Journey to Success: Celebrating the Female Heroes of South Africa

Part of our January Theme of 'Africa', 'Journey to Success' is a series of interviews conducted by entrepreneur Thuli Sibeko to share the startup stories of South African entrepreneurial women who are creating successful businesses.

The first interview is with Bontle Matlou, Founder and CEO at Lentle and Associates.

"Growing up, I hated statements such as “money goes to the moneyed” or “Leaders are born and not made” because I was not born into a rich family and I just was not going to accept that.

Being small in stature, I never saw myself as a leader and struggled with it and could not accept it". 

“I am that child that was brought up by the African village and have drawn from all those positive experiences and it was easy to choose different definitions of success.”

TS: Tell me about Lentle and Associates?

BM: Lentle & Associates (Pty) Ltd is a Compliance and Risk Management Practice that services Financial Intermediaries which are regulated by the Financial Services Board (“FSB) which is an equivalent of the Financial Services Authority (“FSA”) in the United Kingdom. The financial sector in South Africa is highly regulated and geared towards the protection of consumers and penalties for non-compliance are very high and inherent risks must be identified and managed at all times.

Our role at Lentle is to enable persons to enter the industry through assisting in the registration of companies and the registration for licensing with the regulator. We further assist our clients in understanding their roles and responsibilities in light of legislation, adoption of regulatory framework within which they operate, mitigate their legislative risks and to adhere to relevant regulations.

TS: When was the company founded?

BM: I founded the company in 2005, whilst working at an insurance Company. I joined the insurance company after I was head hunted by the Chief Executive following an Insurance Fraud investigation I had managed for my employers at the time. I was roped in just around the time when legislation pertaining to the financial sector was being passed.

TS: Why this business?

BM: At the time I received the call for the position with my employer, I had coincidentally been studying the new legislation and its impact, as I was going to use the same knowledge to get into new markets for my then current employer.

Upon joining the insurance company my research of the role saw me meeting with the Regulator where I learned I could actually do more with this role.

I learned I could be a Compliance Officer but instead of servicing one entity I could actually service other entities, this was my first 'Aha', moment. 

At the time I thought I could convince my employers to establish a division that would provide compliance as an additional service to the funeral parlours and brokers that were introducing business to the company for purposes of underwriting insurance schemes. 

My naïve and overly excited self was going to change the way in which funeral parlours and insurance brokers do business, I was going to use my education and my mind to ensure these businesses which many Black businessmen have built their family and communities on stay in business.  We still service them however we our clients also include Asset Management firms, call centres operating in this space and various financial intermediaries. 

One day, one of my colleagues asked that I assist them in registering a company and I did, a few days later, I thought, “Hey, why don’t I register one for myself” which I did.

A year later I signed up two clients, I am still servicing one of the two, 6 years later. I also changed employers to enter short –term insurance where I learned more in the industry and continued to contract with a few more clients. Once I had signed up enough clients to carry my salary; a few months after returning from maternity leave with my eldest son, I resigned from my job to focus fully on my practice. 

TS: What have been your challenges?

BM:

The greatest challenge has to be self-doubt, self-doubt knocks in when things are not going your way, when cashflow is not being managed properly and failure seems imminent.

Cashflow is always a challenge in entrepreneurship and this goes for most entrepreneurs.  

Unfortunately we live in a world where failures are looked upon with disdain. People fail to understand that failure is very necessary to helping one to ask the important question, “What am I doing wrong?” This question will enable us in finding those solutions that can assist us to grow ourselves and their business to the next level. 

TS: What have been your highlights?

BM:

Signing up big clients, that assures me that there is something that we are doing right. Most recently we sold a stake of our business and this spoke volumes to what we are doing.

It was validation and having someone buy into my vision and believe in my dream with me is an honour and of course an opportunity to grow the business to realise its true potential.

TS: What are the lessons that you have learned through starting and running your business?

BM:

  1. The realisation that God always works with our errors, as long as they were done with the best of intentions.
  2. I have learned the power of just rocking up, power of making that call, attending that meeting even when all I feel is apprehension. Much can be achieved from just making that call.
  3. I have learned that your dreams can become nightmares if you do not look after them. I learned that it is not God or your dreams that will fail you but that it is you who fails your dream when you fail to do the right things, take extra time in preparing, reading and following through with required actions.
  4. Another lesson was the realisation than there are always solutions to most problems that if one just takes time to silence their mind, that they will find some solutions to issues that seem insurmountable
  5. I have learned that it is okay to take a time out for myself and that the world will not crash, my clients will not terminate contracts, the regulators will not issue a penalty for only taking time out to recharge.  
  6. Another important lesson is sharing the work, focus on what is your strength and allow others to do parts that they are strong in. Get someone to do the financial management, never ever use the business account as a piggy bank, pay yourself a salary and get someone to handle invoicing and sending of same to clients.

TS: You are also involved with some charity initiatives, when did this start for you?  

BM: Whilst running Lentle, I discovered my passion for philanthropy I found myself assisting a non-profit organisation based in Orange Farm. I helped in fundraising and creating awareness about the plight of children living in child-headed homes.               

I have even organised through a group of bikers and a friend to start a food garden in Orange farm together with the community of Orange Farm. Thus, we did a “small scale farming skills transfer.  I truly believe that NPOs need to be self-sustaining and should not always rely on donations for their survival.

BONTLE MATLOU - SNAPSHOT

  • I have in the past years, attempted to run a Nanny recruitment agency with a friend, I have served as a company secretary for parastatals
  • I have organised friends of mine to attend Salsa parties
  • I love reading and I think the greatest thing I can give my kids is a love for reading, thus I am toying with an idea for children’s books.
  • I discovered my passion for food gardening and I grow my own food.

Journey to Success is a series of interviews conducted by entrepreneur Thuli Sibeko. Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Thuli is co-founder of Anglo-African Events and has produced many successful events for major corporations including HP, Nokia, ABSA Capital and Unisys. 

Journey to Success is inspired by Thuli’s vision of sharing the startup stories of South African entrepreneurial women who are creating successful businesses, highlighting their individual journeys of hard work, perseverance and determination. Thuli would like to give a voice to these role models of South Africa and The NextWomen is glad to provide her with the platform to do so.

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