Both Goliath and Jefthas worked for Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products (ASNAPP) – an NGO – prior to starting De Fynne, where Goliath assisted in the propagation and setting up of plant producing nurseries in African markets, such as Zambia and Ghana.
Today they are experiencing ever entrepreneur’s dream: their business cannot keep up with the demand for fynbos, and they are expanding constantly. De Fynne supplies its products to retailers such as Woolworths, Massmart and Spar who in turn sell the plants to consumers for their personal gardens or display in their homes. They have also recently started contract growing for the commercial agricultural sector.
De Fynne’s growth has not gone unrecognised and Goliath received the title of Female Entrepreneur for 2011 – both provincially and nationally – by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in South Africa. She also received the award for African Agribusiness Entrepreneur for 2012 by Markets Matter Inc.
1. Find your market first
“Do a market assessment. It all depends what you are going to sell,” advised Goliath. “Say, for example, it’s bread, and you want to sell it from your home, then talk to your neighbours… the people around you; [find out] if there is a need for it. If it’s a nursery then of course you need to now go broader; who are you going to sell it to? Is it a retail nursery? Are you going to sell it to the public, or are you going to be a wholesaler?”
“We started with fynbos because we saw that it was where the market and opening was,” she continued. “There was an opportunity with the fynbos.”
During her time working for ASNAPP in various African markets, Goliath saw entrepreneurs start to grow something before knowing who to sell it to. “Especially with fragile and perishable stuff, it’s important to have your market first because those [products] can’t stay on the shelves for longer than maybe two weeks or, if it’s tomatoes, then not even a week. So it’s very important to have your market first, so do a market assessment.”
She added that the next step is to do your costing, and figure out if you can sell a product at the price that the market wants it for.
2. Start small, grow one step at a time
Goliath said that when she first started De Fynne, she had to still work part-time at ASNAPP in order to earn a living. She left in 2008 when De Fynne’s business started to blossom and required her full attention. “None of us came from rich families so we had to grow it out of our own pocket and I also had to wait for the business to be big enough to actually pay my salary,” she explained. “And that’s why it was a fading out of ASNAPP and fading into De Fynne.”
Goliath advises entrepreneurs to start small, and to grow organically. One of the major reasons for this is that if an entrepreneur makes a mistake when the business is still small, the losses might not be as crippling as it would have been if the business had taken on a massive loan to support a huge venture that then fails.
“You should start small, because if we hadn’t started small, I wouldn’t have learnt all those lessons and I have grown with time… So you see what people want or do not want, what grows and does not grow, because with the fynbos market there are some fynbos plants that we have seen that we cannot grow.”
Goliath added that when you start small, you should not immediately invest in the most expensive, state-of-the-art equipment. “See what you have in your environment and what can work for you with the resources that you have.”
3. Plan, plan, plan
“With the fynbos, because it is a product that grows very slowly, it takes us about a year and a half to make a final product,” said Goliath. “Now you can imagine what influence it has on cashflow.”
Furthermore, plant nurseries can be a risky, unpredictable business influenced by a number of environmental and external factors. “Like this year, the cold came too early,” explained Goliath. “So the fynbos started to flower too early.”
For this reason, Goliath says planning and thinking ahead is vital and one of the biggest lessons she has learnt in business. “You can’t plan enough, and there have been times when I thought I have planned enough and then I haven’t.”
4. Invest in your staff
Goliath believes that the best way to invest in your business is to invest in your staff. “My staff is my most valuable asset to the business.”
Therefore, Goliath and Jefthas have sent their staff on skills development and leadership courses. “So we have started to build the capacity of our staff and if you do that you are actually building the capacity of your business.”
“Believe in your staff; that is very important,” she continued. “Give them a sense of responsibility towards the business.”
5. Go the extra mile for clients
Goliath remembered how a bad quality fertiliser destroyed the plants they had been contracted to grow for a big client, and they lost a lot of money. In situations like this, Goliath said that they could refund the deposit and apologise to the clients, but the best option would be to buy the plants from another company. Why? Because they told the client they would have the order ready for them. “It’s your loss, but still you show your client that you will go that extra mile for them.”
According to Goliath, making sure that you offer value for money is one of the ways to stand out from your competitors, but she says it’s more about showing clients that you have honest business principles.
“You know, you can always go much higher,” she contemplated. “If you look at your competitors and say ‘everybody is selling for R30, so let me also sell it for R30 or R32’. But actually if you do the costing you know it’s actually worth R20. So I think, for me, [good advice] would be to stick to that value for money because it also brings out that honesty.”
6. Be passionate, but profit-driven
Goliath, like most entrepreneurs, cited ‘passion’ as being an important driver for business success. However, she stressed that one also should have a focus on making profits.
“You must have a passion for what you do, but you must be profit-driven… otherwise you can actually be bankrupt sooner than you think… You need to survive in the end. You need to grow, and with that profit you can grow,” she added
ARTICLE DONE BY KATIE DOUGLAS
ADOPTED FROM HOW WE MADE IT IN AFRICA