The Entrepreneurship Issue presented by CAN DO!
Photography by Austin Malema/Pixel Kollective
Styling by Chelsea Pitt & Nkuley Masmola
Makeup by Caroline Greeff
Words by Naledi Sibisi
For the dedicated and influential businesswoman, an undeniable display of passion and drive have played a major role in the name Zoe Msutwana has made for herself. While she is popularly known as one of the leading voices in celebrity brand collaborations and campaigns, a key focus for her this year will be her very own accessories brand – TIZIMA. Her road to success has not always been a smooth one, and she gets candid about the fact. Using the same drive and determination while acknowledging her business failures; she has managed to position herself as an advocate for entrepreneurship and a woman who embodies what it means to be unbreakable.
”My vision has always been clear”, she tells me. “GTC was the reason I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship. I knew that it was time to establish a credible and professional media brand after I left my position as a PR Account Director”. By taking a deep dive into the media landscape, Zoe felt as though she would be filling a gap where she acknowledges that there was a clear and definite decline in the industry -particularly with regards to print media which then led her to go the digital route. “I also knew that the platform would not generate revenue quickly enough for me to survive on, so I decided to create Mode Brand Studio. This was a boutique PR Agency that would look after my PR Consultancy Services. The agency was busy and demanded a lot more commitment on my end, so I had to be honest with myself about my end goal - and a PR Agency was not it”. One thing the pursuit of an entrepreneurial career highlighted as she embarked on the journey was the importance of having a good support system. “It takes everything to stay on for the ride, and the tests do not stop coming at you. I’m grateful to have a supportive family. I can pick up the phone and ask my mother for anything. I’m also fortunate enough to have a very supportive partner, who believes in my dreams even when I don’t. Having my dad, siblings and friends all on board to support me through the tough times is something I do not take for granted”.
Zoe’s upbringing had a lot to do with the woman she has blossomed into and continues to blossom into today. Growing up in an environment where having big dreams was normalized from a young age contributed to how she views the world as well as the opportunities it has to offer. Being exposed to uplifting content in the media as she was growing up definitely made a huge contribution to her fascination and passion for pop culture. “I fully credit pop culture for the influence it has on the woman I am becoming. Imagine growing up and watching The Oprah Winfrey Show then following Kimora Lee Simmons as she built a fashion empire through a reality show? I bought Destiny Magazine because of someone like Khanyi Dhlomo. I was growing up during a time where women are building their own brands and topping wealth ranking lists. It gets better as the years go by”. This tenacity and ability to make a concept that may appear far away became the source of inspiration and the drive behind how she has positioned herself as a businesswoman and a brand. “There is no way I could have encountered those powerful women and not be propelled to demand more from the world. I am well aware of what the world has to offer me and I am going after each and every one of those things”.
In the same breath, she touches on the importance of exposure and access and how those aspects can broaden one’s view of the world. “This is one of the reasons I wanted to create the GTC platform; to educate and share knowledge with my audience - unpacking the business of “fame”. Anyone can become famous in the age of social media, however, it takes some critical actions to ensure that one converts the fame into a sustainable business”. That is pretty much the mandate of GTC. The platform seeks to highlight and celebrate the entrepreneurial efforts of media personalities, celebrities, sports stars, influencers and the likes. As for how GTC continues to generate revenue, brand endorsements have become one of the biggest content pillars for the platform over time. “The experience and the insights that come from having worked with both talent and brands in structuring endorsement deals is the reason I started GTC. I identified a gap in our media landscape when it comes to celebrity reporting. I took myself back to the time when I was a young girl growing up in a township in Port Elizabeth. That was when my only escape from my reality was immersing myself in pop culture content. I knew that there were one or two girls that could read an article on GTC and be inspired to demand more from the world”.
While demanding more from the world, Zoe continued to face some challenges coming up as a woman in the industry. She gets emotional as she touches on the subject of self-doubt and how this has been a struggle for her at multiple stages. She reflects back to a time where she studied Information Technology, majoring in Software Development after high school and she likens the test of character and ability to becoming an entrepreneur. “I am not even going to sugar-coat it, it is tough as hell. I have cried so much in the last four years”. It can be a crippling thing when all you have worked towards and believed in suddenly starts to look grey. “I walked into the journey so confident of my dreams and vision, and I was starting to question all of it. I started to feel like I was delusional to think that I could do it and that I deserved the kind of success I was pursuing. Those are feelings that took over my life after countless declined proposals, decreased budgets and slow uptake from my audience”. Once the spirit of self-doubt had infiltrated her spirit, Zoe recalls how she began to compare herself to others and desperately wanted to prove to the world that she was constantly busy and doing well. “That was when I decided to embark on a different journey to launch my accessories brand, TIZIMA”, she continues, “Thankfully, it has always been part of the vision, however, I noticed that my motives for launching it were not completely pure and as a result, I was rushing to get the product out to the market. That’s when I knew that I was on a self-destructive path, one I knew would be a huge threat to my entrepreneurial efforts. I thank God for pulling me in and towards myself before I could do something that could jeopardise the longevity of the brand”. The idea of launching TIZIMA came to her halfway through 2017 and she officially began to pursue it during the course of that year. Because Zoe was passionate about having a brand that could tell an authentically South African story, it was important to her that the product was also locally manufactured. After settling on the product and standard of quality, she resolved to sampling the brand in recent months while taking in feedback from family and friends. As a result, the store launch has faced a slight delay however, she has no doubt that all issues that have been faced in the manufacturing process will be rectified and the highly anticipated TIZIMA products will reach the market soon.
In moments like this, it is always important to return back to how and why one embarked on the journey to begin with. Zoe acknowledges that people close to her used to comment on how she loves being connected and is constantly online. Ironically, this became the thing that transformed her interaction with the internet from which she built a business. “Staying connected has enabled me to diversify my income streams. I think that should be a mandatory goal for entrepreneurs - particularly ones that are still starting out. Because I am good at establishing and positioning brands, I didn’t realise that by simply being me, I was building a personal brand. I didn’t know that by pursuing entrepreneurship and persisting with GTC even when I felt its revenue growth was slow, it was instead enhancing my personal brand. I’m able to utilise the lessons from working in the PR industry for all these years to position my brand and it has paid off greatly”. Through all of it, pace is still something she is struggling with. “It is something I have identified, and I am working on. My entrepreneurial journey has got nothing to do with the outside world with the exception of the targeted audience. If I continue to think that way, and focus on delivering a quality service and product, at a pace that I can meet, then I’m on to something great”.
Having reflected on her successes and shortcomings, it makes sense why Zoe is perfectly suited for the CAN DO! Unbreakable Campaign she is currently a part of. She urges young entrepreneurs to consider the platform as a means to showcase one’s business offering. “The prize is so appealing, and it could turn a business around. It is also such a great platform for learning more from similar minded people”. Zoe admits that she was initially hesitant to be a part of the project because she felt it would shine a spotlight on her failures, but she realized it was important to tell that story. “I have failed so many times. I remember a time when I felt like such a failure thinking I was doing so many things wrong, until I started opening up to other entrepreneurs. Some have twenty years behind them, but they have the same narrative as I do. The reality is that it is not easy but what sets the greatest entrepreneurs apart from ordinary people is their tenacity and will to persevere through the storm. I felt a sense of ease once I started engaging with people who were honest about their struggles. I knew I had to be a part of this project so that if anyone is facing the same struggles and they feel like giving up - they know that they are not alone. I didn’t want to be at an ideal place before I could start opening up about the challenges we face when we embark on this journey”.
Rightfully, some of the best opportunities are often missed because of the fear of failure and subsequently, the ability to take a risk. Zoe emphasizes that being in a financially healthy position before embarking on an entrepreneurial journey is not overrated. “I always look back and think about how different my experience would have been if I had started off with enough provision for at least six months to a year. I’ve also realised that it is ok to start off small. Keep your job if you can while you try to build on the side. Sometimes, staying employed is the best decision you can make in order to meet your entrepreneurial ambitions”. On what she hopes the next five years will look like, the main goal is to transform young minds through the inspiring and informative content GTC houses. “I hope to have a few young and creative minds on our payroll. I hope GTC will be to creatives what Vogue was to fashion hopefuls”. She also hopes that TIZIMA will be a fully-fledged operation collaborating with a top local design house to showcase Fashion Week. Most importantly, Zoe is aiming to continue running financially healthy businesses alongside content and fulfilled individuals. “Being able to get up and do what I love daily is truly fulfilling, both from an employee perspective and a business one. April marks the begging of another huge milestone for me as I’ve just launched one of the biggest marketing campaigns to hit SA this year. I am also refreshing my GTC brand and will be unveiling our new magazine look and feel”.
The multi-faced woman who has drawn inspiration during the course of her journey hopes for an industry that one day reflects that which is women-led and inclusive. “Quality sits at the core. It is lucrative. The work we do today needs to ensure that we deliver an industry that looks like that in the next ten years. It won’t be easy. But we will do it. We are capable!”