Having carved out quite a name for herself in her career at a prestigious South African financial institution, a few months back Ofentse Monyela made the brave step of taking the leap of faith and pursuing her entrepreneurial endeavors – a decision she always knew she would make. Of course, it was a decision that required substantial hard work, determination and sacrifice, and Ofentse offers a brilliant and candid account of how she has begun establishing herself as a successful leader and entrepreneur below…
Ofentse – what a prolific career you’ve had at such a young age! After building a powerful brand for yourself at Rand Merchant Bank – a highly prestigious South African financial institution – you took the rare leap of faith that so many dare not venture to, and decided to pursue your then side business of managing Setters Contemporary Furniture, a contemporary furniture store. Could you kindly take us through the journey towards running Setters Furniture?
Setters Contemporary Furniture [“Setters”] was started in 2014 through a social media page and the appointment of part time sales consultants who were remunerated purely through commission. In 2015 we managed to open a show room and the business washed its face and made profit from day one. However, we reached a stage where Setters could no longer grow without active management. Two of my partners had already quit their corporate jobs and were working full time in the factory, so I knew that to get the business to the next level I needed to take the leap of faith by leaving formal employment and giving the business my all.
At the same time I was having lots of questions about the non-inclusive culture of corporate South Africa, transformation and why black people still do not have economic muscle twenty two years into democracy. I needed to change the script and make a difference in my lifetime and of course the answer to all my questions was the creation and running of successful black businesses. I was lucky enough to have a business that was running at the time, and could afford to pay me a bit of a salary. I also had no children or serious financial obligations, and although the mental preparation was tough, this was naturally the next right move for me.
Leaving a comfortable and prominent job like the one you previously had could not have been easy, particularly for an individual as financially savvy as yourself. What steps did you take to, for lack of a better term “cushion the blow” before leaving your full time job?
Well, the decision was made a long time ago, even before joining my previous employer. I always knew that I would end up in entrepreneurship and I wanted to be self-employed by the time I reached the age of 30. Through the years I invested in rental property which generated additional income, helping me to financially prepare for entrepreneurship. However, facing my fears and actually taking the leap required lots of courage and tons of meditation, prayer and faith.
After a conversation with a business partner mid last year, I decided that 2016 was going to be the year I left formal employment and I was advised to set a date and just work towards leaving on that day. The universe conspired to help me achieve this, as everything just fell into place. The biggest concern I had was financial security, so in order to prep for that I sold my car in exchange for a smaller car and I paid off all short to medium term debt. I started restricting myself financially and I saved more. I limited eating out, stopped using a personal trainer, downgraded my medical aid to a hospital plan and really started monitoring my spending through the little things including daily coffee expenses. Every cent counted and I knew that I needed to feel financially secure to make the jump. Fortunately, everything came together.
It has been just under a year since you pursued your endeavors as a full time entrepreneur. What are some of the blind spots that you believe aspiring entrepreneurs should be aware of?
It has been about 4 months to be exact. I would advise aspiring entrepreneurs not to do it alone and to rather involve people in various fields to interrogate their business model and come up with various avenues to aid the success of the business. I am very grateful for my business partners, employees and consultants who apply themselves to my business, share their various views and cover my blind spots.
It is also very important to know how your business runs from the front end to the back end. There is just so much to business and it takes time to understand (something which I am still doing). I believe that only once you fully understand your business can you grow and take it to the next level.
Lastly, it is imperative to always be positive, think big, start small and just motivate your staff to love what they are doing. You are only able to get the best out of people if they are passionate about what they are doing and buy into the business strategy. All my staff currently love what they do and I can see that through the surge in revenue. This was not the case a few months ago.
A myriad of articles have started surfacing uncovering the mental hardships many young adults or millennials face due to the pressure of a) being in a society that glamorizes being an entrepreneur and b) the financial strain and readiness it takes to become a business owner. Could you share how you prepared yourself mentally before making your decision to leave corporate?
The mental preparation was the hardest. I am Christian, so I had a conversation with God about this journey. I had to make declarations to myself about who God says I am. I had notes posted all over my home with bible declarations on my fridge, mirrors, doors, microwave ect. Every morning I would look in the mirror and declare verses such as:
- “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”
- “God supplies all my needs”
- “I am an overcomer”
- “Fear does not come near me”
- “I am above and not beneath”
- “I am strong”
- “I am wise”
It was also very important for me to have the support of those closest to me, so I had conversations with my family and close friends and everyone cheered me on and believed in me. My mother was a cornerstone in my decision making. She took a similar leap of faith when I was 10 years old. I had seen her new career unfold before my eyes and so I knew that if she could do it, I could do it too. She reminded me of her journey and told me that we start small with everything we do, but through consistency, hard work and determination the little steps become giant steps and that I should just keep at it. She shared of how she didn’t remunerate herself for the first 8 months when she started her business and that helped me prepare myself for the road ahead.
What have your biggest success at Setter Contemporary Furniture to date?
The biggest success for Setters is growth. The company is responding very well to active management and seeing so much growth over a short period of time and through such turbulent market conditions makes me believe that we are only scrapping the bottom of the barrel and gets me excited about the future prospects of the company.
Take us through what a typical work day looks like for you?
This is such a tough question for me to answer as each day is different. On a Saturday I’m typically in store from 9am till 2pm doing sales and helping clients select and customize furniture for their homes. Once a week I’m out of the office seeing fabric houses, wall paper suppliers, potential furniture suppliers, interior designers and decorators and just increasing my knowledge of the sector and looking for synergies with other companies. I typically have about 2 or 3 home consultations a week where I accompany my interior designer or sales consultant to a client’s home and we sit down with a client and understand what it is they want and then come back with a proposal for their home. I also have a day of just doing admin, analyzing sales and marketing trends and looking at the company’s finances. In between all of this there are meetings with the factory, to ensure they fully understand what our clients want, meetings with the social media and marketing consultant, photographer and other external consultants. There’s a lot to my days and no two days are the same.
The biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made is: I cannot think of any big sacrifices I have made. Some may say leaving formal employment was a sacrifice but I feel it was natural and more of a privilege many wish they had.
The greatest self-marketing/branding tool is… believing in yourself.
Best investment: Setters.
Worst money mistake: Investing in a Mandela coin.
Advice in 3 words: Live your dreams.
Products From Setters Contemporary Furniture [www.settersfurniture.co.za]