Ludwick Marishane has never been a fan of bathing. On a winter’s day in 2007, a friend gave him an idea that not only became his bread and butter but allowed him to stay clean without bathing.
“Historically, people used to do bucket baths once or twice a week. Showering every day is a marketing behavior. Big companies said ‘we are selling soap but people aren’t using it often enough [so] we need to create a culture that says you need to bath everyday’. So they made a beautiful business model where basically they sell us soaps that dry our skin and then sell us lotion to use soon after,” he says.
As we meet, he hasn’t showered for three days and he has been rewarded for it. Google named him one of the most intelligent young brains in the universe; he was voted the best student entrepreneur in the world by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization; and he was named by the magazine you are reading now as one of Africa’s 30 under 30 most promising entrepreneurs in 2015.
Marishane built a company with few resources and a love for science. This is despite the fact he couldn’t even speak English in grade two.
“I remember I bought a burger at lunch in school and this girl came to me to ask how much the burger was but I basically repeated what she was saying because I didn’t know how to respond,” he says.
From then on, his father taught him how to be the CEO of his education.
“My dad abused me with books. Every day at 7PM I had to present to my dad what I learned that day. I had to do a page of English, life skills and maths every day and I always had extra homework,” recalls Marishane.
The hard work paid off. He became an A student by grade four.
All was good until he had to move back to Limpopo, near the border of Zimbabwe, to live with his mother. Life was different. He says his school was the size of his dad’s backyard in Johannesburg and the kids weren’t as competitive in the classroom. He got bored. Entrepreneurship was the answer.
“My mom and dad didn’t have this child support thing. They had clear lines of communication and when I was with one parent, that’s the parent who took care of me. When I lived with my mom, we lived on my mom’s salary and it was tight. She was a cashier and life wasn’t the same as when I lived with my dad.”
Marishane knew he had to make money, yet, instead of working on quick-money businesses like selling ice, he worked on long-term big-money ideas.
From grade nine, he tried and failed to start many businesses.
First, he tried the biodiesel space but failed because of high competition with bigger companies. Then it was a healthy cigarette, followed by a safety kit for families and then a safety magazine which also failed because of a lack of funds.
No matter the heartache, he never gave up.
In 2007, the big idea came. A friend of his didn’t want to bathe. Marishane and others nagged him to go shower. He fired back with a question: “Why doesn’t somebody invent something I can just put on my skin and I don’t need to bathe?”
The light bulb flickered. The question rang in his ears for hours.
“Immediately, I knew I was a customer for this. I also hated showering. I have never been a fan because of the bucket bath. We had no geyser and we had to boil water. We always had to schedule it and I was never a fan. The odor was what always exposed me to my mom,” says Marishane.
Research found nothing but a big gap in the market and even a bigger pool of potential customers. There were billions of people around the world without running water and a large percentage of those were here at home – Africa.
Marishane then hatched the idea for the world’s first bath-substituting skin gel that cleans without water. He formulated the product and, fittingly, called it DryBath. He then filed for a provisional patent to protect it in 2008. At the age of 17, it made him the youngest patent filer at the time, he says.
With the patent for DryBath in the bag, there was still a shortage of money. To fund the first prototype, he entered business plan competitions. It took him three years just to get the R20,000 ($1,700) needed. When he finally had enough, the prototype was a flop.
“One of the ingredients I had used flaked on the skin and there was no scent. It wasn’t a great product experience,” he says.
It was time to get help. He approached Hennie du Plessis, a chemical engineer and a leader in the formulation industry, and offered him a 25% stake in the company in exchange for his help with product development and packaging. Together, they improved the formula, and resolved the problems, up to 10 times before the final product they sell today was ready.
“We made a product that removes dead skin cells and body odor by just applying it on your body,” says Marishane.
More work was needed though.
“We had created the solution but we didn’t fully understand what the problem was. I remember when, for example, my current business partner, Lungelo Linda Dlamini, joined us, one of the philosophical questions we asked was what it actually means to be clean and we realized we didn’t know the answer. We saw we were trying to sell a product that cleans people when we don’t know how people feel clean,” he says.
It meant more research to understand their market.
“We found that some people would say being clean is when body odor is removed, some would say it’s when they wear clean clothes, and others say the quiet time they get showering is what they need to feel clean while other would say they need water on their skin.”
Marishane says they found that most people felt clean with the removal of body odour so they added body wipes to their innovation.
“The human psychology of saying ‘there is dirt on my skin and it needs to go somewhere’ led to us adding the wipes to the product. Now, for those who need it, it is the psychology of saying, ‘I put this product on, it removes the dirt and smell on my body and then I wipe it off’. For some reason people prefer that. The question I used to get most was where the dirt goes. It showed me people needed to wipe.”
Even with that revelation, there was another stumbling block in his way. At a minimum of R150 ($12.50) per bottle, which gives you 15 washes, their product was too expensive for the people he was targeting.
“We even tried to sell to governments around Africa for R2.50 ($0.20) per wash, but it was still too high for their budget,” he says.
The business model had to change.
“We then decided to target middle income homes who could afford this product. The idea is then that through selling to them, we can build economies of scale necessary to bring the price down to R5 ($0.40) per wash,” says Marishane.
Most of their clients are from Europe and Asia. But in South Africa, with Cape Town’s water crisis, it is boom time.
“We made about five times more revenue in February than we did the whole year in the last financial year… Now we are doing a crowdfunding campaign so that we can be able to sell the product for less,” he says.
Marishane is proof that anything is possible. He has made sure people can wash without a drop of water in sight.
What Will It Take To Close The Funding Gap For Black Female Founders?
If you’ve heard the statistics once, you’ve probably heard them a thousand times: Of the nearly $100 billion in venture funding that goes to entrepreneurs in America, less than 3% goes to female founders and just 0.2% goes to black female founders.
There’s a growing consensus that venture capital’s race problem needs to be fixed.What’s less clear is precisely how to start closing the massive gulf. And at the inaugural Black Women Raise conference in Manhattan on Friday, a gathering of some 80 black female founders, a series of candid conversations laid bare the frustrations around the lack of an obvious path forward. In several raw moments of interchange, however, some answers started to emerge.
Investors “could ask different questions,” Charles Hudson, founder and managing partner of Precursor Ventures, said during a panel conversation with BBG’s Susan Lyne, First Round Capital’s Hayley Barna, and Female Founder’s Fund Sutian Dong. “There are all these questions—‘Well, do you think she can recruit? Do you think she can hire?’—I know what’s behind that question.
It’s ‘Do you think she can get people to work for her because she’s a black woman?’ And people ask these, what on the surface sound like innocent enough legitimate questions about investments, but they’re not innocent. They’re loaded. And you learn a lot by the questions people ask.”
Despite the existence (and, arguably, preponderance) of these loaded questions, Hudson and the others cautioned the entrepreneurs in the room against becoming disillusioned with the traditional venture capital community. Instead, they said, minority founders should prioritize investors who have a track record of investing in entrepreneurs who look like them.
“Vet investors up front. Don’t let them waste your time only to give you a half-ass answer after you spend an hour with them or even two weeks later,” said Barna, who started her venture capital career after successfully cofounding e-commerce darling Birch Box. “Just ask, ‘Is this in your sweet spot?’”
Dong noted that investors should be self-monitoring for where they’re over- and under-indexing, too. “We’ve said we don’t like the ratio of founders in our portfolio. About half are nonwhite, but only two are African-American. So we asked our network who we should be talking to,” she said.
It can be hard, in an open and on-the-record forum, to ask the hard questions about investing in underrepresented founders—much less to receive forthright answers to those questions—but to the credit of the Black Women Raise attendees, no one shied away from speaking about the reality of her experience as a founder of color.
“Everyone talks about the ‘friends and family round.’ I raised $63,000; I am the friends and family round,” quipped Star Cunningham, founder and CEO of health management platform 4D Healthware. But underpinning her self-funding, Cunningham continued, was a lack of capital access. “I have debt, because I had to get it, because no one wanted to give me any money. So what are you, as investors, going to do to look at our companies differently?”
Barna’s reply: Don’t be afraid to talk about your distance traveled. “The same stories about people getting straight A’s from Ivy League schools isn’t what gets us fired up; it’s instead hearing about how someone put themselves through med school from driving an ambulance,” she said. “You might think that you’re not supposed to talk about your life story, but I think it’s an important data point in helping [investors] make the right decision.”
This isn’t to say that a little bit of information and clever storytelling will fix the funding gap for founders of color. Viola Llewellyn, cofounder of African fintech platform Ovamba, pointed out as much, saying that many of the investors she’s come across don’t seem interested in asking the questions that lead to the sorts of decisions Barna is referencing.
“Here’s the problem: No one gets punished intellectually, emotionally, or financially for saying no to black women or to Africans. You will instead be congratulated if you don’t make the ‘foolish mistake’ of investing in something that doesn’t fit into the preconceived ideas of what success is,” Llewellyn said to Hudson, Lyne, Barna and Dong.
“At what point do we find a way to tell the story of the fool that said no?” she continued, to applause from the room.
Hudson waited a beat, and responded with empathy.
“There’s a million reasons [for investors] to say no, but until we have more success stories, I think there’s always an easy out for people to say, ‘No one has proven to me that investing in this way and this type of person works out.’ It’s intellectually lazy and it’s wrong,” he said. “You have every right to be angry.”
Angry, yes, but also motivated. Among the clearest takeaways from the conversation is that one of the best ways to change the system is to start from within. In Silicon Valley and Arlan Hamilton parlance, fight pattern-matching with pattern-matching.
“More black women need to control capital, in whatever form that may be,” Dong said. “More black women need to be controlling capital to put that into companies run by black female founders.”
Masai Ujiri’s dream of harnessing untapped African talent
The President of Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri, on his adoration for Africa as a continent filled with unlimited potential and talent.
The tall man in sport, Masai Ujiri, is a name in professional basketball far beyond the borders of Africa and his native Nigeria.
Born in England but having grown up in Zaria in Africa’s most populous country, Ujiri’s adoration for Africa sees him on the continent often, inspiring the youth.
“Africa is no more afraid. We are not afraid of anybody anymore. The continent is bold. The people are bold,” says Ujiri, when FORBES AFRICA meets him in Johannesburg in November at the Africa Investment Forum in which he participated.
The continent has a special place in his heart.
The President of the Toronto Raptors in the National Basketball Association (NBA), also founded Giants of Africa (GOA) in 2003, as a way of harnessing budding, untapped talent.
“As long as I am in a position where I am able to, we have to give the youth a chance. We have to pave a path for them and there is nothing I can’t do. I have to do everything, it is an obligation, I have to be an example for them by creating that pathway,” he says.
Ujiri, who started playing basketball at the age of 13, travels to Africa every August to visit the GOA camps across seven countries on the continent, training young boys and girls to be leaders in both sport and everyday life.
He says he draws inspiration from each and every country in Africa, and the feeling is inexplicable.
The history and culture are a constant reminder of his years growing up in Africa.
Whether it is in Kenya, where his mother was born, or the lasting friendships in Rwanda, Senegal or Nigeria, each country holds special memories.
Apart from the numerous trips in and out of the continent, 2018 granted Ujiri a rare once-in-a-lifetime moment.
This was in July when Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, visited Kenya, and with him, Ujiri opened a basketball court in the country.
Ujiri’s outreach program GOA launched it at the Sauti Kuu Foundation Sports, Resources and Vocational Centre in Alego; familiar ground for both leaders.
Managed by Auma Obama, Sauti Kuu, much like GOA, is focused on youth development.
“To spend that time with somebody that Africa means so much to, meant so much to me and so much to Auma. We are trying to inspire youth, we built a court that is going to impact the youth and that was special,” says Ujiri.
Being able to scout African talent is what is imperative for Ujiri, and it all comes down to building facilities to help the youth play basketball.
Ultimately, his dream for Africa is not only to see material wealth but for talent to go beyond what he has achieved.
“My dream is to have one of the youth become bigger than me, and bigger than everybody. People think I always dream of building this and doing that but I want one of these kids to take everything that they learn and do better in each and everything.
“I love the continent; I love the culture of different places. I am almost like Anthony Bourdain [the late American celebrity chef], that is how it really is with basketball, with the culture, the people and the food,” says Ujiri.
Staying true to his African roots, when we meet him, Ujiri speaks about his favorite yam and stew dish that he says reminds him of his childhood.
It’s such memories that see him taking the long-haul flight out of Toronto to Africa each year.
Brewing Success: Lessons From A Beer Baron
Canadian John Sleeman shares his entrepreneurial lessons with Africa.
cis not your typical textbook entrepreneur. His belief in what it takes to be an entrepreneur is so controversial that his advice is no longer welcome in MBA classes. The white-haired charismatic brewer, who re-established his family’s brewing business in 1988 as one of the most successful in Canada, offers sage advice to African entrepreneurs, although he has no plans to expand in Africa – yet.
Nonchalantly, in his automated beer manufacturing plant in Guelph, Canada, surrounded by people enjoying his craft beer, Sleeman says he believes entrepreneurs are born, not made. He argues that unless you are prepared to go bankrupt, work over 80 hours a week, lose your friends, face the prospect of divorce, put your house on mortgage and miss meeting friends for drinks on Fridays, then entrepreneurship is not for you.
He should know. This is the toll he took to restart his family business. It had lost its licence and was banned from the market for 50 years in 1933. This was for smuggling beer during the roaring 1920s by brokering deals with bootleggers and gangsters like Al Capone when prohibition set in in Canada.
Passionately, the beer baron, who plans to open a micro-distillery later this year, and is considering expanding his business in either the eastern or western parts of Canada, tells FORBES AFRICA: “If you want to be an entrepreneur, be very focused on what you want to achieve and don’t let people talk you out of it. If it is a dream, pursue it until you are successful.”
He attributes his success to surrounding himself with the right people. They will make or break your business, says Sleeman. You should be ready to change your business model if the current one isn’t working, he adds.
In his own case, he did this after his colleague advised him that rather than opening up new breweries across Canada, he should buy existing ones that share Sleeman Breweries’ crazy passion for beer and authenticity.
Sleeman reckons you shouldn’t grow so big that you lose your entrepreneurial flair, first-mover advantage and risk-appetite, but you also shouldn’t remain so small that you get knocked out of business or get bought out by someone who does not see your vision and wants to dismantle you, as it almost happened to his business in 2006. If you do sell, reminisces Sleeman, sell to someone who sees your vision, like Sleeman Breweries did, when Japanese company Sapporo saved the Guelph-based firm from a hostile takeover.
But that’s history. Since then, Sapporo has helped fund research and development and training for the business, whose humble, down-to-earth founder is now taking it on its next spirited journey.
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