicated and stop taking yourself so seriously are only some of the basic lessons that Joanna’s’ entrepreneurial journey has taught her. She acknowledges that the ‘road less travelled’ of entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey and reminds the reader that when she started she also had no audience and had to build her brand. That is the reason why having a strong purpose is so valuable as it ensures longevity and makes it hard to give up on your entrepreneurial dreams.

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Related: Make Money from YouTube Videos

Starting out Joanna stumbled upon a YouTube article that revealed that there was only one other Asian girl that was sharing fitness related content and took the gap with great agility. Her behaviour reminded me of Julius Caesars’’ famous words:

“I came, I saw, and I conquered.”

Joanna used and still uses basic discipline as a focal point for her brands’ growth. From the start she was disciplined enough to not treat her YouTube channel as a ‘side project’ but instead ensured that she at least worked eight hours a day on her project and meticulously researched all the technicalities of building and scaling her now famous brand.

This influential leader taught the author that there is a science behind building a strong following on YouTube. Every videos’ title is very important and whom you tag is also a priority. All these seemingly small details and mechanisms create compound interest over time when you build your brand on YouTube.

Joanna understands the importance of business metrics and daily tracks the amount of subscribers she has. At this juncture I would like to point out that Joanna’s’ followers grow by thirty thousand per month on average!

Although her background working as a TV producer in England has helped in creating a foundation for her it is most definitely not the only contributing and critical factor to her success. This YouTube stars’ relentless purpose of adding value to her followers has driven her to create ‘evergreen content’ that will still be relevant in five years’ time.

Lean in a little closer

joanna-soh-youtube-award

I hope that the reader now ‘leans in’ and carefully listen to this YouTube icons’ advice, and more importantly apply the learnings contained therein:

‘Do not start a channel with the mind-set of getting rich nor famous quickly. Rather start with a clear and defined purpose – Why are you doing it, and what is really going to drive you?

Do not just upload a lot of content and then stop

Consistency is critical so therefore upload according to a pre-set schedule carefully keeping your target audience in mind. Do not limit yourself even in choice of platform, just put yourself out there. Simplicity is very important and therefore leave your audience with very easy to understand tips and practical solutions.

Discipline is a key value

Whether you are tired or not and even when you are not getting early traction still keep on doing it and be patient enough to receive your reward later. Build discipline over time and always remind yourself that helping people and adding value to them will always make you feel more grounded and centred.

Related: How do YouTube Ads work, and what will it cost me?

Remain relevant

Understand your audience and they will keep growing with you. Know who your audience is and work towards that strength. I know for example that eighty percent of my audience is female and continuously track the demographics of my audience. Slowly but surely take on branded sponsors whose vision and activities align with yours.

Carefully select who you follow online and feed off that persons’ energy

Do not confuse yourself and your purpose by following too many people from different industries.’

We concluded the interview and I felt inspired not only by her success but mainly by her tenacity and fierceness as a leader combined with the willingness to share her vulnerabilities which ultimately makes her stronger and stronger.

Follow Joanna Soh and you will learn something valuable. I already am…

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