18 Year Old Entrepreneur Rabia Ghoor Shares Her Secrets to Success At 14, Rabia Ghoor launched her make-up and skincare online beauty store. She made her first sale one year later, and left school to pursue the business full time at 16. Today, this 18-year-old teenpreneur is well on her way to building an empire.
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Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. Tumblr originator David Karp. Multiple Grammy Award winner Aretha Franklin. Oscar-winning director Quentin Tarantino. These incredibly successful leaders in their fields all dropped out of high school at the age of 15. SwiitchBeauty founder and "teenpreneur' Rabia Ghoor is in good company.
"I am a freshly-minted millionaire who ended up skipping over the typical life struggles that most young men and women go through that serve to build their character. If I'm not careful, the result will be success without respect, wealth without restraint and power without responsibility — and just like that, things can spiral out of control," says Rabia, quoting Jordan Belfort's book Way of the Wolf.
While her peers prepare for their Matric dance this year, Rabia has just celebrated SwiitchBeauty's third birthday with a pop-up store in Milpark, Johannesburg. Although she says she wishes she could participate in this rite of passage, thanks to her company pushing out between 2 500 and 3 000 orders a month, "when they're writing exams, I'll be holidaying in Mauritius," she beams.
"The money has been great, but at present turnover is not my core focus. My main purpose is to provide my customers with the best product at the best price and build a sustainable business that will bear fruit in the future."
FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS TO A BIG IDEA
When the break bell sounded and all the other kids stormed the playground, a ten-year-old Rabia would set up her stand and sell stickers. By the following year she'd graduated to selling mini buckets as rubbish bins her classmates would use instead of multiple trips to the class dustbin. "I bought them for about R5 each and sold them for R7," she explains.
Then a teenage Rabia's interest in make-up blossomed into a business idea she pursued part-time at 14. Using the Internet to learn basic product formulation, she established SwiitchBeauty.
"I didn't sleep at all during that first year," she recalls. "School was just taking up so much of my time in addition to working on the business that I would sleep at 4am sometimes and wake up at 6am to redo the day."
SwiitchBeauty was growing, and Rabia had to approach her parents with a risky proposition she hoped they'd agree to, for the sake of her business success.
TAKING THE LEAP, AND STUMBLING
"The plan was always to drop out of school," says Rabia. "I let my business grow for a year in order to show my parents that it's profitable, I'm making money, I'm passionate about it, and this is what I enjoy."
In 2016 Rabia left high school, a year after making SwiitchBeauty's first sale online. But things didn't go as planned for her business ambitions. "I'd never known what it was like not going to school — I'd never even missed a day from grade one — so I got lazy after that," Rabia admits.
"I started outsourcing as SwiitchBeauty grew, so I had nothing to do. It was a difficult adjustment because in the past I had to do everything myself, otherwise nothing would get done. Now that I had hired two new employees to handle that, the plan was to focus on research and development, but it was very difficult, especially in a home environment. For a solid two or three months, I'd wake up at 11am, eat, sleep again, wake up, watch series until about 4pm, only leave the room to get more food, and shower in the evening before getting back into my pyjamas. Meanwhile, business went on, but it didn't flourish."
REDISCOVERING THAT SPARK
It took a leisurely afternoon on her parents' balcony and the realisation that she'd left school to pursue her passion and was now not putting in the work, to get Rabia going again. "I had to prove myself ten times more than kids who finished school and went out and got degrees and stable jobs.
"That was my motivation. I'm so glad my parents didn't get involved during my loafing otherwise I don't think I would have been able to get out of that rut." Remembering why she started SwiitchBeauty in the first place helped her focus on structuring her days, listening to motivational podcasts and growing her business.
She recruited four more staff as business boomed. "I think the biggest misconception, especially with younger entrepreneurs in tech start-ups, is that they think the bigger the business gets, and the more people you hire, — the easier the workload becomes. Its a huge lie!"
FILLING A GAP IN THE MARKET
"When I first became interested in make-up I realised that there was a gap between the big expensive brands and the pharmacy cosmetics, in terms of both quality and price," Rabia explains. "I think my greatest advantage was that prior to starting a beauty company, I'd spent a lot of time playing around with existing products, seeing which ones I liked.
"When I started the company, I began asking myself why I liked those specific products, and it usually came down to specific ingredients and manufacturing techniques. Doing research on these ingredients and techniques was very beneficial."
Getting back into the swing of things involved researching local and international developments and seeing the gaps there as well. "That motivated me to get the South African beauty industry on par with international trends."
The outcome of her research was establishing SwiitchBeauty as the loudest, cruelty-free, trendsetting, innovative make-up brand for all women who were tired of being told they needed cosmetics to feel better about themselves, and wanted to be more involved in what they wanted in a make-up brand.
"SwiitchBeauty is an inclusive, affordable beauty brand that speaks to women, and not down to them, as many cosmetics companies have done for a very long time," says Rabia.
DARING TO BE DIFFERENT
"We're more educational than advertising-focused. We sell an idea and not a product."
And how exactly does she set her brand apart from the multiple beauty industry names out there, vying for every woman's attention? "We constantly engage with our 56 000+ followers on Instagram, requesting feedback, new ideas and recommendations for products, events and educational tutorials on how to use our products."
The influence of social media has helped self-proclaimed former tech novice Rabia to build her business through the Internet. She's worked hard to establish a healthy social media following, to the benefit of her business.
"Social media has been a gift to our generation of businesses," she says, adding that SwiitchBeauty's use of social media influencers has increased its customer base tremendously.
BUILDING A BEAUTY BUSINESS EMPIRE
With a constant flow of deliveries leaving her Laudium office in Pretoria, Rabia's focused on getting SwiitchBeauty to be every South African woman's preferred beauty brand, before conquering the markets beyond our borders.
"I am focusing on dominating the market of South African beauty enthusiasts before branching out into the more competitive international field, "she says. "I also feel that for now, the rest of the world is very well taken care of in terms of make-up."
LESSONS FROM AN ECOMMERCE TEENPRENEUR
1. Social media is a significant tool: "Build up a following even if you don't have a product yet. Get people in your industry interested and when you do launch the product they will trust you enough to become customers."
2. DIY your website and logo: "Our generation has been blessed with the greatest educational resource — the Internet. Throughout my journey I really have learnt to use this asset to my advantage. Being so young and inexperienced when I started my business, there was much that I had to self-teach. The Internet made that super easy."
3. Choose a suitable platform: "For me it was Shopify, as their cheapest package is around $24 monthly, but you get so much so it's worth it."
4. Get your finances in order: "I learnt the hard way after not noting my expenses and thinking I had more to spend than I actually did. My uncle is money savvy, and helped me fix my finances."
5. Seek support from a mentor: "I think a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs don't get the support they need, especially the young ones. Thokoza Mjo from Beyond the Lemonade Stand really helped mentor me after I won one of the company's competitions. Working with her has opened up so many doors for me."