Sunday 18 April 2021
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The Wing It growth story: Ujama Mushimba

Ujama Mushimba was not attempting to make history as one of the few women to own a franchise in Namibia when she opened Wing It, a popular eatery in Windhoek. She was just following through on a lesson learned from her father.
You cannot talk about post-independence black businessmen and not mention Ujama’s father, the late business mogul Aaron Mushimba.
“Despite my father’s profile, he never spoiled us, he did not pamper us and therefore we had to work for ourselves. He even refused to take me into his business when I graduated. I had to go job hunting and the look of disbelief I got whenever I went for job interviews was something else. Only at a later stage did I realise that he wanted me to understand what it was like to develop your own work ethic. He did not believe in handing stuff to people. Fortunately, from the lessons I learnt in the corporate world I am now able to implement it in my business,” she narrates.
Mushimba, a Harvard Business School alumni, says she continues to put in the work, grow her business while using the theoretical knowledge acquired at school to make it in the business world.
She also narrated how big brands refused to open their doors for her, something which somewhat became a blessing in disguise because the rejection forced her to interrogate her creative mind and  to start her own franchise.
The Patriot editor Mathias Haufiku spoke with Mushimba this week, to get her thoughts on her entrepreneurship journey so far, and why franchise business ownership can be even more empowering for women.
TP: Tell us briefly about yourself and the start of your journey in business?
UM: Ujama is an entrepreneur, a mom, daughter and friend. In terms of background I do not think I was an entrepreneur by nature, I felt that since I came from an entrepreneurial bloodline, I thought I could go to school, join the corporate world and leave entrepreneurship to my father. But slowly but surely I began to slip into it. I decided to take the risks of being in business and started a public relations firm called Kaleidscope because it was something I am good at. I learnt that entrepreneurship is not just a good idea but there are fundamentals one ought to adhere to, if you want to succeed. When my dad passed away in 2014, I got the chance to run the part of the estate that my mom inherited and I took on the challenge. For me it was a challenge and because I am always up for a challenge, the fear for failure I have normally drives me to prove to myself and others that I can do it. Farming was the first challenge. Initially my father’s farms were not commercial, he owned them for many years but didn’t fully commercialise them because he had many equally competing interests. We decided to commercialise them and generate profit – it turned out to be the biggest challenge I took on because I had no farming background. I didn’t even know the difference between a heifer and bull but I decided to educate myself and participated in a farming programme. For me it was about putting my head down and getting things done and not listen to what people were saying because the feedback was not great. When I joined the farming business the country was experiencing a major drought but I stuck with it and it eventually paid off, we won some awards and generated profit within the first two years of running the business. I do not know if I was just lucky, but if luck means hard work and sleepless nights, then I was certainly lucky.
TP: How do you juggle between family and work?
UM: I must say I have a great support system. They[family and business] are not two separate entities. Madawas, the company that I run for my mom, is a family business and Kenako which owns ‘Wing It’ is my own. For me family and business is one and the same thing, thus no need for balancing. For me balancing means striving for perfection which will subsequently lead you to unrealistic expectations of what you could potentially do.
TP: What are some of the obstacles in the business world, in your view?
UM: I hate to be the one to say it because I know people do not expect to hear it from me, but funding is a major challenge. You would think that someone with the kind of portfolio I have would not be challenged when it comes to dealing with financial institutions, and that was my view too.
I went to the best business school in the world and still I encountered roadblocks at the banks. Even with collateral, it is a challenge. Banking institutions need transformation because I feel they are very conservative. Another challenge is finding people who are as passionate as I am and who are willing to put in the work and not wanting instant gratification.
This business is long term driven and people must understand that from the start we will not pay the best salaries or offer all benefits that people need, but stick with us and eventually together we will get to a point of comfort. I must admit that I struggle to get people to buy into the long term concept.
TP: What do you look for when you are hiring?
UM: My theory on how I hire is simply attitude over competence, I know it is risky because people can have a great attitude and lack competency.
I do so because it is not a thing of attitude without competency, but attitude over competency because I feel if someone has a great attitude it is a lot easier to upskill them.
The skills are available there but the right working attitude is a challenge to find, one that leads to optimal production and not entitlement to say I have a degree so I need to be manager.
It is true that in certain areas talent is limited, but I am yet to encounter that.
TP: Why did you choose to start your own franchise, unlike others, who opt to go for the big brands?
UM: It is easier yes[to join a big franchise]. I went down that route when I decided to join this industry, my first point was to get a franchise but I got rejected by everyone. I applied for several big names but I was rejected, its either I got no response or it was taken already in Namibia. But till today I do not quite know the exact reasons for the rejection. I figured that since I was rejected why not do it myself because normally when people close the door on me, I do things myself.
After completing business school, I started building the case study for this project and embarked on it. For me it was more than just writing a business case because the transition into reality was big. It took me out of my comfort zone. That is what ‘Wing It’ is about, apart from great food, awesome customer service and the ambience when you visit the place, it is a real manifestation of stepping out of the comfort zone. Many opportunities go by because we do not take chances.
TP: How is ‘Wing It’ different from other similar eateries?
UM: The difference in my business is that I did not just open up a restaurant because it cannot just be about serving wings, we stand out by following standards and processes like the big brands do. When you eat my wings today, they must taste the same every day. We had to go into researching on product development to standardise our food. We had to understand the intellectual property side of the business, inventory management and cash up processes. Marketing wise I had to see how to position my brand. All of those things need to be documented so that when I do intend to franchise and people actually buy into my brand, they would have a manual that they take on to replicate this brand.
Another difference is that I decided to give back and empower my people. When I get a return on my investment, I will then endorse operators to be the franchisee. I am okay for this to be owner operated until the people are ready to take onto the next shop, so as much as it is a franchise, it is an owner-operated business.
TP: Share with us your thinking behind starting a new business during a recession, naturally one would wait for the economy to recover?
UM: I get that question a lot, I did research and I understand we are in a recession and that people are a bit stingier with their money, but the truth is people always eat. You do not stop eating because of the recession, you only stop eating certain types of food. With this said, there is no way I could have gone into upmarket food. We therefore went for affordable food without ignoring the value for money aspect. Our prices are good for the current client and our meals are value for money and premium at the same time. At this point we are not feeling the slump, so you can imagine how great it will be when the economy recovers.
TP: How has the public response been?
UM: The response has been great, when I stared ‘Wing It’ I told myself that even if I do not sell a wing, I would still be satisfied simply because I took the risk. The compliments keep on coming I must say, the best one was when someone asked where this franchise is from – it actually made me think that people look at my model and think this cannot be Namibian. People believe in my brand and talk about it. The biggest reward is that people can connect to the brand.
TP: New businesses always attract a lot of attention but the hype eventually subsides. In terms of sustainability, what is your strategy to keep clients coming back?
UM: Innovation. One has to be innovative and not rest on your laurels. That[hype fading] trend happens all over the world, here it happens quicker because we are small. Product innovation is needed, this includes coming up with new flavours, engaging with clients to observe changes in the market.

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