‘A failed business venture brought us closer together’
Nicole Philander, 28, owns Koinonia Coffee Shop in Rondebosch with her husband Lester, 30, who also runs a consulting company. They live in Vierlanden Heights and are foster parents to Nicole’s niece Caitlyn, two.
After attending a business seminar hosted by motivational speaker Robin Banks in 2013, my husband Lester – who was then working as a business analyst – set his sights on becoming an entrepreneur. He was so inspired by how Robin said he’d gained financial freedom and flexibility by working for himself that he was determined to do the same. A few months later, Lester told me he’d spotted a gap in the market for a business supplying hotels and restaurants with candles. I supported him when he said this was an opportunity he wanted to pursue.
In 2013 he set up Essential Candles while still working full time as a business analyst. Over the weekends we’d set up shop at local markets selling our wares. Despite all the hard work Lester was putting into the fledgling company, sales were very slow. I remember sitting at one particular market for 12 hours and selling only two candles – it was incredibly demoralising.
We spoke about it and decided that if the business was to get off the ground, Lester would need to focus on it full time. It meant that I was supporting both of us on my salary, which was fine at first because sales initially picked up. But a few months later Lester was having a hard time shifting his existing stock and began having cash-flow problems.
Things only got worse that November when I was retrenched. Although I was given a decent package, it only kept us going for so long and our finances were already a mess. I have to admit that we didn’t have the best financial habits either, so when it came to saving that last R100 or putting it back into the business, we’d much rather spend it on something like a night out at the movies. Things got so bad that we ended up selling our furniture.
OUR NEXT STEP
Eventually, Lester closed Essential Candles, I found another job, and things settled down. After exploring other business opportunities, by 2015, Lester realised that his failed ventures and all the knowledge and experience he’d gained through them, could actually be used as an opportunity. He set up Phil- Con, a company offering oneon- one consulting services to small business owners who are struggling.
The business has grown steadily and he has been able to put us in a much better position financially. It’s a relief to know that we’re not sitting in the red on our credit cards and that there is actually money in our bank accounts again.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES Last year, a friend who Lester had done some consulting with, told us he was looking for someone to buy his coffee shop. I can’t explain why but I loved the idea of having, and running, my own coffee shop, and I wasn’t happy in the job I had at the time. I had my doubts, though; my parents had run a business together and, when it failed, so did their marriage. I didn’t want the same thing to happen to us. But Lester reassured me things would be different this time – and with everything we have been through over the years, and what we’ve learnt, I knew it would be. We took over ownership of the coffee shop in 2017 and are very happy with how things have turned out.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, and it’s not something I’d recommend other couples do but the failed business – and our determination to make this one succeed – has somehow brought us closer. I love Lester more now than I ever have. There was something about the suffering and long, hard road that we’ve both travelled that’s helped us to learn a lot about ourselves, and each other. We’re also a lot more financially savvy than before, and we’re ready to tackle whatever the world throws at us.
Things got so bad that we had to sell most of our furniture
✱ For more info, visit koinonia.co.za