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Interview With Mall for Africa Founder and CEO, Chris Folayan

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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.

Also Read Interview With The Group CEO at Emerging Africa Capital Group, Toyin F. Sanni

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.

Also Read Tucci Goka Ivowi: The SMARTER Leadership Advocate

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:

  1. Transportation
  2. Education
  3. 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
destination?

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.

His Profile:

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.

Press Release

The Gender Mainstreaming for Climate Entrepreneurship

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The Gender Mainstreaming Programme 2024 organized by the Nigeria Climate Innovation Centre aimed to close the gender gap in climate entrepreneurship. NCIC achieves this objective by collaborating with industry players, and stakeholders to drive and gain support for women in the industry, across Nigeria and the world at large. WeClimeEquallyWorkshop and the G-FIVE Business Accelerator by NCIC are the two instruments the organization uses to foster gender equality and climate-focused entrepreneurship. 

The Gender and Climate Workshop Event 

This Year’s WeClimeEquallyWorkshop 2024 with the theme: Equity and Sustainability Towards a Prosperous Future was held on Thursday 21, March 2024 at Four Points by Sheraton. The welcome address was led by Mr. Adamu, the Chief Operating Officer who represented Bankole Oloruntoba, the Chief Executive Officer, of NCIC. He emphasized the work of NCIC in championing projects that drive gender equality and entrepreneurship.

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 Mrs. Titi Oshodi, Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Climate Change and Circular Economy rendered the Goodwill Message and raised the need for effective communication to spur the needed change as there are many communication nuances in the Nigerian landscape. Rendering the speech of His Excellency Babajide Sanwolu, Governor of Lagos state, Mrs. Oshodi plauded that the WeClimEqualityWorkshop provides a pivotal platform to exchange knowledge and amplify women’s voices and ensure their meaningful participation in climate and circular economy because there is a link between gender, women, and marginalization is essential.

The workshop also featured 4 expert paper presentations delivered by industry experts from KPMG, FC4SLagos, Fate Foundation, and academia. In addition, attendees were treated to an intriguing panel session on applying a gender lens to the triple Es of Employment, Environment, and Entrepreneurship. Following hours of interactions, attendees were allowed an opportunity to co-create practical strategies to infuse gender lens in organizational programming, policies, and framework. 

Green Females in Venture Enterprise Business Accelerator 

Building on some key outcomes of the #WeClimeEqually Workshop, 50 climate-focused women entrepreneurs entered a 4-day hybrid business accelerator program delivered in partnership with the Lagos Business School Sustainability Center. Core modules of the accelerator centered around sustainability, innovation, legal regulatory frameworks, business management, and grant writing amongst others. 

Additional program support included a nursery for mothers, accommodation, a virtual learning platform for long-distance learners, and bonding activities. Participants were also certified at the end of the program. The Gender Mainstreaming for Climate Entrepreneurship is sponsored by Climate KIC; Europe’s leading Climate Innovation and Irish Aid. To learn more about the Nigeria Climate Innovation Center Visit the website here https://nigeriacic.org/about-us/

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PayRetailers announces its expansion to Africa strengthening its presence in emerging markets

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PayRetailers Co-Founders (Image: Supplied).

PayRetailers, the leading payment processor for Latin America is pleased to announce its new expansion to Africa. With coverage across four countries, the company offers a unified payment solution that will be a game changer for cross-border online merchants looking at Africa as their next move for strategic growth.

To strengthen its presence in the continent, PayRetailers is activating its payment processing functions in Rwanda, Zambia, Uganda, and Tanzania. This will offer a simple, user-friendly, and scalable experience to businesses looking to grow their regional operations and give them access to major local methods like SPENN, Airtel, and MTN.

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This market is increasingly connected and mobile and destined for strong growth, which is why PayRetailers, in its mission to increase financial inclusion and continue supporting business growth in emerging markets, has decided to activate its networks in the region and drive this exciting era of prosperity.

Lorenzo Pellegrino, Chief Operating & Digital Officer at the fintech, states: “As a part of our strategic expansion, we are extending our coverage to four markets in Africa, at least to start with. Over the coming months, we plan to steadily expand our operation in the continent, which is experiencing incredible growth in the payments industry and has massive potential for merchants looking to diversify and broaden their consumer base. Using the stellar and continuous growth we have experienced in LATAM as our guide, we are well-poised to help businesses thrive faster and more sustainably.”

“We recognize the immense potential and significance of venturing into these dynamic markets,” adds Juan Pablo Jutgla, CEO of PayRetailers. “Each new addition to our market coverage is a gateway into untapped opportunities and strengthened partnerships, ensuring our sustained growth and global relevance. Our imminent expansion into additional countries across West, North, and Southern Africa underscores our commitment to empowering our clients and connecting them with diverse consumer bases across the continent.”

From May onward, businesses will be able to operate in the region using PayRetailers for their online users, representing a major milestone for its client portfolio and its innovation strategy for 2024.

To secure its standing in the African market, the company reveals further expansion plans already in stow for the coming months.

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AFEX Ranks 5th on FT Africa’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2024

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AFEX Management (Image: Supplied).

AFEX, Africa’s leading commodities market player, announced that it has secured a place in the Financial Times (FT) ranking of Africa’s Fastest-Growing Companies in 2024. Coming in at Number 5 this year, this marks the organization’s 3rd consecutive entry on the list, after ranking as the fastest growing company in Africa in 2023. 

The Financial Times, in partnership with Statista, recognizes Africa’s most exciting businesses through the Fastest Growing Companies ranking, celebrating thriving businesses with exceptional revenue growth. The list ranks African companies by their compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in revenue for 2019 and 2022. In that period, AFEX grew by 287.82% in the 4-year period, despite still felt effects of COVID-19, macroeconomic headwinds and market upheavals caused by uncertain policy environments and increasing natural disasters/ climate change effects witnessed in its existing markets of Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda.

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Since 2019, AFEX has been working across Africa, creating an efficient market for commodities trading and solving food insecurity by driving financing from the Nigerian Capital markets and retail investors. In 2020, the launch of their digital trading platform, ComX, lowered barriers for commodity trading and alternative investments, while providing transparent financing options for the currently fragmented agriculture value chain. Through innovative financial instruments like the FETC and Asset Backed Commercial Papers which have historically performed well, AFEX is creating the infrastructure to boost agriculture production across Africa. 

Akinyinka Akintunde, President/CEO, AFEX Nigeria said “We are proud to once again be featured on the Fastest growing companies list for the third time in a row. This year’s entry is perhaps more significant for us considering the harsh market environment that a lot of businesses are undoubtedly contending with. This is a testament to all the work we have put in over the past few years to ensure Africa’s food self-sufficiency. Our expansion into Cote d’Ivoire this year also mirrors our commitment to our strategic expansion plan, Project Black Panther, which sees us replicating our business model in 9 African countries in the next decade to improve cross border trade on the continent”.

Today, AFEX has impacted the lives of over 500,000 farmers across 4 countries, while prioritizing creating a positive and lasting difference in their communities. Ultimately, AFEX is empowering local farming communities, fostering economic opportunities, and contributing to Africa’s sustainable self-sufficiency as the company prioritizes its impact goals.

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