Mogau Seshoene sees untapped opportunity in traditional South African food.
Take us back to the beginning
Worried about making a good impression on her in-laws, Mogau Seshoene’s friend – a city girl with limited cooking skills who was about to marry into a very traditional Zulu family – needed to learn how to prepare traditional South African dishes. And quickly.
After Seshoene gave her some cooking lessons, she realised there was a gap in the market. In 2014, Seshoene left her corporate finance job to start The Lazy Makoti, offering cooking lessons to makotis (meaning ‘young brides’).
“That is actually where the name comes from, a fun witty take on the expectations that still exist for African girls to merge Western and African ideals that involve being custodians of our unique cultures, particularly the heritage that is our cuisine,” Seshoene explains.
The Lazy Makoti has since evolved into a food solutions company that provides cooking lessons, recipe development and bespoke catering. It also sells a range of contemporary handcrafted kitchen accessories like aprons and chopping boards.
How did the entrepreneur grow the company into the business it is today?
Through The Hookup Dinner, an entrepreneurial support network, Seshoene received R150,000 (about US$12,700) in capital after winning their Lean Jump startup competition in 2015. The money was used to set up her business and pay for culinary school.
“I didn’t want to wing it just because I love cooking. I wanted to equip myself with the necessary qualifications and skills,” says Seshoene, who also has a degree in consumer science and retail management from the University of Pretoria.
Social media played a pivotal role in the growth of The Lazy Makoti. “Plenty of our clients have come through social media, be it through interacting with our pages or ‘word of mouth’ through other people’s pages on social media,” she explains. “We went from a Facebook page that shares recipes to providing comprehensive cooking classes and a cookbook that comes out later this June.”
For now, Seshoene remains committed to promoting South African culture and heritage through education about its traditional local cuisine. She hopes to build a food empire and do everything from offering cooking lessons, to publishing a cookbook and producing a TV show.
A few years ago, she discovered the United Nations’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, a directory of endangered social practices, culture and knowledge around the world in need of immediate safeguarding, because of their significance to the human race.
“On this essential list is everything from Japanese, French and Italian food but no African food. This greatly disturbed and disappointed me. Now I am celebrating and promoting our unique cuisine, and hopefully, one day get our food on that list as well,” Seshoene says.
“While I value the global outlook I believe it’s time for Africans to take pride in our own heritage and work to preserve and maybe improve it instead of assimilating into everyone else’s.”
Anything we can learn from her experiences?
From meeting Oprah Winfrey and former US President Barack Obama through the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders programme to making some of the most celebrated lists, such as the Mail & Guardian top 200 young South Africans and the Forbes Africa 30 under 30, Seshoene has enjoyed great support.
However, she admits there have been many mistakes. “If I had the chance to start this business again, I would probably be more confident to ask for help,” she says.
“I once missed out on a client due to not being prepared. We were introduced at an event and I wasn’t prepared to give them a short pitch,” Seshoene recalls. That experience taught her to always be ready to promote her offering –whenever, wherever.
“There isn’t always time to set up a meeting, but the 10 minutes they can spare can be all you need to sell them on your idea,” Seshoene advises budding entrepreneurs.
“Have a five-minute elevator pitch, which is a short summary overview of who you are, what you do and how and what ‘problem’ you are providing the solution to. This will help you be sure that you actually know your story, the how and why of your business and will also give confidence to whoever you are speaking to.”