A day in the life of South African female start-up founders
In acknowledgement of women’s month, we reached out to four female start-up founders who are on our radar right now.
Meet them here:
Ever the multi-tasker, Palesa Sibeko is co-founder of three companies:
Inquisition, a design consultancy; SiGNL, a creative technology company and Girls Invent Tomorrow, an NPO that aims to educate and empower and offer mentorship programs to high school girls looking to future their careers in Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics.
Lynette Hundermark – Useful and Beautiful
Lynette Hundermark has quite the resume! Useful and Beautiful is a mobile strategy, design and development company for apps and mobile sites. Before venturing out on her own, she was the Apps Business Director and Head of Product Strategy at Prezence Digital. Lynette worked in various mobile and tech roles at the Naspers Group, HSBC, Tesco, and Citibank. With an Hons Degree in Computer Science & Psychology, she is also interested and involved in many mentorship programmes that help inspire a community of individuals in the tech and mobile fields.
Claire Reid – Reel Gardening
Armed with a Master’s in Architecture, Claire has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. She started Reel Gardening purely because of the need to simplify the process of growing your own food. Alongside her experience in entrepreneurship and product design, the seed was sown. She developed the company back in 2002 when she was only 16 years-old. In 2003 she was awarded the SA Youth Water Prize by the Department of Water Affairs. She has also been a finalist in the Shoprite Checkers Woman of the Year Awards.
Rianke Chapman – Tutor for the Future
What started off as Skype tutoring in a township school, led to Rianke Chapman developing math video content for learners that could be accessed without an internet connection. Winning a social economic development project allowed her to branch out to run a Maths program in 24 schools in rural Limpopo. The project was highly successful and students’ marks increased by more than 20% within a year. Tutor for the Future now offers a variety of courses for different age groups and during 2017 they launched an e-learning site, Learneo.
What is the Most Challenging Part of Starting a Business?
Claire Reid: Partnering with the right people who would understand my vision; Social Entrepreneurship is also relatively new and Reel Gardening is a niche product, so getting the right people to buy into the idea.
Rianke Chapman: The most challenging part is taking a product to the market. To take the product to market and getting customers to buy the product is another ball game. Because you need to break into people’s mindsets and create in them a desire to want to use your product.
Lynette Hundermark: The biggest challenge was starting without funding. I took a gamble and relied on my reputation to carry me through.
What Does Your Average Business Day Look Like?
Palesa Sibeko: Because we run two companies and I’m also involved with an NPO, it’s hard to pin down an average day as no two days are quite the same. I could be facilitating a workshop or planning it, writing an article for our publications on Medium, presenting concepts to clients, shipping for electronics components and stationery, paying monthly bills, attending industry events, conducting research to present at OpenIDEO Joburg, and other activities.
Claire Reid: I’m an architect by profession, so I really enjoy the Research and Development as well as the creative aspect of the business. So apart from meetings with existing clients and partners (corporate and retail), as well as meeting with potential clients and funders, a good portion of my day is spent on that.
Rianke Chapman: My day looks different every day. I am currently juggling my time across 3 businesses and two of them I am taking to market. There are four main elements of business I focus on in a week:
- Marketing and potential clients
- Team management
- Client service
- Content planning and development and product testing
How Have You Experienced Being a Female Entrepreneur in South Africa?
Lynette Hundermark: It’s not easy, especially as I am a female tech entrepreneur in a very traditionally male oriented space. IT is still seen as a male dominated field (especially in South Africa), and when you are at board or exec levels, you still have to speak up and continue speaking up to be heard. There seems to be a slow buy in, but I am finding especially over the last few years, I don’t have to speak up as loudly as I used to, my expert skills are seen as expert (irrespective of my gender) and that’s a good place to be.
Claire Reid: I feel that being an entrepreneur is tough! Doing what you love, what you’re passionate about and staying true to your purpose should be your driving force, because if you go into entrepreneurship only for the money (which will come later), you’re in for a rude awakening.
Rianke Chapman: It is great starting a business in South Africa. There is not as much “red tape” in comparison to getting something started in other countries. This is an amazing country which encourages creativity and I hope that this will continue.
Palesa Sibeko: On the one hand, the new opportunities for females to close the legacy gap have been most welcome and have allowed me to meet many wonderful women with inspiring ambitions. On the other hand, our history has meant that I’ve experienced my share of prejudice, through micro aggressions and other frustrations.
Do You Have Any Female Role Models?
Rianke Chapman: The only female role model I have is my business partner, Tozelle, in the one business I own, Interveo. She believes in my ability, she always encourages me and helps me to dream bigger. I am truly grateful for her support. I do believe every female entrepreneur, needs to have another female entrepreneur walking alongside them on this journey and encourage each other along the way.
Claire Reid: My role model is Jean Oelwang, the CEO of Virgin Unite; she has the ability to make a big impact while remaining authentic, passionate and true to her values. She is always present in every interaction she has with people; she treats everyone she meets equally and she is a fantastic connector of people and ideas.
Palesa Sibeko: Limor “Ladyada” Fried who started the successful electronics company Adafruit that supports thousands of Makers/tinkerers around the world with great hardware, community and learning opportunities. Ava Duvernay, the filmmaker/director, and many other women artists and authors. Everyday moms, aunts, grandmothers whose stories have propelled me to think beyond myself and value grit in pursuing worthwhile activities to improve the human condition.
Lynette Hundermark: My two female role models happen to also be my mentors. They are Emma Kaye (CEO/founder of Bozza) and Barbara Mallinson (CEO/founder of Obami). They encouraged me to take this leap of faith and persevere despite the challenges. It is inspiring for me to have two such strong role models (who also happen to be female) who have been in this game for a long time (much longer than me) to look up to.
What Advice Would You Give Young Entrepreneurs in South Africa?
Claire Reid: Think about whether bringing your idea into the market will benefit people. Always look at ways in which you can improve your offering. Also, START! Even if it’s on social media with a Facebook Page, which does not take a lot of time to create.
Palesa Sibeko: I once heard popular astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson say something along the lines of “Don’t let the absence of someone who looks just like you be the reason why you don’t become what you’ve always dreamt of being” and I strongly believe in this notion. There are still many areas of our existence that have challenges, industries that have yet to be created and solutions that can make a significant shift in many lives. We need not wait for the “jobs” to be neatly established by people who may be perceived as having the permission to do so before we tackle them.
Lynette Hundermark: Get over your fear of failure fast and go for it. If you truly care about something and are passionate enough, you will find a way to succeed, irrespective of the pace.
Rianke Chapman: If you are about to start a business, it is important to define your standards and your values early on. When challenges arise, it is important not to compromise on what you believe in and the quality of the product or service that you offer. Be consistent in your character and in the way that you do business. Have integrity and respect others. Remember that you always have a choice in how you respond to every situation, so be aware of the small choices that you are making on a daily basis.
Books that have Influenced Our Female Entrepreneurs:
- Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg
- Mindset, by Carol Dweck
- The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
- The Magic of Thinking Big, by David Schwartz
- Inspired Leadership, by Kevin Gaskell
- A More Beautiful Question, by Warren Berger
- How Creative Workers Learn, by Alexandre Magno