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7 Lessons In Taking Your Product Global Sarah Collins started with a simple, old-school product and took it global. Here's how a local KZN business partnered with global giants like Unilever and Amazon.

By 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.

"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 6 tips for going global.

1. Think 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."

2. Accept 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."

3. Be 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.

4. Find 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.

5. Do 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.

"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."

6. Just 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."

7. Find 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.

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