Malawi: Founder of dairy company discusses her journey so far

Mdingase Tewete is the managing director of Kombeza Foods, a dairy processing company in Malawi. The business was started in 2017 and produces yoghurt.

1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

One of the main challenges we have in Malawi is getting the right information. The dairy industry is very closed – we only have a handful of big players. It is difficult to troubleshoot problems or get information on things such as equipment.

To overcome this, I’ve learnt to speak more about my business and articulate the challenges we have. This led to people coming forward, saying, ‘Why don’t you try this?’ or ‘You should speak to so and so’. If you don’t put yourself out there, you won’t be able to access this information.

I never tire of learning. Last year we visited a company called Bio Foods in Kenya to learn from what they are doing and to see what is happening in the industry.

2. What business achievement are you most proud of?

In the beginning we produced 30 litres a day but now we are doing over 2,000 litres. We started with drinking yoghurt but today we also produce regular yoghurt. We were the first Malawian company to make yoghurt with real fruit – no one here does it.

Kombeza’s products

Two years down the line we now source from more than 200 farmers, we employ over 25 people, and our products are sold in Shoprite and throughout the country. Even the government, through the agriculture ministry, is recognising our work by trying to send students for internships. It’s amazing.

3. Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.

I’m a perfectionist. Sometimes it takes quite a long time for me to be convinced that what we are doing is good. When something is not going well, I often feel like giving up. I also get tired. This usually happens when we are going through production issues, such as having to discard a lot of product that didn’t come out right, or when we get customer complaints on social media. During these times, one wonders if it is really worth it.

However, I’ve learnt to accept that I’m in this for the long run and that giving up is not an option. We just have to find ways and means to resolve our issues. I have a support system of a few other entrepreneurs who give me advice. Whenever I’m experiencing an issue, I first talk to them before making drastic decisions.

Mdingase with her employees

4. What conventional business wisdom do you disagree with?

Firstly, I don’t believe one needs a lot of money to launch a business. Secondly, I don’t agree that an entrepreneur needs a complete business plan and everything figured about before starting. What you think the business is when starting is usually not what you end up with. I think a business plan should happen only a year or two after being in business.

5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?

If I knew entrepreneurship would be this hard, I would have prepared myself better mentally. When you see successful people, you never see all the problems they went through to get there. All these people also went through challenges, sleepless nights and times when they considered giving up. However, all people see is the Mercedes-Benz and the millions in the bank.

Further reading

[July 2020] The journey so far: Dare Okoudjou, CEO, MFS Africa
[July 2020] The journey so far: Abraham Cambridge, CEO, Sun Exchange (South Africa)
[July 2020] The journey so far: Segun and Ronke Abiona, founders, Nicole and Giovanni (Nigeria)
[June 2020] The journey so far: Faiz Bashir, CEO, FlexiSAF (Nigeria)
[May 2020] The journey so far: Nosakhare Oyegun, co-founder, Festival Coins (Nigeria)