Have you noticed any gorgeously crafted wooden bags of the cylindrical variety floating around the city centres in South Africa? Or perhaps there’s been a beautiful wooden iPad case that’s caught your eye or even a backpack, clock or lamp? These are most likely the products of Indalo Décor, the brainchild of Inga Gubeka. Indalo Décor began as an interior design company but in 2012 it shifted focus and began manufacturing the most beautiful contemporary lifestyle accessories. The Cradle caught up with Inga Gubeka to chat about the startup scene in South Africa and what’s it’s like to be an entrepreneur who thrives in our entrepreneurial landscape.
· Please tell us a little about your core business
Indalo Décor is an industrial design company; we work mostly with wood, leather and canvas. We produce hand crafted, bespoke pieces based on each client’s specifications. We do innovative designs a wide range of products such as bags, accessories, carry-cases, lamps, clocks, furniture pieces and so forth. Over the years however, it is our wooden bags that have become our flagship product. They are unique and have gained a global following with orders coming from as far afield the USA, Europe the UAE, Brazil and so forth. We also do commissioned products for various corporate companies.
· How do you view the startup scene in South Africa?
I think the start up scene anywhere can be quite daunting; it is definitely not for the faint hearted. It was very difficult in the beginning, in the absence of start up capital, I remember having to choose between buying the material to produce, or buying food to eat. We have come a long way, there have been a lot of trials and tribulations but through sheer determination and hard work we have managed to rise above them and are exited about what the future holds.
· How do you view African entrepreneurship as a whole?
African entrepreneurship is very interesting; there is certain vibrancy about it. One has to be very resourceful, patient and flexible. We have to find innovative ways of overcoming our uniquely African challenges. We have to make a way where there is none and often have to take the road less traveled. We are pioneers and mavericks. I believe that we have a naturally resilient and entrepreneurial spirit. From the spaza shops in our townships, to the hawkers on our streets, to the taxi owners and so forth. Trading and entrepreneurship is all around us, the challenge is in formalizing that and reaching for greater heights.
· What do you believe are the characteristics that make a strong entrepreneur?
Persistence – few get it right the first time, many fall but true entrepreneurs get up and try again, they win because they have the strength to get up more times than they have fallen. Patience, a willingness to sacrifice and give it your all are also very important. Be very clear on what your vision is, never give up on it, even when the situation seems dire. Sometimes one has to change the course, take a different route, but the destination should remain same, the vision should never waiver. You should never listen to the naysayers who try to cast gloom, there will be many, forge ahead. Be prepared of the sleepless nights, there will be many of those too. Be prepared for the blood, sweat and tears.
· Who have been the greatest influences on you as an entrepreneur?
The obvious response would be someone like Steve Jobs who was very innovative through perseverance and hard work managed to become giant in his chosen field.
Closer to home however, I am influenced by the unsung hero’s that assist us on the ground. The entrepreneurs who invest in us, not only financially but also with their time and mentorship. Those who take us under their wings and give young guys like myself the opportunity to be able to compete in a market that would otherwise have excluded us. I have been fortunate enough to find such an entrepreneur and with assistance her company, Fezekisa Investment Holdings, we have gone from strength to strength. They believed in me as a designer, they saw the potential and believed in vision. They invested in the business and now the sky is the limit.
· How important do you think ecommerce and mcommerce is in Africa's progression?
E-commerce, m-commerce and social media have played integral part of the Indalo success story. When we started out, we did not have a marketing budget to speak of, most of our brand building was done via social media. I think we are very fortunate to be living in a time where all one needs to get your product noticed is a mobile phone and a laptop. Most of our individual clients are oversees and order our products online which allows us to deliver globally. This has been tremendously beneficial.
· How do you see your business growing in the next 12 to 18 months?
We are in the expansion phase of the business and over the next 12-18 months there will be quite a few changes at Indalo HQ. Some months ago we moved our production from Cape Town to Johannesburg and moved into new office with a bigger studio. The view is to increasing our production capacity and be able to train and employ more hands, so we can meet the increase in demand for our products. We are moving away from outsourcing important functions of our production line such as the laser cutting. We are in the process of buying our on machinery and doing every in house. This will allow us to reduce production costs. Over the years, the indalo wooden bags have already gained a steady following so in the next 18 months the focus will be more on the commissioned products with the view to further expand our corporate client base. We are passionate about youth empowerment and stimulating the township economy. Our next expansion phase will therefore be focusing on those two things will see us getting a factory in the township where the training and jobs we can provide are needed the most.
· How do you feel entrepreneurs could be better assisted by the South African government?
Lack of access to start up capital is huge stumbling block. Grants and/or loans to be able to buy machinery and expand determine whether a small business prospers or dies. Too many die at infancy stage. Entrepreneurship can be a solution to our high unemployment rate, particularly among South African youth. I believe investment to assist young entrepreneurs and enable them to create employment should be of the outmost importance.
· What challenges do you feel you personally still need to overcome?
The challenge I still need to overcome personally is balancing my creativity and my entrepreneurial obligations. As a designer I am inspired and influenced nature, I am influenced by everything around me. I wake up everyday with fresh ideas and wanting to create something new. There is so much that I would like to put out there, but I need to find a balance between that creativity and what the business, and by extension the market actually needs.
Image courtesy of Indalo Design’s Facebook page