Published on 7 November 2018
Words: Marinda Van Zyl
Zulé Vuuren, founder of LocumBase
Looking at Zulé Vuuren, you’d be hard pressed to see the young girl who once believed she’d be dead by the age of 21. In her place is a dynamic entrepreneur with an appetite for risk and a compulsion to effect positive change in the world. This seismic transformation didn't happen overnight.
"I didn’t have much of a plan for my future when I was a teenager. I had quite an erratic and somewhat traumatic youth, and I honestly believed that I might not make it," says Zulé.
Throughout all this, she felt a pressing responsibility to make a difference in the world. This seeming burden fuelled a paradigm shift that led her to step into her calling. The change didn't happen in an instant. It was a steady process of work that had to be done within to grow into the person she feels she is destined to be.
"People don't change, they just become more of who they are. When you put energy into making a difference in the world you can make amazing things happen."
It's taken a lot of acceptance of who she is, of her past, and what has happened to her. Traumatic experiences shape us and Zulé believes that she is the person she is today not despite her past, but because of it.
"My experiences gave me the resilience to do the hard things. Once you overcome really difficult situations you come to a point where you realise that you can be unbreakable. Very little out there can actually kill you," says Zulé.
The ability to take risks is a theme that runs through her life, often punctuated by decisions that would leave the rest of us paralyzed with fear. Following a short stint overseas after finishing high school, Zulé returned home to study journalism. Writing seemed like the medium that would best fulfil the feeling of responsibility to reach many she felt inside, so journalism seemed like the next logical step. Then, in September of that year, she had the opportunity to take on a hospitality project in the Seychelles. Instead of taking the safe route and finishing her studies, she packed her bags and headed for adventure. And so began the pattern of observing life while being fully immersed in its experiences. Her fellow adventurers, guests and locals were an eclectic bunch, and she noticed a common trait in them all.
"I learned that everybody is essentially the same, we all want the same things. Everybody just wants to be valued. People want to be seen and want to be valued for who they are and what they can bring to the world."
Not being one to stagnate, her fascination with human nature prompted her to enrol in a degree in Psychology by correspondence when she returned home. She enjoys discovering what drives people, and what pushes them to behave in certain ways. This can inform the process of creating systems that work for them, which will nudge them in the direction of achieving their goals.
Every travel experience she's had has confirmed that our needs and wants are universal, wherever we're from. In 2010 she bought a ticket to France with only a desire to discover Europe and work on a yacht, but no job and no prospects waiting. Shortly after arriving, she accepted a position on a yacht that she soon regretted taking.
"Some of the decisions I made while I was there, I made out of fear or desperation. I was afraid that I wasn't going to get a job, and I didn't want to come back because I knew there was still a lot I needed to learn."
Zulé has the unique ability to change direction when she realises she's made a mistake. She felt that leaving would be the right course of action. The captain dropped her off at a deserted train station on a Sunday. There was no human in sight. Facing the unknown was preferable to staying where she felt she didn't belong.
Shortly after this, she found a position she enjoyed. The crew was quite mixed. The experience of being around people who are different proved valuable. She became increasingly self-aware and aware of the importance of surrounding herself with positive people who share her desire to contribute to the world.
How you think and feel about fear will influence your ability to take risks, as Zulé explains: "If you’ve overcome situations where you were afraid for very long, you realise there’s no alternative. If you don’t get out of it and overcome the fear, you’re always going to be afraid."
A profound sense of malaise lingered when she returned home. Life seemed to have stagnated while everything inside her had been transformed. It took her a while to find her feet, and in the process, she started working as a photographer's assistant.
"With photography, you can share a story, an entire feeling, with someone in a single image. You can share so much in a moment. I wanted that."
She worked with a professional photographer for a year and a half, learning the creative- and business sides of photography. This position gave her the opportunity of seeing the ins and outs of business from an unbiased perspective. She decided to go solo and worked as a freelance photographer for three years. She photographed weddings, products, and lifestyle shoots. Although commercial photography is enjoyable, it can stifle creativity and freedom of expression.
"I came to a point when I realised that the business of photography in Johannesburg was not for me. I made the decision to let commercial photography go because it became something different than telling stories, than inspiring others with images. It became a hustle for a pay cheque. It wasn't enjoyable anymore," says Zulé.
In the meantime, she'd fallen in love. Shortly after marrying her wife, Tanya, they sold most of their possessions and went on a backpacking trip across South America. They had no idea how long they'd be away. They'd planned the first month of the trip and left the rest open-ended. With camera and notebooks in hand, they were ready to leave the aggressive energy of Johannesburg behind, and go exploring. The theme of the trip was 'show me a better way to live'.
"We ended up backpacking through South America; busing, walking and hitchhiking for six months and six days through six countries."
They volunteered in various roles, living with families in their homes and working with them on a variety of projects. They worked at a coconut and lemon tree plantation in a rural town in Brazil, built ecobricks on an artist compound near the Pantanal, chopped trees in Uruguay, grew a vegetable garden in Argentina and got a taste of working in a commercial kitchen on a wine farm in Chile. It was hard labour at times, and it was a mind-shift for them going from the hustle of Johannesburg to needing only the basics of shelter, food and WiFi. They both experienced varying emotions at high intensities. Zulé documented the trip through photography and blogging. She still sees those images as symbolic of the lessons they learned and the risks they took while on the trip.
"When our mothers would read the blog, they'd be afraid for us. I don't always think about what could go wrong, I'm more of a best-case scenario person. Even if you have a worst-case scenario in mind, you can prepare for it, but it probably won't happen,” says Zulé.
Back in South Africa, they relocated to Cape Town and started a business focused on children's eye care, as Tanya is an optometrist. It was risky using their life savings to fund a business that's a new concept. Neither of them had extensive corporate experience, but Zulé feels that creating and running that business was her business school. The lessons she learned prepared her for the next venture she was about to embark on.
These are some of the key lessons she learned:
Don't always believe what the market says, watch what they do.
Do a lot of research. Talk to your market before you spend a lot of money on building a product.
Don't spend money on creating products if you're not sure about it.
Be very frugal at the start. It's one thing to be prepared for the eventuality of success, but you'll probably have limited funds before you start earning money, so you need to watch your spending.
Give the market prototypes to see what they do with it.
During the journey of running the children's sunglasses business, they discovered another gap in the market that was born from a personal need. They felt there had to be a better way to connect freelance medical practitioners and practices. Because her wife is an optometrist, Zulé is able to view the industry from the side of the medical professional, as well as from the practice's side.
It is with this holistic approach in mind that she founded LocumBase. The vision and mission is to create an avenue of freedom and flexibility for medical pros while earning a fair living wage as a locum in exchange for the professional skills that they offer. LocumBase mainly focuses on optometry and pharmacy and is open to any medical professional. The platform connects medical professionals with practices that need them while managing the admin so that their time is not spent on activities that don't contribute to their core business.
"It's a place where we can create a supportive ecosystem that can uplift the industry as a whole. When you have better qualified, more experienced and happier locums, you'll have better service in your practice, and happier, healthier patients," says Zulé.
Benefits for locums who use LocumBase:
It saves them time.
They earn fair standardised rates.
A booking can be accepted immediately.
Locums get paid quickly and efficiently.
Locums are able to view practices' ratings.
Locums are able to rate practices.
There is no minimum time limit, locums can make themselves available for as few or as many days as they'd like.
Benefits for practices that use LocumBase:
Practices are able to find qualified locums easily.
Admin is kept to a minimum, allowing practices to focus on their core business.
Hiring top quality locums reduces organisational stress.
Practices are able to view locums' ratings.
Practices are able to rate locums after service.
The groundwork that led up to starting the company took some time. Zulé consulted and freelanced for other platform-based businesses with the intention of learning as much from as many smart people as she could. She attended networking events on the tech industry side, as well as on the medical side in the attempt to connect with mentors and partners that can guide her on this journey. Creating LocumBase was always with the mindset of creating partnerships with people. Her first step was to find a technical partner who could build the platform. She considered a few potential tech partners before deciding on someone she was introduced to by a friend.
"You can only do so much on your own. You can't be good at everything. There's going to be a bunch of stuff you're average at. There will always be people who are better at certain things than you are. You need to surround yourself with those people to make the greatest impact."
Zulé had a clear goal of finding mentors that she resonated with and could learn from. As a result, she has a strong circle of support that she can lean on. She is not afraid to ask questions and to follow up with people she admires. "If you don't ask, the answer will always be no," she says.
She sees herself as someone who takes calculated risks, adding that there are people who are risk-averse, and there are people who take stupid risks. She believes in scenario planning. If you do A, and the result is B, you should react like 123. If you do A and the result is C, you should follow up with 789. Scenario planning is a way of preparing yourself for every possible outcome you can think of. She advocates for good financial planning, as it puts you in a position of leverage.
" Whenever I haven’t achieved something I set out to achieve, I don’t see it as a failure. You only fail if you stop. Nothing is really a failure if you’ve learned something from it. If you want to do something, put the steps in place, do the work, put the time in. It’s hard. If it was easy, everybody would do it," she says.
Are you registered with the HPCSA, SAPC or SANC? - Sign up at as a practice or a medical professional today. It’s free. Follow Zulé on twitter at @ZuleZoosh