I Started a Mobile App & Online Store Without Quitting my Job

It’s tempting to want to put all your time and effort into launching your online boutique business from day one.

But jumping in with both feet is far riskier than working the business on the side while you hang onto the income and security of your day job.

In fact: In today's article, we have Mathebe Molise sharing with us how she started an online platform/app BeautyonTApp while still working at a full-time job.

Mathebe is a qualified Chartered Accountant from SAICA. She is presently a Business Manager at Rand Merchant Bank, Johannesburg.

You can connect to Mathebe on LinkedIn at - Mathebe Molise.

How was my life growing up in South Africa

I was brought up in a middle-class family, which was rare in South Africa in the ’90s, especially in a black household.

My parents are both professionals, my mom an accountant (brought up by a nurse) and dad an IT specialist.

I was blessed to have a comfortable upbringing.

The importance of education and excellence was inherent in our family – it was not drilled into me but hearing how smart my mom and dad were and how they carried themselves, gave me zero excuses.

I went to a really good school, Redhill School, which is a private school – and the school's ethos and the family orientated environment was the perfect environment for me to thrive.

Nothing came easy to me. I wasn’t the smartest girl in the class, but I worked hard and got involved in activities that got me noticed.

So getting good marks/grades was a lot of work for me but I made sure it happened. In short, I tried really hard with everything I did.

I was also active in other activities like cultural and sports activities despite being an overweight child and this helped boost my school “resume”.

Coming from a very supportive family has shaped me becoming a very strong and confident individual.

My Journey to Becoming CA(SA)

I was somewhat good at accounting in high school so I applied for a Bachelor of Accounting Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

When I opted to become a CA I didn’t really know what CA’s do. During my degree, I started to really understand what CA’s do.

My main reason for pursuing CA(SA) was job security.

Also, I felt as a black female in South Africa pursuing CA(SA) seemed like a great opportunity to succeed, largely due to a shortage of black female CA’s climbing up the corporate ladder. 

So you could say these were the main reasons I pursued CA.

How to become a CA in South Africa

To become a CA in South Africa, SAICA has a standard path:

  • You have to complete your Bachelors degree at a recognized institution. I chose the University of the Witwatersrand.
  • You then need to do your Honours at a recognized institution. I also did my Honours from the University of the Witwatersrand. Here you basically give your CTA exams.
  • After completing the degree, you have to do 3 years of training with a SAICA accredited Trainee office. The nos of years of articleship depend if you have studied part time or full time. I studied full time so my articleship was only 3 years. However, it can vary from 3-5 years.
  • I had a bursary with EY, Johannesburg and completed my articles with them, with a focus in Financial Services and spent the majority of my time on Insurance Company audits.
  • After clearing the above, you have to write 2 qualifying exams (Board 1 and Board 2). I passed both first times.
  • Once you complete this you are a qualified Chartered Accountant.

How Did I Start my own Mobile App Startup

After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in 2013 I joined Rand Merchant Bank, Johannesburg.

Growing up I always wanted to become a fashion designer. So while working as a Chartered Accountant I still had this creative itch.

In 2015 a friend of mine was getting married.

The wedding was at Captetown, unfamiliar with the city we struggled to find a makeup artist there.

At that point, I thought that it would be really cool if there was a tool where one could search beauticians in specific areas.

After coming back to Johannesburg, I took the initiative to explore this a bit more and got in touch with a developer.

The development company asked that I write up:

  • How I want the App to work
  • What I want the end goal to be for customers
  • As well as the user journey

I sent them a detailed write up about what I want the app to do, what each screen should look like and essentially what the users end goal should be.

Once they received the brief, which was quite detailed, they started building a prototype and we had a few iterations before getting the end goal.

After many iterations with the developers, we landed on a look and feel of the app and well as an app with very simple user experience.

And that's how BeautyonTApp was born.

How much does it cost to build a Mobile App?

At the time, there were very few developers in the South African market so development costs were quite high. The most reasonable quote we got was a from a Cape Town Based development company.

However, as of today if you want to build an app in South Africa the budget would be between R60k-R100k.

So if you have an idea like me go for it.

Key Challenges of Being a Mobile App Startup

The hardest part of the whole process was - Marketing the App.

Just because we had this app we thought was a great idea, didn’t necessarily mean it would add value to people’s lives.

We had to sit and think of how we can strategically showcase the value of the app and until today we still have to do so and it is an ongoing process.

We’re constantly looking at how we can make the app and online store more user-friendly and useful to our clients.

In the beginning, we had to contact the beauty business individually and formally present the app to them as well as the benefits of being on the application.

Initially we had a listing fee, however, we realized that you cannot justify a listing fee if you’re not creating value for users.

As we started getting more downloads, our value add became more apparent to beauticians and salons.

We now have beauticians approaching us to list, however, we market our app on social media, where we have quite a following and this has helped us secure more businesses.

When did my business start making profits

Over the years we’ve changed the look and feel and we’re currently looking at how we can optimize the app and scale it even more.

Presently, the App helps small businesses leverage the beauty community we have built.

Its really difficult to monetize an App in South Africa, especially in a country that has high data costs.

The App is also linked to our online store, so small businesses can also leverage that audience to market their business.

In fact, the venture only became profitable when we launched our online store - Beauty on TApp.

However, with the store being fairly grounded, we’re looking at smart ways to monetize the app directory service.

This will involve quite a lot of work but we’ve already started exploring ideas on how we can change the App interface to make it more appealing to beauty businesses.

Value add becomes essential.

How can you make an online business/ mobile App successful

  • I think identifying what value you’re adding to the market is essential
  • The next steps will be convincing the market that what you’re selling has value.
  • It’s also important to show people that they can trust your business. Online remains a risky platform and showing that you run a legitimate business with great customer service is important.
  • Make sure that you have reliable 3rd party suppliers as these stakeholders will ultimately feed into your businesses ecosystem.
  • It was really important that the app gives users a seamless user experience, one that wouldn’t feel users feeling frustrated after 1 minute.

Running a Business While Working Full-Time 

While starting my mobile App I continued my full-time job. I did not quit my job.

It has been almost 4 long years that I run my business while working a full-time job.

Running a business while being employed requires a lot of strategic juggling of time.

I get my 1-hour workout in at 5 am.

On my way back from the gym I drop off Beauty on TApp orders at my parents home as there is someone there the whole day and they hand over to the courier.

While at work, I work smart and do what I have to do.

I never leave work if I haven’t finished a task, because when I get home I know I have to give 100% of my time and focus on my business.

I spend evenings working on my business, processing orders and catching up on emails.

Weekends are fully dedicated to Beauty on TApp.

One can definitely handle both business and a full-time job, but you need to be willing to give up a lot of time and fully dedicate yourself to your career and businesses.

Related Article

To Conclude...

Network and participate in various activities

  • Focus on getting good grades and also showcase yourself beyond school work.
  • Get involved in cultural activities and showcase your depth as an individual. This will make them notice you and will also show that you know how to balance work and life.
  • Network as well, get to know people, ask them questions about their road to becoming a CA

Do not be disheartened by failure

  • I failed my 3rdyear financial accounting course and had to repeat the course setting me back one year.
  • I took the time out to really try to understand the basics and fundamentals of financial accounting.
  • This really helped me in during my Honours as my understanding of accounting principals was solid and made my fourth year a bit easier although the 4th year is extremely difficult.
  • So do not be disheartened by failure it always teaches you something.

Be Patient

  • One thing I’ve learned from all these businesses is that tech isn’t an overnight success story.
  • It takes many iterations to land on a sustainable and scalable model.

Start a business while still working

  • If you're in a position to start your business while you're still employed, you'll have the best of both worlds.
  • A stable, dependable source of income will give you much more confidence in testing the waters with a new business that has a high likelihood of failure in the first year.

Now It's Your Turn!!!

Have you considered starting your own Mobile App?

Or have you given it a try?

Have you considered working full time while running your own business?

Either way, let me know your thoughts in the comments section.


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