The power of using natural resources for healing and has turned Ntshantsha Tafeni’s passion into a blossoming business. Starting out in 2009, her company, Yivani Ezi Ndaba, is now producing natural essential oils for the local and international market using South African indigenous herbs.
When this Eastern Cape born Hope Factory mentee formed a partnership with a friend to start their own company, she never in her wildest dreams could have imagined that two familiar herbs Imphepho (also known as kooigoed in Afrikaans and Everlasting in English) and umhlonyane (wormwood) would set the cosmetics industry alight. And it all started with her realising that people have stopped using indigenous herbs because of the stigma associated with it. Tafeni identified a gap in the market and decided to start package the herbs into essential oils for medicinal and spiritual use.
Armed with a B.Com Degree and an MBA – her background in marketing, brand management and new product development at among others Unifruco/Capespan, Parmalat, Nestle and Edgars, Ntshantsha Tafeni was geared for success.
Would you mind telling us more about how it came that you started your own business, Yivani Ezi Ndaba, in 2009?
I joined forces with a friend that I’ve worked with in two FMCG companies. We both had a dream that oneday we will do what we’ve been doing successfully for big companies, starting our own brand and a range of products. I am very passionate about herbs and natural healing alternatives. Like any other black person I grew up using herbs, but diverted to conventional medicine at some stage. Whilst pursuing a career in marketing, through research, I found that I could still go back to using herbs but in another form. The same benefits I used to get from herbs, I can now get in an oil form. This got me rolling on doing more research on oils made out of herbs that are popular among SA communities. Our concept then was borne focusing on using South African indigenous oils as actives to soothe, heal and pampering of bodies and skin.
Where does the name Yivani Ezi Ndaba come from? And can you tell us more about your catchy pay off line: “Igniting the herbal power”?
Yivani Ezi Ndaba is a popular Methodist hymn, literally meaning “Come listen to the newsflash”. We chose this name for its profound meaning, but also because the concept is based on educating people about benefits of going back to using natural healing. Igniting herbal power: Yivani is all about bringing back all the goodness of natural healing and educating people on how great the it is to tap into this power.
Who or what inspired your interest in the power of herbs?
I grew up using herbs. My grandmother, who was a staunch believer in natural healing, planted this seed. When we were ill with minor ailments she would prescribe a variety of herbs - from colds to stomach trouble or headache, there was always a herb to sort you out. Because of this knowledge and experience it became an obvious choice for me to rather ignite the herbal power compared to continue using conventional and chemicals.
You focus on Imphepho and Umhlonyane. What exactly is it and why did you choose those two?
Besides that these are fantastic oils for the skin, they are also oils that any person who grew up using herbs will identify with. They go across all the colours of the Rainbow Nation.
Can you tell us more about what you produce?
Yivani Naturals was established in 2011 by a black woman to manufacture beauty therapy products and cosmetics made with natural South African indigenous oils. The company responded to the growing shift in the world towards natural health alternatives to add value to holistic therapy of mind body and soul. The products are manufactured in Randburg, Johannesburg. We produce a wide variety of personal care, beauty, cosmetic and skin care to the strictest quality standards.
Where can people buy your goods?
Locally we are still concentrated in Johannesburg, distributing at health spa’s, cosmetics shops, salons, exhibitions, online and at a number of other distributors.
Why do you think your products stand out from those of your competitors?
We use all natural ingredients, promote locally grown oils, produce good quality products, we’re well priced and we’re EU registered.
Your products are now also available in the United Kingdom and will soon be available in the United States. How did this come about?
Through vigorous exhibiting of the brand and products, networking, best practice, and sponsored programs from the DTI, SEDA and the Branson Centre.
How will you go about expanding your range and your business?
We have just received a grant from SEDA to manufacture machinery to automate manufacturing processes. Moving to a new bigger plant in three months time will increase manufacturing capacity drastically. We will focus on new product development and increasing our footprint and distributing channels. We are already talking to stakeholders and have signed contracts for distribution channels in India, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. We will also be expanding and converting the Yivani site to become an online shopping site.
You accolade among others the dti and SEDA for contributing to the growth of Yivani Naturals and in helping you build your brand in SA and abroad. Can you tell us about your journey with both?
The government has a lot of grants to support and grow SMEs in SA. Yivani has received a R600 000 grant from SEDA to manufacture machinery. We’ve received sponsored trips from dti to exhibit our products nationally and internationally, and we undertook trade missions with them. In general we have attended a lot of training session through these institutions.
Can you tell us about your involvement with the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship and what it means to you and other like-minded SMMEs?
The foundation course a well-rounded experience offering not only formal business best practices, but also an opportunity to network and learn from other SMEs. Because of endless opportunities created by the Branson Centre, Yivani Naturals has now secured a UK based client. Through the centre I was able to present Yivani to Nedbank. I am now associated with the Hook Up Dinner and have had many invitations to exhibitions. I was also able to present to James Caan of the Dragon’s Den. The benefits are endless. Best of all, I got to meet my idol, Sir Richard Branson - what an amazing opportunity. The interaction with the Branson Centre has opened so many doors for Yivani.
You have attended the attended Sir Richard’s personal mentorship programmes. What are the biggest lessons you have learnt from him?
Be humble, work hard, have fun, do something you love, always strive for dreams that wake up your creative juices, always give back, don’t work alone, there’s always help out there, yes it is possible. Be authentic!
What are some of the major challenges SMMEs are experiencing with regard to being entrepreneurs?
Being a small to medium enterprise, it is always difficult to convince people that you know what you are doing. Convincing people that your products are as good as those made by big companies. Building manufacturing capacity and getting funding for this are also issues we constantly have to deal with. Getting the foot in the door at the big retail stores in South Africa is also challenging. Getting my product tested for quality and efficacy are very expensive tests. But I am now working with eGoli Bio, CSIR, SABS to assist in these arrears.
Obtaining finance is normally an issue – how did you go about financing your business and keeping the doors open?
I financed it from my own pocket. When the company was formed I had a very good business partner, Bulelwa Mapongwana, who has since resigned three years ago. We were both eager to build a brand of our own, and we then digged into our own pockets. A black person’s pocket is not that deep, hence the funds started drying up quickly. My husband and family have been very supportive in these dry patches, financially and emotionally. I then looked up to the banks who rejected my proposals right upfront. That didn’t discourage me and I continued pursuing my dream. I then joined The Hope Factory Mentorship who offered the mentorship program, business skills training, grants for operations and a great networking platform
How did the programme enhance your business skills?
I have gained more than what I have bargained for and got a lot of business training. This program starts you from basic principles of running a business, accounting, how to market your business, developing a business plan, how to be ready for presenting the business for investment opportunities, the list is endless. I got to network with other entrepreneurs, got business and gave business to other SMEs, received R20 000 for equipment to expand the business capacity. A plus is having a mentor dedicated to your development.
How did you go about taking your business public?
Through lots of exhibitions, word of mouth and free PR programs. Basically it was and still is a slow process as the company does not have big budgets for big launches, but mentorships like The Hope Factory really do help in getting SMEs free publicity.
Can you tell us about the importance of entrepreneurs to network and support each other?
There are a lot of SME development programs. The private sector through BEE compliance have started to explore entrepreneur development. Good mentorship programs offered to us by centres like The Hope Factory, Government and its agencies, Branson Centre are all very beneficial. Business networking sessions, creating exposure for your company by participating in exhibitions also helps. Of outmost importance is to get yourself into a program or an incubation that will encompass all of these. Don’t work in isolation, and most of all do educate yourself about your industry, keep equipping and updating yourself with relevant skills needed to run a company and about your products, competition and regulations.
What would be your ultimate achievement in your business?
YIVANI’s business philosophy is based on the principles of growing with others as we grow. Built on the foundation of empowerment (lifting others as we rise), thus setting a trend that if you can dream it, you can do it! My dream will be fulfilled when I’ve empowered a lot of women and youth, and this cannot be quantified in numbers unfortunately. For South Africa to grow and be a better place we need a lot of companies that can commit to this, a lot are doing it already, but we still need more.