Lessons from a tomato farmer

One of the key skills entrepreneurs learn is to weave their story (the why) into their pitch.

For that reason, I want to share the story of a young entrepreneur called Yandisa Langa.

Yandisa is the founder and owner of Mountain Tomatoes and a resident of Masiphumelele.

He was the overall winner in the Centre for Entrepreneurship’s (CFE) inaugural Poster and Pitch Competition. He responded to the invitation to graduates and existing students of False Bay College to enter an internal competition called Poster and Pitch. He entered as a graduate, having studied public administration at the Fish Hoek campus.

It proved worthwhile, as he won the Gold Award. The award comprised a R15 000 investment as seed capital towards his business.

He produces and supplies tomatoes to food retailers such as Food Lovers, The Food Barn, Easy Big and Café Roux.

Taking a leap of faith, Yandisa initially pitched his business idea to an organisation called Living Hope, opposite Masiphumelele.

With R30 000 in start-up capital, he identified and secured a plot of land to rent and started his tomato farm. Months later, he is producing A-grade tomatoes to sell into the wholesale market.

An ambitious entrepreneur, Yandisa is looking to expand his fresh-produce range to include spinach and spring onions.

Through his ongoing relationship with the CFE at the college, Yandisa will continue to receive the support he needs to develop his business model and grow his market share.

He has also competed in the more recent Engen Pitch and Polish competition. His wildcard entry reaped great results, as he proceeded to the semi-final of this national competition.

This humble, likeable young man made key decisions and took specific actions, which I am writing about in the hope that you may be able to apply them to your budding or existing business.

He began with what he had

Too many budding entrepreneurs want to start when everything is in place; risk is minimised; funds are flowing and markets are established. This is ideal, but hardly practical. Yandisa started with what was in front of him and has built his business steadily over the past year.

The tunnel he farms from required new plastic sheeting, which is quite expensive, but he found a cheaper way to make the necessary repairs.

He was willing to start small

Like many students in today’s economic climate, he was unable to find employment. He showed character by taking on a job as a security guard.

Interestingly, it was while he was doing this that he first saw the opportunity. Would he have seen it if he had been unwilling (for a season) to work to bring in an income? Remember that, “By the yard it’s hard, but by the inch it’s a cinch!”

He saw and acted on an opportunity

While at the Noordhoek Farm Village, he noticed that restaurant owners were ordering tomatoes from areas as far as 30km away. This was a logistical challenge, and he thought of growing tomatoes in the area. He is supplying restaurants and supermarkets in the area within a 5km radius.

He committed himself to working hard

If you visit his tunnel on Living Hope’s ground, you will see the evidence of hard work.

The tunnel has some 800 plants; is well protected with plastic, and irrigated by drip irrigation. This was put in as a consequence of his own personal hard work.

Budding entrepreneurs sometimes stumble because of the high need of hard work in getting their business going and growing. Remember that it is only in the dictionary that success comes before work.

He displays a high sense of responsibility

Successful entrepreneurs consistently all have a PEC (personal entrepreneurial competency) called an inner locus of control. This essentially means the entrepreneur takes responsibility for their progress, failures and growth. They don’t use the language of blame, but understand that if it is to happen it is up to them.

Those with an internal locus of control: are more likely to take responsibility for their actions; tend to work hard to achieve the things they want; feel confident in the face of challenges; report being happier and more independent and often achieve greater success in the workplace.

He understands the drivers of his business

When questioned by judges at Poster and Pitch and Pitch and Polish, Yandisa was able to show competency and forethought. He had considered risks to his business; knew the numbers in his business and was aware of the opportunities in his market.

By understanding these drivers, he was able to establish and build his own credibility with the judges. 

He deliberately sought partnerships to leverage his business

Yandisa has developed good relationships with Living Hope, business clients and the CFE. He recognises the value of a strong supportive environment.

He is looking at leveraging being a beneficiary at the CFE to grow his footprint and increase his crops.

His eyes light up when he talks about having a second and third tunnel and increasing the variety of crops to better manage demand and seasonal change.

He is confident, yet also quietly humble in his aspirations, knowing that partnerships are part of the key to his future growth.

The CFE has recently launched a rapid incubator at the Westlake campus. An innovation hub connects two mini factories. The CFE is looking for graduate students and/or young people within the engineering and furniture-making industries. Interested parties may contact Yondi Titi at 021 201 1215 for more information.

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship (CFE) at False Bay College.

His column appears once a month. Email comments or questions to Steve.Reid@falsebay.org.za or visit www.falsebayincubate.co.za for more about the CFE.