Portia Mngomezulu grew up in Phalaborwa, living with her maternal grandmother.
She comes from a family of matriarchs, who were self-employed and constantly taught her the importance of being her own boss, and building a legacy for herself.
When she was 8 years old, she moved to Kriel in Mpumalanga, to stay with her parents.
Growing up, Portia would take scraps of material left over from her seamstress mother’s creations, and make decorative cushions to sell or plait people’s hair. This creativity allowed her to start earning at an early age by herself.
She’s the eldest of her mother’s 3 children, she studied Information Technology at Tshwane University of Technology, and completed the qualification in 2002.
Afterwards, she enrolled for a certificate in Project Management through Unisa and completed it. She then managed to secure an internship at Siemens — where she worked for 9 years.
In 2010, she developed stretch marks after conceiving her first child. Her husband is from Swaziland, and on one of their visits to her mother-in-law, she told her how the oil from marula fruit can fix her skin ailments.
Portia then bought a 500 ml bottle of the oil from local rural women and tried it out. She saw major differences within weeks, the oil did wonders for her skin, which made her keep buying more.
One time she bought the marula oil again but instead of applying it on herself, she re-packaged the oil into 100 ml bottles and sold it for R100 to church members and Facebook friends.
She received great reception from her clients, this motivated her to establish her own cosmetics company.
As a Christian, she believed there’s greatness in everyone’s name. She thought if people can buy Elizabeth Arden and not even know who she is, why can’t they buy Portia M???
She then revisited a folder on her computer titled ‘My Journey To Greatness’ and started writing down exactly what she wanted to achieve with her skincare brand.
She continued with conducting her research – reading books, articles and watching videos. During that period, she was assisted by one of the founders of Placecol with product formulation.
From the get-go, Portia was adamant she didn’t wanna go into the network marketing route. She wanted to compete at retail level, she saw her product on the shelves, next to the big international brands.
She knew right away that getting the paperwork was a crucial step in the growth of her business. Personal care products are subjected to many different tests before being placed on the market for sale.
Convinced she was onto something, she approached the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), and asked to have her products tested.
SEDA arranged for the tests to be conducted by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) at the Sefako Makgato Health Sciences University(previously known as MEDUNSA) in early 2012.
This whole process took six months, during which she continued to sell, without taking any cent from the business.
After the approval from SABS, she was a step closer to seeing her brand come to life.
She continued formulating and making products using a two-plate stove, a cake mixer and ‘paraffin funnel’ to fill containers in her garage.
Seeing the business taking too much of her time, she resigned from her job position, and received a R356 000 payout – which she used as her startup capital.
She got all sorts of criticism from family and close friends over what they deemed a dumb decision…..but Portia didn’t care, she knew one day they would swallow their words.
On the day she resigned, she got a call from Massmart, inviting her to meet with their buyer and just like that, she was offered a fully paid scholarship for a business degree.
She enrolled for the qualification at Gibbs in 2014.
She approached Makro’s skincare buyer to showcase her products, and the rep was impressed with everything besides her packaging.
Portia then hustled to get her packaging in order within 2 weeks – where she spent tons of money.
She got a big breakthrough when Makro agreed to start her out with five stores to sell her products.
ABSA Supplier Programme
She exhibited her products at the ABSA Supplier Programme and through touring cities with the programme in Cape Town, she met Suzanne Ackerman in 2015, the daughter of Raymond Ackerman – founder of Pick N Pay.
Suzanne was impressed by the fact that Portia had tested her products, and the barcodes were in place. Through Suzanne as the Transformation Director, she managed to get placed in 20 Pick n Pay stores.
Getting PortiaM out there wasn’t easy at all, she didn’t have funding and was still manufacturing from her garage.
Fortunately, she managed to win DTI’s Emerging Supplier Award in Tshwane in 2015.
She also met with representatives from The Innovation Hub during a ceremony, who offered her factory space for a fraction of the price.
She went from using a two-plate stove in her garage to using a 1400 sqm building with state-of-theart equipment in 2016.
She was named a National Gazelle(flagship SME programme) by SEDA and Department of Small Business in 2017, whereby she won a grant of R1 million. This allowed her to buy manufacturing equipment and a truck for making deliveries.
Portia has certainly come a long way since the days of selling her products to her Facebook friends and church members. She now has a full range of cosmetic products, which she supplies to over 1 600 stores countrywide.
Her products are available at Shoprite, Pick N Pay, Spar, Game, Checkers, Dischem and Clicks……as well as stores in neighboring countries like Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia.
Start small to achieve big…
According to Portia, aspiring entrepreneurs should get into the market right away, so that they can tweak and perfect their product while its still small…..this will lay the foundations for a much larger business.
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