Entrepreneur Success Story
Q&A With Elrine Oosthuizen from Esodo Ventures
How did you get started?
One box at a time, that’s how it started. Covid left us scrambling, looking for new opportunities and taking risks that we would never have considered being standard IRP 5 employees all our lives. As a sports event coordinator with no events on the horizon my husband faced a challenging season as we hit lockdown 5 in SA. He managed to find some part-time work at a steel factory where they manufactured steri-stands. (Those foot operated hand sanitising stands) Whilst working at this factory, the manager asked him to please deal with a very persistent customer from an African country, desperately wanting some steri stands. No easy task – borders closed at the time and with very limited flights it took a while for this first pallet to reach the client. Over time my husband built a decent working relationship with him sending product as needed. Couple of months down the line, the demand for steri stands reached a plateau, lockdown restrictions slowly lifted and we once again had to make a plan to provide for our family of 5. We received a call from our African client proposing that we start an exports business, separate from the steel factory and steri stands. He won’t be able to travel to SA soon and he needs a partner in SA. This was a major decision for us, we have never met this client, we don’t have a specific product to export and we knew the absolute minimum about exports and the financial rules and regulations governing exports. My husband (the ever optimistic) saw this as a great opportunity! Since the client agreed to pay upfront, we decided to ride this wave as long as it lasts. Box by box we slowly started procuring and exporting whatever our client requested. Two years down the line our client flew to SA with his wife and we finally had a chance to meet in person. It was an amazing time together reflecting on the progress and just the humble beginnings we shared. He has subsequently managed to become a procurement officer for some large companies in his home country, which currently provides for the majority of our exports.
What was your largest learning curve?
Forex and freight.
Getting funds out of Africa has been a big headache and we have tried numerous ways to find a reliable and cost-effective method of transferring funds. Watch this space.
We have been fortunate to partner with a great freight forwarder who has become a major part of our journey. Even so, transportation can be tricky at times – our goods have been offloaded at the last minute due to space and weight limitations on flights. Trucks can sometimes take days to get across the border and mechanical issues along the way can result in big delays. These situations cannot be avoided altogether and make it difficult to stick to delivery dates and promises to the end customer.
What advice do you have for new importers and exporters?
Coffee… simply because my golf would most certainly loose us some business! In SA it is important to build up a decent network of suppliers (if you do not have your own product). Regular coffee check-ins with your partners and service providers are an absolute must-do to keep those relationships healthy and very often this presents opportunities to swap contacts and new leads. Much better to work with new clients if they were referred to you by a reliable friend/partner.
Advice on growth?
Define what you stand for. Since the events space opened up again, my husband went back to organising sporting events and I made the decision to resign and take over the export company full time. I have been involved from the start, but now I want to dedicate all my work to this. The main thing was to define what I wanted to do since this would ultimately help to grow in the right direction. Is it the best price, great service, reliable deadlines, and biggest client list? Define this and keep preparations for growth front of mind. Making lists of clients and suppliers, keeping data neatly filed etc.
Advice on exporting to Africa?
Keep the moral high ground. Africa presents amazing opportunities for business, but at times the boundaries can be very fuzzy. Decide what you stand for and stick to your own boundaries. Having a great accounting firm keeping us on the right track has also been instrumental in our business.