MAMONGAE MAHLARE: Women entrepreneurs — breaking into retail with e-commerce
Selling online is opening doors for innovation, growth, and economic transformation
E-commerce has emerged as a powerful force for empowerment, particularly for women entrepreneurs looking to break into the retail sector. This digital revolution has democratised access to quality retail products for countless South Africans, transcending geographical constraints and opening doors for innovation, growth, and economic transformation.
For those venturing into the world of entrepreneurship, e-commerce offers a remarkable avenue to transform their business dreams into reality. Whether it’s a side project or a passion that’s been waiting to be unleashed, the digital marketplace provides a platform to nurture and scale these aspirations.
The beauty of this model lies in its accessibility — you can cultivate a thriving business from your own location, be it a suburban neighbourhood or a bustling township. This empowerment stems from the ability to start or expand a business while instantly connecting with a broad customer base from day one.
The appeal of e-commerce lies not only in its accessibility but also in its speed. Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar retail, where the journey from concept to storefront can span months or even years, e-commerce accelerates this process dramatically. In a matter of weeks, entrepreneurs can establish a digital presence and begin serving their customers. The need for extensive capital to construct physical stores is diminished, giving more people the chance to realise their entrepreneurial ambitions.
Women-led businesses in SA still only make up 21% of the formal small and medium-sized enterprise sector. This is why it’s critical that we grow e-commerce to help shift this. Drawing on insights from my own career journey, I want to share several key principles that I believe can help to empower more women entrepreneurs to do just that.
Having grown up in Sekhukhuneland, Limpopo, I had the chance to attend a school with teacher volunteers from the US and UK. This exposed me early on to people from different backgrounds and cultures. From there, I left to study chemical engineering and science at Wits University in Johannesburg, which was also a melting pot of different sociopolitical and economic dynamics. After graduation, I had the opportunity to work in many different industries, from Unilever through to SABMiller and Illovo Sugar, before joining Takealot.
What I’ve taken from this journey is that diversity of experience is an invaluable source of learning. Exposure to people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, whether through education or work, broadens perspectives and informs innovative thinking. Harnessing these varied experiences can shape resilient and adaptable entrepreneurs capable of navigating complex challenges.
I’ve always believed in following your passion. This is something that’s been driven by my aspiration to always be improving myself. For those wanting to start a business, it often starts with pursuing your interests and allowing curiosity to guide your path. Embrace the unknown and keep challenging yourself to learn, grow, and contribute in unexpected ways. Breaking barriers in your own life can lead to pioneering achievements, and may even mean starting the next great SA brand or business.
It can seem daunting to start a business, but always remember that simplicity is the key to effective problem-solving. Break down complex issues into manageable components and define the core problem clearly. If you can understand the problem, you can begin to identify a way forward. This approach has always helped me to chart a course towards well-informed solutions that truly address the challenge at hand.
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Collaboration and open dialogue are powerful tools for innovation. Engage with diverse perspectives, acknowledge that no-one has all the answers, and always explore a range of solutions to any business problem. This approach cultivates creative thinking and yields innovative ideas that might otherwise have remained hidden.
Something I've learnt over the years is always to expect the unexpected. Having spent time in various countries and workplaces, I’ve come to find that sometimes all you can do is dive into the deep end. And when you do that, it’s essential to be flexible and adaptable, and learn to embrace uncertainty as an opportunity for growth and learning. Be unafraid to ask questions, even if they seem simple — this can lead to breakthroughs and unexpected successes.
Related to that last piece of advice is this: context matters. When entering new markets or sectors in retail, take the time to understand the unique culture, challenges, and nuances that shape that environment. A
well-informed approach tailored to local realities will increase your chances of success.
As a woman in business, I think it’s our responsibility to create a conducive and supportive ecosystem for empowerment. So be sure to leverage online platforms and networking opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals, share experiences, and gain insights that propel your journey forward. In the case of Takealot, we’re making this possible through our Business Accelerator programme, which gives our marketplace sellers access to invaluable business skills development and training, mentorship and virtual masterclasses delivered by expert partners and specialists.
• Mahlare is CEO of Takealot Group.
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