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.
The Future of Brand Communication in a Self-Actualized Economy of 2050
Towards the end of the year last year, I was invited to be a panelist at the Global Work Tech Scenarios 2050 South Africa Conference. At first, I was nervous to share my thoughts as I was not sure how they would be received, and I was not so sure about how my expertise in the field of Marketing and Communications would fit in the context of the future of science and technology. Quite often, the tendency is that we see science as a mutually exclusive subject that does not directly impact our daily lives – well at least that’s what I thought.
However, the more exposed I have been to this field,the more I realise how the different waves in science and technology have been shaping the cultural experience of society, for example, the way in which society communicates, shops and accesses information has changed because of the digital age. Attending this conference has further opened my eyes to this and as a result, has demanded that I think about the possibilities of the future and role of Marketing and Communications in this regard.
In preparation for the panel discussion, we were sent a document titled Future Work/Tech 2050 Global Scenarios. Using a future studies method, the case study thoroughly highlights potential scenarios that could emanate by 2050 as a result of global technological advancements. Additionally, the case study examines the effect these advancements will have on politics, economics and culture. Out of the three scenarios presented to us, the third one titled: If humans were free – the self-actualization economy resonated with me the most.
According to this particular future study, new technologies in the form of artificial intelligence will change the face of the job market as we know it today. By 2050, approximately 4-billion people will gravitate towards self-employment. This means, although new technologies might not necessarily support formal employment but, they may provide a conducive environment for alternative forms of employment to thrive. With this kind of economic shift, the study predicts that the percentage of people employed by corporations will decrease and there will be an increase in the number of self-employed individuals. The study also suggests that individual power will begin to increase relative to government and corporate power.
This economic shift which is a result of a technological revolution will also have a direct impact on global culture. Due to increased individual power, society will begin to embrace the concept of a self-actualized economy. Essentially, what this means is, individuals will begin to decide for themselves how to use their time, ponder on issues concerning their life purpose and find ways to express their purpose through work. As a result, a culture of self-awareness, creativity and purpose will culminate and this could also change the way in which people relate to brands. In a society where individuals are self-aware and are driven by the need to express self, one has to ask themselves how will this affect the way corporates market and communicate their brand to the public.
Corporate for many years has benefited from the existence of public relations, marketing and communications. This is because this field of study specialises in examining the behaviour of consumers or a particular target audience, understanding their needs and wants then, using various methods to mass communicate a particular service or product to a group of people for the purpose of profit.
In fact, Edward Bernays who is considered the “father of public relations” and known as nephew of Sigmund Freud,based the foundation of public relations on studying crowd psychology – which is a broad study of how an individual’s behaviour is influenced in a large crowd. Over the years, this approach has worked like a charm because the economic system of capitalism bred a societal culture of competitiveness, consumerism and the need for attaining material success in order to gain social acceptance. Therefore, corporate through public relations, marketing and communications, have been able to win over the loyalty of various publics by tapping into this.
However, if future studies are predicting a self-actualized economy by 2050, which will have us witness a decrease in corporate power and an increase in individual power. If the order of the day in society will be about exploring personal creativity, self-awareness and pursuing purpose as opposed to seeking material success for gaining social acceptance, it may mean that the field of marketing and communications may have to start finding a different approach to communicating brands to the public.
I therefore suspect that as opposed to a mass communication approach which groups people according to what they have – for example, using the living standard measuring (LSM) method to understand a particular target audience, a more personalised approach may have to be adopted. This means, brands may have to invest more time in scanning the environment of their target market, taking the time to understand what affects them, what they want, what they need, their deepest desires and fears. The changing consumer market will dictate that brands have the ability to engage as an active member of the community, and skillfully interpret their belief and value systems, and not just their physiological needs.
Previously, brands got away with simply marketing and communicating a product to push it in the market. This approach worked for years because the consumerist culture of that time was more about, what can a particular product or service do for me. However, this approach to a consumer of today seems detached. With the digital age which allows us to access information easily, there already has been a gradual increase in consumers who are more aware and have taken interest in the politics that govern how a brand operates. As a result, consumers confidently reject a brand that does not represent their beliefs or value system. This kind of consumer, unapologetic and self-aware is predicted to increase exponentially by 2050. For the brands that refuse to observe and listen, they will remain detached from the reality of their target audience and will find themselves preaching to the unconverted.
Amref Health Africa Ranked Among Top 10 Best Employers In Africa
NAIROBI, August 162019: Amref Health Africa, the largest Africa-based international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) has emerged position 9 in the annual Employer of Choice Survey 2019, the largest of its kind in Africa.
The survey, conducted by ‘The Global Career Company’ based in the United Kingdom gave Africans an opportunity to vote – for the first time – for their favourite international brands, and their favourite African brands.
Those surveyed expressed their interest in working at Amref Health Africa on the basis that the employees are able to make a real difference in the society through the organisation.
‘‘We are excited about this selection and recognition. As Amref, we are dedicated to bringing lasting health change in African communities, and to achieve this goal, our employees are integral to us achieving and executing our mandate. We therefore provide a good working environment that motivates them to grow and contribute to our vision,’’ said Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Group Chief Executive Officer, Amref Health Africa.
In this year’s Survey which sought to shed light on which employers are attracting talent across Africa and why, a total of 29,216 African Professionals chose the brand they most want to work for in Africa, with all 54 countries represented, and over 1,100 brands reviewed.
With presence in over 35 African countries, Amref Health Africa’s vision is to create lasting health change in African Communities by increasing sustainable health access to communities in Africa through solutions in human resources for health, health services delivery and investments in health.
Through its projects, Amref is committed to improve the lives of disadvantaged people in Africa through better health, bridge gaps between communities, health systems and governments, be a leading force for advocacy for health system reforms in Africa and be a leader in the NGO community, developing and documenting best practices and training programmes.
For full rankings: https://www.globalcareercompany.com/employer-of-choice
About Amref Health Africa
Amref Health Africa, headquartered in Kenya, is the largest Africa based international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) currently running programs in over 35 countries in Africa with lessons learnt over 60 years of engagement with governments, communities and partners to increase sustainable health access in Africa. Amref Health Africa also incorporates programme development, fundraising, partnership, advocacy, monitoring and evaluation, and has offices in Europe and North America as well as subsidiaries; Amref Flying Doctors, Amref Enterprises and the Amref International University.
Idia Aisien Unveiled As Official Brand Ambassador For BNatural Spa
Award-winning TV Host, News Anchor, and Philanthropist, Idia Aisien, is certainly living her best life at the moment – it’s been such an amazing year for her.
Just a few months ago, she bagged an endorsement deal with the number 1 brand in the global luxury cosmetics market, Lancome. And now, she has just been unveiled as official brand ambassador for BNatural Spa, a
leading luxury medical spa in Nigeria, specializing in innovative medical services and beauty treatments administered by US board certified aestheticians.
Speaking about this milestone, Idia says:
“I’m super excited for this new journey with the BNatural Spa family, as their reputation for innovation and quality service delivery in the industry is unparalleled. I can’t wait to share all the groundbreaking activities we have in store with the world.”
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