Phenomenal Woman: Owner of The Urban Farmstall – Pumza Dilika

Pumza Dilika was born in Ngqamakwe, Eastern Cape, almost 40 years ago. She grew up in a big family headed by her late mother, who was a communal farmer, while her father worked in Johannesburg as a miner. Pumza’s mother was a big influencer through her teachings and role modelling, and has always pushed herself for excellence because of it. Her mother’s love and firmness closed the gap when she missed her father, who also worked very hard to ensure that all her siblings received a good education. 

She is now the founder of the award-winning and ultimately inspiring The Urban Farmstall. This one is definitely for the budding agriculturists out there.

Where and how did Pumza’s work life begin?

I started working as a field telecommunication technician at Telkom when I was 21, just after completing an Electrical Engineering Diploma. I then studied part time and attained a B. Com in Information Systems at the University of Fort Hare, and found myself as the oldest graduate of the 30 women on Vodacom’s graduate programme for females in Technology. I secured different, great position in Vodacom South Africa and in 2012, I took an international assignment to Vodafone India, where I was Technology Forecasting, Trending and Analytics Lead. I also completed a Business Process Re-engineering programme, which saw Vodafone India gain a TL900 certification for well aligned, documented processes with auditing plans.

On return to South Africa in 2014, I was assigned to technically and commercially build Vodacom’s Fibre-to-the-Home and In-home Value-Added Services Division. I also enrolled and completed the Senior Leadership Development Programme at Wits Business School, which gave me a great knowledge on building and implementing business strategy.

At the time of my corporate exit, I was heading the ICT Solution Architecture Team for, SMMEs and Diversified Commerce for BCX South Africa.

I am now a fulltime entrepreneur, and the founder and director of The Urban Farmstall Pty Ltd. I am enjoying working hard to build the next big South Africa-born food retail store, with the flexibility to attend to my husband and my three teenage kids. 

How did you start Urban Farmstall?

I founded The Urban Farmstall, a free-range chicken and organic food retail store in 2016, after just a year from when I started farming and selling them to the informal market. As my farming production was steadily growing, I realised that I needed to introduce my produce to formal retails. The journey to get my produce in formal established retailers proved to be impossible and in July 2017 I opened my own retail store in East London. The Urban Farmstall has been the most loved free-range chicken supplier, and it became more rewarding when I started sourcing organic and locally grown food like honey and vegetables from local farmers. Our mission is to create easy access organic, locally grown, free range poultry and grass-fed meat to our customers. We achieve this through strategic partnership with organic farmers, our own distribution channels and customer engagements. The business is fulfilling me personally as working with people and good and healthy food is my passion. I like the impact my daily work has on people such as those in my team, my customers who require good food (some for taste and others for special health requirements), and farmers who struggle to find a market for their quality produce.

You were in corporate and you left. What made you take the leap into entrepreneurship?

At the time I made a decision to leave corporate, my business had been operating part time, relying on my team. But it reached a stage where it required my leadership fulltime. If I left it unattended much further it would have collapsed and I would have lost everything. That would have required me to stay in corporate for another decade to rebuild. I have been working full time and can see the great result of focus.

What are some of the highlights you have encountered?

I have earned great loyalty from my team, When the avian flu hit South Africa in August 2017, the business got severely affected and was not in production and trading for four months. My farmworkers refused to get retrenched, they agreed to a lower pay until we get got back to production. Every morning, they would wake up in the morning and prepare the soil and nag me for seedlings. We then stated a garden and I’m very proud to tell you that we have now commercialised and extended the garden. Diversification of my business was initiated by the farmworkers.

In December 2015, The Urban Farmstall got awarded as the first-runner up for the Beyond the Balance Sheet 2015 Awards (BTBS) under the Agriculture category. Vision4 Women’s Beyond the Balance Sheet Awards honours businesswomen from the Eastern Cape who make a difference in the community. 

In August 2017, The Urban Farmstall got nominated for the Eastern Cape Female Entrepreneur Award in Farming. These awards honour female farmers who formalise and run their farming enterprises profitably.

What are some of the challenges of being a entrepreneur?

My greatest challenge at this stage of my business is to get good deals with suppliers, on inputs access and prices. The majority of suppliers, customers, and employees want to work with a business that has traction. It makes it difficult to move from start-up to the next level. 

What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?

  • Ensure you’re passionate about your services and products;
  • You need to have a clear vision and a roadmap to reach your goals
  • Tackle one problem at a time to ensure that you don’t overwhelm yourself
  • Network with like-minded people and ask for help in a form of mentorship, sponsorship, referrals
  • Be generous and share what you have
  • Never give up
  • Very important: sales – learn how to sell your products and services
  • Love selling
  • When you think you’ve sold enough, sell more
  • Up-sell, cross-sell… you get the picture, right?
  • Trust and believe in yourself. You can do this. 
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