Sincengile Ntshingila: Do what you love and what you are passionate about

I love it when women are breaking away from corporate jobs that don’t encourage professional growth. So many women are breaking away from stagnant careers in male-dominated industries. These women are becoming entrepreneurs, pursuing a line of work that they feel passionate about. Meet Sincengile Ntshingila, a formidable woman who is breaking boundaries in the hair industry. I honestly enjoyed reading her honest and inspiring entrepreneurial journey. In this interview, she doesn't hold back on the struggles she faced and she's also not short on inspiration. Here is her story where she talks about her business, Lecacci Hair Restoration Center and the business lessons she's learned along the way.

Tell us about your career path. How did you get your start?
I am an economist by profession and I was working for government for nine years. I got tired and resigned, but I did not know what to do with myself. So I decided to start a salon. Then I thought:  "how do I become different from any other salon out there"? I had already noticed I have a lot of customers that suffer from hair loss. This is the point where I thought I could pursue this part of my business and meet my customers's needs. I did not have formal training in hair or hair loss so this meant that I had to learn everything form scratch and had to do it fast. I went to China and India. mostly because these are one of the countries that have a booming hair industry. I wanted to know how the people grow their hair to such an extent that they can sell it. I learnt a lot, came back and adapted their methods to our SA dynamics. It is also at this point that I started formulating my own products.

What prompted you to think this is the kind of company you should start?
This was part of my differentiation strategy. At first I decided to focus on hair loss, but I later realised that I'm limiting myself in a small nitche. I then decided to position my self as a healthy hair specialist.

How do you setup a business like yours – what’s involved in setting up a business like this?
This business requires one to understand the anatomy and physiology of hair, interaction with the body system, etc. Hairloss is a symptom of an underlying factor inside your body, which may be temporal or permanent. It is therefore imperative to understand the causes and treat it accordingly. Formulating the products is also a scientific exercise. One needs to understand chemistry to know how to mix the products. But the least one can have is a biological understanding of the human body - then know what one wants to achieve and pass that information to chemistry engineers.

How is LeCacci Hair primarily financed and how will you continue to remain financially sustainable?
In the beginning, Lecacci Hair was self financed. Then I benefited from the SAB Tholoana Foundation in 2015. This was for setting up the business and procurement of equipment from China. I have now benefited from the TIA Seed fund for research and development of the Alopecia extracts for pharmaceuticals and cosmeceuticals. TIA also helped to test the products, while Invotech assisted in securing seed funding for further development of the product. We hope to get further funding from TIA for the construction of a GMP (Good manufacturing practic) and HACAAP accredited production facility (laboratory and manufacturing plant). The aim is to have an oral plant based and organic drug for hair-loss as well as topical products.
What are your opportunities as a company?
There are vast opportunities in this industry. We do not have lots of trichologists in the country. Trichologists are hair and scalp specialists who diagnose the causes of hair fall, hair breakage, hair thinning, miniaturization of hairs ; diseases of the scalp and treat according to cause. These trichologist only operate in the hair clinics and remain un-accessible for many in the country.
Also most of the scientific cosmetic formulators are white owned companies, a niche still exist for our black companies. I have decided to base my products on plant base compounds – phytocompounds, another subject that has not been extensively used. There is an opportunity to do plant extracts that I will use in my formulations, and will also sell to other formulators - for both pharmaceuticals and cosmoceuticals. (Cosmoceuticals is the combination of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The are products with bioactive ingredients purported to have medical or drug-like benefits).

How do you make money from your services?
I make money from selling the products, and from the treatment services.

What's your turnover?
We still turning on average R40K a month.

How many months or years did it take before became profitable?
I'm on my forth year now, am still not profitable. But I am also not doing what am supposed to do to grow the business. My main focus has been developing the products, and proof of concept. We have since proved that the treatment method works. The next step is to qualify as a doctor. I'm currently busy with my doctorate at UCT. Then will I register with Medical Council and indigenous knowledge and alternative medicines council. Then only then can charge what I have to charge from consultation to treatments. More in the same scale as dermatologists.

What have you learned in terms of marketing your business and getting it to your target market?
This is crucial and the lifeline of any business. Unfortunately I have been falling short in it. I do a bit of social media advertising, but am not doing enough. Most of my new clients of late has been through referrals, a good sign that we for real, but a whole lot still needs to happen.

Which entrepreneur/person has inspired you the most & why?
There are a lot of business people that I follow – locally Vusi Thembekwayo. He is locally brewed and has made it. Internationally, Antony Robins. I read a lot of his work. But I draw my inspiration from different elements. The other time while I was watching America Has Got Talent show, I learned about a young man who suffered sport injury, which resulted in him stuttering, He was pursuing greater things in life. He cant play sport anymore but he went to the show to do Stand Up comedy. He did just one joke about himself being the voice on a navigator, the audience, judges and myself were laughing and crying at the same time. Another one was a blind teenage boy dancing. I look at these people and think to myself. "if someone like that can break their limitations to pursue their dreams what is my excuse when am fully abled."

What has been your biggest waste of time or money in business?
I have paid a lot of school fees in my business. First it was taking a wrong partner, and the business collapsed because we spent so much time fighting instead of building the business. The second was choosing a location without the necessary research on it The first time, I ended up being broken into every other week. The second time was went I secured a place at a mall and I ended up working for rent until they closed down my shop with all my expensive equipment inside. The other mistake was over investing in the interior of the shop. I also did not have good systems for my business and this cost me dearly. Not getting the right employees also affected me hard.

Do you have any tips or advice for women who are looking to start a business like LeCacci Hair ?
This will not be just for a business like mine but any business, I find the following imperative:

  • Your business must be driven by your “WHY” everyday. Why you are in business, why this business, why these customers, why this area, why this method, why you growing/ not growing?
  • PLAN. PLAN. PLAN. Plan your business, plan yourself. Have a business strategy and have your own personal strategy and follow it. Get guidance, find a ‘good’ mentor, Remember you need advice not an opinion.
  • Do what you love and what you are passionate about. At least when the journey gets tough, and the money is not coming in you have your passion to push yourself forward. Money should not be the main reason you start a business.
  • You are going to fail. This is not an “IF” but “WHEN” situation. Failure is inevitable, but this should not be an issue. What matters is that you fail forward and keep walking no matter what This is why it's important to have a good  vision for yourself and business.
  • Be good at what you do. Sstrive to be the best in your industry. Research, go to school, do whatever it takes to put yourself ahead in the industry. Its either you grow or you die. Stay innovative in your business.
  • Customer is King. Listen to them, watch and be alert in what they need.
  • You will lose friends, your family will drive you crazy, people wont believe in you. It's OKAY. You you will gain associates. In no time the people that asked why you doing it will be asking how you did it. Mostly importantly surround yourselves with people that push you to your destiny. Remember, you cannot please everyone. Do good and leave it.
  • Find time to enjoy yourself. Don’t forget those you love and be consumed with the business. You will need them. Have more than one income stream- but don’t forget to focus on the main “chick”.
If you are in Durban or you need their products call 061 915 7360 or visit her Facebook page.