An entrepreneur is born

An entrepreneur is born

Here’s something a lot of people don’t know about me. I was selling little bags of white powder on the streets at the age of twelve. The merchandise was manufactured in my kitchen when my folks weren’t home. My friend J and I used to do this a few times a week to support our habit. You have to understand how desperate we were. It was a habit I’d developed when we moved to Johannesburg earlier that year, a move I found quite traumatic. So when my friend J offered me one, I knew it was downhill from there.

I still remember the first time I put one in my mouth – the rush was instant, it made me forget my problems, and I knew everything was going to be okay. But then I had to have another one and another one, and soon it became so bad that I knew I was a fully-fledged addict. ‘Hi, my name’s Kelley and I’m addicted to Perky Nanas.’

I think it was the perfect blend of milk chocolate and banana that got me, or it could’ve been the way the velvety chocolate wrapped itself around my tongue. Whatever it was I was hooked and now it was a matter of finding the cash to finance this new habit. The cost of a Perky Nana in 1985 was 20c and the precise amount of pocket money given to me in 1985 was zero.

I can’t quite remember when THE BIG IDEA hit but I have a vague notion that it emerged during one of our weekly afternoon cooking experiments, a.k.a. culinary disasters. Being the candy whores we were – I have the fillings to prove it – J and I decided to make our own sherbet! We had dabbled in starters and mains already (our poor parents were forced to pay us when we set up a dinner for the four of them, charged them and fed them a Spaghetti and Meatballs dish which resembled mangled dogs bits – and apparently didn’t taste too dissimilar either).

Attempting our own line of sherbet was the natural next step for us. If you don’t know the ingredients of homemade sherbet I’ll share the recipe with you in case you want to branch out on your own one day:

K and J’s Home Made Sherbet Recipe

Enos and Icing Sugar (for Americans Enos are similar to Alka-Seltzer)

For budding entrepreneurs like us you can see how irresistible the business model was: 1 x stolen bottle of Enos from the medicine cabinet; 1 x stolen bag of Icing Sugar from the kitchen cupboard and 1 x stolen little plastic packets from J’s mom’s larder. Costs: zero. Profit: mind-blowingly massive for a twelve-year-old. For every bag of Sherbet we sold for 20c we could buy ONE PERKY NANA!

Okay, so this didn’t really constitute profit at all but my God, the possibilities were endless. In time we dreamed we could own our own Perky Nana Factory and devote our lives to the greater good that was the choc-banana bar. But our dreams were short-lived. Apparently, the market wasn’t ready for such a specialized confectionery product as sherbet. In fact, one potential customer – actually just a poor unsuspecting domestic worker that we harassed on the street – went so far as to throw our ‘goods’ on the roadside and ask J to back her BMX over them because it tasted so disgusting. We weren’t prepared for that kind of reaction and it was a massive blow to our self-esteem (at twelve it didn’t take much).

To our great surprise we actually managed to sell a few bags and we procured a few Perky Nanas but something didn’t sit well with me. We went home feeling miserable that day and I told J it’s because we were progressive thinkers living in a Calvinistic society and our talents were wasted. We should think about expanding our business, and moving offshore. Okay, no I didn’t. What I really said was ‘this sucks!!!’

Later that evening I phoned J. ‘Have you actually tasted the sherbet?’

‘No friggin’ way, are you crazy?’ she said. ‘That stuff’ll kill you.’

I laughed my head off. ‘Hey wait,’ I ventured, ‘do you think there’s a market for coconut ice?’

We spent that holiday doing anything and everything to make money. We baked biscuits and sold them to passersby; we cleaned J’s house every afternoon in exchange for cash; we cooked meals for our families and charged them; we took all the empty soda bottles back to the shop for change; and my personal favourite: we performed a three-hour rendition of The Sound of Music for our families and the two of us played every single cast member in the movie, Nazis included, and wore black garbage bags on our heads for the nuns’ habits. To this day we can still reenact ‘A few of my favourite things’ and ‘Edelweiss…’ at parties.

Eventually, we settled for a job at our local mini adventure golf centre and spent our afternoons stamping tickets. It was blissful not having the responsibility of a demanding sherbet business that came with capital outlay, tax returns and ledgers. Instead we could just sit at the ninth-hole bench and slurp our Fanta Oranges through chewed-up straws, stamping away, and watching fathers strike their golf balls way too hard so that they would end up in the ditches.

Could life have been sweeter?

Note: Perky Nanas were discontinued in South Africa in the late 80s.

We still refer to it as our ‘Annus Horribilis.’

To all my friends in Oz: the Perky Nanas you have there do not taste the same so don’t even think of sending me any to try make me feel better. (Ok, maybe just one if you insist).

Kelley Thorrington
natalie@thecreativelab.co.za