“Follow your dreams” is probably one of the most well-known expressions of inspiration used to encourage someone, in the history of humankind.
It is used to motivate people to move out of their comfort zone and follow their passions, although not everyone does it.
Nonetheless, stories are plenty of individuals who have left the security of the corporate world to venture into a full-time business.
And Meckey Abed is one of those courageous few who decided to leave her cosy job at an international oil company to concentrate on growing her business.
For the past two years, Meckey has been running a beauty and hair salon, Opala Hair Salon, on a part-time basis at Oshikuku, a small town 20km north of Oshakati.
Over a year ago, she ventured into one of the untapped markets in Namibia – the laundry and dry cleaning sector. Her business called Here-4-U Laundry is conveniently located at Etango Complex, one of the biggest shopping centres in the Oshakati central business district.
“We do laundry for everyone – individuals, businesses, men and women, young or old. Our services are tailored-made to meet everybody’s laundry needs,” Meckey says.
Her venture into the laundry and hair salon sectors was driven by her passion to serve others. “I’m passionate about serving people. I just thought this business [laundry] offers convenience to customers and I believed that they would appreciate a chance to save the time they use on doing their laundry to attend to other important responsibilities in their ever demanding schedules. So, after doing a bit of calculations on financial viability, I decided to give it try. And now here we are,” she says. The laundry has three full-time employees.
Meckey further explains why she quit full-time employment. “If you ask anybody, most people will tell you that they wish to own and run their own business. The difference is how much that feeling burns in you.
“I had been harbouring the idea of starting my own business for many years but a lack of financial resources blocked my way. I then decided years back to save up towards this dream.
“With time, I managed two years ago to save enough funds to start up the hair salon. In a nutshell, I decided to pursue my dream and passion.”
As for her being business-minded, Meckey has her mother to thank for inculcating the spirit of entrepreneurship in her from a young age.
“My exposure to business started a long time ago during my primary school days, when my mother used to make us sell fresh fruits and vegetables during the school holidays.
“That’s when my passion for business was born. I just love doing business. I find it enjoyable and satisfying. When seeing your customers very happy then you know you have met their needs. That’s classic and priceless. If I have to witness that every day I will be the happiest person in the world.”
Although Here-4-U Laundry and Opala Hair Salon are now firmly established it was not all smooth sailing for Meckey.
“One of the challenges in setting up the business was finding the perfect location. It takes a while to find the ideal place. I knew that I needed to be patient and not just settle for any available place because a location makes or breaks a business.”
“Another challenge was finances. I did not have a lot of money saved up to cover all the start-up costs, so I had to borrow a small portion from the SME Bank to augment the funds from my pocket.”
She said another challenge was finding the right employees. As a start-up small business (SME) owner, she did not have the deep pockets to hire the best and most highly skilled people.
“So, I did not anticipate the relatively high employee turnover during the early months of operations. But I learned later that it’s quite normal within the SME (small and medium enterprise) fraternity.”
A major factor that prevents young Namibians going into the SME sector on a full-time basis, Meckey says, is the lack of incentives.
“I don’t think there are enough incentives to encourage the youth to take up full-time business. That’s why you see a lot of young people doing business on a part-time basis, while employed full-time elsewhere. This is to avoid financial instability if the business fails. Because one still needs to pay back the hefty loan they took to fund the start-up costs of their business.”
“Since the loan was given on the strength of a stable salary in the first place, leaving the job to go full-time into business is too risky. So, in the end the business does not receive enough attention and hence it remains stagnant, no growth,” she explained.
“I know government has tried to assist SMEs through the equipment aid scheme, implemented by the Ministry of Trade and Industry over the past couple of years. However, I’m not sure how effective or successful this programme has been in empowering SMEs,” she says.
“If there was any monitoring and evaluation exercise done to establish the impact of the scheme on SMEs, I would want to see the results of that. I think the scheme has challenges as it takes too long, sometimes up to three years, for them to reply or approve applications for equipment aid from SMEs,” she opines.
“Business is about speed. By the time the equipment is handed to beneficiaries, the SME is already out of business or does not need it anymore. In my view, the equipment aid scheme is still relevant but needs to be revamped to speed up the process and make it more efficient. Equipment often represents the biggest chunk of the start-up capital of a business,” says Meckey.
“Therefore, if equipment costs are covered, this will alleviate the debt burden on young entrepreneurs, who will be able to borrow the rest of their required capital from financial institutions and focus on building and growing strong businesses instead of doing it part-time due to debt burden.”
Meckey was born over 30 years ago in Kwanza-Sul, Angola, where her parents were refugees together with many other Namibians during the liberation struggle.
She is also a mother to a son and daughter, and a wife. Her schooling started in Zambia, and later in Namibia, where she matriculated at Oshigambo High School.
In 2002 she graduated with a bachelor of commerce degree, majoring in economics and business management at the University of Namibia (Unam).
In 2006 she obtained a master’s degree in financial management from the Universiteit NIMBAS Graduate School of Management in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
And Meckey is probably one of the few micro-finance and anti-money laundering specialists in Namibia.
After graduating at Unam, she worked at Bank of Namibia and worked her way up to principal financial analyst in the Banking Supervision Department, within the Policy and Regulations Division, which crafts the laws and legal instruments governing the operations of banking institutions in the country.
In 2011, she joined Kongalend Financial Services as a manager for investments and risk. Kongalend is one of the two micro-finance pioneers in Namibia, another is FIDES Bank.
In March 2015, she joined Vivo Energy Namibia as a management information planner until July 2015, when she left to pursue “my business interests on a full-time basis”.
“I was always fascinated by issues relating to business and financial market activities in general. Although I did science subjects in matric, I chose to purse commerce at Unam because I have a great interest and curiosity in that area,” she says.
“I think my personality also complements my chosen field very well as I’m a very analytical person. I also love working with figures but not in a way that accountants do, hence my choice of financial management, which is about working out stories from and behind the numbers, in order to inform and aid management in making the right decisions about the business.”
In most instances, many ‘momprenuers’ like Meckey have to balance motherhood and running a business. But in her case, she has found a working formula that allows her to spend time with her family.
“A start-up business is like a baby and needs to be nurtured. If you are already taking care of young kids, your business will be one of them, only it will demand a lot of your time and effort. In my case, I have organised my businesses in such a way that I do not need to be there all the time. Sometimes I work from home and I try to dedicate weekends to my family. This works for us,” she says.
•The writer Andreas Thomas is the news editor at The Southern Times.