Q & A with Debbie Nortje, Co-founder and Owner of Treedom Villas & Vardos

1. Tell us about yourself. Have you always been entrepreneurial? What led you to take the first step and setting up your own business?
Coming from a big family and being the youngest of 4 daughters, Mom and Dad created a fairy-tale life for us, we were taught to reach for the stars and that we could do anything. My Dad worked in the same company for 40yrs and went from a clerk to owning the company. He leads by example and taught us that with patience, determination and hard work you could literally take over.  I joined forces with my sister, Lesley Waterkeyn CEO at CWDi, an agency in Cape Town. I started as her PA in my early 20’s and slowly worked my way up running the Events Department. Watching her in action and how she operated at such a high level of achievement but always having fun, inspired me to reach for my own dreams, so I did.

2. How did Treedom Villas and Vardos come about and has it changed your life?
Treedom was born from the love of experiences. I created so many different worlds working in the events industry. It was time to create a magical place, where people could come and chill, and feel happiness, a magical place that Marc and I could mould together. A place where guests are welcomed like old friends and feel one with nature. Treedom is good for the soul, as many of our guests have stated.

It has changed our lives completely. Imagine waking up in the middle of your own indigenous forest with ocean views in front and Mother Nature all around you. It’s made us look at life differently and to see what is really important. Slow down and focus on health and happiness, not only for ourselves, but also for our guests. 

3. What one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?
If it was easy, everyone would do it. It is all about attitude, patience and planning. I’m still working on the patience part. Coming from events, everything is deadline-driven and living here is not like that at all.

You have to believe in your dream and live it passionately and be open to learning new things.

4. What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?
My sister Lesley Waterkeyn for sure. She is a force of nature and has guided me to always challenge myself and don’t just do your best, do whatever it takes. The other day her twin boys were chatting to me and said “Mom is amazing, one day she has an idea and the next day it’s briefed, designed and out to market. That just blows our minds”.
We were so lucky to work together as sisters and it was the best experience that I will treasure forever.

5. If any, what challenges have you experienced as a woman in your industry?
Like my sister, I myself am a bit of a force of nature and nothing really stands in my way.  Make sure people like you, you get far more done this way. Be lekker, smile more and make friends.

6. What is Number One Business Goal you plan to accomplish over the next year?
Keep building Treedom with our 5 luxury Gypsy Vardos (Wagons) and our fantasy pool area. A big goal for us is to also get more involved in the community!

7. Do you have any new projects coming up (or have you just completed a big project ~ reached a milestone, etc.)? If so, please tell us about it.
At Treedom we never stop building. During the lockdown, we have built our new infrared and hot stone sauna and outdoor shower experience, a fire pit and The Love Tunnel for private dinners in the forest. All these new experiences have elevated the experience for our guests and they are loving it.

8. What one piece of advice would you give any aspiring female business leaders reading this?   
Take the leap, get proper advice when it comes to finance. Keep your costs low and build it up, it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Plan plan plan.