Helen Annette Adenike Njau is the Founder and Creative Director at House of Takura (H.O.T.), born in Sierra Leone to Sierra Leonean parents but spent much of her life overseas. She immigrated to the U.S. when she was 10 years old and grew up in Ohio. She then moved to Kentucky with her parents and did her undergraduate studies at Berea College and then earned her law degree from University of Kentucky College of Law (go Wildcats!). She practiced law in Kentucky and later moved to Houston, Texas.
It’s here she took the leap and started the fashion brand House of Takura which designs travel bags inspired by and made in Africa. The notion of fusion is deeply-rooted in her life and shows in the brand as her hybrid upbringing details. The essence of her being is an intermixture of African traditions and Western norms and influence. In her lies both the Motherland and the West. Out of it comes a narrative of how two cultures blend into a beautiful explosion of life and art.
Takura in the Shona language, largely spoken in Zimbabwe, is derived from the verb “to grow up” or “mature”. There is a lot in the name, but in a nutshell, it personifies ambition, high ideals and creative ability. It embodies the desire to accomplish something outstanding in life and do great things for humanity.
As a product of Sierra Leone yet raised in the United States, she experienced a lot of the conundrum that is identity associated with “Africaness” and “Americaness”. As a lover of fashion and the creative expression associated with it, H.O.T. was birthed from bridging and in essence celebrating the alluring quandary that is the identity and experiences of so many diasporans. She has infused this hybrid upbringing in her travel bag collection inspired by and made in Africa.
All of HOT’s travel bags are handmade by local artisans in Kenya presently, and hopefully in Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the near future as the Company is committed to sustainable economic development in Africa. The Company has recently partnered with an organization in Sierra Leone called Change Development which aims to find solutions for the youth unemployment which currently plagues the nation and hope to effect change through this organization by providing learning videos on how to build a business and scholarships to up and coming entrepreneurs in the country.
House of Takura (H.O.T.) is a lifestyle brand focused on high-end and uniquely-stylish travel bags inspired by and made in Africa. H.O.T fuses African textiles with western fabric and/or modern styles. The fusion is representative of the hybrid nature of the founder’s upbringing.
the H.O.T Team
Interview with a Polyglot: Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo, Founder Empress Linguistics Services
Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo, Founder Empress Linguistics Services (Image: Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo)
Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo is a polyglot who speaks nine (9) foreign languages. She is the Founder of Empress Linguistics Services (ELS) creating new ways for businesses to interact with consumers across borders. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola spoke with Favour about what it means to be a polyglot, her journey in entrepreneurship and much more. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your journey into entrepreneurship?
Favour: Becoming the Solution! Oh yes, I proffer Solutions. My name is Favour Chisimdi Emerald Nwobodo from Enugu state in Nigeria. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to be the Solution to people’s problems. Growing up, I got to witness the high rates of unemployment/poverty in the country, and the urge to put an end to this problem started growing.
At first, I started EMPRESS LINGUISTICS SERVICES (my brand) as a Linguistics brand – just Translations and Language Tutorials. I was the only one handling it but at some point, I did quit. During those bad moments, I was aimlessly searching on google when I saw the current finance situation. I felt bad – Nigeria is slowly losing “NAIRA”. I went on to search for ways to strengthen the economy of the country and I saw “Promotion of international trade” That struck!. But we’ve got machines and interpreters, why is yours different?
But then machines would be machines and sometimes those Interpreters might Interpret wrong stuff and scam people. I left the site and went into proper thinking, I thought about it and came up with ” LINGUISTICS IN FINANCE ”- when Linguistics meets Finance, it doubles it, it revives the currency etc.
I went on to propound the “LINGUISTICS IN BUSINESS SYSTEM”. I tried my hypothesis with a client’s job and it worked- I was convinced! So I came back stronger at Empress Linguistics Services and we’ve been able to help companies, businesses, and all thrive.
So far, we have been able to pull off a lot of deals. And from the comfort of our client’s home they are able to run their Businesses with ease, learn and attain fluency in foreign languages with ease. Our peer to peer service makes it so easy for Companies that most of them stick to it as their Linguistics needs (Translations and all) are attended to in 24 hours.
Also , seeing the way non English speakers are marginalized in various countries- they can’t access lots of things (products, companies etc) as they can’t understand English. With this, Empress Linguistics Services is working hard to eliminate Linguistics barriers and give them accessibility to various opportunities with LINGUIS-NESS (LINGUISTICS AND BUSINESS) a news platform in various languages that enables non English speakers access lots of information in various languages.
Alaba: Empress Linguistics is creating new ways for businesses to interact with consumers across borders. How did it all start?
Favour: My manager “Barr Chijioke Ojukwu” told me about opening a brand, and the brand “Empress Linguistics Services” was founded. At first, I had no vision. I just wanted to tutor languages and that’s all. I wanted it as a side hustle but then, REDIRECTION happened.
During the trying times, I went off and did some research and founded “Linguistics in Business”- How Linguistics helps to make businesses thrive, it was a great module. I also did some case studies with our client’s business and it thrived. It was a sell out, this prompted me to seek for “Linguistics in Finances” to help companies, firms and organizations meet their target companies and stabilize their finance goal by thriving in non english sectors.
Currently, we’re about entering the TECH and HEALTH sector to create products/services to serve everyone and make life easy. Just like our slogan says, “With ELS, lives are made easier”.
Alaba: Can you describe in detail what your company does and the response from your target market?
Favour: Empress Linguistics Services is a Linguistics Service aimed at profering Linguistics solutions to Businesses and the world at large. We’re in to make the world a better place with Linguistics and so far we’ve been good. Reaching the target market hasn’t been as I just entered the niche but I’m damn enjoying my growth. It’s worth it.
EMPRESS LINGUISTICS SERVICES is currently working on the Health sector with another product “DIGITAL HEAVEN”. I am sure you can wait for it. Some of our services are;
- Translations Services
- Interpretation services
- Proofreading Services
- Language tutorial Services
- Transcription services
- Advertisement in various languages
- Jingles in various languages
- Website Translations
- App Translations
- Movie Subtitlings
- Lyrics Translations, etc.
Alaba: What makes your brand different from the rest of the language translation startups in Africa?
Favour: What makes ELS stand out is ELS would always be ELS. The goal of ELS is to solve the Linguistics needs of Man. We are here to proffer solutions to man’s needs. Also at ELS, we have the peer to peer services that enables companies to get their Linguistics needs in less than 24 hours and from their own comfort.
We’re not a Translation startup, we’re a Linguistics startup as we offer both translations, tutorials and more. We’re in for TECH, HEALTH , EDUCATION and FINANCE and we’re working on making things easier in those sectors.
Alaba: You seem to really enjoy learning languages. What would you recommend to people who don’t like language learning but still want to speak in a new language?
Favour: When people say “Languages are hard” I tell them everything is easy once you understand the methodology but unfortunately some school’s methodology are so bad that people struggle to learn foreign languages and that’s why ELS was born to make it easier for MAN. At ELS, we make language learning easy and fun.
Alaba: What did you find to be the biggest myth when it comes to language learning?
Favour: Mmmmm, the myth I got to find out is “elimination of FEAR” and knowing the grammar rules.
Most language speakers don’t try to learn the grammar rules as they feel it’s a waste of time and it makes it hard for them to attain fluency easier and faster. Some of them find it hard to read and speak because of this.
This is the secret to the faster fluency in our students . Some get to make sentences and speak in their 2nd month. Once the rules are understood, you’re good to go.
Alaba: Who are some of the modern polyglots you are impressed with, and why?
Favour: Jaindersingh , my friend on LinkedIn is a Polyglot speaking nine Languages and I’m impressed. They’re good. But for now, I’m yet to see people proffering solutions with Businesses and that’s why I’m in to make all that happen with ELS.
Alaba: Where do you see ELS in the next 5 years?
Favour: In the next 5 years, I see ELS as the No1 Linguistics company in the world creating solutions in various sectors of the world.
Alaba: As a student-preneur, what is your advice to students who are aspiring to make an impact through entrepreneurship?
Favour: My advice is that they shouldn’t give up as nothing good comes easy, it might take time but it’s gonna be worth it. They were days when I was laughed at for learning foreign languages, days when I was looked down on.
But look at it now? That’s life!! Just keep doing what you’re doing. and like I’ve always said it’s “Quality consistency” or nothing.
Eficaz Movers CEO, Ben Imara on his journey into entrepreneurship and the untapped moving industry
Eficaz Movers CEO, Ben Imara (Image: Supplied)
Imara Benedict Oghenero, is an IT expert, entrepreneur and Eficaz Movers CEO, a logistics company focused on household, office and warehouse moves. In his Interview with Alaba Ayinuola, he shares his journey into entrepreneurship, the bottlenecks from government regulations, he also pointed out that the movers industry remains untapped. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your entrepreneurship journey?
Ben: My name is Imara Benedict Oghenero, I was born in Ughelli, Delta State and grew up in Lagos. I am the 4th child in a family of five. I attended Houdegbe North American University where I obtained a Bachelor of Science (BSC) in computer science. I started working in the IT department for QX solutions, a company that deals on car tracking devices. My entrepreneurship journey started in 2019, when I founded Eficaz Movers Limited.
Alaba: What inspired you to launch Eficaz Movers and how do you operate?
Ben: In July 2019, I was about to move to a new house, so I decided to search for moving companies and I found a particular company that carried out the move for me but when they finished moving my stuffs, I found out most of my properties were damaged. So that evening it flashed in my head, why not start up a moving company of my own, so I started my research immediately and that was how Eficaz Movers Ltd came about and decided people deserve extremely good standard in moving services.
Moving can be a stressful task, so Eficaz Movers Limited can make the experience fun and seamless, we do Apartment, Office and Household moves (whether you need to move your office, industry facility or warehouse) Eficaz Movers Ltd is your one stop.
Alaba: Kindly share some of the challenges and successes since you launched?
Ben: Like every business, there are always challenges when setting up/running a business. We have had some challenges in the past that set us back a little when I started the business, however to mention a few, Driver Shortage, Government Regulations, Complexity of deliveries are some of the challenges faced in the business.
I think our major success happened in the year 2020. We were able to carry out a total of 45 household moves, 7 office relocation and 23 store deliveries for the year ended December 2020, which generated some loyal customers of our’s till date.
Alaba: What is the current state of Eficaz Movers and the steps you took to grow the business to where it
Ben: We are currently among the top 5 moving companies on the Lagos island environs (Lekki, Ajah, Ikoyi, Victoria Island), with a staff strength of about 15 people, However we are looking forward to growing the business to become one of the top 5 moving companies in Nigeria.
Some of the steps I took included; recurrently training our staffs to become specialized professionals in their fields, increased our social media presence as that has proven to be a major catalyst in influencing consumer decision making and I must say the evolving/increase in technology has also contributed to the growth of the business.
We also improved our customer care/relationship with our clients as well as improved working environment for the staffs.
Alaba: A number of African “Uber-for-trucks” platforms have emerged in recent years. How competitive is this industry?
Ben: That hasn’t really affected our business a lot. It’s quite competitive but the modus and standards in which we carry out our job is outstanding and it set’s us aside from others.
Alaba: What are your expansion plans and future for Eficaz Movers?
Ben: I’m looking forward to a more bigger work space and storage facility, opening few other offices in area’s where we are mostly demanded. Expand with more staff strength as well as trucks and other equipment to increase efficiency. The future of Eficaz Movers is to become a household name when it comes to relocation services in Nigeria. We want to become your go to place when you think relocation.
Alaba: Describe the toughest situation you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
Ben: The toughest situation I have found myself in will be one time when we were just training some new employees in the parking/loading department in the year 2019, a customer’s valuable was damaged, it was a tough period for me as the business was still new and barely generating profit, so I had to ensure the customer’s valuable was replaced in due time.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Ben: I must say it’s not easy being an African entrepreneur because there are a lot of barriers, government regulations that act as constraints to your business but there’s also a lot of potential in the Africa market that is yet to be exploited.
Alaba: If you had the chance to start this business again, what would you do differently?
Ben: I would probably increase the marketing budget higher than I predicted when I started the business, infuse more social media awareness/marketing, I will also improve the level of training offered to our then new staffs.
Alaba: What is your advice to young budding entrepreneurs in Africa?
Ben: Starting small appears difficult but it’s a step ahead of those who don’t dare to try, keep putting effort in what you do and stay consistent.
Henry Ogbuagu: Defining the future of beauty and wellness with WALA, an on-demand service beauty app
Henry Ogbuagu, Founder, WALA & Vencapital (Image: Supplied)
Henry Ogbuagu is a marketplace early-stage investor, social entrepreneur and ecosystem builder helping minorities and women navigate the venture career space. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Henry shares his experiences on his journey into entrepreneurship and impact investing, why he is venturing into the beauty tech space, and what beauty tech holds in store for us in the future and much more, Excerpts.
Alaba: Hi Henry, could you briefly tell us about yourself and what you do?
Henry: My name is Henry Ogbuagu, I am a social entrepreneur (2 times founder) and impact investor. As someone who studied International Relations my career started at the United Nations where I interned in 2016, during my graduate studies at Northeastern University in Boston. I was keen to become a diplomat but that career trajectory changed during my UN experience when I realized that countries alone can’t solve the problem of poverty, inequality and sustainable development, and decided to pivot to the private sector to use entrepreneurship and it’s scalable model to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.
With that passion and desire, I made some efforts during my last few semesters as a graduate student to try to break into tech and was privileged to receive an internship offer at NBC Universal where I worked as a cyber security analyst with the NBC Universal Safe Response team and my entrepreneurial journey started right after I completed my master program. Inspired by my post graduate research/capstone project in global inequality I wanted to find ways to address the systemic issues around racism and underrepresentation in the US and so, I founded Vencapital – an investor accelerator program that offers training and career placement opportunities for historically underrepresented people (minorities and women) in the venture capital/private equity industry.
Since starting the company in 2019 we have trained and placed over 70 venture capital fellows into top-tier VC firms in the US. Some of the firms participating in our placement program includes firms like Sequoia Capital, Index Ventures, Philips Ventures, Flourish Ventures, SVB Capital, ECMC, General Catalyst, Palalumni Ventures, Pillar VC, .406 Ventures, Glasswing Ventures, Coyote Ventures and many more. And with the exposure we have to deals, we have continued to help founders of color raise capital from some of our VC partners and I see this growing successfully into a fund with small checks for more founders.
Alaba: What attracted you to the beauty and wellness industry and the inspiration behind WALA?
Henry: I honestly know nothing about beauty and started WALA out of my personal experience of returning to Lagos in 2020 after over 13 years of living abroad and not knowing where to find salons in Lekki. I know that sounds cliche but that was a real problem for me. I think one of the hallmarks of entrepreneurship is finding a problem and solving it. Just as with Vencapital where I know nothing about VC and yet was passionate enough about the problem to bring a solution to the market, that same passion brought me here.
While most tech investments in Nigeria have been in the Fintech space, which is getting more saturated, I see what many people don’t see in the beauty industry ($191 billion projected for 2027 globally with Africa currently at $11 billion market share). Yet in Africa there is no single app or tech enabled platform for the beauty and wellness industry. So what I did when I saw the opportunity was talk with barbers/hairdressers about their current experience and challenges and being aware of what is now available in other markets, I knew this was a massive market opportunity in Nigeria, Africa and beyond. And as a marketplace investor I can see how this can grow and scale very quickly through the power of network effects.
So with that passion and little technical skills I have in web development, I got some developers and teamed up with my friend and former classmate Sag Orume, who is a brand consultant and the founder of Sag Orume Brand Consultium, to build this out and we got to work and continued talking with barbers and beauticians about how this can help improve the way beauty services can be delivered both on-demand and at scale.
Alaba: Who is the typical WALA client– what problems do you solve, and what are your offerings?
Henry: The platform’s main customers are the beauty professionals that are looking to start or run a salon business but limited by location and capital. With Wala, this beauty professionals can run their on-demand salons services on the platform without needing a physical location or any upfront investment. The platform also serves the “moms & pops” of beauty and wellness services that can use the platform to grow their business beyond on premise services delivery. Our target users are millennials and the growing working professionals that live in major cities, who often seek and can afford the convenience of on-demand beauty service delivery.
Some of the problems we identified early was first that the industry was not innovating like other industries like food, grocery shopping and travel/hospitality. People still go to salon and sit down waiting for other people before they get their turn, a lot of the salons where operating as mom and pop shops with no process automation or tech enablement. And with the pandemic, I know that people will crave convenience now more than ever. We also went beyond the assumption to survey people and 94% of the people we interviewed said they would prefer home service if they had the option.
So we are solving the problem of convenience, reliability and access for users who struggle to juggle a trip to the salon on a busy weekend or have difficulty finding reliable and experienced providers readily available to offer on-demand service. We believe that the future of beauty and wellness will be “On-demand” especially as today’s consumers continue to grow more comfortable with the idea of placing orders through their smartphones for everything from taxis and black cars to groceries, gifts and so on.
WALA is bringing that ease and convenience to beauty and higher-end luxury services such as beauty and wellness with a super easy to use mobile application that is available on android and ios devices.
Alaba: You will be hosting the biggest tech event in the beauty and wellness industry live in Lagos, Nigeria. Tell us about this power-packed conference and your expectations?
Henry: WALA Beauty Tech Festival is the premier show for the beauty and wellness industry. The event was created to engage with all stakeholders in the industry with seasoned speakers and over 200 barbers, hair stylists, makeup artists, nail technicians, fitness/yoga instructors, saloon owners, operators and beauty product manufacturers and suppliers to engage and drive a conversation about the future of beauty. And how tech can help enable and innovate how beauty products are made and delivered. The event will feature a conference, an app launch, an award ceremony and a trade-expo that allows beauty and wellness businesses to showcase their products and services while networking with key stakeholders, prospective customers, other start-ups, established brands, and service providers within Africa’s bumming $11 billion beauty industry.
Alaba: What’s it like to be a male founder of a beauty tech company?
Henry: It’s still very early to say, we are just starting out with the app launch, but it’s been a fun ride so far. I think the industry is ready for this change and we are making sure that we have the capacity and expertise to deliver on our brand promise. I personally care alot about how I look so being in this space feels very exciting. I also feel very optimistic about the solution we are bringing to the market. My co-founder and I have strong product and brand experience that lends itself to our core values of empowering young entrepreneurs especially women building something new in this space brings along that sense of purpose that aligns very well with our goals and values. I am also one of those people that believe that beauty is fundamentally about expression and that expression is often a product of your emotions, perceptions, identity and sense of personal worth. And Wala is here to make that dream lifestyle and expression possible anywhere, anytime.
Alaba: How is beauty tech changing?
Henry: A lot is already happening in the beauty and wellness industry. The pandemic saw the rise of innovation in beauty tech with the development of virtual color try-ons, and collaborative platforms for sharing best practices in makeup and use of beauty products.
This innovation is also happening in the service delivery side of beauty as the on-demand service delivery models get introduced. This is why we strongly believe the future of beauty service is on-demand, and as the Uber for beauty WALA can help the “mom & pop” of beauty and wellness services solve the challenges of customer acquisition, on-demand booking requests assignments, beauty service customization, merchandising, payment processing, and customer support while providing business insights and analytics for better management and access to credits for growing their business.
Like most legacy industries, the beauty and wellness industry is more than ripe for disruption and our vision is to bring the “mom & pop” salon owner’s and wellness professionals online to unlock this huge market potential that exists for off premise beauty and wellness service delivery and to make life so much easier for people in Lagos and beyond.
Alaba: Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty-wellness tech industry?
Henry: First is the level of digital acceleration that is happening now in the beauty space, since the pandemic. Several apps were developed during the pandemic that offer tele-consultation with virtual makeup and hair color try-ons.
The other thing I see, which is not just unique to the industry, is the level of collaboration and community that has grown significantly among beauty professionals. I see this more in the developed economies and am hoping we can bring that home as well. This is part of the reason why we are concerning this event, which is one of a kind in the industry, involving both conferences, exhibitions and an award ceremony to help build a culture of collaboration and shared experience among beauty and wellness professionals in Africa.
Am also thrilled by the innovation I see with tech enabled services (the launch of new beauty and wellness saas platforms like wala, styleseat, etc) there is now a growing number of venture backed saas companies in the salon and spa space that have proven how massive this market is like Fresha, Mindbody, treatwell and Urban Company to mention a few and they have raise a lot of capital and are in some cases valued at over a billion dollars today. So these things excite me.
Alaba: Did your experience working in venture capital translate into what you do as a founder?
Henry: Yes absolutely, as a VC you are always looking for great investment opportunities, sourcing and evaluating potential deals, networking, building relationships and fundraising. Yes fundraising, VCs have to fundraise from limited partners. So the VC playbook is not so different from that of a founder. So in a way I always see myself as a founder, and look for opportunities to build, launch and learn. So having that experience is definitely an asset.
VC’s invest in tech companies and sometimes what really makes a great investor is the expertise and network they offer along with capital, so operating experience is often part of the package. And having been in the space for about 2 years and listening to lot’s of pitches, I have develop a pattern recognition for what works and what investors look for in companies, so launching Wala with that know how gives me and my team a lot of advantage and with Wala is being a portfolio of Vencapital fundraising becomes so much easier.
Alaba: How do you cope as a tech startup founder and a venture capital operator?
Henry: This is a great question, one that I will have to revert back to in a few months. For now it’s doable, and because wala is a vencapital portfolio, the effort is very rewarding for me personally and for vencapital as a venture firm and accelerator program.
Alaba: Where do you see WALA in five years and what legacy do you hope to create?
Henry: I see Wala as the next big thing for people in Nigeria and beyond, because the app is about job creation and boosting the gig economy. Nigerian unemployment rate is still is currently at 33% and just uber is empowering people to earn, we are here to do the same and at scale as anyone today can join the platform to start their virtual salon, spa, fitness, yoga, bridal, fashion etc business on the platform without needing a physical store or an upfront investment. What we also see is helping people connect and share cultures and experiences. So I am excited for how this opportunity can help transform Nigeria and help boost the local economy. Our vision is also to expand to other African countries and beyond.
Alaba: Finally, what’s your advice to Africa-focused budding entrepreneurs and investors?
Henry: For founders I would say build, build, build. Africa is a huge market with so much opportunities and a massive market. So lets get building stuff that would make life easy for people. I am so inspired to see the line of products that is emerging from the growing tech scene in African countries and I know this is just the beginning. Some of my observations since the past year is the growing need for accelerators. You would notice that some of the Nigerian startups that do really well either pushed their way into joining an accelerator locally or abroad. This is the same everywhere, joining an accelerator makes a lot of difference. It’s not just about the technology, it’s also about the team, the market, the mentorship backing and whole lot of other things that you might not be able to navigate without the support of those that have been there before you. So for African Founders I would say joining an accelerator is key.
And lastly for investors, I would say the same thing, we need an active angel investor community that can provide the early capital founders need. Since in most cases founders may not have family and friends to back them, which again is where accelerators come in. I know it’s definitely tough to ask an angel investor/operator to back founders very early in this market where people want quick financial returns. But there is really no other way, venture investing is a risky business and people needs to come in with that understanding and change that quick return mindset to be great venture investors. And I think that is already happening with the likes of Olumide at Voltron Capital and Tommy Davis, the founder of Lagos Angel Network who is doing a lot to back more Nigerian founders. I would also encourage more aspiring African investors to join ABAN- African Business Angel Network or reach out to me or Timi Dayo-Kayode, the founder of Roundtrip who is actively syndicating deals and backing African founders through Roundtrip Afrika.