Zeldeen Muller is the founder and CEO of a company called inSite Innovative Education Solutions. They develop software solutions that they license to management boards of businesses, retirement funds and medical aids. AgendaWorx.com is their flagship product.
Zeldeen says that she always wanted to be self-employed – that just the thought of being independent and innovative was exciting. She would look around and see business opportunities everywhere, but did not know how to go about creating her own business.
The first business she started, when she was 23 years old, was an industrial kitchen cleaning business. She says that it was an epic failure because she was too shy to market it. Even though they had logos, t-shirts, suppliers, a great product and service, it remained a business in a box under her bed.
Zeldeen started another business in her mid-twenties, which also never got off the ground because of a lack of marketing. Finally, at age 29, she was ready to be serious about working for herself. She resigned from her day job, which was terrifying for her, and started her current business.
What Zeldeen loves most about running this business is the freedom and how creative and innovative being self-employed can be. She says that there is no-one who she needs to get approval from before launching a new product. If she loves it and thinks it will work, she goes for it.
Being able to set her own work hours also helps her a lot with her work-life balance. However, in the first ten years of owning her business she tried to do everything and worked extremely long hours. Thereafter she got a business coach to assist her with creating processes and empowering her staff to allow her to work on her business and not in it. That was a defining moment for her and now she has time for the important things in her life, while also working on her business.
Zeldeen has learnt three important lessons during her business journey. Ask yourself:
- Would you use your own product?
She asks herself if she’d use her own product and is brutally honest with herself in her response. If she realises that she personally wouldn’t really use it, she re-evaluates her product offering.
- Do you go out and hustle everyday?
Zeldeen says that if you do not go out and hustle every day, you are for all sense and purposes invisible. “People need to know what you have to offer – you need to tell them and keep telling them.”
- Do you keep developing your products and services?
She says that you need to keep developing your products and services. “It is a never-ending process, and if you don’t, you’ll get left behind by competitors.”
Zeldeen does what she does because she wants to make life easier for her clients. She wants to go to bed at night and feel that her product or services made someone happier, gave them more time for the important things in life and made them feel more fulfilled that day.
She lives for the positive reviews they constantly get from their clients. She says that there have been many tough times but during those times she focuses on her staff, on their families, on pushing through and making her business work because they need an income, need to feed their families and need to put their children through school.
Zeldeen explains that the SME and informal sector are where the bulk of new jobs are coming from. That includes spaza shops, tailors and a host of other micro- businesses that keep our economy afloat. She believes that the formal and public employment sectors cannot possibly create enough jobs for everyone in South Africa, especially all the young people finishing their studies. But she says that the potential for small businesses is infinite and only limited by ones’ imagination.
She goes on to say that it’s important to note that you do not need to leave your day job to begin a small business and that the side hustle is now an accepted practice for many people. To highlight this, she gives an example of how her office cleaner needed additional income to care for her five children. She works for Zeldeen full time but there was not a lot of scope to increase her salary even further.
She asked if she could have Zeldeen’s desktop printer, which she gave her – and now she sells photocopies to people in her community in her spare time. She also gave her an ice machine a few years ago when her husband lost his job, which enabled her to sell ice in her area over weekends and for her teenagers to make some pocket money doing the deliveries. At the end of 2020, Zeldeen also gave her a modem and subscribed her to an internet package. Now she has a small internet café in her area for kids who need to research things for school projects. These three small businesses are supplementing her fixed income, teaching her kids about entrepreneurship, and will likely provide jobs for them one day.
Zeldeen says the moral of this story is,”You do not always need experience to create your own business. You just need imagination and enthusiasm, and to follow that up with hard work.”