Born and raised in Nigeria, Africa. Chris Folayan is well established successful serial entrepreneur, board advisor, mentor, and speaker with over 25 years of C level role experience in marketing, technology, startups, and corporate acquisitions. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Chris shared his journey into entrepreneurship, how and why he founded Mall for Africa and how he is disputing Africa’s eCommerce and retail space. And his corporate social responsibility strategy. Excerpt.
Alaba: You have launched few startups before Mall for Africa. Kindly tell us about your entrepreneurship journey and the learning curves?
Chris: My entrepreneurial journey started at a very young age. The journey of a serial entrepreneur has not been easy but it is one that has led to a tremendous bounty of amazing learnings you can’t get anywhere else. My journey really started once I left FGCI (Federal Government College Ilorin) a high school in Kwara state, Nigeria. Right after I finished at FGCI I came to America and was captivated by the internet and all things online. It was a whole new world to me.
The ambition, motivation, and sheer dedication to ensure I make something of myself having been given the privilege to come to America for University was a blessing I was dedicated to making the best of it.
One of my first jobs in the US was with a hard drive company. I was fortunate enough to work with many departments from online development to strategic marketing to Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A). All happening before I was 19. Working with the M&A department helped me a great deal understand business development, what companies are looking for before acquisitions, and much more. I was the software guy who came to the meetings and evaluated the product before it was acquired to see if it passed all my tests. I worked on many projects and reviewed many companies over the course of two years.
My first big shot entrepreneurial gig was in a startup music company. I was hired as the CTO working on developing the first ever encoding direct media stream with digital rights platform all in one. From there I learnt about patents, improved my programming skills.and much more. Back then MP3 and RealAudio platforms were the rage. The learning curve was about programing and being at the cutting edge knowing that whatever you build has to have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) even if you are first in market. You have to set your business and model apart from everyone else. After exiting the company successfully, I started a software and web design company.
For 10 years we developed over 1000 websites in over 60 countries and worked for some of the top Fortune 100 and 500 companies of the world including governments. With this entrepreneurial journey I learnt about contacts, connections, customer service, and the art of pricing appropriately to win. What most people don’t realize when starting a company is reputation is key from day 1. If you start with a bad reputation you will have a higher road to climb. With every business you need to imagine you are climbing a very steep hill.
The key here is to understand what the market wants and needs. Invest time into researching all the core attributes, devising a cost, then doing a cost analysis on development and market value. We did this successfully for many companies we started and sold.
One of the big learnings with “Mall for Africa” was how we legitimize ourselves in the market from the beginning. Everyone in Nigeria is skeptical of every new business. So proving ourselves as legitimate was the biggest hurdle from the start. We accomplished this by placing prime billboards, partnering with banks, and taking out major newspaper and radio adverts. Once we build a reputation for being legitimate we had to work on payments. Learning how to collect payments from a society where many don’t have traditional Visa and Mastercards. We developed a one of a kind platform where people could deposit cash into the platform like a gift card and would be credited the amount so they can buy items from US/UK sites.
This instinctively started and boosted the company into fame as we were able to give the banked and unbanked the ability to shop on US/UK sites. We ended up helping many tap for the first time into eCommerce without any border restrictions. Trust me when I say there were issues but with each one we persevered and never gave up. Being able to pivot has also been key for Mall for Africa. We have tried many new things from auctions to deals of the day sales.
We have also recently launched our white label platform to help businesses in Africa make money off ecommerce. We call this new venture Link Commerce. As you can tell the journey has been long filled with ups and downs, but you morph, and grow as the market moves you so you are always relevant and make money.
Alaba: Mall for Africa is no doubt disrupting the eCommerce and retail
ecosystem in Africa. What inspired this laudable idea?
Chris: Mall for Africa was inspired by friends and family, but not in the way you would think. I simply got tired of packing my suitcases with people’s stuff and with a software background I knew I could do something about it. What broke the camel’s back was really my being declined from boarding a delta flight from San Francisco to Lagos with 10 suitcases. The Delta lady at the checking counter said “You going to Nigeria?” and I said “Yes, I am.” She looked at me snapped her fingers and said “No you are not. Not with all those suitcases.”
I didn’t realize I had exceeded the maximum number of bags one person could have. 95% of the luggage was for people who had asked me to bring stuff over. There is a need in the market for a solution to help people buy products from US/UK.
My network of friends was not huge yet and I had 10 suitcases. What if we opened an option up to the entire country for people to shop? I could be shipping tons and tons and we could make money. Fast forward many years we have shipped millions of products to people in Nigeria, and across Africa. Helping people buy the products they want to look good, and helping people buy products to start businesses and improve their lives. So who inspired me? Honestly the best people possible. Friends family and the amazing Nigerian people who I adore who have pushed me over the years to improve our platform and help do more.
Alaba: Despite the challenges eCommerce firms are facing in Africa and some shutting down operations,what business model and strategies is sustaining Mall for Africa?
Chris: Ecommerce in Africa is hard, but by 2025 it will be a $300bn industry and Africa has leap frogged in many things. One vital part being telecommunications and mobile phones. We have more cell phones than land lines. Africa will have more growth in new users online than any continent. You take that into consideration you now have to look at how do you make money in such an environment. For MallforAfrica we have faced the challenges other ecommerce platforms have faced.
However, we are very nimble and able to pivot. Our business model has changed over the years. If you asked me 2 years ago how would you expand I would give you a totally different answer than I would today. Today, we are working primarily with partners to expand our business. Now I didn’t say our name I said our business. We are white labeling our platform and providing businesses with the ability to start their own eCommerce companies with the Mall for Africa infrastructure. We have started a business called Link Commerce which is now working on powering eCommerce platforms for banks, mobile operators, ecommerce companies, and shipping companies in emerging markets.
Alaba: What are the worst and best decisions you’ve ever made?
Chris: I don’t see decisions as worst or bad, I see them as learning experiences. I have learnt that decisions form wisdom and there is nothing like bad wisdom. The same goes for best decisions. We have made some great moves as a company and Link Commerce is one of them. But I would urge every entrepreneur and business owner not to see decisions as good and bad and tie themselves up to such terms. But see each decision as a form of building wisdom. I would say my best and worst decisions have been around the people we hire. We have hired some amazing people and we have hired some really bad people. It’s hard to find great people but when you do they are amazing. Uplift the company and ensure we grow. Having a great team is key for our business to succeed and we have a fantastic group of people working for us today. Beyond blessed to have a great team. Hiring in Africa is not easy.
Alaba: What is your advice for African governments faced with the challenges of attracting the right FDI?
Chris: My advice is simply to ensure that all FDI investments are beneficial to the people and locality the funds are applied to. Africa needs funding in 3 key major areas:
- Power / Energy
I am of the mindset if FDI funding is put into any of these 3, it will be money well used and invested. I recommend governments supply investors with key factors in any of these 3 key areas. Once we have this right the ROI for any investor will be 5X to 20X easy. As Africans we are very driven and entrepreneurial. But we are lacking these 3 platforms to display our true selves to the world. Once we are giving the opportunities Africa will rise to the top.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur? Your advice for
aspiring entrepreneurs and Investors looking at Africa as an investment
Chris: I am a very proud African entrepreneur. There are not enough of us out there and I pray more people take the leap of faith and start a company and do something great for the continent. My advice is to be prepared to fall and get back up multiple times. No one finishes the race if they don’t get back up. With any business in Africa you just have to keep your eyes on the prize. Follow all the rules and ensure you have a great team of trusted people around you. For investors I say Africa is your best return on investment in the world. Nothing can get you a better return but be patient with us. We are writing our future as we go and do not have history to dictate our future. If you stay the course and stick by us, you will be dancing to the bank. Maybe not as fast as you want, but eventually when you do… those dancing shoes will be tapping and clapping all the way to the bank. We are the best bang for your buck. Africa stands strong, proud, and 100% the best investment any investor can make.
Alaba: As a responsible corporate organisation, do you have a CSR policy?
What are the key focus areas for projects?
Chris: As our CSR we focus on helping people start companies and build up an online reputation in Africa to sell abroad. We have started a platform called MarketplaceAfrica.com in conjunction with DHL to help people sell into US and UK. This is how we are giving back to society. We provide free lectures, free photo sessions, free online assistance, free pricing guides and help with people who want to get their products online and sold. We are getting Africa ready for eCommerce so ensure we build a sustainable online future for our artisans. We are beyond proud of our efforts to ensure we help our brother and sisters in Africa enjoy the benefits of selling abroad and ensuring that money they get is put to good use in developing their company and building better lives for their family.
Alaba: How do you relax and what kind of books do you read?
Chris: I love to swim and play tennis as my form of physical relaxation. I like reading books on marketing, business, and self help type books. Books that feed off experiences of others. I am currently reading High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way by Burchard, Brendon, Hay House. The previous 2 books were Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.and The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything.
Chris is well established successful serial entrepreneur, board advisor, mentor, and speaker with over 25 years of C level role experience in marketing, technology, startups, and corporate acquisitions. Born and raised in Nigeria, Chris founded his first venture at age 7 recycled tires with a group of friends which he ran for 2.5 years. He migrated to the U.S to attend college in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Coming from Nigeria right into the technology boom era amazed by all he saw around him and the growth of the internet. Chris decided to teach himself various programming, design and software languages which he used as a foundation to catapult himself into various high level advisory roles in fortune 500 companies by age 19 he was working on his first patent, while pursuing a BA degree in marketing. After graduating from San Jose State University, he founded and sold several companies globally, while establishing new companies in Africa, USA, Middle East and Asia. Before Chris founded his current venture, the award-winning Mall for Africa and Mall for the World platforms, Chris was the Founder and CEO of OCFX Inc a multi-million dollar globally recognized silicon valley based, award winning software agency serving and consulting clients such as SONY, LSI, Cisco, HP, EPSON, TYCO, Accenture, CapitalOne, EMC, USA Government and many others in over 60 countries. Chris has a learn as you grow, out of the box thinking philosophy that drives strategy and business growth.
Sahara Group Canvasses More Investment In Africa’s E&P Business
Paris France: June 25, 2019 – Oil and Gas businesses in Africa need to intensify exploration efforts to guarantee reserve replacement and enhanced capacity to meet growing demand and global competition, Olajumoke Ajayi, Managing Director, Asharami Energy (A Sahara Group Upstream Company), has told participants at the Oil and Gas Council’s Africa Assembly in Paris.
Ajayi noted that Africa’s large volumes of undiscovered oil and gas makes the continent a veritable frontier for investment, adding that operators need to adopt new technology, explore alternative cost saving measures, ensure sustainable community relations, and build diverse multidisciplinary teams to ensure successful exploration projects.
In her presentation, “Renewing Players Commitment to Exploration and the Importance of Community Engagement in Capital Intensive Projects”, Ajayi cited the downturn in global oil prices and the corresponding negative effect on investor funds and returns as factors that have made a good number of Exploration and Production (E&P) companies in Africa cut down on investments, delay Final Investment Decision (FID) or totally stop embarking on new capital projects.
“Consequently, producing companies continue to pump oil from operated mature fields thereby depleting existing reserves with non-corresponding efforts for reserve replacement via new exploration discoveries. The big question remains whether or not E&P players should commit to exploration and how players can justify this commitment in the face of lower oil prices,” she stated.
According to Ajayi, the compelling case for the relevance of hydrocarbons in the future, in addition to huge investments on new technology, responsible and intentional community engagement will play a significant role in creating a stable and conducive environment for exploration and production. “Sahara Group’s exploration success story is being driven by a combination of technology, innovation and community management expertise. At Sahara, we are intentionally committed to creating a sustainable balance between our projects and host communities to ensure the creation of shared value for all stakeholders.”
Going by the PwC Oil and Gas Review 2018, proven oil reserves in Africa have stayed at the same level of 7.5% of global reserves. The report also notes that exploration activity continued to decline in 2017. “The consequences of modest recovery in exploration spending and a continued decline in new discoveries are unavoidable and imminent. The International Energy Agency and various players in the oil industry have warned of demand exceeding supply as oil demand continues to grow and investment in projects is deferred,” the report stated. The report adds that Africa’s oil and gas consumption is predicted to increase by 45%, increasing its global share 5.1% by 2050.
Ajayi said strategic community engagements eliminate community interference in operations of capital projects that may lead to significant downtime; ensure that the host community understands its role as a project stakeholder and treats projects as commonwealth source for the people; reduce security breach as community representatives serves as infrastructure surveillance outfit; and promoting easy negotiations for Freedom To Operate (FTO) and Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU).
– Sahara Group
Moustafa Madbouli witnesses signing of agreement with Mercedes-Benz on car assembly
Mercedes-Benz A-class cars are displayed in a dealership of German car manufacturer Daimler in Paris, July 30, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
STUTTGART, Germany – 24 June 2019: Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouli on Monday witnessed the signing of a cooperation agreement between the Egyptian government and German automaker Mercedes-Benz to boost bilateral cooperation in auto industry.
The deal is meant to establish an engineering hub for Mercedes-Benz in the Suez Canal area for assembling and manufacturing of automobiles, the premier said.
This comes as part of the state’s strategy to support the intelligent transportation system and electricity-powered means of public transport, the premier added.
He noted that the agreement represents a quantum leap in Egypt’s auto industry, asserting that Mercedes-Benz hub will not just serve Egypt, bu also the whole region.
Madbouli is currently on a visit to Germany to take part in the 22nd session of the Arab-German economic forum. He is accompanied by a high-level delegation grouping the ministers of international cooperation, electricity, petroleum, communications, trade and industry in addition to a number of businessmen.
– Egypt Today
Taxify, now Bolt, launches Bolt for Business in SA
Bolt Image: Techcentral
DURBAN – Bolt has launched Bolt for Business, allowing companies of all sizes to manage and pay for corporate trips via a single, easy-to-use portal.
This addition to the Bolt range of services broadens the positive impact of on-demand transport for businesses, as companies can now democratise access to jobs by removing the ‘own transport required’ condition for employment, and have access to a simple service offering for employees and clients alike.
They can do this by allocating a monthly budget through the Bolt platform to individual employees, ensuring that all employees who travel for business enjoy the benefits of affordable and reliable personal transport without the often prohibitive costs associated with vehicle ownership.
“We have launched Bolt for Business after noticing that a growing number of Bolt trips are taken for business purposes during working hours, whether it’s commuting to work, rushing to client meetings or getting to the airport,” said Gareth Taylor, country manager for Bolt South Africa.
He added, “In a country with unreliable public transport and high costs of car ownership, Bolt for Business offers a convenient and cost-efficient solution to business travel. It also provides an alternative transport option for the many young people entering the workplace who cannot yet afford their own vehicle, or who actively choose to not buy a car”.
In addition, Bolt for Business is the perfect solution for entrepreneurs and SMEs, where time is money and hours spent in traffic can be put to better use if someone else – like a driver on the Bolt platform – is driving.
Bolt for Business gives companies the ability to offer employee groups, clients and recruits the option to utilise the Bolt service at the company’s expense, and gives account managers the ability to set and customise spending allowances and the number of trips employees can take.
The digitised travel management solution, available on desktop and mobile, saves businesses time and money by storing all the information about their employees’ corporate Bolt trips on a single dashboard. Paying for trips is quick and easy: instead of reimbursing each individual employee, companies can pay Bolt once a month via a bank transfer.
“Bolt for Business is so much more than an efficient expenses management tool – it removes workplace discrimination based on access to vehicle ownership and offers a strategic use of time spent on the road, demonstrating again the positive impact that on-demand transportation services can have on the South African economy,” added Taylor.
Additional functionalities such as adding restrictions to specific times and locations for taking trips, as well as a prepaid payment method, will be added to Bolt for Business later this year.
Bolt for Business is available in more than 30 markets across Europe and Africa.
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