Her story one of triumph in the face of adversity, Zimbabwean entrepreneur Christina Mutodi moved to South Africa in 1994, at the advent of the country’s democracy.
A qualified mechanical engineer at the time, Mutodi left the field to pursue a career in Information Technology, acquiring an Honours degree in IT as well as an MBA.
Working for some time as an IT manager in Standard Bank, in 2009 disaster struck and Mutodi was retrenched after her maternity leave when her department was merged with another and her position became redundant. Facing unemployment with a new born, she quickly began searching for another job, but found the job market difficult to penetrate as she was overqualified for many positions. She explains “It wasn’t easy, I would send out CVs and sometimes have to leave the MBA out because I was overqualified.”
Frustrated, she began searching for business opportunities with a friend. The first was an opportunity in tissue paper manufacturing but was faced with yet another challenge. Funding and start-up capital. Dismissing the tissue paper manufacturing concept due to its high set-up costs, she decided to start cleaning solutions brand Favourite Brands with financial support from family and friends.
Starting out in her garage, Mutodi sourced generic detergents tweaking the formulas until she was satisfied with the results and had created her own recipe. “I use my own products and I’m a bit particular. I don’t like using [nonsense].” By 2013 she had perfected the recipe and launched Favourite Brands, originally retailing out of her garage and supplying regular customers amongst her circle.
She soon expanded however and was faced with a dilemma “I couldn’t advertise and say come buy from my house, that would put my family in danger.” Taking a leap of faith, she began searching for a permanent home for Favourite Brands, settling in Riversands Incubation Hub. She explains “If you need market, you need to go to somewhere with exposure. Not every Tom, Dick and Harry could have come to my house to buy my products”. Whilst acknowledging the benefits of targeting major retailers with her products, Mutodi’s vision stays with the underdogs as her preferred retailers are mini-marts and spaza shops.
Growing from a one-woman show, Favourite Brands now employs four people, a fact that Mutodi is most proud of “Employees make or break a business, what makes business is the right people”. How does she manage the challenges of being an employer as compared to being an employee? Mutodi thanks her experience as an IT manager “Being a manager is like running a small business, I had people answering to me then. The only difference is as an employer, the financial responsibilities also fall on you.”
A mother of three daughters, Mutodi admits that it is not always easy to balance starting a business and a family life. “It’s hard, you know. Some weekends, you work if it’s busy and you don’t spend much time with your kids. If you’re lucky, you have a helper but even then you need to be there. If you have an excellent support system financially, then it becomes easier but even then it’s not easy.”
Her biggest tip to a budding entrepreneur? Have patience. “The journey is quite lonely, it’s not easy. There are times I wanted to quit but people around me would say, you’ve come so far you can’t give up now.” Her favourite mantra is the Chinese proverb “A journey of a thousand miles, begins with one step.”
Driven by her experience in struggling to find funding and start a business, Mutodi’s future plans include writing a dissertation on funding in South Africa, to assist other entrepreneurs.