I grew up in a small village in the Eastern Cape province (state) of South Africa, about an hour away from the home of the late icon, Nelson Mandela. My early experience with business started from the age of 6, working for the family business. My family was in the wood cutting business: we sourced wood and sold it to local bakeries, butcheries, funeral houses and supplied building materials as homes used wood to build. On weekends my father ran a car fixing workshop that was a hybrid business model: meaning it was both a car fixing business and an apprenticeship training program for young boys in my village that were not academically capable, and therefore the traditional educational system did not accommodate them. That is why my parents took them in and gave them practical skills: to be employable and economically sustainable. I later worked within the Corporate Social Investments space where corporates set aside budgets to impact communities within their trade region. I provided strategic advisory inputs to these funds and the community beneficiary organizations that stood to benefit from these funds. I then evolved my focus specialty to begin working as a Management Consultant on a key accounts management capacity. The firm’s focus was on business expansion so in a typical scope: I helped retailers, hospitality companies, beauty & lifestyle companies set up new or expand store branches across the region. It was whilst in that Management Consulting position that I got to transition into the blockchain technology sector.
When an ex-colleague of my co-Founder & husband approached us: she had started a hair extension business with just $500 and it was now growing, she wanted us to put systems in place in order to formalize and scale the business. Fast-forward 36 months later we scaled her business into 4 branches, 40 full-time staff and $2 million a year revenue. This is when we received overwhelming requests from brands across Africa wanting the same success story. Knowing that they all had similar pain-points, we soon realized that we needed to produce the same transformation at scale. We needed a solution that can deliver an industry-wide transformation. It was during dinner conversation with a family friend who is with IBM, when he told us that blockchain was a glove-fit solution for these supply chain pain points. We discussed it with the IBM investment committee: who gave us seed capital in two funding tranches to build the solution, both given during COVID.
Q: What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?
A: Finding reliable data to fully understand the scale of the salon industry’s hair supply chain pain-points was tough. A necessary component before we scoped a specific solution. Secondly, information about practical blockchain in Africa’s supply chains was hard to come by. Fortunately we have built relationships across the technology & hair supply chains, over the years. We tapped into these ecosystems and conducted an 18 months industry wide due diligence to aid our industry disruption, with intentionality and focus. The third hurdle was funding: the Africa investment ecosystem is a peculiar one. Especially in the technology space, there’s still a hesitancy to support pre-revenue start-ups, at seed stage. Funders prefer to arrive on the scene when the start-up is post revenue, and is bringing consistent revenue. The support for Africa’s start-ups is there, considering the 1 billion USD that exchanged hands in Africa in 2020, to fund start-ups, it’s just not directed at seed stage start-ups, but series A, etc that are more in a scale up mode. Bearing in mind, blockchain can be quite an expensive technology to build, properly. To circumvent this: we worked on building a very strong business case to prove viability, signed up supply chain players, customers, and end users to prove that once the technology is built we have the capacity to monetize it. So, a clear vision and a demonstrated traction got us a lot of buy-in and tangible funding even during Covid.
Q: What books are you currently reading?
A: I am currently completing the 3rd book by Raymond Ackerman: the legendary founder of Pick n Pay (with his wife Wendy by his side). Pick n Pay has become one the most recognizable, dominant retail giants in Africa. It was important for me to observe closely, through the 3 books they have in the public domain, how their journey started, and how they got here. Those books are,
1) The Four Legs of the Table
2) Hearing Grasshoppers Jump and
3) A Sprat to Catch a Mackerel: Key Principles to Build Your Business
Q: What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?
A: I have come to appreciate relationships: they are a currency one needs in business, on a daily basis. Case in point: it took over 60 experts in more than 6 countries to build Coronet. As a platform: Coronet is a resource that costs millions of dollars. Typically, an African start-up would hardly be able to afford such resources or inputs, on its own. At the beginning of my business journey: I used to say – as an excuse (and a comfort zone) – that I am more of a systems person than a people’s person. I could get away with it for some time, as my Co-Founder, has incredible diplomacy and navigates the room with such unparalleled know-how, I did not need to sign deals, he took care of all that, thanks to his hotelier grade, warm personality. I joked often with him that once we are done with blockchain, we should open a hotel chain. Naturally, due to all deal making responsibilities being taken care of by my Co-Founder’s side of the team, I thought I would outsource my responsibility to him, instead of seeking to build strong relationships in business and social settings. I just put my head down, and focused on delivering on projects, in a highly demanding environment.
At some point though: I came to realize that if you are pursuing a vision that is bigger than you, bigger than your team, and bigger than your family, then you need people – lots of people – beyond your typical networks. We needed to widen our net of connections, beyond our friends, family and known business associates. We needed a global catchment of friends and connections: to support our vision. That is when my safety latches came off: I had to be comfortable in front of the camera, do lots of media interviews, connect with experts across domains far from our desk. Growing our LinkedIn ecosystem beyond 52 000, in only one year, reaching 400 000 views a month, is among the achievements of this beyond my comfort zone approach. We can now DM someone, across multiple industries, if we need input, anytime.
Q: What advice would you give to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?
A: You need relationships, so take relationship building very seriously, from the word go. Do not just build any relationship: build relationships that are leverage-able and highly relevant to your trade and life journey. You are no longer in high school where you can afford to befriend only people that have similar hobbies to you or enjoy similar fashion, food, etc. Look beyond those things: think similar trade journeys, and destinations. Secondly, build relationships with production in mind, not consumption.
Are we making money together or just spending money together? Be wise and intentional. Here’s is a practical scenario: if you’re starting a farming business, find an ecosystem of farmers, a legal practice, find lawyers, an accounting firm, find accountants, whilst at the same time, seek out funders, mentors and industry leaders ahead of you, across domains, before you need them. These are the types of people you need, to reach your goals: do not burden your friends, who are not like minded, with requests or asks, they will frown upon because they are not heading in the same direction as you, be intentional.
Website: https://www.coronetblockchain.com/ (for those with existing salons or retails)
Website: https://www.coronet48.com/ (for new or aspirant hair or lifestyle business)