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Building A Digital Marketplace For ‘Made In Nigeria’: Interview With Ukaegbu Great Jr, CEO, Keanyi

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Ukaegbu Great Jr, is the Founder and CEO of Keanyi an eCommerce consumer goods retail platform that connects exclusively local manufacturing sellers with consumers. He is responsible for the performance and long-term strategic development of this new startup. In this exclusive interview with Uchechukwu Ajuzieogu of Business Africa Online, Ukaegbu speaks on the Keanyi’s experience in the all ready existing Nigerian market, current state of the eCommerce sector, the biggest potentials for growth in Nigeria and outlined his company’s future plans.

Uchechukwu: Kindly share your set goals when assuming as the CEO, and how much progress has been made?

Ukaegbu: The role of the CEO has sent me back to Libraries and web directories , Every Single day, I read books and articles of becoming a better manager and understanding the market, above all I have adopted the culture of learning, unlearning and relearning. My goals as the CEO is to primarily see Keanyi reached our vision and goals as a company, creating thousands of Jobs and empowering Nigeria and African SMEs. Yes, I’m the CEO of Keanyi but sometimes I get scared to address myself as CEO because that’s not just a title, its work more than a war to conquer.

Uchechukwu: Can you provide some insights into Keanyi’s presence in Nigeria?

Ukaegbu: Keanyi was an idea that was conceived early 2016, then called Ariaria Online because we thought it to be more of an Aba thing, after much consultations, experts advised us to change the name because it will box our content and scope of reach. By early 2017 , we had re-branded to Keanyi adapted from an Igbo word ‘Nkeanyi’ which means our own. Keanyi was launched on the 3rd of October 2019 on the web space.

Our Goal is to put up made in Nigeria Products back to the map, and we will achieve it. After the launch we have seen lots of challenges and we are set to conquer them, Our primary interest was to boost to Aba market but we got negative signs on our radar with much rejections coming from the Aba manufacturers.

One of the interesting Facts about Keanyi’s presence is that 99.5% of vendors on Keanyi are from Lagos, and this is a good sign seeing Lagos as the hub of business, we might be concentrating more on Lagos, alongside Kano and probably Aba for vendors while targeting major cities in Nigeria.

Uchechukwu: What has been Keanyi’s experience in the market in terms of its challenges, competition and successes?

Ukaegbu: Keanyi’s experience in Nigeria has been that of Stable growth, our vendors keep increasing every Single day, One of the major challenges I have seen is acceptability. Keanyi is new and we are just One Month old and being an idea that seems to be swimming against a heavy wave of a growing economy, we are doing all to calm the tide. Challenges are there but we will bring bring them to justice. 

About Competitors, they will be there and I believe strategies makes the difference. Success is never a war won completely,it’s a continuous war and the only way to stay alive in the war is to keep winning every Single day.We are growing and waxing strong in the market.

Uchechukwu: In terms of reputation and performance, where would you like to see Keanyi and NIGERIA in 3–5 yrs?

Ukaegbu: Keanyi is a child in the industry. Let me make reference to a book of by my friend Obinna Uzoije: “Nigeria has never witnessed an industrial revolution and i believe the time is now.” Why is China dominating; Industrial dominance and control, just like the metamorphoses of the butterfly, I’m seeing Nigeria SMEs rise above SMEs to big business through Keanyi because our goal is to put Nigeria Products to the map. In the next 3 years, we will be setting the pace to connect African SMEs and businesses which we call the Shift 2023.

Uchechukwu: How would you evaluate the current state of the Local Manufacturing sector in Nigeria?

Ukaegbu: Manufacturing in Nigeria is indeed one the biggest challenges we are facing and ready to see it change. 78% of the SMEs producing, produces at request which I can tally to subsistence agriculture, their output most times is not much probably because of their mode of production/manufacturing. 

With Keanyi’s presence to boost the market, we hope to see most of the manufacturing SMEs switch to the industrial/enterprise stage. We also aim to invest heavily to boost their production.

Uchechukwu: Where are the biggest potentials for growth in Nigeria now and beyond?

Ukaegbu: Our biggest Potential no doubt is our population, we have a higher percentage to sell to but the level of poverty keeps stalling these potentials making us have zero percentage to sell to most times. Our Potentials is nested to our population and government Policies in the now and beyond ,the government must have good policies, sometimes I feel that Nigeria is a socialist state because of the effects of Government on the economy.

Uchechukwu: Tell us about Keanyi Vendor Platform and the gap its filling?

Ukaegbu: The Keanyi Vendor Platform is one of the best modifications we introduced on the platform because our market keeps growing every single day. The Vendor presence made us to launch the ‘Zero Sales Season’, where a Vendor signs up, put up their products and sell without us taking any percentage, the Zero Sales Season started from November 2019 and will span till Feb 2020.

Uchechukwu: Describe your leadership style, and what Keanyi Represents?

Ukaegbu: My Leadership style is goal oriented. I have my eyes on the goal, and I will do all the reach the goals with the Keanyi team. Being a leader means you have unlearn, learn and relearn. I understand that every single member of Keanyi has goals to live for as a person and I will also put myself in their shoes to make their goals come to reality. I remind myself that leadership is about humility every single day.

Uchechukwu: What are your Source of Resilience?

Ukaegbu: My source of Resilience is drawn from two different Sources;
– Jesus: I might sound religious here because in this Keanyi journey, I have always drawn more strength from prayers and directions. A lot of times as a person, I had loved to shut down and look for a soft work or even travel abroad, but He(Jesus) has been faithful. 

  • My second source of Resilience is the power of time and opportunity: I believe Nigeria at a time when the Rise of SMEs is on a higher magnitude, which calls for a marketplace. I am sure that Keanyi will be the next big thing that happened to the Nigerian Economy
  • My Able Team: At this Point i would like to say that my biggest Source of Resilience is my Team, I want to appreciate Keanyi’s Chief Technology Officer — Mr. Uchechukwu Ajuzieogu. This man been doing a lot for Keanyi , I owe him a lot in this life. I also want appreciate our Chief Operating Officer the beautiful intelligent lady and mother, an event shaker, and business maker — Mrs. Flora Mgbeledeogu, thanks for all the time you have been amazing. I owe you more, you guys has helped me grow, lets keep doing this.

Uchechukwu: An average CEO reads 52 books in a month. What’s your reading Pattern?

Ukaegbu: A lot of books has made me see beyond the norm, the stories and setting might be different but the strengths seems similar. I used to think reading was never my thing, but i read on a daily basis now; print and web. It’s been amazing getting more informed everyday. I read at night most times and I’m currently reading a book by Strivye Masiyiwa.  

Also Read: Coverdor Insurtech Startup Launches Brokerly; Africa’s First Digital Insurance Broker Solution-as-a-service

Uchechukwu: What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and graduate students?

Ukaegbu: Well entrepreneurship is a journey of 20% Idea, and 70% resilience. Ever Imagine watering an apple tree from nursery and watching it grow. As an entrepreneur get people who are better than you, its helping me already, network,build contacts and allies within your niche, work hard and above all listen to your customers — they are the king. 

Graduate is a title that comes with paper, which can only guarantee you job from a company who likes your paper, but a skill is your job which you offer for people who pays for it. While you read books to pass exams and leave the four walls of college, get skilled to overcome the under-utilization of the graduate paper.

B I O G R A P H Y

Ukaegbu Great Jr, is the Founder and CEO of Keanyi an eCommerce consumer goods e-commerce retail platform that connects exclusively local manufacturing sellers with consumers. Ukaegbu has more than 5 years experience in the Graphics, Branding and eCommerce ecosystem

He is also the founder of ABSUVilla. Prior to this role, he took on various senior roles with various organization — PR and Social Media Manager for Today’s 95.1 FM. He is a Nigerian and fluent in several languages including English, Hausa, and Igbo.

Visit Keanyi 

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African Diaspora: The face behind the only Black woman founded and led ice cream brand in Amsterdam

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African Diaspora, Nekeia Boone is a senior UX and tech manager turned ice cream entrepreneur. Originally from Harlem, NYC, she created her brand, Tudy’s Kitchen in the midst of a burnout, family tragedies, personal health issues and a pandemic. Named after her Grandma Tudy, she dedicate this brand as a legacy to all that she did for others – and in gratitude to all that she’s done for her. Tudy’s Kitchen is a Black woman founded and led ice cream brand based in Amsterdam. Their flavors are a delightful surprise, turning traditions right side up. Sweet and savory is umami heaven in their book – and often the star of the show in their handmade desserts.

Tudy’s Kitchen is using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, while creating business opportunities for underrepresented groups. Particularly womxn and people of color, is at the heart of what they do. As such, Tudy’s Kitchen has a strong bias to collaborate with people who come from these groups. And partner with entities who believe in these values, to help them build their brand.

Achievements

In just a few months, they have taken production literally from her kitchen into Kitchen Republic, a startup space aimed at helping food and drink entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. 

Currently, Tudy’s Kitchen is sold at Sterk Amsterdam, a speciality shop with a host of unique international products. And coming soon, they hope to kickstart their own webshop, along with having their products available on a variety of delivery apps.

The above have already proven useful in helping them scale up production, gain greater brand awareness, and attach new customers. But limited funding has created several roadblocks in helping them fully realize these efforts.

Goals and timeline

In the first six months of launch, they’ve established two key goals:

  • Create brand identity and establish awareness.
  • Tap into opportunities that allow them to scale.

Their approach to scaling this business leverages the small-step philosophy. They are currently doing this by:

  • Setting small, measurable and achievable goals.
  • Quick roll out of product to the market.
  • Gathering data from customers to validate their efforts.
  • Then iterating, improving and rolling out again.

In taking this approach, they envision success at the end of the six-month period to include, but not limited to:

  • Boosting sales, having reached their target audience via multiple platforms (e.g. food delivery apps, new retail locations, Tudy’s Kitchen webshop).
  • Building their social media following to a minimum of 1000 new followers.
  • Increasing number of mentions in publications (e.g. digital or print), influencer pages (e.g. food bloggers), and/or other marketing mediums, creating an uplift in brand awareness and sales.
  • Expanding the team to include support staff (sous chef, cleaning crew, dedicated delivery service), more creatives (designers, writers, stylists), and operations (financial planning/analysis, logistics, strategists).
  • Generating enough data (e.g. via surveys, product reviews/feedback, etc) to establish goals for the following six-month period.
  • Creating financial stability for the brand to cover operational costs (e.g. rent, equipment, etc) and to pay the many volunteers the money they deserve for helping us get this far.

Let’s keep that momentum going strong and help them African Diaspora bring it home! Support her

 

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Margaret Adekunle, Founder of the first Black owned Canadian company with a branded secured credit card

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Margaret Adekunle is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of City Lending Centers, a credit building solution company. She has worked in the banking industry for 20 years, and her passion for progress and dedication to her community has been universally praised by Friends and Colleagues alike. Margaret has seen the struggles immigrants face and experienced them firsthand. Driving her forward to take action and uplift her community, so that nobody will have to endure their struggles alone. She founded Immigrants Inclusive Credit to tackle the complex struggles with systemic racism and financial insecurities that immigrants are forced to adapt to as they integrate into the Alberta ecosystem.

A Diversity and Inclusion Strategist and the Founder of ATB Black team members Network. The network that advance the Inclusion of Black team members by providing development opportunities and creating diverse talents throughout the organization. Her vision is to create a pathway to leadership for all underrepresented groups.

Margaret Adekunle is committed to bringing Inclusion, Diversity, Human Right and a Sense of belonging to the forefront through education and community initiatives. Teaching and mentoring new immigrants on how to adapt to the Canadian workplace culture is a cause that has been fulfilling for her.

About City Lending Centers (CLC)

City Lending Centers (CLC) is a custom credit building solutions that help you take control of your finances. And helps you get a good credit score, and a high score means better loan terms and lower interest rates on lending facilities such as loans, mortgages, and lines of credit. CLC helps build new credit, improve existing credit scores and fix damaged credit.

With over 21 years of experience helping customers rebuild damaged credit, build new credit, get out of debt, and save more. A company of former bankers with branch management experience and equipped to advise on all areas of money management. They understand how credit scores work, and can help you improve your credit scores faster. Also, they understand that financial strain could impact mental health. Therefore, provide free credit counseling and mental health evaluations through their partners.

They offer a secured credit card that works like any other card that helps build credit. CLC’s secure credit card helps customers create new credit or rebuild damaged credit. The only difference between CLC’s credit card and regular credit card is that clients pay an upfront deposit to secure their credit limit. CLC reports all payments to credit bureaus similar to the bank’s process. Clients are be expected to make their monthly payments promptly.

 

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Shalom Lloyd: Building A Skincare Company on Valuing Healthy, Ethical and Sustainable Living

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Shalom Ijeoma Lloyd is an award-winning, senior business professional, with over 25 year’s experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Shalom is the Founder of Naturally Tribal Skincare, a natural chemical-free skincare company built on valuing healthy, ethical and sustainable living whilst empowering African women. She holds several NED positions on the Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce and SEMLEP boards. Alaba Ayinuola had an amazing opportunity to ask Shalom a few questions. Time to discover Naturally Tribal.

 

Alaba: Hi Shalom, could you briefly tell us about your journey into entrepreneurship?

Shalom: In 2014, after four cycles of IVF, I gave birth to my twins, Joshua and Amara. My son Joshua was covered in eczema. As a pharmacist I understand the value of medicines in our life, but I tapped into my African roots. After experimenting and mixing in my kitchen, I stumbled across the right formulation. Three days later Joshua’s skin cleared and this was the birth of my company Naturally Tribal Skincare.

With Shea Butter being my main ingredient, this journey led me to build a Shea Butter processing facility in Niger State, Nigeria, where we employ and empower our women. In addition to being a supplier of proudly made in Nigeria Shea Butter, I source my ingredients ethically from there, and then bring them into the UK to manufacture, formulate, test and distribute the finished products.

Today, Naturally Tribal Skincare is stocked in Harrods Beauty. So, if you are looking for quality unrefined Shea butter and great natural skincare products, Naturally Tribal Nigeria is able to supply that.

Naturally Tribal Skincare Products Group Shot

I am also one of the directors of JE Oils, a state of the art Shea processing facility based in Gwagwalada, Abuja!

In 2018 I co-founded another amazing company called Emerging Markets Quality Trials. Although black people represent about 17% of the world’s population, less than 3% of us are involved in clinical trials, so this company, eMQT, focuses on bringing diversity into clinical trials. It gives African patients access to medicines and African healthcare professionals the opportunity to be part of global trials. It also gives pharmaceutical companies access to a great patient population.

So all roads in my entrepreneurial journey seem to lead back to Africa, which makes me proud of my British African heritage.

Alaba: What are your offerings and the problem you are solving?

Shalom: Our offerings and solutions are;

The Nature lover: Our products speak to the nature lover who is passionate about plant-based power. These are the natural skincare lovers, the vegan and cruelty free skincare lover who is passionate about our environment and planet. 

The luxury skincare and beauty lover: We speak to and cater for the results driven and luxury skincare lover who appreciates our use of ingredients with the power to battle wrinkles and tighten the skin naturally.

For skin conditions: With around 900 million people in the world suffering with a skin condition, skin diseases remain a major cause of disability worldwide. We are changing the narrative and will be the leading global natural skincare brand for customers with skin conditions as well as customers who want to maintain their skin as nature intended. From consumers with skin conditions to those undergoing medical interventions that will impact the skin.

Alaba: What is your main product and its pivot story from founding to the current state?

Shalom: YARA Body Food is the product that started Naturally Tribal Skincare so I guess you can call this our ‘hero’ product. YARA is special because it worked for my baby and gave me the confidence to start the company. Hence, the name YARA which in Hausa means children. It depicts love, care, protection; making it amazing for the most sensitive skin. Made with high quality unrefined Shea butter, our YARA is packed with natural goodness. It annoys me when we sometimes turn our noses at the scent of the liquid gold that is Shea Butter not realising the jewel we have.

Alaba: How have you attracted users and grown your company from the start?

Shalom: When customers see us, they can see themselves as part of our journey because it’s not about the glitz and glamour but more about the substance. The value one brings to the table and the impact we have on skin, on our planet and on people’s lives.

Hard work, tenacity, resilience; these are not just words! We have a long way to go but having the right people with the right mindset and who share my passion has helped the company grow. When you do something that solves a problem, impacts lives, and have fun in the process, that is a winning formula. On the business side, understanding my numbers (which does not come naturally). Defining my supply chain and knowing one’s position in a crazy, beautiful saturated market helps a lot.

Today, Naturally Tribal Skincare is a proud United Kingdom Department of International Trade Export Champion!

Alaba: What are the challenges and achievements since you launched?

Shalom: Finance was of course the main challenge. I had to remortgage my home to start this business but it has been worth it. Building the factory in Essan required investment and I am honoured to be working with investors who are also colleagues and friends. I wish I had mastered communication and people skills earlier in life. Involving and working with the right people from the start would have saved me a lot of pain. But going through this process throughout my journey has taught me some valuable life lessons.

Shalom and the NTN Essan Team

The greatest achievement is seeing the proud look on my husband and children’s faces. That feeling that the sacrifice has been worth it. 2021 is the year our products launched in Harrods and that is such a big deal for me and my amazing team. We are exporting more, and have been able to complete the formulation of our facial and hair care products.

Alaba: Why are you so passionate about Nigeria and Africa at large?

Shalom: Naturally Tribal Shea butter supply chain is an impressive demonstration of my love and passion for Africa. It has been a journey of ‘Ethical Sourcing and Empowerment’ Pillar. The Shea industry supports and provides income to over 16 million women across the African continent.  My research into potential supply sources led us to Niger state, Nigeria and an introduction to the King of Essan. I fell in love with the Kingdom of Essan and today, the Naturally Tribal group has a Shea Processing facility (with creche and worship rooms) that harvests and processes the shea directly in the region, employing about 22 rural women with plans to employ up to 70 in the future.

JE Oils Gwagwalada

Our JE Oils shea processing facility boasts of the fact that all our supervisors are women which is a big deal in Nigeria. Having a facility that produces 400 metric tons of shea butter is no joke! This has created an ecologically sound and sustainable infrastructure, jobs, training and more commercial co-operative opportunities to market and sell shea butter.

Essan Nut Collection

Alaba: Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty and wellness industry?

Shalom: We are more aware of the impact we have on our planet, more aware of consumerism. So the modern beauty industry is on a journey to impact the 120 billion units of unrecyclable plastic we put out annually. Of course, making money is important, we run businesses after all however, It’s not just about making money it’s also about purpose and impact. We no longer look at wellness as a separate topic, we have made beauty, particularly skincare part of one’s holistic wellness – don’t forget that your internal wellness can manifest on your skin.

Alaba: Where do you see yourself and Naturally Tribal in the next 5 years?

Shalom: Our pipeline is exciting, and we are currently working on our facial and hair care products, using innovative and unique ingredients. We are building even stronger relationships with our current stockists. Looking to grow and expand into the Hospitality industry, partner with great luxury SPAs and make great inroads into being stocked in airline duty free luxury goods.

In 5 years time, I see myself, taking a bit of a back seat and overseeing others running my companies. Enjoying the fruits of my labour with my family and friends.

Alaba: Finally, what is your advice to female entrepreneurs in the beauty industry or first-time startup founders?

Shalom: The journey is tough so do something you are passionate about. NEVER let the lack of finance stop you. Align with the right type of people, be genuine, surround yourself with a great team (no one knows it all). Most of all, ENJOY the ride, bumps and all. The beauty industry is so saturated, so be unique. Let your passion shine and come through. Know your numbers and know the value you bring – never sell yourself or your products short. If you are going to do it, do it well and don’t cut corners.

 

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