My name is Hermine Mbondo. I’m the founder of B4brand, a Toronto-based bilingual English/French storytelling-driven marketing agency for purpose-driven brands. While consumers are always enticed to buy more, at B4brand we believe that marketing has a greater purpose than consumerism and should empower people to buy smart, by putting their money where their heart is. So we made it our mission to create stories that connect brands that take a stand on values with people who share those values through engaging storytelling content.
For some, storytelling has lately become a marketing buzzword. For us, at B4brand, storytelling is rooted in our identity. In fact, the B in B4brand stands for:
- Brand – because we promote brands that are making a difference and have a positive impact –,
- Bilingual – since we provide our services in English and French, Canada’s official languages, but we also offer a multilingual platform – and
- Bassa – because our storytelling originates from the Bassa tribe of Cameroon, a tribe that has been using storytelling as part of their oral traditions to pass down knowledge from one generation to the next.
So, this is where my journey starts. I was born in the hinge of Africa, in a land where West and Central Africa meet. I grew up listening to these amazing tales during my summer vacations in our village. At twilight, one of my aunts would gather all the kids and start telling us stories before going to bed. Those legends, myths, tales, riddles, songs, and proverbs rocked my early childhood and inspired me to read more, write more, and somehow instilled in me a lifelong love for storytelling.
I left my native Cameroon and moved to France at 8 years of age. Among the many things that France has given to me, education by far was the game changer. I graduated from a business school with Master’s degree in Management, majoring in Consumer Marketing, and I quickly gained international work experience, holding various marketing and communications positions in France, Canada, and the US. But it wasn’t until I moved to Toronto in April 2016 that I fully embraced entrepreneurship.
I arrived in Toronto in a snowy yet beautiful day with my suitcase, a need for a change of scenery, my Master’s degree in my pocket, and a decade’s worth of international work experience. This cosmopolitan, vibrant, and bustling city seemed just like the perfect place for a fresh start. Toronto also turned out to be a great place to start a business venture and ignited my entrepreneurial spirit. So much so that I founded B4brand in 2017 and a few months later, I turned my side hustle into a full time business in 2018.
Entrepreneurship is not an easy road. Fortunately, Toronto’s booming entrepreneurial ecosystem provides resources to support business ideas and turn them into start-ups, from settlement and community organizations, to incubators, and accelerators, to name a few. Living in such a diverse city also gave me an unique opportunity to connect with a whole portion of the African Diaspora that I knew little to nothing about before, including Africans originally from English speaking countries. In my three years in Toronto, I have met so many smart, driven professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors who share the same desire to participate in Africa’s economic development.
We might be away from the motherland. We might not even share the same experiences or the same attachment to the motherland. However, it provides great hope to witness and take part in this rising movement of individuals who each, at their own level, contributes to take control of the African narrative and write our own story, by investing in and using technology to create a better future for Africans, among so many other entrepreneurial initiatives.
B I O G R A P H Y
Cameroonian-born B4brand founder, Hermine Mbondo, is an enthusiastic entrepreneur who is writing her story in her own unique way. Born in “Little Africa”, raised in France and now living in Canada, this bilingual English/French Marketing Consultant by day also happens to be a world-traveler by addiction, and a foodie by passion.
She graduated from a top French business school with a Master’s degree in Management, majoring in Consumer Marketing. Prior to focusing on storytelling, Hermine Mbondo started her career in Communications at a Paris-based agency then landed a position on a client side at Carrefour Group, one of the world’s largest retailers. She then expanded her skills and horizons and acquired valuable trade marketing skills, working directly with buyers and managing sales reps in the US. In 2012, she was appointed Marketing Manager of a French cookware manufacturer and spearheaded the rebranding of a portfolio of foodservice and retail brands, implementing effective online and offline worldwide marketing strategies.
With over a decade of international marketing experience under her belt, Hermine Mbondo decided in 2017, just a year after moving to Toronto, to use her proven marketing expertise for the greater good and founded B4brand, a storytelling-driven marketing agency for purpose-driven brands.
Email us at email@example.com
Visit us at B4brand
By: Hermine Mbondo
Claire Rutambuka: Showcasing the beauty of diversity
Claire RUTAMBUKA is an entrepreneur and the creator of Akâna Dolls. Beyond her professional background in International Trade, she has always been passionate about the creation of small and diverse objects. During her early childhood in Rwanda, she was fortunate to have toys and in particular a doll that she cared very much about. It was not only a privilege to have a doll but even more so to have one with her skin color.
When Claire Rutambuka became a mother years later, she was surprised that she couldn’t easily find such a doll for her children that would showcase the beauty of little black girls. That’s how the idea of creating “Akâna Dolls” came about. Akâna is a word of Rwandan origin that can be translated as “little child”. It’s also a nod to the founder’s origins.
The brand was born from a mother’s desire to meet a need; namely, giving all children the opportunity to choose a doll they can relate to and adults an additional choice when it comes to gifting. After the first realization of the “Kaliza” doll, the ambition is to gradually expand the collection to include more skin shades and hair textures, so that every child feels represented.
Hakeem Abogunde: Building Slash, a solution for Africa B2B market
Hakeem Abogunde, CEO Slash Africa. SLASH is a decentralized B2B marketplace where buyers and sellers meet to facilitate and protect their transactions. Buyers can place orders and make payment into “Slash Account”. Slash will hold the fund until item(s) is delivered. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online (BAO), Hakeem shares his journey into tech entrepreneurship and how he is building the solution for Africa’s B2B marketplace with Slash. Excerpt.
Alaba: To start with, could you share your journey into tech entrepreneurship?
Hakeem: Growing up as a kid, I was the type of guy who loved the internet. I spent most of my time reading, studying, and researching information and news on the internet. Most times, I would be on my computer from night till the next morning; that’s how attached I was to the internet space.
My journey as a tech entrepreneur started in 2005 when I dropped out of school to pursue my career as an entrepreneur. I joined my sister in her wholesale business at Lagos Island. During this period, I witnessed how people traveled from different parts of Nigeria to Lagos just to purchase products and resell them in their various locations. This journey was usually stressful, time-consuming, and costly. As an internet expert, I began to think of how I could use the internet to connect with these people and stop them from traveling to Lagos. Unfortunately, the internet wasn’t as popular then, and the only functioning platform available was Nairaland. On Nairaland, I would post some of our products and connect with a few people who were online at that time.
After a few years in the business, I joined a Multi-Level Marketing company where I led a team of over 500 sales reps. In the Multi-Level Marketing company, we usually went offline to meet with customers, sell our products to them, and get paid based on the sales volume. As an internet expert, to increase my team’s sales volume, I started selling the products online using different social media platforms. However, I later realized that most of these platforms were not efficient. It was then that I decided to build my own e-commerce website. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to write code then.
So, I enrolled in a web programming course online, and as a fast learner, in less than 3 months, I was able to build our own e-commerce site from scratch. That actually increased our sales volume by 10 times. I started falling in love with programming and became a freelancer. I worked as a freelancer, developing mobile and web applications for both individuals and companies for 5 years. After, I decided to build a startup.
Alaba: You are currently building a solution for Africa’s B2B market through your venture, Slash Africa. Kindly tell us more and the inspiration behind it?
Hakeem: Slash Africa is a decentralized B2B marketplace that connects African retailers with suppliers globally and enables them to carry out secure transactions without any intermediary.
I got the inspiration when I was working with my sister in her wholesale business. I discovered a huge economic inequality between suppliers and retailers. For instance, one of the biggest problems Nigeria is currently facing is artificial scarcity perpetuated by most suppliers in other to increase the price of their products. This creates a market environment that heavily favors them, leaving retailers at a disadvantage. Having experienced this myself, I think now is the best time to democratize Africa’s wholesale market. This will give retailers access to varieties of quality products at very competitive prices and also save them more money and time.
Alaba: What sets Slash Africa apart from other Africa B2B market solutions, and how are you positioning it to become the go-to solution for Africa’s B2B market?
Hakeem: We are the first decentralized marketplace in Africa. We allow both small and big suppliers to list their products and enable direct interaction between suppliers and retailers, allowing them to define their terms and conditions of transactions without an intermediary. This will increase the level of trust and transparency and also gives everyone equal access to the market. Additionally, by operating on a decentralized fulfillment management system, we make our operation faster and minimize cost.
Alaba: What have been Slash Africa’s biggest challenges, and how do you overcome them?
Hakeem: Initially, our intention was to build a platform that enables everyone to create their own independent online store in minutes without coding. But we later realized that most suppliers/sellers, after creating their stores, didn’t have the money and skills to promote their stores. As a result, they didn’t make any sales and they would abandon their store. At that point, we decided to convert it to a marketplace, this enables them not just to create their stores but also connects them with potential customers.
Alaba: Raising capital has been one of the major challenges entrepreneurs face. How are you currently fundraising?
Hakeem: Raising funds as a local founder is very difficult if you don’t have any investor connections. Most African investors are not helping the situation either. Imagine this: because an African investor doesn’t know you, they won’t want to have anything to do with you. They also like to copy the US model. Technology in Africa is still at a very early stage, and the level of adoption is still very low compared to the US. Without local experience, getting people to adopt your solution will be very difficult, and this is where local founders have the advantage. So far, we have been funding our project through bootstrapping and support from families and friends.
Alaba: Can you tell us your impression of the current entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in Africa? How have you seen it transform in the last 5 years?
Hakeem: In the last 5 years, the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in Africa has been growing rapidly. I see a lot of young entrepreneurs solving problems by leveraging modern technologies. But we need to work more in the area of getting people to adopt these solutions, and that is where local expertise is needed.
Alaba: What are Slash Africa’s priorities/plans for the year, and where do you see this venture in the next 5 years?
Hakeem: This year, our priorities involve raising funds, strengthening our team, scaling in Nigeria and reaching $1 million in monthly sales. In the next 5 years, we are projecting Slash Africa to hit $200 million in monthly sales and become the largest B2B marketplace in Africa.
Alaba: What is your advice to budding entrepreneurs aspiring to go into tech?
Hakeem: My advice to entrepreneurs aspiring to go into tech is to come with the pure intention to solve a problem and not just for the money. Because when you prioritize money, you won’t have the drive to build the business, and eventually, you will fail. Secondly, you also need to love the people you are building the project for because this will also be your driving force.
Alassane Sakho: The Senegalese Serial Entrepreneur
Alassane Sakho is a young and brilliant Senegalese entrepreneur, Telecommunications engineer specialized in the Technical-Commercial field, He founded KALIMO GROUP in January 2023, with the ambition to contribute to the development of Senegal. A graduate of ESMT in Dakar, Alassane is passionate about sales, ICT, Mobile Money and real estate. He began his career in 2010 with the Orange Money Senegal and Orange Business Service projects. Later, he joined large real estate companies as a commercial developer, (SIPRES SA, SENEGINDIA, TEYLIUM Group and the company Fimolux, where he held the position of General Manager of the commercial subsidiary.
Alassane Sakho has also supported many Senegalese and international companies in their development in Senegal, including Wizall Money, ATPS, MOODS, etc. Its vision extends beyond national borders, initially targeting West Africa, with projects planned in Mali, Gambia, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, before expanding to other parts of the continent.
Kalimo is involved in various areas of activity, including real estate development, digital communication, sales, rental and asset management, construction, training, advice and assistance. In addition, the company plans to enter the film industry, with its subsidiary K7film, which will produce short and feature films, animated films, corporate communication, documentaries, etc.
Apart from his professional activities, Alassane SAKHO is involved in sports, especially football. He coaches youngsters from 8 to 20 years old and has the honour of winning the “Universal Youth Cup” tournament in 2019 in Italy, against big clubs such as Inter Milan, Ajax Amsterdam, Atletico Madrid and AC Milan. Its main objective is to consolidate Kalimo’s presence in Africa and to help foreign companies wishing to set up in Senegal.
Finally, its digital team is ready to help companies or public figures increase their notoriety and visibility on social media. Other areas of activity, such as agribusiness and mass distribution, are currently being explored.