Founder of NOMU

Listen on your favorite podcast platform.

Nomu’s Paul Raphaely is the typical David against Goliath in the food war story.

An artisan food brand against the giant mass producers of the world.

Nothing gives him more joy than to take a sling when he feels like fun.

Or take his business partner home with him.

Entrepreneurship is in his blood.
Listen for more insights on:

  • The Hellmans’ Gap
  • Why employees should all vote
  • How to fix the Rainbow Nation
  • Funding a food brand
  • Artisinal food’s heart & soul

Episode Transcript

Hello and welcome to another edition of Expedition Business where we talk to inspirational entrepreneurs who share the highs and lows of their business adventures and how on earth they managed to get through all of them. A quick reminder, please follow and subscribe Expedition Business on your favorite podcast platform and share with all your friends and family. You never know!

They might actually be very grateful to you and I might be able to afford an NOMU hot chocolate. This episode was made possible by Merchant Business Class Hotel for your business class accommodation in Midvaal and on the Vaal River. Check out the details in our description below or visit their website at

My name is Christél Rosslee-Venter, your host, and today I have the privilege of talking to the co-founder of one of the trendiest food brands on our supermarket shelves, Paul Raphaely. Paul, for those who might’ve been living under a rock, what is NOMU all about?

Paul: Hi, Christél. Thank you very much for having me today. It’s a great privilege to be able to share our story with you guys. NOMU is a, it’s a small, well, I would say, actually, perhaps not small anymore, you probably class this as a medium-sized enterprise, we’ve been going for about 24 years now. And, ultimately what it is, is a very selfish expression of what my co-founder partner Tracy and I would love to have in our own cupboards. I would say.

NOMU is the most selfishly motivated brand on the local supermarket shelves. We are preoccupied with making everything from hot chocolate to spices, to baking kits, and now to a range of baking mixes as well. I’m always trying to stick to the kind of quality and brand presentation that we would prefer to have for ourselves. So if we can’t find something on the shelf that matches up to what we want, then I suppose the argument is, well, why don’t we just do it ourselves? And.

That’s how NOMU has developed and just sort of popped into existence. Yeah, that’s the summary version.

Christél: Okay. But as far as I have it, you started out as a vegetarian deli. And that’s where the name NOMU came from.
Paul: No, I’m afraid you’ve got a slightly distorted version of the story. No, the name was the result of my adult brain.

trying to come up with a name for Tracy’s ambition at the time, which was before we even began this adventure. Tracy was a professional caterer working in Cape Town, and she had an idea in her mind that she might want to leave professional catering to begin a destination food emporium. This is long before South Africa had the idea of farmers markets or premium farmers markets, like you get quite often these days.

Tracy wanted to have a one-stop destination for all sorts of wonderful artisanal things. And because she was a vegetarian at the time, I made the joke to her that her dream delicatessen or her dream outlet wouldn’t have a lot of red meat in it. So no red meat equals no cow and no cow equals no moo. And that was, this was the sort of logical leap that my brain went through. And Tracy just liked the name. And so we stuck with it. And…

That’s how you get this kind of silly story. The irony of course is that Tracy became a lapsed vegetarian probably less than three or four months after we started the business, unfortunately. So the name stuck, but the eating habits didn’t.

Christél: Okay, but Tracy started it initially, but you joined not so long after that. 

Paul: Yeah, it took about six months before Tracy approached me. I was…

between posts at the time. When she started the business, I was employed as a brand manager for a liquor company called Seagrams. I was in charge of brands like Captain Morgan Rum and Glen Grant Whiskey. And Seagram was, the brands were broken up and bought over by new brand houses. And I was offered a post with both of them, but I decided to review my options. And at this point,

Tracy had begun the business supplying herself, literally sort of like Little Red Riding Hood. She’d take orders during the week and on Thursdays and Fridays, she’d go and do deliveries. And the business had flourished. It had gone from 16 or 17 spas and a handful of farmstalls within the first few weeks. She was exporting to Sweden, then Denmark, then England, within the first four months. And all of this had happened while I’d been…

in the process of slowly leaving the previous job. And she’d been employing me as a delivery guy and as a sort of a branding consultant over the first five or six months. So when I eventually said, look, I think I may go looking for another post, she said, well, before you do that, would you not consider joining NOMU? And we’d been together with this kind of burgeoning brand, this nascent brand.

from its inception. So it was a fairly kind of, it was a very easy, sort of fairly automatic thing. And I suddenly found myself being sort of the, I suppose the export manager, the brand marketer, you know, the guy who makes the coffee and does the deliveries. And in those early stages, in the first couple of years, it really was just Tracy and myself and two or three other people. I used to co-op my Kung Fu students because I was also a Kung Fu instructor for a while. I used to kind of…

bully them into helping us pack orders throughout the night. Just to make sure that we would get export orders done in time. So NOMU really has those kind of early stage entrepreneurial start from scratch in a garage elements to it as well. It’s a very authentic story. It’s a very genuine sort of simple thing that really grew a hell of a lot faster than we were expecting.
Christél:Wow, wow.
But you guys were at that stage only girlfriend to boyfriend? And since then you got married?
Paul: Yep. For our relative sins, I suppose, when we began this, we had a small cottage that we owned together in Cape Town in Sir George Gray Street. And then that was a long time ago. And since then we did eventually get married and now we have three dogs, two kids.

eight goldfish and a bond, just like a lot of other normal people.
Christél: That sounds like a handful. But Paul, in one of your previous interviews, you said as one of your advice that you’ve given out, don’t marry your business partner. What’s your take on being in business with the love of your life?

Paul:Look, I think I think Tracy and I are very lucky in that we’ve got, I would say

and exceptional chemistry. You know, we’re very similar in many respects, but we both bring very complementary skills to the overall picture. But I would never recommend it to most people. I think often the decision to go into business with a partner is often an economically driven one, you know, rather than splitting resources. The idea is that you kind of pull them together and perhaps you can do it. But I think Tracy and I, I believe are quite lucky in…

in the respect that we do bring a lot of, a lot of sort of collaborative strengths to the relationship. She is very, she’s very creative, a full-on perfectionist. I’m far more sort of combative and confrontational. She’s not that. And I think you need, you need sort of, in a partnership, you need to have a good balance. And sometimes what would start as an economic decision, like I said, about pooling resources, that’s not enough. And then especially when you add children to it as well.

it becomes tricky. Tracy and I also have very similar, kind of quite entrepreneurial parental backgrounds. You know, we come from families of self starters, families of self-employed people. So it’s possible that our outlook might also have been unusually well, or unusually sort of useful to the business. If you aren’t sort of O-Fei or familiar with the idea of throwing yourself.

completely into your own business, then it might be a little perilous going into business with a life partner or a husband, or a wife, girlfriend, partner, whatever.
Christél: Absolutely. So is your kids also gonna join the business? One day? Not if they’re complete.
Paul:I mean, if they’re sane, I would suggest not. If they’re mad, then maybe. I think South Africa comes with all sorts of other questions.

with it as a business, as a working environment. I think, I don’t think when we began the business all those years ago that we would have envisioned 16 years of load shedding or war in Ukraine or potential sanctions. I mean, there are so many elements to just conducting a business in South Africa that I think you can’t necessarily presume that it’s an automatic fit for your children. And then on top of that, of course, I think we belong to a generation where

you know, the idea of a child automatically entering behind a parent isn’t necessarily, it’s not a given. You know, I think we, the outlook, the parental outlook is that a child should try and identify what really does fire them up and push there. I don’t think, as I sit here right now, I’m not sure necessarily that either of my kids would necessarily want to go into the food business and I certainly wouldn’t force them.

Not knowing what I know about food now.
Christél: I think in one of the interviews, I think it was with Red and Yellow in 2019, you also said as one of your advice that you’ve given out, don’t go into the food industry. Is that still your advice?
Paul:Yes, 100%. I think there are. Well, look, we.

The reason why I’m humming and howling is that every year my opinion changes a little bit on this one, but it’s still fundamentally the same. Food is necessarily a field where every single year consumer demands in terms of compliance and hygiene and quality necessarily have to go up. As we become more informed about what we eat and what goes into what we eat, it is a completely natural and fully justified thing that consumers need to become more demanding and understanding.

clean label requirements, ingredients, you know, the composition and the formulation of the things that we put past our lips. But the problem with that is that, you know, labor becomes more expensive, ingredients and packaging become more expensive, the costs of compliance become infinitely more expensive, but the consumers are also awash with new options. There are now, there’s no longer just a few brands of cereals, there are 50, 60, 70 types of cereals available to buy anywhere.

There are multiple types of butter. It’s a far more competitive space, but the margins diminish every year. Competition goes up, compliance goes up, cost of labor, cost of goods, cost of production goes up, but the price you can charge for your item only goes down or stays flat. So necessarily, I think what usually happens is that ultimately you have monoliths and these juggernaut brands that…

have achieved the economies of scale where they can put out a product that does tick most of the boxes, but kind of only just, but they get them out and those are the ones that dominate. So if you wish to go into that field as we did to go pick fights with brands like Nestle as we did, just understand that you’re picking the toughest fight. I mean, you really are. It’s kind of you are the rebel alliance against the galactic empire kind of thing. So it’s, you know.

Christél:Okay, I can imagine that. But you’ve gone into exports fairly quickly. Can you see a difference in the markets between the export market and the local market?
Paul: Yes, absolutely. I mean the South African market. For a start when we began the business, I think there was a lot more money available locally. I think there were far more…

premium or prestige consumers available in the market, far more foreign investment, far more tourists. There was a lot more going on in, I mean, the business began in December 2000. I think South Africa has obviously entered into a particularly rocky financial phase. People simply don’t have the kind of funds available to spend on premium food. They would rather eat out necessarily than spend large amounts of money on eating at home. I think, so the premium sector, I think has been negatively affected.

And so if you are a very large premium brand focusing on that, I would say things are quite tough at the moment. Export, the South African brand, you know, or brand South Africa hasn’t been helped by the last 20 years of administration in this country. I think it’s safe to say we aren’t as interesting or as appealing necessarily as we were at the height of the Madeba magic phase, which is not to say that…

our wine and our commodity-based stuff isn’t still going to do well. I mean, we’re very well respected in that area, but I think it is trickier for a South African manufacturer to get the same level of attention that we might have. Say 20 years ago when Madiba was a big brand and the rainbow nation was the prevailing kind of message. So it doesn’t mean that it can’t come back. I think South Africa’s very marketable thing.

but things have got to change before we attract the same level of commercial interest from international buyers. So there’s business to be done there, but it’s a lot tougher. And then of course you get to the fact that you have to manufacture in South Africa, which comes with a host of challenges too, not the least of which is power generation or staff security, the wellbeing of your staff or securing strong staff in the first place. So yeah.

These are tricky things. None of it is undoable. If you are truly entrepreneurial, you figure it out. You just come up with a plan and you just keep going somehow. But it is getting tougher. It doesn’t have to stay tough, but it is at the moment. Christél: But you seem to be really good at figuring out new plans. Well, that’s how it looks like.
Paul:Well, I think that the greatest strength where we’re very lucky is that the word

is a nonsense word. It’s a word that was fun and playful and frivolous for Tracy and I. And we never meant for it to mean any one thing in particular. It was just a word for a potential delicatessen. You know, what went into that deli could change over time. It was the brand. The brand would always stand for quality and innovation and packaging and, you know, flavor innovation. So it doesn’t really…

matter what we produce under the brand, so long as it always fires us up and so long as we’re excited by it. So if we can carry on generating food ideas that are all about quality and innovation and flavor and design, then we do have the freedom and the versatility and the agility to keep coming up with new things. Endlessly, that will hopefully also be doable no matter what the environment. We can figure it out. It’s not that we’re bonded to spices.

but we like spices and we do them quite well. So long as we can procure ingredients and continue to maintain quality, then we can carry on doing that and coming up with similar ideas, as you’ve seen more recently with a whole string of new things. But it is, I think it is the brand’s agility and the ability to kind of, you know, to kind of continuously redirect and redefine who we are and what we do that is actually the reason why we keep going. Well,

Christél: Well, if I only look at everything that you bring out, that you’ve been bringing out in the last couple of months, it is just absolutely fantastic. And your mayonnaise and your mini makers and it feels like it just keeps on coming.
Paul:Well, to be fair, the mini makes or the baking mixers, those were originally conceived about 16 months ago. So I would be lying if I said these were not the most.

torturous and difficult things to get out from them. We never take this long to produce something, but an awful lot of time and energy went into getting these to where they are. But again, this is Tracy looking at the idea of baking kits in general and finding them really frustrating. She thought they were expensive. She thought they were boring. She thought there was definite room for conceptual innovation in the space of baking kits. So that’s how we got to the idea of a baking mix. The mayonnaise.

or Mayu as we call it, is more a kind of a truly entrepreneurial reflection of just how crazy South Africa is and how wonderful South Africa is. That was not a product that we had any intention of doing at all. That was us responding to South Africa having a panic attack when another major brand decided to leave. And we made a practical joke in public about, don’t worry, you know, we can…

We can fix this. And we were overwhelmed by South Africa being typically South African and saying, sure, let’s see what you do. We’re keen to try it if you want. So we tried it and we clearly came up with something that a lot of people really enjoyed. So all of a sudden now we have this new product that we weren’t even planning on having. And also because we had to launch that, you know, producing a new thing from scratch can sometimes be quite expensive. And that meant that the, the mini makes also had to be delayed because of that. So.

what you’re seeing over the last, say, six or seven months is the result of like a happy accident, a sort of an unwanted pregnancy that turned into a wonderful child, followed by the child you actually wanted the whole time arriving shortly afterwards. So it presents as a whole string of innovation, but in truth it was just a wonderful clumsy sort of, you know, rollicking…

series of unforced mistakes and accidents. But anyway, it’s fun. It keeps us excited.
Christél: Absolutely. And I think that unplanned mistake that you’ve made ended up in a fantastic product, I think. And you’ve also received quite a lot of press coverage when Hellmans moved out and you moved in.
Paul:Well, I think Hellmans, in a sense, they created the story for us.

If Hellman’s hadn’t left, we wouldn’t have done Mayu. You know, we only did it because we were annoyed that our, one of our preferred brands, because we really like Hellman’s, if they weren’t gonna be around, we thought, well, I suppose we’re gonna have to do it ourselves, and that was what gave birth to the whole thing. So once we’d made that decision, getting a new product on shelf for us became sort of a mechanical thing, a really fun thing, but a mechanical thing, but if Hellman’s hadn’t left,

in the first place, we wouldn’t have bothered. There wouldn’t have been a Mayu. So I suppose we should really thank Unilever for creating an opportunity for us really. Thanks guys.
Christél:Fantastic. I hope somebody from Unilever is listening. And it’s also, you’ve mentioned the first crowd-sauced mayonnaise. Yeah. Well, we literally produced 1000 jars.

just as a starting volume, we didn’t want to take any chances because of course it was a big experiment. So we made that a big part of our messaging that it was South Africa’s first crowd sauced, spelt S-A-U-C-E-D, first crowd sourced mayonnaise, just because we didn’t want anyone to feel that they weren’t also a part of the whole sort of creative process. Again, we had no plan on doing this and we also didn’t want to…

thrust a product onto the South African public if they didn’t approve of it. So we basically included our consumers as part of the development decision process. When they came to us, I mean, when we released it, we wanted them to come back to us and say, we really love it, please carry on. And until we got their approval, we weren’t going to carry on. So after about two weeks of sales, we sold all 1000 jars virtually before they even arrived. We’d had to commit to producing even more. And then we ran a…

social media campaign for 24 hours where we said, all right guys, it’s go or no go for Nomu Mayu. Now tell us what you think. And after about two weeks, we got a 98.9% approval. So we thought, well, that’s a pretty solid endorsement. And we thought at that point, it literally was the first crowd sauced Mayo in South African history. And then we turned that into part of our communication. So in fact,

We’re actually, we are literally going to continue with that. We’re putting it onto our new packaging because the packaging is constantly evolving. And when we release a slightly updated version of the label, it is going to say South Africa. It’s going to say proudly sauced in South Africa, spelled S-A-U-C-E-D, because unlike Hellman’s, it’s also a fully locally manufactured one, which is quite fun.
Christél: Just something that intrigues me, apart from your product being really premium,

packaging being premium, your advertising is out of this world. And I suppose you are in charge of all of that. Well, thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment. Yeah, we do everything internally. I’m I suppose the budget copywriter at NOMU. So we don’t rely on agencies. We do everything internally. I have a fantastic designer called Tinus.

And the poor guy has to constantly effectively visualize whatever I’m asking him for. So for the meantime, it is quite fun. But I think it’s a product of, if you live your brand long enough, if the language of your brand is sort of clearly defined in your own mind enough, and if you know exactly what you’re trying to sell, then sometimes the copy just sort of happens. You know, the idea just happens. But there is also, there’s a really wonderful team component here and we circulate.

the silly advertising ideas internally at the office and everyone gets a say in if they find it funny or not. We also have a, we have a rule here, um, which is quite simple. We say when in doubt, don’t. So if there’s anybody at NOMU who says that they don’t particularly like a message or if something makes them feel uncomfortable, then we use the team to regulate the message. So everything you see coming out of, out of NOMU is actually, it’s a really wonderful reflection of quite an honest sort of genuine team. Um.

It’s an expression of a lot of common values here, which is nice. But yeah.
Christél:You almost sound like a family.
Paul: Look, lots of companies would like to say that they have a really, like a family atmosphere or whatever. I’m sure in many instances we do have to behave like, you know, it’s sort of a smallish corporate every now and then for the sake of ticking all the right boxes. But we do, we do try, we try really hard to make NOMU.

a nice place to be and a nice place to work. I think, I don’t think we would have held on to the staff as long as we have held on to many of them if there wasn’t a genuine sort of a shared sense of purpose about what we’re trying to do here. I think, I hope most people are very proud of what we achieve and people really enjoy that. There’s a kind of a Jack Sparrow-ish element to being at work at NOMU. You know, we don’t pick small opponents. And I think…

I think perhaps our staff will sort of understand and appreciate and enjoy just how nuts the mission is, but how much fun we’re having. And I think it is quite fun. We get to, as a brand, we get to introduce new products and physically see them change the retail landscape. This tiny little company can make a difference in what a shelf at Pick and Pay looks like almost instantly. And I think that’s pretty cool.

Christél: For sure. But I must say from the outside, you definitely look like a family that’s having lots of fun. I just got one question. Is all your family registered to vote?
Paul:Well, every single one of NOMU staff members are registered to vote. Absolutely. We’ve succeeded in getting everyone to register. And so we are looking forward to hopefully also making a change in the landscape there next year as well. But we’ll see. I mean, if we can encourage

everybody else to maybe take a little bit of inspiration on what we’re doing. That would be first prize. But that is a slightly contentious and controversial thing.
Christél: Very controversial. You’ve been in trouble with a couple of people on that issue.
Paul: Well, I like to think it’s good trouble. I think I’m frustrated that a lot of the

the bigger brands don’t have a more strident, more obvious voice to add to that particular debate. I think we don’t, you know, we’ve very successfully convinced the youth that their vote doesn’t matter and the age that their vote has to just go one way. We’ve managed to rob an entire generation of their imagination of what a better South Africa could be. People have forgotten in 20 years, they’ve managed to forget what awesome can be and what the rainbow nation was. And I think…

There’s still an opportunity to fix it. NOMU is a very optimistic brand, a very positive brand. And if we’re gonna have a part to play in South Africa, we should share that optimism and share the, you know, we have to do our very best to try and get rid of the, the negativity wherever we can and the pessimism and the skepticism. I mean, if NOMU is such an optimistic, let’s go out and change things brand, you’ve got to carry that through the whole way. So bring the controversy. We’re not frightened.

Christél: Well, if it’s any consolation, I think it’s a fantastic idea. And I definitely do support you on that, because it all starts with just going out to vote and understanding the importance of voting. But Paul, just something that I want to get back to right from the beginning. You mentioned Cape Town a couple of times. Does location matter and would things have been different if you were based in Joburg or any other slightly,

less exciting location?
Paul: There’s an element of history that has to be applied to that. I mean Tracy and I are obviously born and bred down here. Tracy comes from Robertson. I was raised in the literally in the shadow of the mountain in Newland. So I think for us our families were down here, our networks were down here. But also in the beginning of NOMU we very seriously leveraged our connections within the media industry and much of the food writing was done

in Cape Town. We never had a marketing budget. Till this day, we still don’t have a formal budget. So we relied very much on the media telling the story about our products. And we had direct physical access to a lot of the people who led the conversation in print and on radio to begin with. So I think it might have been trickier if we were in Johannesburg to do that. That’s not to say that food doesn’t happen in Joburg. I think you’ve got some very substantial large manufacturing…

concerns up there, but I think these are a lot much larger businesses. These are all the listed companies doing that sort of thing. Whereas certainly when we started which was in December of 2000, a lot of the innovative stuff a lot of the really kind of the new trendy is the internationally led thinking that the stuff that was getting out and being noticed that did seem to happen down in Cape Town to begin with. So, you know, whereas the big bulk source factories and stuff might be up in Johannesburg.

the niche kind of premium, sometimes you could call it artisanal stuff, for whichever reason that was happening down in Cape Town. And I think we’ve, I’m not sure that, I mean, we would never have seen a need to relocate to Joburg because we’re also still privately funded, you know, independently funded. And Tracy and I have always pushed this business where we could afford to push and where we wanted to push it. So for us, it was a very natural and organic thing. I can’t say.

that it would necessarily apply to every food company. But certainly in our instance, I don’t see that NOMU could have happened anywhere else.
Christél: Speaking of budgets and funding, you haven’t applied for any external funding so far, you’ve only used internal funding sources. Correct. Do you think that is something that is typical to the industry or

are you guys unique in that manner?
Paul: I think we are still quite unique. I think Nomu is probably amongst the last, if not the last, sort of remaining kind of medium-sized brand that started out within that time frame, say between 1999 and 2005, 2006. I don’t think there are very many food brands that were operating at that level back then that haven’t either been extinguished or collapsed or…

taken on investment. I do think NOMU is probably still quite unique in that respect. And I hope you don’t ask me why we haven’t because I’m not really sure why. We’ve kind of grown step by step organically, you know, quite conservatively, I think, in respect, but our business growth has been directly affected almost like a braille record by

the political and the economic history of South Africa. Over the last 20 years, we’ve kind of gone with all the bumps and hiccups and all the roller coaster elements. And at every stage, we’ve had to kind of reformat and reconfigure our thinking to make sure that we can carry on going. But I do think that we’re probably amongst the last of the Mohicans at this point. I can’t imagine there many left like NOMU.
Christél:But the reality is that it is possible.

if you start small?
Paul: Yeah, I think well, well, now here I have to be careful not to sound too negative. If you were to ask me if I would start the same business today, I would run a million miles in the opposite direction. There is, I think there is almost next to no chance at all that I would start a food business like NOMU at this stage. Certainly not with so many different products in so many different categories. I think you’d have to be mad.

But is it possible to carry on with an established brand if the foundational work has been strong until this point? Can you still operate a business successfully in South Africa? And I think the answer is yes, because there is an opportunity still where we are so desperately in need of good news stories that all you have to do is just figure out that one item that brings.

a little bit of rainbow amongst the clouds and South Africa is almost automatically destined to see it because the means of proliferating a message is far more available now than it was 20 years ago. There was no Facebook 20 years ago, there was no social media, the internet was just a thing used to send emails really. So I think things have changed fundamentally in how you can get a product out there communicated effectively and cost-effectively. And then…

establish a customer base quite quickly. But again, we’re talking about a food company here where there is an awful lot of competition and a lot of environmental, sort of business environment challenges which make it tricky.
Christél: I can imagine. But speaking of technology, I have a major problem with your website. Just browsing through it makes me super hungry.

And my diet is about to go through the roof. It’s a common problem. We’ve got brownies, NOMU brownies that is being baked at this moment. Because after visiting your website, I sent somebody out to go and buy your stuff.
Paul:Thank you.
Christél: It is absolutely amazing. That’s also fairly new that you’ve launched your website or relaunched it.

Paul: No, I think, no, we’ve had a website since we started. So we’ve had a functioning version and it goes through updates and evolutions and upgrades once every few years, depending on what’s going on in this particular case. Again, as I said, Tracy made the initial decision to do the mini-makes probably about 16 to 17 months ago. And in the process of coming up with the idea, it was kind of a, it was a horrifying.

realization, but as we worked on it, we began to realize how many ways these products could be used. And so as, as a part of the development process, more and more and more recipes just popped up again and again and again and again. And so what we wound up with is literally hundreds of new recipes and Tracy wanted a better way of distributing them. And the previous website was great, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t as pretty and it wasn’t as sort of user led as we wanted on the recipe front. So because of a need.

to explain MiniMakes, we wound up having to develop an entirely new website, an updated version. But yeah, I think the website definitely is also quite kind of an entrepreneurial reflection of how we run our business. It’s like, oh, here comes a challenge. How are we going to deal with it? Oh, we better make a change to the website. And so we start doing that. It’s, yeah.
Christél: Well, congratulations on that.
Paul: Thank you.

Christél: But, Paul, something that I’d like to know, you always seem to be so positive and on top of the world. Do you ever get days when you feel like just staying in bed or running away?
Paul: Never running away. I’m too Spartan for that. I don’t like the idea of retreat. There are some days where I, you know, I think anyone who tells you they don’t have dark days is lying through their teeth. It’s part of the process. And then, you know, there’s some old…

hackneyed wisdom that everyone will have heard at some point or another, which is, you’ve got to have the bad days to appreciate the good. If you don’t have challenges, then good loses its meaning. So I don’t think so much that we’re always on top of the world. I think there are some days that are absolutely grotty and gritty and revolting. But with that comes an appreciation and an acceptance. If you don’t get the rubbish, then…

then the good loses all of its flavor. So you just take the bad days when they come and you just keep smiling and you just keep going forward. You know, as I said at the beginning, Tracy is the innovator and I’m the combative one. I kind of, I like that idea of having all my medals and my scars on my front, you know. So running away is not an option.

You just hold your ground or you take one step forward. It’s the only way.
Christél:Wow. So in the 24 years that you’ve been in business, what would have been your biggest challenge that you had to overcome?
Paul: Cashflow. It’s always cashflow. And then on top of cashflow, absolutely ludicrous labor policy, inter-governmental interference.

poor understanding of business and the correct creation of a business environment on the part of our leaders. I would say they have created so many obstacles to us just being able to do what we need to do in order to create jobs, create opportunity, build the economy. We spend more than we should need to on things that we shouldn’t have to, you know, and I think take all of that away.

all of those completely pointless own goals that our government is just absolutely single-mindedly determined to make at every opportunity when they could make a bad policy decision, they do. Or whenever they’re presented with a good or a bad decision, they always take the bad decision. I would say they’ve been the single biggest challenge to the lot. But I mean, there’s not very much I can do about that, except the register to vote thing. But aside from that, if you’re a small business operator.

If NOMU had had a massive war chest of marketing, I would have been able to cleave and carve huge big chunks out of my position. But I suppose the best gift they’ve ever been given is I just didn’t have a big marketing budget. So that’s the biggest challenge, I think.
Christél: Just coming back to politics, you wouldn’t consider going into politics and fixing all these problems?
Paul: No, you don’t know politicians. Politicians should just be bureaucrats.

You need business people to do business things. You need bureaucrats to just make, to do bureaucratic things. Leaders, leaders just need to understand in my view, what businessmen need to do in order to help them. But, um, I know, certainly not. I have no, no taste for the public thinking, uh, you know, I know. Sorry. You caught me off guard there. I think, you know, my greatest, my greatest regret is that in the 19…

1920s and 1930s, you know, true celebrity was defined by people we saw on the silver screen, you know, and these guys were surrounded with enigma and mystery. And, you know, you saw these great screen icons being depicted. And then they went back to this fabulous mythical place called Hollywood, where it was all secretive. The only time you ever got to see them was on the screen where they were an actor or something like that.

But at some point, the internet took away all of the mystique and all of the enigma and all of the mystery. The internet has told us what Brad Pitt had for lunch on Tuesday. And because of that, there’s now no longer any mystery. And the only people who have mystery are the ones with security clearance, which means that all of a sudden what used to be celebrity is now called a politician. And I think that’s desperately disappointing. I think we should know everything about our politicians, everything, right down to the absolute bare minimum, so that there is no mystery.

and then we can go back to having real celebrities. But while politicians are celebrities, I think we’re in trouble.
Christél: Well, let’s hope that change. But yeah, we can only hope. So when you’re having your groggy days, what fun and exciting ways do you use to regroup, refocus and rejuvenate your soul?
Paul: Well, the first thing.

I always do on a really bad day is I try to find a way that I can pick a fight with my opposition. I was, you know, on my worst days, I’m always thinking, how do I make my opposition’s day even worse? So there’s always a there’s quite a mischievous element in there. There’s quite a fun sort of, you know, looking for trouble kind of thing. And I find that’s a good way to refocus. And the other way also sometimes is just to take yourself out of

out of context a little bit, you know, out of, remove yourself from the situation and give yourself a bit of breathing space. So we don’t, we don’t tie ourselves to our desks when, when things are going badly wrong. Um, we just remember that sometimes you need a breath of fresh air. You have to step away and come back if you can. I do that sometimes by maybe spending a little bit of time off nature, you know, sometimes.

If I can, I do try to spend as much time as possible with my children when I can, but they’re also becoming teenagers now, so they’re not that interested in me being around. But I think, you know, I come from the sort of family where my father would have said that, you know, when things get tough, the tough get going. And so that’s that’s how I was raised. You know, you’ve got to get your tackies on and you’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to start selling. Just remember, everyone’s a salesman.

So on your worst day, get out there and sell. That’s, you know, it’s pretty stubborn, but it is fundamentally optimistic.
Christél: It’s definitely optimistic. So, but tell me, do you use your techies for anything else than just going to work?
Paul:Yeah. I mean, I’m not sure what you’re asking. Am I involved in anything else in the community or something like that?
Christél: In terms of sport?

Yeah, no, look, we definitely, we maintain a lot of time in nature. We do a lot of paddling on the ocean. It’s been a lot of time on our beautiful mountain down here. I think we’re very spoiled. So we use, we use what’s available to us as much as possible. I think I’ve been known to know the inside of a gym. I think without regular exercise, I would go completely mad. And then also, you know, you take the time to, like I said, before they become too old and leave you completely, if you can spend time.

being there for your kids as well. I find that’s very rewarding as well. So, very selfishly, I do like to spend time, I’ll try and make it to every sports match if I can, that kind of thing, where possible. And then of course, family is very precious. The time you’ve got there is very precious. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. So, I’m not gonna sacrifice all of that. I mean, what was the point? Spend all the time at work and none of it with your family, then I think you’re doing, perhaps doing something slightly wrong.

Christél: Absolutely and before you know it they’re all grown up and out of the house and You’re not keen on going on the hikes anymore.That I can vouch for, very good experience in that one So, but Paul if you were 20 years old again. What advice would you give yourself?

Paul: Um, if I was 24, okay. So I was, I was 24 when we started the business, which, which will tell you everything you need to know about my actual age. Um, I think, I think I would probably say, please avoid dozens and dozens of products. I think I would probably scream the words 80 20 at myself very loudly, very quickly. Because I think if we’ve been guilty of any one thing, we’ve, we’ve loved to add products, but we’re terrible.

cutting them out. So that’s both, I mean, it’s been a fun part of what we do, but it’s also been a bit of a weakness because you have to spread your love over, in this case, almost 300 different SKUs at this point. And that’s tricky. I think it’s been quite exhausting sort of trying to market so many different products. So I might say stick to one or two really good sellers and build a business around that. That would probably be the first thing.
Christél: Okay, the second.

Paul: The second is to drink less coffee. Okay. I’ve totally lost the battle on drinking coffee unfortunately, so I go through moments of having to cut back on levels of caffeine. But if I could stop that habit now, I probably, if I could go back to the beginning and try cut back on that habit, I probably would.
Christél: Is it not healthier to drink your hot chocolate?
Paul:No, well, I do that too. But you know, you get past a certain point, I think, where…

you begin to realize you’re going to need a cup of coffee to get through certain things. And I think it would be so nice to be able to maneuver it into my 40s, not being quite as like reliant on caffeine. That would be great.
Christél: But you haven’t decided, you haven’t started a coffee brand yet.
Paul: Well, we do have an instant cappuccino in the range, but that was actually forced upon us by one of our customers. So Tracy and I really like other people’s coffee, so we don’t feel the need

to create our own brand when we can support brands that we like already. Which is exactly the same story as the mayonnaise, you know. Until Hellman’s left we didn’t have a problem. It was really just so inconsiderate of them that they had to go and leave. But now it’s even more inconsiderate because they haven’t come back. Pick and Pay has brought them back. So now I’ve gone through all this hassle of launching my own product and now Pick and Pay goes and brings it back again. Very frustrating.

Christél: So can we not organize a cage fight between the two Mayo brands?
Paul: Well, listen, I think, I think that might be like, I wonder, I think that would be a minnow versus a shark, wouldn’t it? That’s a bit unfair. I think better what we’ll do is I’m just going to carry on like taking little bits and pieces out from, you know, like guerrilla warfare. We’ll do this in little bits and pieces. I will win the battle slowly by attrition, but I will.

Christél: You know that David did win Goliath.
Paul: Well, there’s a brilliant speech, not speech, a brilliant talk given by Malcolm Gladwell about how David had a whole army of advantages in his favour, not the least important of which was the fact that he was a trained goat herd, so he’d been protecting his sheep from wolves and lions with a slingshot. One could argue that Goliath didn’t stand a chance. So you asked me what gets me going, like…

I love that David and Goliath story because actually it means that I’m in the better position from the beginning. So I just need to be better with the sling.
Christél: Okay, need lots of practice but it does sound like you do get a lot of practice. I hope so. There’s no shortage of that. But you’ve mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s book. What book would that be one of the books that you would recommend for

entrepreneurs that need some inspiration?
Paul: Yeah, I think Malcolm Gladwell’s stuff, Outliers, is a brilliant, very inspirational book. I really enjoyed that. I would always recommend that people getting into business should read The Art of War by Sun Tzu. I mean, it’s an old classic, but I think it’s absolutely essential reading. I quite like science fiction, actually, but it’s funny.

I think you need to have an imagination. Everyone knows what they like to read as a calming thing, but straight up military strategy is helpful. The art of war, I’d say, is the starting block.
Christél: So there is lots of fight still in you.
Paul: Oh yeah, yeah. But again, I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody. I’m not sure this is everybody’s cup of tea or hot chocolate. Okay, so and…

Christél: What would be your most favorite quote that gets you going?
Paul: That’s a really difficult one. That’s a really difficult one. There are a lot. I like… I’d say the easiest one is the one that I’ve told my children since they were little and I think they would cringe if they heard me tell it to you. But there’s an inscription…

on a statue at the battle site of Thermopylae where the Spartans took a bit of a beating from the Persian army, the invading Persian army. And I’m sure everybody knows the story. This is where the 300 Spartans died. And it was a completely stupid victory. Ultimately, the Greeks lost and the Persians won actually. But there’s a great inscription on the side of it and it goes, you know, go tell the Spartans stranger passing by that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

And I really like that because it basically says that even though you may lose, your death may be glorious enough to prove the point to someone else. And I’m, you know, it’s, that’s a bit silly, but I like that. But then again, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. It’s something I enjoy.
Christél:And that’s your message that you’ve been giving to your kids.
Paul: Believe it or not, you know, you need, you need.

to give, you know, every family has a kind of a guiding, sort of a guiding message, I suppose. Tracy probably has her own, but it’s funny. In our house, that became almost like a nursery rhyme. It’s terrible. When I hear myself explain it, it sounds awful. But my eldest, Joseph, really loved it when he was little. He would insist on me telling him all the stories about the Spartans when he was little. So that became like a little thing we’d say.

at bedtime. Anyway, it’s not for everybody, it works for me.
Christél: But don’t you think as a parent we don’t always prepare our children for the battle ahead and that what you’re telling your children and teaching them is exactly what they need? They need to be ready for that battle.
Paul: Yeah, yeah, but look at the same time I wouldn’t say that everybody is automatically cut out to be an entrepreneur.

Most people will end up telling their children the sort of thing that helps to reinforce your own view of how to see the world. Not everybody should be telling their kids a Spartan poem. I think for some people, doctors’ Sues is more than adequate, and in our house that also had a place. I think as a parent, you try and share a little bit of who you are with your child to try and perhaps explain your own behaviour or your own…

methods or ideology about the world and I suppose that for me was an expression of my own kind of entrepreneurial view maybe So perhaps if my children take the same view even if they don’t become Self-employed as we’ve chosen to be you know, then at least they’ll kind of understand where you were coming from a little bit I hope these answers are what you were looking for to me. They’re beginning to sound a little bit waffling. But anyway, that’s
Christél: No, no, no, definitely not

I have another question for you. What would be your metaphorical mountain that you’d like to climb within the next three to five years?

Paul: A metaphorical mountain. Um, would you just want to climb out table mountain? No, no. I mean, I’m literally planning on climbing a big mountain in South America next year to like a bit of literal mountain, not a metaphorical. Um, look, I’d say for us, it’s not, it’s not even metaphorical. I can tell you quite clearly. Our ambition is to set up a European trading hub. We need to cross that. We have to get over this. This, um,

inability to service European and also North American customers directly. So it’s a big part of our strategy to grow now to the point where we can physically go and see customers ourselves and not rely on third-party distributors to do a very sort of half-ass job about it. So I think Tracy and I, after 20 years, we are, we’ve had enough of, of waiting for things to happen in our favor. We actually want to go and carve out opportunities for ourselves now.

We also need to migrate some of our manufacturing capability. We need to take what we’ve learned in making the products that we do, and we need to try and recreate that in other countries so that we can service those countries at a more affordable price point because I think South Africa is very long on innovation, but we’re very far away from ingredients. So it’s difficult for brands like NOMU to be able to necessarily get a product on shelf in Europe at a reasonable price point when we could potentially…

do what we do in other countries and services markets directly. So it’s possible. And it’s, it’s known in fact, it’s probable that that is, that’s a big part of what we plan on doing. And then also ultimately Tracy and I within five years, um, we’ll, we’ll have to take a view on whether or not we want to carry on doing this business on our own, or if we want to carry on doing it at all, but I think until we’ve achieved that kind of professionalized global, once we’ve achieved that, that global step.

I think the business will look very different. And then Tracy and I will have to reflect on if it is still a business we want to be involved in. We will have by that point been doing it for more than 25 years. That’s a long time. I’m not sure that I share my father’s sentiment, which was start a business, run a business, and then leave your business eventually. My father is still operational. In his 80s, he still goes to work, although his business doesn’t look the same.

I’m not sure if I want to be 86 and working still. That seems a bit unfair when there are places in Italy to go jumping off cliffs and food to eat in Greece and that kind of stuff.
Christél: Yes, I hear you. My dad continued working until he was 86 as well. But I think that’s also how things worked in the past. And what has worked in the past doesn’t necessarily work anymore.

Paul: Well, we also didn’t think we’d see a conventional land war in Europe again in our lifetime, but here we are. So who really knows? I mean, Joburg had snow. Africa recorded Acre, recorded three of, in fact it was in Mali, what am I saying? They had the three consecutive hottest nights, 36.9 degrees, consecutive night after night in Africa

and Joburg’s just had snow. So really, who actually knows what will happen this time next year, or in fact, in five years? But if your basic operating goals are fundamentally the same and if you still have the same basic driving philosophy, then you just keep going and you keep reconfiguring and you keep reformatting and you try to stay agile and optimistic, and you just keep going.
Christél: And what would be…

As a parting message, your overall message to entrepreneurs who want to start out and see what you’ve been doing and want to try the same thing, what would be your message to them?
Paul: Well, look, I’ve already said don’t go into food. So I’m not going to abandon that message. But what I would say is if you intend on starting a business, just remember that…

I think we live in a generation where people feel more alienated and more lonely and more underappreciated than ever before. I think this is very, this is very definitely a big problem and any modern service or product needs to answer that in a sensitive and gentle and appreciative way. People have money, they just may not want to spend it on insensitive brands or insensitive services that don’t appreciate what it took to make that money. So my advice…

My advice to anyone is, start a service that’s necessary, start a service that’s good, and make a product that’s worthy of the money you’re expecting people to spend on buying it. And I think if you do those things, you will have a consumer group that will appreciate you as being more than just another brand, in food or footwear or deodorant, it doesn’t really matter. I was…

I do tell my kids actually that, you know, if they were to be a plumber, I’d be very proud of them. But I want them to be the best, nicest and most polite plumber ever. You know, yeah, that would be that would be my message. Go for it. Just be a mensch. Brilliant message.
Christél: Paul, thank you so much. We really, really appreciate your time that you have spent with us. We know you’re extremely busy, but thank you so much.

Paul: Thank you, Christel, and good luck to everybody. And yeah, thanks very much for the opportunity to tell our story. We always appreciate it.