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.
Anzisha Prize Announces 2020 Applications, Celebrates A Decade Of Empowering African Entrepreneurs
Anzisha Prize 2019 Fellows celebrate their victories (Source: Anzisha Prize)
Every year, the prize celebrates 20 African entrepreneurs, aged 22 years and younger, each of whom have a chance to win a shared prize of US$100,000
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, February 17, 2020 – Today, the Anzisha Prize–Africa’s premier award and fellowship for Africa’s youngest entrepreneurs – is excited to announce that the 2020 call for applications is now open. Every year, the prize celebrates 20 African entrepreneurs, aged 22 years and younger, each of whom have a chance to win a shared prize of US$100,000. The grand prize winner receives US$25,000, the 1st runner-up US$15,000, and 2nd runner-up US$12,500. Every finalist receives US$2,500.
In addition to the cash prize, selected entrepreneurs will join 120 previous winners and become Anzisha Fellows, receiving business consulting support and coaching services by a team of industry experts. They also gain access to the Young Entrepreneurs Fund – a catalytic matching fund designed to strengthen the credibility of very young entrepreneurs through investment.
“It has been an exciting 10-year journey with some of the continent’s brightest and youngest entrepreneurs. With the help of key partners and those who share in our vision, we’ve been able to support and celebrate very young entrepreneurs who represent the diversity of the African continent; entrepreneurs who tackle youth unemployment with vigour and courage beyond their years,” says, Melissa Mbazo-Ekpenyong, Deputy Director of the Anzisha Prize.
To celebrate the decennial, the Anzisha Prize has planned five regional events across the continent, including South Africa, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Kenya. The events end in October with the Anzisha Prize Forum in Nairobi, Kenya where the 2020 winners will be announced. Each event is designed to catalyze conversations around youth entrepreneurship and to gather key stakeholders within the entrepreneurship landscape to collaborate with and support these young entrepreneurs.
“The Anzisha Prize has grown to become a holistic and comprehensive prize program that celebrates, nurtures, and advocates on behalf of Africa’s young job creators,” says Daniel Hailu, Regional Head Eastern and Southern Africa Programs, Mastercard Foundation. “Ensuring young entrepreneurs have a clear pathway to learn and succeed is a core component of the Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works strategy, and we encourage entrepreneurs, especially young women to apply.”
Young African entrepreneurs between the ages of 15-22 years old, who are running job generative businesses, are encouraged to apply before 31 March 2020. Past winners of the prize include 2019 grand prize winner, education entrepreneur, Yannick Kimanuka from Democratic Republic Congo (DRC). Yannick grew up in the war-torn North Kivu eastern Province of DRC where she saw the effect that conflict had on schools in her community and vowed to empower children by increasing access to quality education. By the age of 20, Yannick founded KIM’s School Complex – a nursery and primary school which aims to improve the education of young children in her community.
As the program continues to influence and inspire young people to seek entrepreneurship as a career path, the road ahead is a promising one. To encapsulate the last 10 years of the program, the Anzisha Prize has chosen the word ‘Sankofa’ in the Ghanaian Twi language, which means “We have the capacity to revisit the past and extract knowledge and wisdom that we need to remake the future“.
Entrepreneurs are advised to download the application guide or apply for the prize at anzishaprize.org/apply.
For more information on the Anzisha Prize, to apply, and to nominate an entrepreneur, please visit the Anzisha Prize website.
Financial Inclusion: Ecobank Group And Alipay Partner On cross-border remittance
Alipay users to benefit from Ecobank’s cross-border remittance solution
LOME, Togo, February 12, 2020 – The leading pan-African bank, Ecobank has signed a cross-border remittance agreement with Alipay, the world’s leading payment and lifestyle platform, that aims to bring more inclusive financial services by providing a fast, safe, affordable and convenient way for workers to transfer money back home.
The partnership will facilitate instant transfers from Rapid transfer, Ecobank’s remittance solution, to users of Alipay, which serves more than 1.2 billion people globally together with its local e-wallet partners. This provides an additional channel option which will increase options available to users, help lower transaction costs and enhance the quality of service in the market.
Nana ABBAN, Group Consumer Banking Head said: “Our panafrican cross-border remittance solution, Rapidtransfer, has over the years been delivering transparent, convenient, and affordable services to the African diaspora and their African-based dependants. So, it is a natural extension for us to use it to deliver the same advantages to migrant workers across Africa. Through our partnership with Alipay we are further leveraging the scale and capacity of our unified payments ecosystem on the global stage.”
“We are excited to partner with Ecobank and use our technology to bring fast, affordable, and convenient remittance services to more users globally, especially workers who are living far from home,” said Ma ZHIGUO, Alipay’s head of the global remittances business. “We are committed to working with partners such as Ecobank, using innovative technologies to help global consumers gain access to inclusive financial services, creating greater value for society and bringing equal opportunities to the world.”
The solution will be rolled out across our entire footprint, subject to required local approvals.
Tony Elumelu Foundation Disburses First Tranche of $5m Partnership Commitment from African Development Bank
From Right to Left: Tony O. Elumelu, CON, Founder, Tony Elumelu Foundation and Akinwunmi Adesina, President, African Development Bank (AfDB) at the 2019 Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum – Africa’s largest entrepreneurship conference. (Source: Tony Elumelu Foundation)
AfDB Joins TEF Programme Catalysing Entrepreneurship Across Africa
Tony O. Elumelu, CON, has congratulated the African Development Bank (AfDB), and AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina, on their commitment to African entrepreneurship, with the disbursement of $2.5million seed capital to the AfDB-sponsored beneficiaries of the 2019 TEF Entrepreneurship Programme. $2.5m was released today, with the remainder expected to be disbursed to the entrepreneurs in Q12020.
The AfDB commitment follows the recent $8.5 million disbursement from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to 2,648 entrepreneurs in the Sahel region and Africa more broadly, and further accelerates the economic empowerment generated by the Tony Elumelu Foundation. In 2019, the Foundation significantly increased the scale and reach of it impact, with the number of beneficiaries of its flagship Entrepreneurship Programme rising from its annual commitment of 1,000, to 5,150, in collaboration with global and African partners.
With its commitment to strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises and develop young entrepreneurs, AfDB joined the growing list of global development institutions benefiting from the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s unique model of identifying, training, mentoring and funding entrepreneurs and start-ups across Africa. The partnership demonstrates the implementation of the AfDB’s ten-year “Jobs for Youth in Africa” strategy, launched in 2016, to support the creation of 25 million meaningful jobs across the continent.
The partnership illustrates TEF’s willingness to share its infrastructure and know-how, with others who share the mission to empower young African entrepreneurs and TEF’s goal of creating millions of jobs, as well as generating
billions in revenue, to catalyse economic growth across the continent.
The Foundation is currently accepting applications to the 2020 cohort of its flagship Entrepreneurship Programme on TEFConnect.com, Africa’s digital hub for entrepreneurs.