The stories of these ten entrepreneurial women in South Africa will inspire and empower you to succeed; whether you want to improve your current business or start your own.
Here are ten rising female stars in SA business you can learn from:
1. Shashi Naidoo on breaking the ‘model’ mould
“You’re only going to own your unique selling point for so long. If you’re onto a solid idea, the competition will copy you. It’s inevitable and it’s a fact that you need to accept. There’s no point in getting hung up on it. Instead, you should focus on how you can stay ahead of the competition and find ways to make your offering even more unique.”– Shashi Naidoo, Alushi Models
- Entrepreneur: Shashi Naidoo
- Business: Alushi Models
- Website: www.alushi.co.za
- Start-up story: Founded her business with five models and a lot of determination
- Growth: Alushi Models now represents 400 models and is one of the fastest growing model agencies in Johannesburg
Shashi Naidoo didn’t look like a typical model, but she still managed to find regular work when starting out in the modelling business. She realised there were plenty of clients that weren’t looking for a ‘cookie cutter’ model (size 0, 1.73cm). This gave Naidoo an idea; why not start a modelling agency that catered to non-traditional looking models? She established Alushi Models.
Naidoo’s business took off, but once her competitors got wind of what she was doing they started offering similar models. Instead of worry about her business offering, Naidoo honed in on challenges the industry in general faced, such as having a reputation for people who are difficult to work with.
She decided that her agency should provide clients with the best service possible. She did this so that her clients would see first-hand how reliable her service was, and that they could depend on her.
Naidoo also used her established network, and networking skills, to promote her business. She recruited local celebrities that she came into regular contact with, such as Cindy Nell, Stefan Ludik, Kajal Maharaj and Sinazo Yolwa. She also used her fame to promote her business by talking about it during interviews.
She expounds: “Credibility is important, and if you want to increase your credibility, you need to get your name out there. Clients can’t approach you if they’ve never heard of you.”
Related: Shashi Naidoo on being an unconventional (business) model
2. Caryn Neethling on the benefits of franchising
“It’s very important to employ the right people. There were five people here when we started, we now have ten. Your workers really are the lifeblood of your operation. We were very lucky to retain great staff when the previous owner sold the business. We wouldn’t have the successful business we do today if it was not for them.”– Caryn Neethling, Minuteman Press Krugersdorp
- Entrepreneur: Caryn Neethling
- Business: Minuteman Press Krugersdorp
- Website: www.krugersdorp.minutemanpress.co.za
- Start-up story: Caryn Neethling and her husband, Werner, bought the Minuteman Press Franchise store in Krugersdorp from the previous owner
- Growth: Four years later, they have doubled their staff and now have 200 orders in progress at any given time
Four years ago Caryn Neethling and her husband, Werner, bought the Krugersdorp Minuteman Press Franchise. Both husband and wife had owned businesses and retail stores before, but still found this new business opportunity challenging.
In the beginning, they relied heavily on their experienced, reliable staff and a helpful franchisor. Caryn Neethling reveals the benefits of working with a franchise: “One of the big advantages of buying a franchise, as opposed to opening up an independent operation, is the support that you receive. Since we still needed to learn about printing; knowing that an experienced team was just a phone call away really eased the pressure.”
Caryn is a firm believer in ‘under-promising and over-delivering’, which has ensured that she adequately manages customer expectations. She explains that some customers don’t realise how time-consuming and complex printing can be. Another strategy Caryn, and her husband, have implemented is increasing their in-house printing capacity, as this allows them to sustain quality and meet deadlines.
Related: Minuteman Press franchisee aims to under-promise and over-deliver
3. Paulene Abrey and Luaan Hong on identifying clients’ needs
“In business, technology has made certain skills a commodity, but the talents of individual, creative people have distinguished our business. Luaan and I share a deep-rooted conviction that people really matter, that leaders are responsible for developing the capabilities of employees, and nurturing their careers.” – Paulene Abrey, Deepend Post
- Entrepreneurs: Paulene Abrey and Luaan Hong
- Business: Deepend Post
- Website: www.deependpost.com
- Start-up story: In 2007 Paulene Abrey and Luaan Hong left their jobs at a big post-production company to launch their own business
- Growth: Since 2007, the business now employs ten full-time staff and a host of freelancers
Paulene Abrey and Luaan Hong launched their business in a crowded post-production market, but managed to distinguish themselves by marrying a good old-fashioned craft with technology. This strategy created profitable creativity for their business. It is this distinctive blend that drives sales and cultivates repeat customers.
Abrey says that businesses, and people, get so focused on time and money that they often neglect the clients’ needs and delivering a project that meets those needs. Many disregard the true understanding of what a brand stands for and too little time is often given to the true worth of the client.
Hong adds: “We look at the uniqueness each brand has to offer, and then we help our clients to elevate that uniqueness. In our case a lot of what we do is storytelling; we help to grow our clients’ market share by helping them to constantly evolve their stories.”
Related: Deepend Post differentiates itself in a crowded niche
4. Claire Reid on growing Reel Gardening
“We targeted retail stores to begin with, but that was a disaster. Without a merchandiser we had no one to ensure that our product was visible or displayed correctly on the shelves.” – Claire Reid, Reel Gardening
- Entrepreneur: Claire Reid
- Business: Reel Gardening
- Website: www.reelgardening.co.za
- Start-up story: Claire Reid invented the Reel Gardening concept in 2002 when she was 16 years old, but only achieved business funding later in life
- Growth: Reel Gardening now boasts millions of rands in funding, a 25-man workforce and Unilever, and USAID as its biggest clients
Claire Reid’s business journey started when she was just 16. She was battling to grow her own vegetable garden and decided to solve the problem herself.
She invented bio-degradable strips that would hold vegetable seeds, keeping them safe from birds. It would also enable a person to plant each seed at the correct depth and space apart. Reid tried to get her invention off the ground early, but it was not meant to be, yet.
Upon graduating, and while working at a small architecture firm, she came across a market of people who could use her gardening invention. She, and her husband, quit their jobs and started to focus on Reel Gardening full-time. The beginning was tough, and the business almost failed because of misaligned strategies. They were out of money, and about to call it quits, when Reid heard about the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards, with its R1 million prize money.
The Reid’s put everything they had into the competition and won the prize money, which was enough to get them started. They used the prize money to pay off their debts, buy raw materials and get their new business off the ground.
Now, Reel Gardening supplies seed strips to clients such as Unilever and USAID. These clients then assist communities in learning how to plant their own gardens and feed themselves. Reid is now ready for the next phase of her journey; she’s taking her seed-strip concept global.
Related: Reel Gardening warns that innovation is never easy
5. Molemo Kgomo on her African-inspired child’s toy journey
“Success does not happen overnight, and you have to be aware of how receptive your audience might be to your product. I believed in the dolls, but I had to wait for the market to be ready. That’s why passion for what you are doing is critical.”– Molemo Kgomo, Ntombenhledolls
- Entrepreneur: Molemo Kgomo
- Business: Ntombenhledolls
- Website: www.ntombenhledolls.co.za
- Start-up story: Molemo Kgomo struggled to find an African doll for her daughter so she created one of her own
- Growth: Ntombenhledolls is now selling online, and steadily growing, while Kgomo is seeking to diversify her offering to appeal to an even larger audience
Molemo Kgomo’s entrepreneurial journey started when she wanted an African doll that would help her daughter embrace her heritage and skin colour, but she couldn’t find anything suitable. Kgomo found suitable dolls on her travels to Germany and the USA, and found it unacceptable that these dolls weren’t accessible to a captive South African market.
Discovering these dolls overseas served as her motivation, and she decided to create African dolls for African people. When Kgomo launched her online store the demand was so great it almost overwhelmed her start-up business.
Since making the necessary tactical decisions to grow her company, Kgomo is now expanding her range of toys, including dolls for boys and an Indian-inspired doll. Another area of diversity she is looking into is creating comic book heroes, which South African children can identify with.
Related: Molemo Kgomo of Ntombenhledolls turns business into child’s play
6. Sonia Booth on always being one step ahead
“You should never allow any success to lull you into complacency. As we’ve seen from countless movie stars and musicians, it’s all too easy to achieve overnight success, and then it disappears just as quickly.”– Sonia Booth, Bonneventia S Footwear
- Entrepreneur: Sonia Booth
- Business: Bonneventia S Footwear
- Start-up story: To create sustainable success after becoming an international model, Sonia Booth created her own shoe range
- Growth: Local designer, Thula Sindi has even used Sonia's shoes in his shows and more local designers are following suite
Sonia Booth has mastered the art of reinvention and staying relevant. While she was modelling internationally, she was already developing her next step, which became a sort after local brand of custom handmade shoes. Her shoes featured in local designers’ runway shows, including Thula Sindi.
After establishing her shoe line, Booth moved on to her next step, becoming a renowned author of ‘How to reinvent yourself & stay relevant’. Her book shares practical tips for brand management and innovation.
Booth explains that making your brand stand out is a strategic move to assist your business in securing much-coveted contracts or promotions. She says that building a recognisable brand will open up professional opportunities, particularly within today’s entrepreneurial environment where you can’t afford to be just another face in the crowd.
Related: Sonia Booth wants you to re-invent yourself
7. Polo Leteka Radebe on finances, and following your passion
“Numbers tell the story – it’s as simple as that. They are a health check and will help you identify where the problem areas are in your business. When it comes to income projections or turnover projections, every entrepreneur thinks they’re going to start off like ‘this’ and then things rarely happen as they’ve planned,”– Polo Leteka Radebe, IDF Managers
- Entrepreneur: Polo Leteka Radebe
- Business: IDF Managers
- Website: www.idf.co.za
- Start-up story: After working in government, Polo Leteka Radebe realised she wanted to have a more direct impact on economic growth in South Africa. So, she joined forces with business partner Sonja De Bruyn Sebotsa to create IDF Managers
- Growth: As IDF Managers grew, it increased its service offerings through bringing on board a third partner, Sipho Mofokeng, to run its new Identity Resources division
Polo Leteka Radebe always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but couldn’t find her passion to start a business. This led her to work in the corporate sector for many years, while accumulating business acumen.
Only after she joined Government, she realised she wanted to have a greater impact in helping South Africans follow their dreams, and open their own businesses.
She decided to take the leap and establish Capital Partners, a small and medium enterprise advisory and fund managing service firm, with her friend of many years Sonja De Bruyn Sebotsa.
Radebe now runs IDF Managers as part of the Identity Group, while Sebotsa, who has extensive investment banking experience, runs Identity Partners. In 2011 they brought Sipho Mofokeng on board to run Identity Resources. Now, each partner has their specialty and focuses on their assigned business units.
On the dynamics of being a female entrepreneur, Radebe says: “Women entrepreneurs grew up without role models. I was fortunate to have a mother who told me I could be whatever I wanted to be, and that whatever I choose to be, I must be the best at it. These are messages that we need to impart on our children.”
8. Val Bourdos Nichas on how to stay at the top of your game
“Educating management, or leadership, is an ongoing process that requires formal interventions as well as valuable development through experience and years of trial and error. It is imperative for business leaders to invest in its employees by promoting formal education.”– Val Bourdos Nichas, VBN Consultants
- Entrepreneur: Val Bourdos Nichas
- Business: VBN Consultants
- Website: www.vbnconsultants.com
- Start-up story: Val Bourdos Nichas boasts 30 years of industry experience, and so in 2012 she decided it was time to start her own firm. She saw this as the next logical step in her illustrious career
- Growth: VBN Consultants has enjoyed steady growth, attracting well-known clients including Doppio Zero, The Taphouse and Sally Williams brands
Val Bourdos Nichas has an impressive corporate career spanning 30 years and a few prestigious positions. She’s worked as marketing director for Edgars and Debonairs Pizza brands, served as senior vice president, Company Strategy, Sales, Marketing & Innovation, at Rich Products Corporation of SA, and held the position of managing director of Tequila/TBWA.
She’s even held a managing executive position at Wimpy, Steers and QSR Brands - the Famous Brands division responsible for over 600 Steers, Fishaways, Giramundo and Blacksteer outlets.
She says that it’s her ability to develop and mentor high-performance individuals and teams that motivated her to start VBN Consultants. A lesson that can be learnt from Nichas is that she is constantly learning through formal education, because she believes CEO’s must continue to fine-tune their skills and capabilities.
Nichas recommends investing in refreshing and reinvigorating your leadership stance and knowledge base as she does. She has participated in various business courses and training programmes, with her most recent tenure including a stint with the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme at Saïd Business School, Oxford University.
9. Bridget Prinsloo on how Airbnb has changed her life
“Airbnb is providing an alternative to the traditional strategy of buying properties and renting them out to long-term tenants. You can make more money using Airbnb. That said, Airbnb isn’t going to turn you into a multi-millionaire overnight. Building up a portfolio will take time. We might be able to pay off the bond on our flat in four years instead of 20, thanks to Airbnb, but it’s not a get-rich-quick-scheme,”- Bridget Prinsloo, Superhost SA
- Entrepreneur: Bridget Prinsloo
- Business: Superhost SA
- Website: www.superhostsouthafrica.com
- Start-up story: Bridget Prinsloo used Airbnb while traveling and decided to become a host herself to make a little money on the side. She soon discovered that managing various properties could become challenging so she created Superhost SA.
- Growth: Now Bridget Prinsloo makes roughly R23 000 a month passive income from her Airbnb rentals, while she travels the world.
After discovering the convenience and enjoyable user-experience of using Airbnb, Bridget Prinsloo decided to start renting out her spare room via the service when she returned home to South Africa from her travels.
This led to purchasing another property with her fiancé, and another with her father and sister, to capitalise on the growing demand for Airbnb properties in Cape Town.
Once she realised how much admin every Airbnb user required, and the fact that there had to be someone around to perform the responsibilities of the host, Prinsloo created Superhost SA.
Superhost SA specialises in full-service Airbnb property rental management. She aims to assist property owners to earn improved Airbnb income without having to actually be in the country. This business concept appealed to Prinsloo, and her fiancé, who now use some of their Airbnb income to travel the globe.
10. Phuti Mahanyele on facing and overcoming adversity
“I cannot work with people who do not show interest and commitment. My biggest strength is that I do not fear strength in others. I celebrate it. That ability to easily work with the most capable, most intelligent people has been key to success in my life, as those are the people who move you forward,”– Phuti Mahanyele, Sigma Capital
- Entrepreneur: Phuti Mahanyele
- Business: Sigma Capital
- Website: www.sigmacapital.co.za
- Start-up story: After becoming CEO of the Shanduka Group, and having a stroke, Phuti Mahanyele decided to start her own consulting firm
- Growth: Since starting-up, Sigma Capital has expanded its reach into Africa and is growing from strength to strength
Phuti Mahanyele’s entrepreneurial journey began after she had doubled the Shanduka Group’s net asset value to R8 billion in five years. She had also survived a stroke.
After recovering from her stroke, she began to question her ‘life’ priorities and decided to start a business on her own. In starting-up, Mahanyele knew she needed funding and through her network she managed to achieve 100% of the resources required to launch Sigma Capital.
Now, however, to maintain the growth of the business, she needs to raise capital again. “We’ve started having discussions in Hong Kong and mainland China to raise capital,” she says.
Mahanyele founded Sigma Capital in 2015, and the company strives to be a nimble player with a strong focus on building sustainable partnerships.