Durban is a beautiful city. It’s also rich with small business success stories, which we’ve been exploring in our Durban City Series. In Part Two, we caught up with Muhammad and Naseera Haffajee, who founded The Happiness Factory in 2010. Their first piece of advice, in business and in life, is to spread happiness wherever you go. That’s entrepreneurial enlightenment if we’ve ever seen it.
And what better way to spread happiness than with the world’s finest treats? Here are five more pearls of wisdom from Muhammad.
1. Think big, start small
It’s been a long journey, getting the Happiness Factory to where it is currently. We started in 2010; the World Cup year. My son was a year old and starting to eat solid food. We heard of a place in Pinetown that sold cereals for great prices, so we investigated.
The rumours were true, so we got home and had a conversation about buying more to sell to the community. We had a friend with a store in Richmond and began supplying him. We had no store of our own, so the operation began as a delivery service. It started small and slow.
There was no social media back then. Well, there was Facebook, but nobody advertised on there in 2010. We started with email. Our first mailing list was maybe 20 people. Just people we knew. That’s what we did for the first three or four years, growing our database.
I spent a lot of time with Google (everyone’s best friend), searching for suppliers. How would a supplier market themselves? What taglines and keywords would they use? I sent so many emails and made so many calls. That’s how we developed contacts and relationships.
Everything we bought was done by scraping things together or borrowing. We had no capital. It was difficult . Long hours of searching, calling, emailing, visiting. So many dead ends. But we knew where we wanted to be, and we knew what we had to do to get there. So we pushed on.
2. Make your word mean something
Being a two-person business, established companies were sceptical about dealing with us. We weren’t turning over a lot, so it was a challenge to build those bridges initially. Now we’re at a point where some suppliers forget about money we owe them!
You have to start by asking the right questions and doing your homework. Always try walk out of a meeting having bought something and having paid for it, even if it’s small. And believe me, for us it was. Then when you go back next time, take double and pay up front again. It sends the right message.
Some of those early meetings with suppliers were like job interviews. People wanted to see a website, which we didn’t have. They wanted to know the inner workings of the business to make sure dealing with us wouldn’t step on the toes of their bigger clients. It was hard to get someone doing business with Spar and Pick ‘n Pay to take us seriously. Our legitimacy was in question, always.
Being honest and truthful is also important for customers. For us, and many members of our community and clientele, dietary restrictions play a major role in life. Before I sell something to you, I must know what’s in it. I won’t sell it to you if I myself can’t eat it. This is the other area where trust and relationship building comes into play.
Always be transparent, always be honest. Make deals and promises where you always keep your end of the bargain. We have never given anyone a reason not to trust us. When you deliver on your word regularly, it begins to mean something.
3. Be social on social
There’s one thing you’ll learn from any social media expert or online course. The point of social media is to actually be social. Especially on Instagram. Relate to your following and stay relatable to them.
If you’re a brand, it’s not going to work if all you show people is product, product, product. We post sunrises sometimes; they’re beautiful here in Durban. Once a week, we’ll post something funny or inspirational. It shows that behind the business is real people.
Being relevant is so important. Tap into the things that your customers care about. Whether that’s a holiday or event of significance…anything! But be authentic because it means something to your customers. Being disingenuous will get you nowhere in the long run.
We aren’t social media experts but we use it in a personal capacity, following accounts that add value to our lives. So as a business, aspire to add value on your own page.
Social media is also a place for sharing and engaging. If someone interacts with you, via DM or comment or something, you must reply. Always reply. Even if you don’t know the answer, say something like “We’ll check on that and get back to you.” People appreciate it when you acknowledge them.
Every person on social is a potential brand ambassador. Happiness Factory is not advertising on billboards or in the newspaper. We have no fancy storefront. It’s word of mouth and social media, and the two are so related.
4. Go from office to open water
I don’t think I could ever work for someone again. At least not within the constraints of a 9-5 setup.
It’s not really about being your own boss, because this thing isn’t about being a boss. Or the boss. It’s about running your own life, embracing the difficulties and opportunities that come with that. You don’t have the safety net of a salary and that’s just the start.
The money to pay the bills and the money to pay yourself comes from the same place. If you don’t meet your targets, you fall short in so many ways. That makes it hard to plan ahead. Let’s say this month is good – you adjust your goals and plans for the next month, and beyond. Then next month is a total disaster and you’re depressed for a while.
But there’s only so long you can stay down. You pick yourself up, think about what went wrong and what you could have done differently. Then you launch into the next challenge, armed with new information and experience.
If something worked in the past, you probably only need a small change to get back on track. Small changes mean that you’re not changing the essence of what you’re doing – you’re just enhancing what you’re doing.
5. Expand Your Footprint
For us, the market scene is great. Especially the popup markets. There are markets all over the city and surrounds every weekend. We’re forced to skip a few in order to make an appearance at others. But it helps keep us fresh, changing up the environment we’re selling in and making sure we have a presence in the city.
The markets usually centre themselves around a certain time of the month. ‘First Friday’, ‘Second Saturday’, you know.
The I Heart Market is great. It’s outside Moses Mabhida on the first Saturday of every month. It’s nice because only local products are sold. Everything is; nothing’s imported. There’s a variety of things to buy, it’s relaxed, you can take your family and your pets. It’s a very chilled Durban vibe.
The Scene is also lovely. It’s at Hartley School. Towards the end of the month. It’s mostly food, and you get a great idea of Durban’s culinary culture there. Plenty of fantastic food, there’s something for everyone. It’s a night market as well, opening at about 4pm and going until quite late. People meet their friends and family, have a few drinks and socialise over great street food.