From Side Hustle To Small Enterprise: How One Entrepreneur Failure-Proofed His Business

Despite generating 34% of the country’s GDP and employing approximately 60% of its workforce, the failure rate for South Africa’s small businesses is one of the highest in the world, with roughly 80% closing down within the first five years due to challenges such as lack of access to markets, tools and technology.

Entrepreneur and Founder of Native Décor, Vusani Ravele, experienced these among other hurdles when he first transitioned his part-time furniture-building side hustle into his permanent profession in 2016. Subsequently, these were exacerbated by events like the COVID-19 lockdowns and the 2021 riots. However, by adopting an omnichannel approach, he successfully turned his once hobby into a household name.

Laurian Venter, Sales Director at, South Africa’s original daily deals site, emphasises that in today’s dynamic business landscape, an omnichannel strategy is not just a competitive advantage; but a lifeline for entrepreneurs navigating challenges and building resilient businesses. “Vusani’s success with Native Décor is a testament to this and we are proud to have played a part in unlocking avenues for growth for his business and other SMEs.”

Back in 2015, little did Ravele realise that when he received a cordless drill as a Valentine’s Day gift, it would mark the beginning of his successful small business journey. Not only did his company survive the five-year failure mark but now manufactures between 800 and 1,000 products per month, distributed throughout South Africa. Native Décor has also expanded its team to employ 11 full-time and three part-time staff members.

Ravele shares that he was always entrepreneurial, but when Native Décor caught the eye of a Shark Tank judge, he finally had the funding to leave his corporate job to pursue his passion.

Embracing the online opportunity

From the outset, he prioritised the online market as the primary sales channel for the business. “I’m quite strategic and when I started my business, while I recognised the importance of having a physical presence, the future was online. Additionally, I noticed a gap in the online furniture market, presenting an opportunity.”

Operating online has enabled the company to make data-driven decisions. “As a manufacturer, it’s challenging to predict trends for the next season. “However, with access to data, we are guided in the right direction. For instance, we can analyse what our competitors are doing, track emerging trends on social media and monitor what our potential and existing customers are talking about. All this is crucial for our ideation and planning processes,” explains Ravele.

He adds that having an online presence has also been beneficial for consumers who can now compare prices, conduct research, and shop from anywhere in the world.

The power of partnerships

Part of Ravele’s online strategy was to partner with established online retailers like “This has meant that despite disruptions like lockdowns and riots, we were able to keep on selling our products.”

Beyond providing alternative avenues for trading in times of crisis, he believes these partnerships can help propel small businesses forward. “For example, many entrepreneurs lack the resources to build their own websites. And, while having a website can certainly help, it’s not the only way for your business to engage with and sell to customers – you could tap into these marketplaces.”

“These channels can also offer opportunities for businesses to scale their reach,” notes Ravele. “To illustrate, with reaching 3,3 million newsletter subscribers, 4,1 million app opens and 957,882 unique website visitors per month, our brand has gained exposure to a larger audience than we would have been able to achieve on our own. With only one in five new entrepreneurs having customers outside of South Africa, this expanded reach could facilitate entry into new markets, especially connectivity continues to bridge the gaps between countries and continents.”

He concludes by encouraging other entrepreneurs to consider trading online from the get-go so that they won’t have to unlearn how they were doing things offline and figure out how the online world works. “If a company starts online, they have a much easier time. And once they get the basics right, the opportunities are endless.”

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