Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small business: Mentoring - Lufi Rasmussen and Icehouse

Lufi Rasmussen, owner of the Misiluki Day Spa in Apia, Samoa, is developing a luxury natural skincare range under her brand. She is being mentored by Carollyn Chaplin and Debra Chantry, who are executives in residence at the Icehouse.

Icehouse executives in residence and mentors Carollyn Chaplin (left) and Debra Chantry (right) with mentee Lufi Rasmussen of Misiluki (centre).
Icehouse executives in residence and mentors Carollyn Chaplin (left) and Debra Chantry (right) with mentee Lufi Rasmussen of Misiluki (centre).

The mentee: Lufi Rasmussen, Misiluki

Can you tell me a bit about your business?

I opened Misiluki Day Spa, a small business in Apia, Samoa, in 2008. Due to the size of the population in Samoa and the limited disposable income of locals and tourists Misiluki's growth is limited. So I had the idea to develop a signature boutique luxury skincare business, which led me to ask: how can I showcase the uniqueness of Samoa through Misiluki on the world stage? I saw this as a new challenge in my career.

Why did you seek a mentor?

I had researched and developed my idea, product and brand on my own since 2009. Now I'm in the final stage of product and brand completion, I felt I needed to get unbiased feedback on what I had achieved to date, to see whether I was going in the right direction or not.

I found that when it comes to business and a project such as this, living in Samoa is very isolating. International business is new to me; I don't have the knowledge and experience to be able to take my product to international markets and it was difficult for me to find a mentor in Samoa with international experience in retail I could connect with and who understand what I was trying to achieve. So I started searching outside of Samoa to New Zealand.

How did you find your mentors here?

I found the Icehouse on the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise website. I had previously been told about business incubators and read through the recommended list of incubators. I went though a few of the websites and found the Icehouse was the most relevant to my product and me. My husband, Michael, and I attended their Idea Validation Workshop in January and this confirmed we needed to team up with the Icehouse to move forward with sound advice. The Icehouse allowed me to select my mentors, Debra and Carollyn, and I am thoroughly impressed with their level of skills and experience. It's important to me that I connect with them and vice versa.

How does the mentoring relationship work, particularly given you're based in Samoa?

Due to the amount of work I have completed to date they have tailor-made a programme that will cover a three-month period. I have committed to being in New Zealand once a month for one-on-one meetings at the Icehouse and other communication will be via skype, emails and phone calls. My mentors have set me tasks that cover research on target market, competitors, costing and distribution channels, as well as short and long-term goal setting. I definitely have my work cut out for me.

How is this process helping your business?

As an entrepreneur you are so connected to your dream project. What you need is an external party that has no connection with you or your project to provide positive criticism as to whether you're facing a red light - that you should stop the project because it won't work - or, fingers crossed, that you've got a green light - that they can see where your product will sit in the market and that it has potential to do well if you work with them. So far, this process has helped validate what I have done and to know I am on the right path.

What advice would you have for other small business owners looking to take on a mentor?

It is important you connect with your mentor and have fun with them. It is about learning from this person who has a wealth of knowledge and experience and about your own self-development. From this perspective you can't go wrong.

The mentors: Carollyn Chaplin and Debra Chantry, executives in residence at the Icehouse

What needs did you see in Lufi's business that you could help meet?

Lufi has done some excellent thinking around her vision and brand that now needs to be translated into a business proposition. We will help her build the structure and its foundations and provide her with the guidance to explore her market and develop the commercial model.

In our first session we were able to take the research and thinking she had undertaken to date and put it into a framework to enable the robust building of the business strategy.

What insights have you yourself been gaining from the process of mentoring this business, as well as more generally?

Mentoring is a two-way relationship; it takes commitment from both parties. She not only has business experience and energy but the ability to listen and take on advice, which is an important aspect in the mentoring process.

Specifically in terms of Lufi's business we have gained insight into the opportunities for Samoan businesses to use New Zealand as a hub - a place to manufacture and develop their products, utilising the business skills and the expertise offered at the Icehouse.

What do you think makes for a good mentoring relationship?

Honesty, two-way communication, expertise, mutual respect and shared values, clear expectations, perseverance and a good dose of shared humor.

A startup journey has its ups and downs but as a mentor it is our job to help our clients meet their milestones, help them pick up the pieces when times are tough and encourage them to focus on the bigger picture.

Lufi has all the things we look for in a successful entrepreneur: she is a visionary, a big-picture thinker who thinks outside the square. She believes in herself and the end vision. We picked up her passion for this business right at the onset and that's the key.


Coming up in Small Business: Yahoo's Marissa Mayer may have been down on it, but remote working - or teleworking - is becoming a more viable option as technology improves. So how does it work in a small business? If you've got a story to share, please get in touch via the 'Read more by Caitlin Sykes' function below.

- NZ Herald

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