Nompumelelo (Mpoomy) Ledwaba is the darling of social media. In a mere 12 months, she has grown her Instagram following to close to 100,000.
The 24-year-old was first introduced to the media-crazy masses when she married South African Idols finalist and recording artist, Brenden Praise (Ledwaba). It intrigued thousands and generated quick clicks, likes and follows. She is today an influencer in her own right.
It is a warm Friday afternoon in Melville, a hip suburb in Johannesburg, South Africa, when we meet Mpoomy and Brenden at their nail and coffee bar located on the bustling 7th Street. The salon is packed with women getting their nails done for the weekend. The room is painted grey and decorated in white and spurts of pink and yellow.
Stars such as Mapaseka Koetle-Nyokong, Mmatema Moremi, Jessica Nkosi and Thickleeyonce come here for nail pampering.
This is a world away from where it all began in Middelburg, a farming and industrial town in eastern South Africa where Mpoomy was born. She moved to Johannesburg to study accounting at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). In her second year, she took on a job as a banker at Investec to pave the way for a career in corporate.
“It was a busy year. I worked from 4PM until midnight or from midnight till 8AM. In between, I had classes to attend. It was fun at first until I got bored and frustrated,” says Mpoomy.
It marked the beginning of a journey that broke and built her.
First, she quit her job.
“I didn’t diagnose it as depression but now because I understand what depression is, I know it could have been that,” she says.
Then, she did something no one thought she would.
It was in one of UJ’s exam halls where she was scheduled to take her finance exam. On this day, she says she was well-prepared. The examiner gave students 10 minutes reading time before the exam started. During this time, students plan their answers to the questions but Mpoomy says she was planning a business.
“When the examiner said ‘you may start’, I hadn’t read through the exam questions. I tried to page through it but I just couldn’t start. I stood up and I left the room and I never went back,” she says.
It was a brave move. She had no money, no experience and she knew her parents would not be impressed.
“I went home to my parents immediately. I think my mom knew this could happen. She wasn’t shocked but she was hurt… My dad was upset. I stayed home for a day and my mom told me to go back to Johannesburg to write my exam and I refused but still went back to Johannesburg.”
Her father cut her off financially. It was time for Mpoomy to fend for herself. The road to entrepreneurship was cold, lonely and frustrating.
“I didn’t even ask my dad why he wasn’t sending me money anymore. I knew I had lost the right to do so because I had decided to be an adult by making that decision. He didn’t owe me anything. I was hurt and upset but I’m grateful that happened because it gave me the push to hustle. I even tried to borrow R10,000 ($703) from my mother to do a nail course and she refused,” she says.
Although the plan was not clear and everyone around her said she was making a mistake, Mpoomy says she had faith her dream to open a nail business would one day come true.
“I spent my days crying and praying. It was a tough time. I knew I had made the right decision but everyone and everything around me tried to break me,” she says.
According to Mpoomy, Brenden, her then boyfriend and now husband, is the only one who shared the same faith.
“He was there with me all the way no matter what. He supported me and told me everything will be ok,” says the now-pregnant Mpoomy.
While trying to find her way, she joined a modeling agency. Her first job was a billboard and a TV advert that paid her R22,000 ($1,546). Following in her father’s footsteps, she invested it in a cleaning business.
“My dad’s business started as a cleaning company. He was a hustler trying to figure things out. Now, he manufactures various cleaning products and has a safety line…one day, when I was home, my mom was reading a magazine and came across an article that listed 10 businesses that require no startup capital and she showed it to me and I knew I had to start,” says Mpoomy.
She made a flier of her new-born cleaning business and posted it on WhatsApp groups. She found her first customers. She ran it for a year until she had to clean client homes herself.
“In December, all my helpers went home for the holidays and I had to clean for our clients. It was tough and I learned you can’t start a business in something you don’t know or you are not passionate about,” she says.
In January 2017, she got married and Brenden gave her R15,000 ($1,054) to go to nail school.
“He had just paid lobola and we had just gotten married which didn’t come cheap and now he had just invested in my education. Although my fees were paid, we didn’t have money for transport. At our wedding, someone gave us an envelope with R2,000 ($140) and that is what we used,” says Mpoomy, her eyes watering.
Life got tougher.
“We sacrificed everything we had to get started. We had financial problems at the time. It was the first year of our marriage and we had so many things to do. We just worried about getting through the day. I remember there was one time I didn’t know if we were going to have food for the rest of the month,” she says.
After three months, she was ready to get working experience but no one would hire her. She then mounted a poster on her car advertising her services and started a mobile nail salon.
“I did my nails every three days. We would go to a restaurant every week because they have a lunch special for R50 ($3) that comes with unlimited wifi. We would download videos so I learned how to be better.”
The mobile salon grew and she started making about R1,000 ($70) a day. She knew it was time to grow, open a shop and employ staff. With the help of a mentor, she opened Aneno Nail & Coffee Bar.
“A week before our opening, I asked a family friend, who is a celebrity, to help me by coming to my nail bar and have her nails done for free and advertise on social media so I can get clients, but she undermined me. I could tell from the way she looked at me. She told me she works with big brands…I was hurt but I understood that you don’t need anyone to make something successful. God is the one who makes things happen.”
Today, she employs six people and plans to get into the hair industry, create a nail product line and then franchise the business. This is definitely not the last time you hear about this small-town girl with big dreams.