“Experience is the best teacher”

Morongwe and Michelle own Mo’s Crib.

Name: Morongwe (left) and Michelle Mokone (right)
Company: Mo’s Crib – home décor design 
Location: Pretoria, South Africa

Two sisters running a home décor business, what inspired you to start this company together? 
“We’ve always been passionate about entrepreneurship. Our parents were both entrepreneurs themselves”, Mo said. “They ran a wide range of businesses, from a café and liquor store to a sand mining business. Michelle and I both started different kinds of businesses on our own, yet always helping each other out. As small kids we chose to lie on the same bed, even though we both had our own. We’ve always been close and with only a 3-year age difference we had the same interests and hung out with the same people. I think deep down we always knew we were going to do business together. Not only together, but also in homeware. Our business idea was born when Michelle invited me to a market, where a guy sold beautiful handmade roses from old newspapers. It inspired me to start selling origami swans art pieces that I learned to make while living in the UK over 13 years ago. This was the start of the home décor design company we are running today.”  

What’s unique about your business and products?
“Our baskets and planters are made from old PVC water pipes, that we collect from landfills and construction sites”, Michelle said. “Each pipe has a history and a story to tell. When we heat the PVC pipes to shape and cut them, the material gets an amazing colour and feel to it. That’s why some people see our stylish handmade baskets and planters as pieces of art and give them a prominent place in their living room. They really transform a space with their unique texture and colours. Moreover, the baskets and planters are water resistant, none-rustic and have a versatile storage functionality, perfectly suitable for both indoors and outdoors. We have also added a new range of beautiful grass baskets made from palm leaves which are now part of our assortment.”

Mo adds: “We are both very passionate about the sustainability of the environment, that is where we draw our inspiration. Years ago, we came across a very intriguing opportunity to manufacture and supply PVC recycled products, we knew this was a material we wanted to use to design our homeware. We love the concept of designing stylish sustainable natural products.” 

Was it a conscious choice to start selling your products through large retailers?
“For sure, it simply enables us to sell larger quantities and to grow our business in an efficient way”, explains Mo. “If our products are on more shelves across the country, our brand name becomes more recognizable. However, it is not easy to get your product into retail stores. You need distributors who value your product. In the beginning retailers were very hesitant to do business with us since the material we use was very unusual and new. Only after we won a Best New Product Award and we got publicity for our products in a magazine, some retail chain stores (locally and internationally) started showing interest in collaborating with us. Now you can find our products at Woolworths, Mr Price Home and we are also launching our products in the USA in August 2021.

“The advantage of selling your products at the market, like we did for years at the start of our business, is that it gave us the chance to identify our audience and learn from the direct feedback we received from them”, said Michelle. “It helped us grow and improve our products and to know exactly the characteristics of our target audience.” 

What’s the biggest benefit of running a business with your sister?
Mo: “We’re both on the same page and raised with the same values and background. We trust and understand each other so well that sometimes words aren’t even necessary. If one of us has an off day, the other one is there to support and motivate. I admire my sister for her bravery and how she always encourages me.”

“I think we make great business partners not only because of the bond we share as close sisters, but also because our personalities and skills complement each other”, Michelle answered. 

What are the biggest challenges you face as (female) entrepreneurs?
“We face a range of challenges, but one of the biggest problems we face as entrepreneurs is the lack of capacity”, said Michelle. “Not having enough skilled craft workers hinders business growth, as you can’t grow a successful company single-handedly. Also, the fact that you always lack time and have to do everything is not always easy. The only way to break through is to delegate tasks to others. Fortunately, we are now able to do that a bit more, since we now have an accountant and HRM-consultant. A big challenge we face as female entrepreneurs, is operating in a male-dominated sector. We handpick and collect all our PVC water pipes from landfills and construction sites, which are not places where you see a lot of women. We are often not taken seriously, which makes it’s tough to build business relationships.”

What are your dreams and aspirations?
“First of all, we would love to expand to a more direct-to-consumer model, where we offer stylish and sustainable handmade home décor products handpicked, designed and manufactured by Mo’s Crib. In addition, we have the ambition to launch an online shop and to go international and sell our Mo Crib’s-design in quality homeware shops in the USA and Europe. Yet, our ultimate dream is to make a difference by creating sustainable employment in our community”, Mo explained. 

If you have one piece of advice to give to other (female) entrepreneurs it would be?
“Just start!”, said Mo without hesitation. If you have a dream or an idea that is constantly coming back, just take that step and start your business. Experience is the best teacher. Michelle and I also ran several businesses that have failed, but we learnt a lot. Accept that failure is part of the learning process. No business owner ever became successful by not failing. Remember, you always have the opportunity to reinvent yourself over and over again, as long as you have passion and fulfilment in whatever journey you decide on”. 

“I would say: be persistent!” Michelle answered. “For sure it’s an important quality that helps you as entrepreneur succeed. Don’t be afraid to fail or to make mistakes. Have a clear vison, dream big and show persistence through good and bad times. Strong entrepreneurs never give up and take on the challenges along the way.”

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