Lerato is a multifaceted young woman who balances the role of a mother, daughter, activist, business woman and friend. She is fun, loving and vibrant. Most of all, she is pretty determined to achieve what she wants in a tough and competitive industry.
BD: What was your upbringing like?
LM: My upbringing was the best, grew up in granny’s house with my aunts, cousins and parents. I didn’t even feel like I’m the first born.
BD: What were your school years like?
LM: My school years were ok, I was just another kid who got bullied a lot. Always being the youngest in class meant that I was a teacher’s pet, and I loved it.
LM: Well, I remember this one time we were walking back from school, and I saw most of my high school seniors who had finished matric, but they were unemployed. That was not a pretty sight at all. I guess I knew, or decided then that I would create jobs one day, and play my part in reducing the unemployment rate.
BD: As a young adult, did you study further?
LM: I had always planned to study towards my LLB Degree, and when I made my calculations, I figured that I could still take care of my daughter and study further. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned, unforeseen circumstances happened or maybe I miscalculated, I don‘t know. All I knew is that I had to drop out.
BD: Letha Lethu; how did its inception come about?
LM: I was basically introduced to this field by my previous employer, I had no experience in this field, and I was excited. New challenges do that to me, I was taught basics, and I went the extra mile. We had some disputes however, and I figured maybe I should start my own seeing business that I managed this one efficiently. I did that, registered my company and complied. I worked for 2 more companies in the same industry, just to expand my knowledge a bit. And when I was confident enough that I was ready to stand on my own, I did and never looked back.
LM: I think what most start-ups have in common is acquiring their own client base. It was hard. No one wants to deal with a newly registered company. It’s never easy leaving your salary for something that “might” work. Self-doubt was the worst though, asking yourself if you are truly ready for such a huge responsibility and not believing you can half of the time.
BD: How did you overcome those challenges?
LM: I started prospecting, daily because I needed that client base. I kept a positive attitude, and had to remind myself that there are two beings looking up to me. I won’t lie, support from my aunts and my friend, was overwhelming. See when you are frustrated it’s easy to talk yourself down, and notice all the negative things about yourself and that’s where the support system steps in, to remind you that your “bad “ traits are accompanied by the good ones, and one can’t be without the other. No is perfect after all.
BD: Letha Lethu is 100% black female owned company. Was this a conscious decision or did it happen by chance?
LM: It was a conscious decision; I mean I was told that this is no industry for women. Although I looked up to women who were black, and in the same field, I was still told it’s not for me. How can I not polish my crown and put it on after such comments?
BD: There are many freight companies in the country and worldwide. How does Letha Lethu differ from the rest?
LM: We are not different honestly, we are doing the exact same thing, our way. We are adding our own morals and business ethics to this, we want it to be more humane and we are about creating that customer experience.
BD: Who is Letha Lethu’s target market?
LM: Letha Lethu’s target market is manufacturing companies, clothing stores, bulk buyers, farmers, travellers etc. anyone who’s into importing and exporting goods, whether it’s an ingredient, or a part, or fabric or you are coming back home, or leaving, we want you.
BD: What are the three must haves in order to establish and run a successful freight company?
LM: You must have clients, communication skills and a thick skin.
BD: How is the freight industry like for young black women?
LM: In all honesty, I believe it is hard to make it as a young black person in this industry, being a woman just makes it harder. There are still people who believe that some things are not for women, and there are people who have dedicated themselves to supporting young black business irrespective of gender.
LM: That it is overrated. There’s no glitz and glamour here. I have learned the hard way that I can do it all on my own. I have learned that it is ok to admit that you do not know, but never stay not knowing.
Honesty is virtue. I have learned that I cannot please everyone, even though I wish I could.
That it’s okay to make mistakes, people are not the same therefore I shouldn’t expect the same response from all of them. Mostly, I have learned that my mental and spiritual health matter. For me to give my best, I need to be at my best.
BD: What are those lessons you know now, that you wish you knew before starting your own company?
LM: Having an accountant is important. Not all money is my money. And that my current clients do not owe me anything, they can take their business where ever they want.
BD: On those moments where you wanted to give up or weren’t feeling motivated, what kept you going?
LM: My kids. I just couldn’t let them down like that. Myself, I couldn’t let all the hard work I had done go down the drain just like that. I had to keep going, for my growth.
BD: For a young black woman wanting to be an entrepreneur, what would you advise her?
LM: Do enough research about the field you wish to be in, work towards meeting that goal. Don’t rush it. Your advantage as a woman is that 6th sense, always trust your gut. It never lets you down.
What would you advise a young person wanting to start a business within the freight industry?
Research. Research. Research.
BD: What is next for Letha Lethu?
LM: We are looking into offering more services within the freight industry. We are working on having direct relationships with suppliers and shipping/airlines for prompt feedback to our clients. We are planning to branch out to Cape Town and Durban, then the rest of Africa… and finally, the world.