Relebohile Moeng Shares Her Lessons in Bootstrapping a Successful Beauty Startup
After being retrenched from a senior position in 2010, Relebohile Moeng took the brave step to launch a business in an industry she knew nothing about. Here's how she's achieved success.
- Player: Relebohile Moeng
- Postion: Founder and Director
- Company: Afri-Berry
- Established: 2011
- Visit: afri-berry.co.za
Shortly after a car accident left Relebohile with over 150 stitches on her face, her search for affordable solutions to cure her scars led to the launch of her first business. "I had experienced the amazing healing power of the organic cold pressed argan oil on my face and understood the growth of the middle class and increased spending power across many socio-economic groups in our country.
Based on this, I had a strong conviction that not only should organic products be available in speciality stores or organic markets but also in our regular retail stores where we do our day-to-day shopping," she explains. "We wanted Afri-Berry to have a share in the R4,3 billion of annual sales that were being made in this market."
Following her retrenchment in 2010, she and her husband Fabian decided the time was right to do some research into organic skin and hair products. This led to the launch of Afri-Berry in 2011.
Q. What were some of the key challenges that you faced before and during the process of launching Afri-Berry?
As a new player in the beauty sector, developing our business idea in a way that was attractive to retail was our first major challenge. And because the beauty industry has such high barriers to entry, our second major challenge was gaining market share amidst international cosmetic brands.
When you start a business, you must keep overheads down, so initially we built 80% of our team around intern graduates fresh from school, with no work experience. We underestimated the value of hiring experienced employees. This was the most trying time for the business because you may have great employees but if they're not a team, they will yield nothing but stagnation.
Q. How did you overcome these challenges to build your business to what it is today?
The key to our success was the advantage we enjoy in our home market. Mzansi is a great place to do business in because we understand the lingo and the culture. This enables us to compete with aggressive and well-endowed foreign competitors.
We often fine-tune our products and services to the unique needs of our customers. We've had to resist the temptation of reaching out to all customers or imitating the multinationals. We believe that we'll continue to do better by focusing on consumers who appreciate the local touch more than global brands.
When it comes to hiring we've learnt that HR can either make or break a business. We've learnt to not only hire for skill and experience, but also for culture. We continuously raise the leadership lid on each of our employees and create a conducive atmosphere for them to blossom.
Q. What do you know now that you didn't know when Afri-Berry was starting out?
Start now — you don't need funding. Watch out for when you want to do something big but say you can't until you raise money to fund the idea. It usually means you're more in love with the idea of being big than with actually doing something useful.
For an idea to grow, it has to be something useful — and being useful doesn't need funding. If you want to be useful, you can always start right now with just 1% of what you have in your vision. It'll be a humble prototype of your big vision, but you'll be in the game. You'll be ahead of the rest because you actually started, when others waited for the finish line to magically appear at the starting line.
Q. Why do you believe Afri-Berry has reached the level of success it has achieved?
- We have built a strong team and that has cultivated a culture of positive results and innovation in the business.
- As a small business we have leveraged our impact by supporting community events and this has allowed us to be a powerful force within our community and gain market share.
- We have tried our best to be accessible by partnering with some of the major organic stores as well as supermarkets and retail stores. We will soon be listing with Massmart and Clicks stores so that we are there for more of our aspiring customers when needed.
- We make use of hair and beauty bloggers as well as beauty editors of popular magazines to try our products and endorse them in the public domain. This has given the brand great traction.
- We continue to share our brand story with South Africans through local magazines and radio platforms offered to us. This has made it easy for them to buy into the brand. We nurture and invest in positive relationships with our stakeholders.
Q. What's your top advice for other start-ups embarking on their entrepreneurial journey, hoping to achieve your level of success?
- Build a business around a problem that you know needs to be solved and that you are passionate about fixing or making better. There will be many long nights and stressful situations ahead but having the passion to fix the problem will get you through every time.
- If you have an idea for a start-up, go ahead and start it. The more research you do upfront as to how much work is involved and how much you need to learn could easily put you off. I had no idea when I first started and I'm glad I didn't! It's much easier to tackle new tasks once you've already got things going.