From passion project to business success | Fin24

From passion project to business success

Mar 17 2016 14:00
Jon Pienaar and Mandy de Waal

It’s Monday, and you’re at work, but you’re dreaming of the day when you can follow your heart and turn your side project into a major business that will not only sustain you, but reward you. The good news is that this is possible. The bad news is that it does take time, effort, and, in some cases, a little luck.

Yuppiechef, one of South Africa’s most successful e-commerce websites, was started by two colleagues while they were building websites for other people.

Shane Dryden, Andrew Smith and two of their colleagues had been setting up websites, creating marketing campaigns and building systems for other companies for years, but wanted to trade online themselves.

Premium online kitchenware

In 2005, during a three-day entrepreneurial event, they launched their first e-commerce website. In the year that followed, the team experimented with online stores, learning about e-commerce in the process.

Their third attempt was called Yuppiechef, the premium kitchenware site, which quickly eclipsed everything else that they were working on.

“A huge factor in our success was being in the right place at the right time,” says Evan Torrance, managing director of Yuppiechef, who came to the brand in April 2015 from retail legend, Cape Union Mart.

“We had enough knowledge of e-commerce and the kitchen industry and we could start with no competitors,” he says, adding: “These lucky circumstances can’t be overestimated.”

“On top of that we [incorporated] a lot of customer care, and we made sure that we hired a team that shared our passion and values. Today we sell very similar products at similar prices to other companies, but customers appreciate the way they are treated, and they give us their loyalty in exchange,” Torrance says.

So what’s the secret to turning a passion project from a side-line project into a full-scale success?

“We are living in an incredible time in history when two people in a lounge and little capital can start a business and take on the big guys. If you are feeling the entrepreneurial tug, and have a means of supporting yourself for at least a year, our advice is to start. Succeed or fail, you will learn the most thorough and valuable lessons from the school of life,” advises Torrance of Yuppiechef, which has become an online sensation for local foodies who love the brand.

Managing growth has been a key lesson for the burgeoning online store, which went international in August last year.

“A friend once told us that the toughest aspect of a business is staff and stock, and we have plenty of both! Bringing on many new team members in a short period of time, and creating roles and structures out of nothing isn’t easy,” explains Torrance.

“We draw inspiration from other companies and mentors, but mostly we try and build the type of business that we ourselves want to work in, and generally this leads to a happy team.”

He adds: “Cash flow is a challenge for most businesses, and while we could initially start in a lounge holding no stock, we now have a very big warehouse full to the roof, and all the costs that come with that. We got here by trying to walk the fine balance of ‘grow as fast as you can, but as slowly as you need to’.”

Today Yuppiechef’s services include an online cooking school, a test kitchen and an online magazine.

Life-changing ice cream

For Kristen Buttress – owner of Kristen’s Kick Ass Ice Cream – keeping customers delighted is everything.

Reaching out to people online with her unique flavours and interesting photography (through Instagram) was a big contributor to turning her love of making ice cream into a fully fledged business.

Buttress is a qualified American ER nursing sister who moved to South Africa in 2014 after marrying a local. But her career was put on hold when her attempt to take the local nursing board exam was snarled up in red tape.

While waiting to hear from the nursing board, she started making ice cream, because she and her husband had been given an ice cream maker as a wedding gift.

Buttress had always loved the frozen sweet treats, and very soon everyone who tasted her unique flavours was begging for more.

She started an Instagram account, called Kristen’s Kick Ass Ice Cream, and soon what was something to while away the time, was bringing in cash.

When Pete de Bruin, an IT careerist-cum-hospitality entrepreneur, and Franck Dangereux, celebrity chef extraordinaire – the owners of The Foodbarn at Noordhoek Farm Village in Cape Town – tasted Buttress’s frozen deserts, they were hooked. And when they arranged a tasting of her adventurous flavours, she was puzzled.

“I thought they wanted me to put ice cream in the deli, or supply the restaurant,” she says. But the two offered the small-batch, artisanal ice cream maker a store in their country-styled, foodie haven.

“As a nurse I had no business experience, but I said ‘Yes,’” Buttress recounts. Fortunately she could call on the expertise of her husband, tech entrepreneur Mark Buttress, who guided her with the legalities, she says.

The pair compiled a spreadsheet, outlining costs and earnings. The shop’s position ensures good passing trade, so the numbers worked out. Kristen’s Kick Ass Ice Cream opened shortly before last year’s December holidays.

“It wasn’t so much a learning curve as a straight up vertical line,” Buttress laughs. “I went from working in an acute care medical facility in New York to this,” she says, beaming broadly and alluding to the beauty that is the Noordhoek surrounds. “I feel like I’m living among unicorns – I have to pinch myself.”

When it comes to making her customers happy, it’s all about the taste and quality of the ingredients. “It’s not just ice cream,” says Buttress. “It’s ice cream like your grandma would make. What is paramount is the quality of the product.”

Buttress’s kitchen is outfitted with two ice cream makers, each being able to process three litres at a time.

Buttress is careful to cater for a variety of tastes, but also experiments with adventurous combinations.

“The kids here have a more mature palate,” she says, “so they will try basil ice cream or mint with actual leaves, which has a more herbal flavour. I also like the ice cream to be visually stimulating, so the raspberry will have swirls of fruit running through it.”

Just a few months since it opened, Kristen’s Kick Ass Ice Cream has already been featured in magazines like Gourmet and Glamour, even though the artisanal foodie hasn’t actively marketed the business, relying on passing trade and word-of-mouth. The really good news? “We are on course to being profitable in the first year,” Buttress says, smiling.

The fashion blog that wrote its own rules

Moving from food to fashion, enter Malibongwe Tyilo, who hails from King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape. But this editorial fashion phenomenon didn’t allow his small-town background to put him at a disadvantage with the city slickers.

“Many of South Africa’s creative minds come from small towns, villages and townships,” says Tyilo, explaining that often the people who come to the city and push and move things are “here for a specific reason and with specific goals”.

“So my own journey is not an exception to the rule, it could possibly be the rule,” Tyilo says.

Trained in fashion design, the co-founder of the famously fabulous landed a job with a major clothing retailer, but found himself becoming creatively frustrated.

“I loved my job,” he says, “but my choices at work were governed by market forces: what would sell, what wouldn’t. I started the blog because I wanted to share the creativity surrounding me, as well as have a space where I could create, without thinking about sales or anything to do with market forces,” Tyilo explains.

Launched in 2010 in collaboration with trends analyst and fashion writer, Sandiso Ngubane, the original blog was called Skattie What Are You Wearing?.

Quality and careful content curation have always been a mainstay for the Skattie duo, and because of this friends and associates readily shared posts. Quality is its own reward, but people started taking notice − the following year Tyilo was awarded the Marie Claire Prix d’Excellence Best Fashion Blogger award.

Over the years, Tyilo has long been recognised by SA’s fashion cognoscenti. Former Elle editor Jackie Burger named Tyilo as her choice for Most Inspiring Man in SA, and he was selected as one of the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans in 2013.

While the blog itself doesn’t make any money − Tyilo says that he actively avoided monetising the blog − it has opened new doors for its co-founders. Skattie was appointed the sole media partner for Africa for the Hyères Fashion and Photography Festival, and Tyilo travels to the town of Hyères in the south of France every year to cover the event.

“Skattie has opened an opportunity for me to totally change my career to lifestyle journalism,” says Tyilo.

“I joined Visi as editor-at-large which I continue to do, and as of last year I also joined the Elle fashion team as contributing editor, as well as writing columns for Woolworths’ W and Taste magazines. So though I didn’t make money directly from the blog, I earned money indirectly as all my work came because of the blog.”

Going forward, the redesigned site and its brand extensions look set to become a vehicle for profits, as Tyilo and Ngubane aim to generate revenue from their creation.

“A lot of the quality we have achieved is through mutually beneficial partnerships. I always say to people that getting things done is less about how much money one has and more about access. Mutually beneficial partnerships and considered networks can provide incredible access to the resources we need to make our dreams a reality,” he says.

“We want to grow Skattie to be the go-to place for news about fashion on the continent,” Tyilo adds.

What with SkattieTV; an events offering; and partnerships that yield luxurious, arty magazines, Tyilo and Ngubane have solid media vehicles for drawing both attention and brand support.

Enter SKATTIE CELEBRATES − a space that invites artists and designers to create the kinds of work they might not be able to create in their more commercial endeavours, and you’ve got a winning formula.

This article originally appeared in the 10 March 2016 edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here

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