Lesedi Tshabalala is the managing director and co-founder of Lefelo Foods, a food and beverage company founded in 2022. Lefelo Foods is centered around creating a food and beverage company that encompasses the spirit of Ubuntu and puts people first.
The name is a combination of both the founder’s names, Tsholofelo and Lesedi. The pair put together Le and Felo to create Lefelo which means a place in Setswana, and it aligns with their objectives to make a difference in people’s lives.
The FMCG company’s flagship product is AmaShwamShwam puffs because it is a South African staple and relatable product many grew up with that perfectly encompasses Ubuntu.
Like many businesses, Lefelo Foods was birthed during COVID-19. Tshabalala explains that they realised that food is essential and wanted to solve the problem of food shortages faced by many South Africans. “The goal was to create a high quality low-cost food and beverage products that the general population could afford,” he adds.
Other than the difficult situation that COVID-19 brought, entrepreneurship was an answer to their desire to make a change in their communities. “We had witnessed the toll unemployment takes on most individuals, and so we were hoping that by creating high-quality low-cost products and employment at the same time, we’ would be making a difference,” he elaborates.
Other than helping another stumbling challenge was building a customer base, this required the organisation and the sales team to head out there and interact with potential consumers directly. “You need to understand the consumer’s needs and wants. Once you have an understanding of what they need/want then the process of building a successful customer base becomes much more straightforward.”
As diverse as the FMCG industry is, it is also saturated and highly competitive. For Tshabalala, some of the challenges they are facing in the industry is crime and other socio-economic factors. “Having been robbed at gunpoint made us realize how tough and unforgiving the environment is for small and micro businesses. We also face the age old challenge of access to funding in order to expand our operations and hire more staff. The biggest challenge however, is getting our products in stores. Most store owners and wholesalers are reluctant to stock up on new products for fear of not being able to sell them fast enough,” he shares.
Fortunately, this journey has taught him resilience, perseverance, and patience. He explains that as an entrepreneur, one must be willing and ready to solve problems in the business and be strong enough to persevere through difficult times.
Despite this, he says there is no such thing as an overnight success. Consistency is key, and being consistent during the good and bad days is important.
As we wrap up yet another year, the entrepreneurial landscape continues to change. According to Tshabalala, it has become much more challenging in the entrepreneurial landscape over the past few years, and this is because of the economic downturn the country is facing. This is why starting a business is easy, but keeping one up and running is difficult, and growing it is much more difficult.
How is he getting right? By marketing the business through various channels such as social media. “Our most successful marketing tactic is going out there and engaging with the end users of our products,” he empahsis.
More importantly is creating a culture of Ubuntu. “No one is better than anyone and we are all equal human beings. This has helped us build strong bonds with our teams and as a result, we are more productive. In my organization we are all allowed to express our views and positive options in order to create a much more friendly work environment,” he explains.
This also makes generating new ideas more organic. His method is identifying a problem/issue, identifying possible solutions, and trying them out through trial and error. This doesn’t take away his fear of completely closing down the business but this is managed by being consistent in sales and keeping the operating costs as low as possible.
So is there a pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur? Tshabalala says NO. “I don’t believe there’s a pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur.”
Luckily entrepreneurship for him is about learning, and being an entrepreneur means you learn every day and he enjoys learning. This is why success for him means accomplishing or reaching one’s goals/dreams.
Bringing ideas to life has been his most satisfying moment in business. “Being able to think of an idea, conceptualize it, create prototypes, make adjustments, and finally have the final product is really satisfying,” he concludes.