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The Secret Payoff of Mentoring a Young Entrepreneur

Last week, Renée Rouleau, CEO of the Dallas-based skin care and spa company that bears her name, played host/mentor to Ntombenhle Khathwane, a young South Africa entrepreneur who makes organic hair care products. Khathwane is a recent winner of the African business competition, Pitch & Polish, which was sponsored by EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) at its annual EO University. As part of the prize package, Khathwane received a weeklong stay with an EO member. When Khathwane was announced as the winner, Rouleau, who was at the Capetown event and is a member of EO Dallas, immediately offered to host her. "I wanted to do it because our companies are synergistic," she says. "My grandmother was a hairdresser and worked hard all her life, and I'm an esthetician." As it turned, it wasn't just Khathwane who benefited from the experience.
Khathwane's company, Afro Botanic, makes organic hair care products for African women, and she sells them in her own shop and through local beauty salons. "For my target market, there is not access to the Internet to buy products online," she says. Rouleau, on the other hands, does a brisk online business and also sells her line of 60 or so products at her two spas. While both the companies and the markets are very different, both women gained a bit of global perspective, and came away with tips and tools to grow their respective companies.

Khathwane learned:

  • To stay focused. "It's so easy to get sucked into many different projects," she says. "People try to convince you to increase your product line. From Renée, I've learned to keep my focus narrow for now."
  • That a strong brand is essential. "Our products are organic and contain all natural ingredients, but all that is new to the African market," she says. "So we need to make our packaging more clear so that it educates people about the ingredients." Rouleau brand revolves around her own skin care expertise and how she positions herself as an expert at identifying her customer's specific needs.
  • The importance of social media. "Renée has very personal relationships with her customers through Facebook and Twitter, and she doesn't spend a lot of money on advertising and marketing," says Khathwane. In fact, when Rouleau travels, she'll frequently set up personal consultations with customers who she meets through her social media presence.
Rouleau learned:
  • To stay focused. How about that? Putting herself in Khathwarne's shoes helped Rouleau re-learn a critically important lesson. "I remembered what it was like in the early years, when there are so many directions you can go in," she says. "But once you start down a path, you need to stick to it. Her next move will be very important, and putting myself in her shoes reminded me of the importance of good decision making."
  • To mind the numbers. "Ntombenhle is much more focused on numbers and the financial side of the business than I am," says Rouleau. "She asked me questions that I really should know the answers to, but didn't. I get so caught up in the creative side that I sometimes forget the importance of the numbers." Rouleau recently hired a CFO consultant.
Khathwarne has a meeting next month with Dutch investors who will help her grow Afro Botanic. For now, she's sticking to the Aftican market; plans to export to the U.S. are in the distant future. But when that happens, Rouleau will be there to lend a hand.

Have you ever mentored another entrepreneur, or been mentored by someone who helped grow your business? Tell us about it.

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