In the heart of Gaborone, Botswana, comes a story of audacious reinvention, a tale of a woman who dared to transform her life’s trajectory from the conventional to the extraordinary. Dr. Wedu Somolekae, a name now synonymous with doggedness and tenacity, paints a narrative that began in a cocoon of ambition and has now emerged as a beacon of inspiration globally.
This interview with Dr. Wedu Somolekae, 30, reveals the threads of her life’s tapestry, each strand woven with purpose and determination. From her childhood days, marked by both brilliance and self-doubt due to personal struggles, to her transformative decision to leap into aesthetic medicine, her story embodies the essence of resilience and the power of self-belief.
Dr. Wedu Somolekae, 30, founded Medi Glow Aesthetics, Botswana’s leading beauty treatment and aesthetics company. She tells Business Elites Africa how she started a first-of-its-kind medical practice with the severance pay she got after resigning from her government job and all the bitter-sweet episodes that occurred afterwards, which eventually led her to the limelight.
Tell us about your childhood, what ignited your passion for medicine, and how you landed in the medical aesthetics niche.
My name is Dr. Wedu Somolekae; I am a medical doctor with a special interest in aesthetic medicine. This means I’m a general practitioner with post-graduate training in aesthetic medicine. I was born in the year 1993 to hardworking Kalanga parents. My father is an information systems analyst, and my mother is a lawyer. I am the youngest of two, my older sister, who is also now an attorney. I grew up in Gaborone, Botswana.
Growing up, I was a bubbly child, although slightly introverted around new people. I was very bright and often excelled in my studies. I enjoyed playing sports and participated in anything I was good at.
I started thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up around high school. The thought of becoming a doctor came because I thought it was a prestigious and elite occupation.
During my upbringing, I struggled a lot with self-confidence due to severe acne and bad teeth. This had a negative impact on my self-esteem. Fortunately, my parents took me to a dentist and a dermatologist, where I got braces (for most of primary school) and was on acne medication in high school. Despite these struggles, I was always interested in girly-girl things like hair, skin, and makeup. So when I was first introduced to aesthetic medicine, I thought it was the perfect blend of my training in medicine and my interest in beauty. It was a great fit because I experienced firsthand the impact of low confidence and low self-esteem on your mental and relationships with others.
It was not a straight path to aesthetic medicine from medical school, which I completed at the University of Botswana. I first did a year of internship and then worked for the government of Botswana as a medical officer in a Northern village called Masunga for about three years. During this time, I decided to pursue a career in aesthetic medicine after a trip to an aesthetic clinic that a friend made while we were in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was extremely intrigued by the concept, and it felt like the perfect fit. I started saving up and eventually registered for several training courses with the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine and Medskills Academy based in Pretoria, South Africa.
Being a relatively new industry in Botswana, the success of the practice, despite multiple challenges led to both national and international recognition. We were featured in various newspapers and magazine articles and even appeared on a news segment on national television. I was also included in the 2023 Forbes Africa 30 under 30 list as one of the newest self-made young innovators and leaders scripting a new vision for Africa.
You resigned from your government job to start your own business. This is a step many people are afraid to take. How did you know it was time to make that transition, and what gave you the courage to do it?
After training, I made a tough and courageous decision to resign from my government job and applied for positions with different medical practices. The main reason for resigning was that, with aesthetic procedures, the sooner you start putting them into practice, the better. It is the only way to improve your skills. Otherwise, you forget. Unfortunately, nobody was interested in introducing aesthetic services to their clinics. Although it was much earlier than I thought I would, I started my own practice.
Before starting the practice, I considered returning to my government job, but that would mean never really having an opportunity to explore my newfound passion. Also, I had invested so much in my training with my savings I couldn’t let that all go to waste. Mind you, aesthetic training courses are quite pricey. But most of all, I had decided that this was what I wanted to do for a living, and I would much rather try to move to another country where aesthetic medicine is widely practiced than not work in aesthetics at all.
Although my family didn’t quite understand my vision or why on earth I would leave a secure job for this dream, they supported me nonetheless. This also helped give me the confidence to try.
What experiences had you garnered in medical aesthetics before starting your practice? Also, how did you start Medi Glow Aesthetics?
All the aesthetic training courses I attended were practical. This means that there are demonstrations of procedures, and you get a chance to perform the procedures on a model. I also shadowed an experienced aesthetic doctor, Dr. Chris Giezeng, at his aesthetic clinic in Pretoria for a day. The rest of my experience came from practising with friends and family members until I started performing procedures on clients.
I used my severance pay from my work in the government to rent a small room to work from and buy a little bit of stock. I also had a small investment policy that matured after University. My mother had withheld the proceeds from me until such a time that I really needed them. During my first month, she gave me the money. I then used the power of social media to consistently post about services we offer on various platforms, from Facebook to Instagram and even TikTok.
Aesthetics medicine was relatively new to the Botswana beauty industry when you started. What was your initial marketing strategy, and how did you land your first client?
All I knew, in the beginning, was that aesthetic medicine was more lifestyle-related and would appeal to a specific demographic. Mostly middle-aged to older women and working professionals with disposable income. In order to reach that target market, I relied on social media.
We created a short and exciting launch video and sponsored the post to boost views. We took pictures of various procedures being done on both males and females to pique the public’s curiosity.
The location of the room, albeit small was in a lovely neighbourhood and was within a medical complex that had other service providers such as diagnostics/imaging, pharmacy, cardiologist, and a dentist. That also helped to bring traffic my way.
What’s your take on the skin-bleaching culture in Africa?
The skin bleaching culture is very harmful to the skin and reflects a lack of self-acceptance amongst many African women. It is still widely believed that fairer skin is more beautiful than dark skin, which in my opinion, is false. However, beauty does lie in the eyes of the beholder and is very subjective. My aim is to always enhance what already exists and not to change too drastically. I have found that any clients requesting bleaching are often convinced they will look better if they become lighter, which is an issue that goes beyond the physical.
Knowing that something out there can change them distracts away from the effort that needs to be put into self-love and self-acceptance. Many would instead experiment with harmful bleaching products than discover the root cause of the dissatisfaction with their skin tone.
Transitioning from a medical professional to an entrepreneur requires a distinctive mindset. What prepared you for entrepreneurship, and how do you stay motivated despite the challenges?
I tried my best to prepare myself by taking a short course in Business Management Fundamentals with the University of Stellenbosch before resigning. However, nothing can really prepare you for all the challenges that you will face. Running a business while trying to do your best to help others requires a firm understanding that everything in business has a cost, and if you don’t find that balance, you will run at a loss. So, despite wanting, with all my heart, for my clients to be glowing and happy, I can’t let empathy make me discount services, which I often find myself doing in the early stages.
I can’t say I’m always motivated, but discipline takes over on autopilot where motivation is lacking. I’m often encouraged by seeing my clients happy with their results and even spreading the word to their friends and colleagues. I’m very focused on what Medi-Glow Aesthetics could become and will not rest until that dream is realised.
What challenges have you faced in your entrepreneurial journey, and how did you overcome them? You can use one challenge as a case study.
One challenge I face is importing products from across the border. The retail part of the business involves selling skin care products and other complementary supplements. I source those from South Africa.
Sometime last year, my courier had issues with getting the products across, and his vehicle was detained for over a month with my products still inside. I had to find a way to continue business while waiting for this order, which was eventually released. It was incredibly frustrating as clients constantly called to ask when their skincare would arrive.
Our cash flow was stifled, and I had no idea when the products would arrive. I wondered if I would be able to make all my overhead payments that month. Luckily, the service side of the business continued, and we were able to cushion the shortfall by not selling products. I had to stay strong and show up daily despite not knowing how things would turn out. I also had to communicate with clients effectively and keep them calm despite the inconvenience.
It all worked out, and I learned a lot about different procedures and protocols that always need to be followed to ensure we don’t have the same situation on our hands ever again.
What were the key factors that contributed to your success as an entrepreneur?
Perseverance – In the beginning, I would see only one client a day, sometimes none, but I kept going.
Optimism – I believed that I would succeed eventually, even though I wasn’t sure when or how it was going to happen
Failing forward – Learning from setbacks, mistakes, and failures to help me grow into a better doctor and a better entrepreneur.
How do you overcome the fear of failure?
I focus more on the reward and possibility of success. I’ve also accepted that fear is a part of life and always helps you to grow. They say, ‘If you try, you risk failure, but if you don’t, you ensure it.’ I believe in always giving it a shot.
What advice would you give anyone who desires to leave their 9 – 5 job to start a business but is afraid because of the global economic challenges?
I advise them to take a calculated risk and look before leaping. Do enough research and have a backup plan to fall back on if your venture doesn’t succeed! I wish you the absolute best, and I hope my story will inspire you to go for your dreams!
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