De Fynne Nursery started in 2001 when Jacky Goliath and Elton Jefthas – who met while studying horticulture – decided to launch a wholesale nursery for fynbos, a shrub-like family of plants that are indigenous to the Western Cape of South Africa. With little capital, their nursery first started in Jefthas’s backyard.
As market demand grew, the nursery moved to a 0.5 hectare land in 2005, and in 2008 had to move again to a 1.5 hectare area outside Cape Town where they currently host 600,000 plants. However, the almost endless demand in the market has meant that they have outgrown their current nursery and will be expanding to a 22 hectare area by the end of October.
Both Goliath and Jefthas worked for Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products (ASNAPP) – an NGO – prior to starting De Fynne, where Goliath assisted in the propagation and setting up of plant producing nurseries in African markets, such as Zambia and Ghana.
Today they are experiencing ever entrepreneur’s dream: their business cannot keep up with the demand for fynbos, and they are expanding constantly. De Fynne supplies its products to retailers such as Woolworths, Massmart and Spar who in turn sell the plants to consumers for their personal gardens or display in their homes. They have also recently started contract growing for the commercial agricultural sector.
De Fynne’s growth has not gone unrecognised and Goliath received the title of Female Entrepreneur for 2011 – both provincially and nationally – by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in South Africa. She also received the award for African Agribusiness Entrepreneur for 2012 by Markets Matter Inc.
Goliath has learnt a number of valuable business lessons, which she has shared with How we made it in Africa.
1. Find your market first
“Do a market assessment. It all depends what you are going to sell,” advised Goliath. “Say, for example, it’s bread, and you want to sell it from your home, then talk to your neighbours… the people around you; [find out] if there is a need for it. If it’s a nursery then of course you need to now go broader; who are you going to sell it to? Is it a retail nursery? Are you going to sell it to the public, or are you going to be a wholesaler?”
“We started with fynbos because we saw that it was where the market and opening was,” she continued. “There was an opportunity with the fynbos.”
During her time working for ASNAPP in various African markets, Goliath saw entrepreneurs start to grow something before knowing who to sell it to. “Especially with fragile and perishable stuff, it’s important to have your market first because those [products] can’t stay on the shelves for longer than maybe two weeks or, if it’s tomatoes, then not even a week. So it’s very important to have your market first, so do a market assessment.”
She added that the next step is to do your costing, and figure out if you can sell a product at the price that the market wants it for.
2. Start small, grow one step at a time
Goliath said that when she first started De Fynne, she had to still work part-time at ASNAPP in order to earn a living. She left in 2008 when De Fynne’s business started to blossom and required her full attention. “None of us came from rich families so we had to grow it out of our own pocket and I also had to wait for the business to be big enough to actually pay my salary,” she explained. “And that’s why it was a fading out of ASNAPP and fading into De Fynne.”
Goliath advises entrepreneurs to start small, and to grow organically. One of the major reasons for this is that if an entrepreneur makes a mistake when the business is still small, the losses might not be as crippling as it would have been if the business had taken on a massive loan to support a huge venture that then fails.
“You should start small, because if we hadn’t started small, I wouldn’t have learnt all those lessons and I have grown with time… So you see what people want or do not want, what grows and does not grow, because with the fynbos market there are some fynbos plants that we have seen that we cannot grow.”
Goliath added that when you start small, you should not immediately invest in the most expensive, state-of-the-art equipment. “See what you have in your environment and what can work for you with the resources that you have.”