The cookie kingdom

The cookie kingdom

BUTHA-BUTHE-TWO years ago, ’Mamojela Masopha, 32 was drowning in debt.
An official in the Local Government’s Physical Planning Department, her salary was hardly enough to cater for her family’s needs, forcing her to borrow.

“I was struggling to shrug of the debts,” she said.
Then, one day an idea hit her.
“How about selling cookies at work, maybe that could give me a chance to breathe again,” she says, recalling her first steps into the world of business.
She decided to venture into baking personalised cookies, cupcakes, popsicles and cake pops to supplement her salary.

“I needed a second income to survive and like everyone I felt I needed a loan to start a business but I couldn’t get it,” says Masopha.
Although she is yet to pay off all her debts, “I have a sense of direction,” Masopha says.
She recalls the day she decided to use the last of her monthly saving – M50 – to buy baking ingredients.

It took her a stove, a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon to get things going.
“I baked muffins and took them to my work place. Most of my female colleagues laughed at the idea,” she says.
However, one of them bought a muffin and shared it with the rest of the five women.

“They complained about the texture, flavour and the shape,” she says.
“I wanted to cry but I did not. I wrote down their comments and suggestions to improve my product.”
The next day she brought more muffins and went straight to her friends, who she now regarded as her “judges”.
“They were slightly satisfied,” she says.

However, she did not give up. Rather she baked some more until she managed to make an extra M400 a month.
“I increased the number of cookies but it soon became a problem,” she says, speaking of how her bosses warned her against selling personal items at the workplace.

“My head was spinning but I resorted to marketing my products through social media platforms,” she says.
“I would send people my muffin pictures on WhatsApp and ask them to place their orders and pay a deposit so that I would be able to buy electricity and ingredients. My business grew because of WhatsApp and Facebook. I get 90 percent of my customers there.”

She also used online platforms to learn more about the trade.
“I would buy data and learn different things on YouTube. I conduct a lot of research on the internet. I go on YouTube every day to learn new ideas.”
She says her eight close friends have been supportive “through it all”.
“My friends were my customers and they bought every month and advertised my cookies like nobody’s business. They keep me on my toes,” she says.

Masopha bakes in the evenings after knocking off from work.
“I was lucky to venture into baking as I didn’t need too much capital as I already had a stove.”
In February last year, she started decorating her cookies after noticing “a gap”.
“Most people are more into baking cakes than decorating cookies. I wanted to bring a different style in the baking business,” she says.
She is now planning to expand the business next year.

“I am looking into packaging cookies with a long shelf life, I want to be able to deliver to supermarkets on a daily basis,” she says, adding that her dream is to penetrate the lucrative South African market.
It is a journey she had already embarked on but was cut short by the outbreak of coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns.

“I had already delivered more than 10 orders to South Africa before coronavirus interrupted everything,” she says.
She says the lockdown hit her hard as she buys 80 percent of her ingredients from South Africa.
“But I had to improvise most of the time with the help of YouTube.”
Packaging has also been a challenge.

My work relies partly on printing because my cupcakes toppers are printed weekly. Prices have gone up in the packaging industry and we were also forced to come up with a new price list starting in August,” she says.
She singles out “risk taker” Matšeliso Mokuoane as her inspiration and mentor.

Mokuoane, a qualified electrical engineer, resigned from a well-paying job at the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) to pursue business as a caterer.
Mokuoane is now a director of Rhythm Blue catering company and Mohlakapese Guest House.

“She lectures and guides me every day on the food industry regulations, the market, customer service and care and proper business administration,” Masopha says.
Masopha says she learnt baking from her maternal grandmother who taught her the art from the age of nine.
“I remember how I was so proud of myself back in 1998 when I baked scones and they came out just fine.”

She further honed her baking skills while in high school.
“I even got an A in food and nutrition for my COSC.”
But she went on to study for a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography, before getting a job in government.
“It is only after 10 years of working in that field when I started cooking and baking as a hobby… it has turned out to be the cookie kingdom as we know it.”

She says her cash flow is amazing and “we have the nation to thank for that”.
“We are truly blessed to have our customers.”

’Mapule Motsopa

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