From balance sheets to burpees − Khanya Modipa has used her background as a CA(SA) to build a burgeoning fitness empire.
When Khanya Modipa travelled back to South Africa from the United States to renew her visa, she had no way of knowing that the anticipated two-week stint would turn into a two-year adventure. Nor could she know that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was responsible for the upheaval, would uncover hidden entrepreneurial talents.
Ironically, the impetus Khanya required to establish Slay With Kay, her fitness range, came out of a battle with anxiety. Khanya explains that she had been working as a consultant in the United States; a post she had assumed after completing her articles at KPMG. ’Exercise had been my favourite form of stress release since school days,’ she explains, adding that regular gym sessions had replaced netball matches once she moved to university and her gruelling schedule no longer allowed for team sports. Reluctant to give up the focus, discipline and endorphin rush she associated with exercise, she started a weightlifting routine to provide structure when life felt chaotic. ‘I believe that exercise builds mental fortitude. It’s encouraging to see that you can accomplish so much more than you think you are capable of. In many ways, it’s a metaphor for life.’
The harsh regulations that accompanied the Level 5 lockdown in South Africa would have put an end to those sessions, had Khanya not been able to think laterally. ‘I started incorporating household items into my routine – swapping out dumbbells instead of weights, for example, or using my mother’s couch as a surface for triceps dips.’ Khanya began filming these sessions, first as a way to keep herself accountable and then as a channel to motivate others. Soon, she had a fan base of more than 40 000 followers eagerly awaiting her live workouts on Saturdays.
This eventually gave rise to Khanya’s first entrepreneurial venture: the development of a fitness app specifically targeting beginner exercisers. As with any foray into entrepreneurship, the move wasn’t without challenges. Khanya recalls that she was initially taken aback by the cost of app development – anything from R500 000 to R1 million – until an app development company called Sudor contacted her on the strength of her Instagram page. ‘At first I thought the message they sent me might be a prank, but it turned out to be a perfect fit: they had the expertise but no audience, which was exactly what I could supply.’ At first, Sudor couldn’t quite get a handle on the home workout scene, but it’s a concept that was warmly embraced in South Africa – and one that Khanya is proud to have impacted. ‘Building a habit is a fascinating process, which is why I chose to focus on the beginner market, predominantly women aged between 18 and 35. My thinking was that by making exercise accessible, there was one less excuse not to start a routine. And in that way, I could help others enjoy the benefits of physical activity.’
Look good, feel good
Khanya’s second venture, Slay With Kay Fitness, was an extension of this philosophy. This range of quality, affordable and, most importantly, beautiful fitness apparel was inspired by her sister, who frequently complained that, as a plus-size woman, she battled to find activewear that both fit well and made her feel motivated. ‘There seems to be a mindset that you earn the right to look good in your gym clothes. That’s simply not true: when you look good, you feel good, and you become more likely to keep up your routine. Our apparel takes cognizance of the fact that size has nothing to do with health. Everyone is on their own journey, and we’ll meet you where you are.’ Slay With Kay Fitness therefore includes sizes from small to XXL.
The range was launched after the app because, Khanya says, she first wanted to test drive her concepts and find out how many people would commit to buying a subscription to the app. Seeing that there was, indeed, a market for her model gave her the confidence to introduce her clothing range – although, she admits, she was initially hesitant to do so. ‘The perfectionist within me thought I should wait until everything was flawless, but I came to realise that the only way I would learn was by doing. Once I had launched the range, I would have an opportunity to learn from my customers and incorporate their feedback, and that’s how it would get better.’ Like most other entrepreneurs, she learned that establishing your own start-up transforms you into an expert in distribution, marketing and HR – but despite the trials, Khanya loved the experience of launching the company.
A twist in the tale
With her start-ups doing well, Khanya didn’t expect to return to the United States – in fact, she resigned from her consulting job last year. However, as she says, the States wasn’t quite finished with her: just a few months after she became a free agent, she was headhunted by Google to become a global process manager.
Sadly, her relocation to California meant that certain changes were inevitable: although the app remains live, she no longer posts new videos, and her sister, creative director of Slay With Kay Fitness, now runs the company. Khanya’s involvement continues, however: as CEO, she ensures that the organisation is well funded and runs smoothly.
She is certain that her training as a CA(SA) has been helpful in this regard. ‘I think that more than numbers, this qualification teaches you a life skill: problem-solving. That’s something that can be applied in any sphere. More than that, though, an understanding of finances has been very useful. Many entrepreneurs feel overwhelmed by figures, so I’ve been glad to have a grasp on the economics of business. I also have access to mentors who help me persevere and make better decisions. And, with humility, I understand that my business is in its infancy, and if I keep applying the principles I have learnt, it will grow.’
Khanya is excited to nurture the company to a point where it can collaborate with well-known retailers, and she’s pinpointed the likes of Pick n Pay, Woolworths and even Target in the United States as potential partners.
So, what’s next for this 32-year-old dynamo? Always curious and insatiably interested, Khanya remains on the lookout for problems to solve. She is especially drawn to challenges facing her communities – which is why her latest venture, Save With Kay Finance, focuses on providing financial tips to young people. ‘Many young black South Africans aren’t able to ask their parents when they have a financial question. Having this knowledge, I feel it’s my duty to disperse it.’ Khanya’s website answers questions like how to invest, save and budget.
Ideally, she would like to build a company centred on helping people develop and sustain life-changing habits – exercising and saving being cases in point. ‘I believe that if you can apply this habit-building habit to one area in your life, you can apply it everywhere,’ she enthuses.
How to build a habit
- Make it accessible by breaking it into smaller goals − ‘Usually, when my alarm went off, I would pick up my phone, roll over in my bed and start scrolling my socials. During lockdown, I placed my cell phone outside my room so that when my alarm went off, I had to get up to switch off the alarm,’ Khanya says. She even puts her workout gear on top of the phone as another reminder of her goal.
- Observe your behaviour − ‘Essentially, you’re looking to interrupt bad habits and replace them with good ones. But to do that, you have to be aware of the habits you need to replace – so observe yourself carefully to identify them.’
- Think about your identity − If you think of yourself as a lazy person, your mind will create conditions that support that image – but it will also support you if you choose to think of yourself as highly motivated.