Start your business small, the lean approach was advice we got when we interviewed Dr Hajira Mashego, an inspirational entrepreneur running her own Fitness Gym Brand.
Due to travel challenges, our interview was done over the phone. I was happy Hajira had decided to speak with us about her story. Our entrepreneurship stories are meant to encourage, inspire but also teach others. Hopefully as you read, you can learn something to help your own business.
Background on Dr Mashego
Hajira holds an under-graduate degree in Physiotherapy, Advanced Diploma in Sports Management (cum laude), a Masters Degree in Public Health (cum laude) and PhD in Human Movement Science. She also completed the Social Entrepreneurship Program at GIBS in 2016, after her PhD.
Dr Mashego has a combined experience of 25 years in the health industry – majoring in sports physiotherapy, exercise science and sports management.
Tell us about yourself:
I wrote my PhD thesis on exercise and fitness within the black population – taking a close inspection in to young people and their exercise habits. What I found was that, young black people are not exercising enough, certainly not up to the recommended standards. As a result, they are more likely to suffer later in life from lifestyle diseases, and you can predict that based on their current activities.
Young black people are not exercising mainly due to lack of opportunities, transport and general attitude towards exercise. I wanted to remedy that problem when I started my business in 2018.
Tell us more about your business:
My business is a fitness gym network with three main departments. We have commercial gyms that are built to be affordable and accessible at places like malls. Secondly we have corporate gyms that are aimed at companies, to create a safe space for workout in the office. Finally we have home gyms – which can be anything from a full personal home gym or a simple gym pack with everything you need to exercise at home.
We are also currently working on creating a gym app that will compliment our gym offerings, as a on-the-go fitness trainer you can use anywhere.
When did you first decide to become an Entrepreneur:
After my PhD, I realised that I wanted to do more to solve the problem that I identified in my study. I wanted to help create accessible and affordable fitness centres for young people, and promote good exercise habits.
So I worked for a little, and cashed out my pension and set out on my own to pursue this dream.
What are the challenges you have faced in your business as an Entrepreneur:
Cash flow is definitely one of the biggest challenges I am facing right now. I am a self-funded business, I started everything with my pension payout and have since been struggling to get investors in to the business.
Access to finances and networks is a big one indeed, people don’t always trust that you are capable of running a successful business.
As a black woman in business, I have additional challenges due to being female in a male and white dominated industry. As a black woman, no one takes you seriously, everyone is waiting for you to fall off a cliff.
Everyone is waiting for you to fall off a cliff
Have you applied for business funding:
I have tried them all, I have knocked on all the doors. No one funds a start-up.
*Note – This reminded me of a recent article by Tati Digital Connect – Risk Investing in South Africa or the lack thereof.
Right now I am on the SAB Foundation, Tholoana Programme – things are looking very promising.
How has the Government helped you with your business:
Politically out there, Government will say that job creation starts with small businesses, but in reality they do not do much to help small businesses. What they say and what they do is two different things.
During the lockdown, I also applied for relief funding but was not approved.
I have received assistance from SEDA in the past, I applied to them and they added me to their database. They later assigned me a business mentor who advised that I needed ISO certification. SEDA helped me source suppliers to get me ready for ISO certification and paid for the process.
What business advice would you give young entrepreneurs starting out:
Start your business Small
This is the best advice for a young person starting out I wish I knew this when I started. When I started, I went in full force. Don’t go in full force at the beginning, no one is coming to the party to fund you. Do not expect any help, just know that you are all alone.
When you start small, you can grow your business according to the revenue that you are generating.
What keeps you up at night
COVID showed us that black people are still at the bottom of the food chain. I was so amazed to find out that 70% of all COVID relief funds went to white owned businesses.
We saw black people going hungry, having to beg for food. This exposed how black people really live from hand-t0-mouth.
I worry about how to change these things, and help our people. Question is: “how to we as Entrepreneurs impact people’s lives”. I recently started an NGO to train women and youth to become bootcamp entrepreneurs. I think that change starts with us and we can make the difference.
Get in touch:
Address: Shop 28, Madeira Shopping Centre, Danville, Pretoria