Town­ship busi­ness­man’s scent of suc­cess

He started out mix­ing scents in his mom’s kitchen, now Valentinas Methula has cre­ated his own cologne – and he wants to take it global


AFRAGRANT aroma of cin­na­mon, ripe lemon, cedar­wood and spicy un­der­tones floats in the air as we en­ter the lab where Valentinas Methula spends his days mix­ing and bot­tling his sig­na­ture scent. The high-tech Fab Lab in Ekurhu­leni is a world away from his mom’s mod­est kitchen in Tsakane town­ship, south-east of Joburg, where Valentinas first started ex­per­i­ment­ing with fra­grances.

These days the kitchen coun­ters are used only for plan­ning which in­gre­di­ents and for­mu­las he’ll use to mix at the lab, and to pack­age the fi­nal prod­uct.

Re­mark­ably the 28-year-old, who ma­tric­u­lated from Tsakane Sec­ondary School in 2010, didn’t study science at school so had lit­tle knowl­edge of how to ap­ply sci­en­tific rules when mix­ing dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents. Yet his de­ter­mi­na­tion to cre­ate his own per­fume line saw Valentinas gar­ner praise – his story was used as a case study to in­spire other young en­trepreneur­s at an in­no­va­tion week held in El Sal­vador in No­vem­ber last year.

His sig­na­ture scent, Mi­nenhle (“beau­ti­ful day” in isiZulu), earned him the pres­ti­gious Eskom Small Busi­ness Expo award for young in­flu­en­tial up­com­ing en­tre­pre­neur. It was the first cologne launched un­der his per­fume la­bel, Valentinas Ka­fungo, in Au­gust last year.

He was also the sec­ond run­ner-up at the Makro Car­ni­val an­nual trade fair last year and he got to show­case his cologne at Makro stores on the East Rand.

Not bad for a guy who started out in his mom’s kitchen.

VALENTINAS’ mom, Mpho Masha­bela (52), in­spired his en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit. She also ig­nited his in­ter­est in dab­bling with scents – and ul­ti­mately crea­ting his own. “When I was in high school I helped my mom sell vetkoek, achar, sweets and per­fume, which she bought from sup­pli­ers,” he says.

But he wanted to do more than just sell per­fume – he wanted to mix, ex­per­i­ment and cre­ate his own unique fra­grances.

He took a gap year af­ter ma­tric and worked as an enu­mer­a­tor for Sta­tis­tics South Africa for two months. He had other part-time jobs dur­ing that year then moved to Cape Town in 2012 where he’d en­rolled to study pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Cape Penin­sula Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

But a lack of funds and not be­ing able to adapt to liv­ing far from home and his fam­ily – he grew up with four sib­lings, Sibu­siso (29), Palesa (24), Quincy (21) and Kamo­h­elo (17) – saw him drop out six months later. He re­turned to Joburg to start his own busi­ness.

“When I couldn’t con­tinue my stud­ies I looked at my sur­round­ings, my peers, and thought about how I could start my own busi­ness,” Valentinas re­calls.

The idea of cre­at­ing fra­grances sur­faced and he started watch­ing YouTube videos to learn how to mix dif­fer­ent essen­tial oils.

He also regis­tered his busi­ness with the Com­pa­nies and In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Com­mis­sion and the Cos­metic Toi­letry & Fra­grance As­so­ci­a­tion of SA.

The real chal­lenge came with fine-tun­ing his prod­ucts. It took him five long, ex­pen­sive years to per­fect. “I had to save money to buy in­gre­di­ents – es­sen­tial oils, ethanol and spices.” He bought these from a Cape Town-based com­pany af­ter do­ing some re­search.

The in­gre­di­ents cost be­tween R9 000 and R12 000, he says. “I had to wait to save money be­fore I could buy in­gre­di­ents and start man­u­fac­tur­ing the cologne.”

So he called a friend, Mandla Nkosi (27), and in­vited him to in­vest R5 000 for a 20% stake in the busi­ness.

At the time Valentinas was also a vol­un­teer at Fab Lab, where he taught com­puter pro­gram de­sign ba­sics to pri­mary school kids, which landed him an in­tern­ship with Fab Lab in 2016.

Fab Lab is the ed­u­ca­tional out­reach arm of the Mass­a­chu­setts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy’s The Cen­ter for Bits and Atoms. The labs are a plat­form for in­no­va­tion and in­ven­tion and pro­vide stim­u­lus for en­trep­re­neurs. Valentinas saved nearly R15 000 from his in­tern­ship, which he put back into his busi­ness. Last year he started sell­ing Mi­nen­hle for Him on­line via his so­cial me­dia sites for R650 a bot­tle. He also sold a few at the Eskom Small Busi­ness Expo. He bot­tled 50 flasks of the cologne him­self us­ing bot­tles from a lo­cal pack­ag­ing com­pany in Joburg. Ahead of its of­fi­cial launch he had pre­orders for 11 bot­tles and 25 were sold at the expo, he says. The re­main­der of the first batch was sold on­line. Get­ting the fra­grance for­mula right wasn’t easy, he tells us. “I made count­less mis­takes be­fore launch­ing the ac­tual prod­uct. Be­fore I start mix­ing I use for­mu­las to blend the in­gre­di­ents. You have to start over if you get it wrong.” It was trial and er­ror, and con­stant learn­ing with the help of YouTube tu­to­ri­als and as­sis­tance “from peo­ple who are more fa­mil­iar with chem­istry. I learnt a lot about en­gi­neer­ing per­fumes thanks to their ad­vice.” “Mix­ing per­fumes is like cook­ing a beef stew,” he says. “The in­gre­di­ents have to be just right.” His in­gre­di­ents – which in­clude cinna- mon, ripe lemon, cedar­wood, spicy aro­mas and pure al­co­hol – are mixed by ma­chine at the Fab Lab lab­o­ra­tory. He makes and sells a batch of his cologne at a time and stores it at the lab.

His next goal is to get ap­proval from the South African Bureau of Stan­dards to start ex­port­ing his per­fume around the world.

VALENTINAS dreams of build­ing his own lab in Tsakane, where he lives, and launch­ing his first store in Joburg. “This will mainly be a flag­ship store where cus­tomers can ex­pe­ri­ence the brand and learn more about the his­tory of it.”

The lab will be called House of Ka­fungo, which means “scent” in Chewa – the of­fi­cial lan­guage of Malawi. “We chose this name be­cause it’s user-friendly, African, rich and bold. I’m work­ing to­wards get­ting the lab to where we’ll cus­tomise colognes for cus­tomers,” he says.

His new col­lec­tion, which is be­ing de­vel­oped, will in­clude a women’s frag­rance. The col­lec­tion will be called In­ganek­wane (“fairy­tale” in isiZulu).

Valentinas has seen first-hand the ef­fects of youth unem­ploy­ment in Tsakane and his goal is to cre­ate job op­por­tu­ni­ties to ad­dress this so­cial prob­lem.

The per­fumer knows he still has a tough road ahead, but draws in­spi­ra­tion from other lo­cal en­trepreneur­s. “I’ve al­ways looked up to Sibu­siso Ng­wenya, the founder and head de­signer of Skinny Sbu Socks,” Valentinas says.

His proud mom is thrilled with her son’s ac­com­plish­ments.

“I don’t like spoon-feed­ing a child. I want a child to learn how to do things on their own and be­come re­spon­si­ble. I’m happy with what he’s done.”

ABOVE: Valentinas’ fra­grance hit the mar­ket last year. LEFT: His mom, Mpho Masha­bela, in­spired him to go into busi­ness. RIGHT: Valentinas (striped T-shirt) with his sib­lings and dad – (from left) Sibu­siso, Palesa, Quincy and fa­ther Michael Methula.

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