The secret to (sweet) success
Thinking of starting your own business? Take inspo from Lungi Mhlanga, who’s dominating Insta feeds with her delicious desserts
back in her bedroom in Dubai in 2014, Lungi Mhlanga could never have dreamed that seven years later she’d have opened a permanent shop in Hackney, East London, for her DIY doughnut business. Or that she’d be named on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I think anyone who says they know what they’re doing when they launch a business is lying!” she laughs.
So how did she get here? It’s all thanks to an unfulfilling job, which led Lungi to start baking as an outlet for her creativity. Word soon spread about her delicious desserts, and she made the move to London in 2018 to make The Treats Club a success. It’s safe to say she’s smashed that goal – and then some.
“It was a steep learning curve to manage everything, from marketing to accounting, but now it’s gone from being just me to a team of six
people, hand-making everything we sell. My team are my favourite people,” she says.
Lungi will always be involved in what makes her business stand out, but now 90% of her role is more than the food side. “I didn’t know that before I started,” she admits. “I’m responsible for making sure people get paid. I never thought I’d be talking about people’s pensions at 28!”
Having been mentored by a number of people in the food industry, she stresses the importance of reaching out to others to build your knowledge. “I always tell people starting a business, ‘Leave your ego at the door because you’ll need to ask everybody for help.’ I’ve never been turned down. It’s an incredible community. When one person wins, we all win.”
But her biggest challenge was taking the leap in a man’s world, especially as
“Leave your ego at the door because you’ll need to ask everybody for help”
a female-led business run by Black girl magic. “The food industry is very maledominated, which is hilarious, because when you hear people talk about the food they grew up with, they always mention Mum and Grandma’s cooking, right? But somehow, it’s the complete opposite in the industry; we’re not taken seriously. I can’t count the number of times people have spoken to me and asked, ‘How long have you been working here?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m the owner,’ and they’re surprised.
“I tell the women around me, ‘Do not let men make you feel like you don’t belong here. Don’t let them speak over you. If they call you bossy, say thank you, because it means you’re doing something right. Never let people silence your voice.’”
Lungi worries that a lack of education around money is preventing more young
“No matter what happens, I’ve got so many tools under my belt now”
women from going into business. In 2020, just 13% of equity investment went to women-led firms.* “Nobody teaches us how to manage finances or how to get a mortgage,” she says. “Algebra is not going to help me right now! What we need to know is how not to get into debt.”
Despite working long hours now that she has a permanent shop – 9pm is usually the earliest she can go home, before heading back at 5am – Lungi still finds it extremely rewarding. “People assume that because you’re new, it means you don’t know what you’re doing. You might not know about paying VAT, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know about your product or what customers love,” she says. “I’ve been told ‘no’ so many times that opening that store was the proudest day ever for me. You have to believe in your sauce!
“There’s so much to juggle, but it’s an amazing feeling. The great thing is that no matter what happens, I’ve got so many tools under my belt now.” Ready to start your own business? Search NatWest Business Builder to sign up