Risper A. Opiyo is the Founder and CEO of BINTI AFRIQUE, a beauty and cosmetics company. Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, she is a budding entrepreneur currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in International Business Administration at the United States International University Africa. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Risper shares her passion for fashion, entrepreneurship and how her brand is impacting her community and her plans to penetrate the East African market with her products. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about your business and the role you play.
Risper: I had great passion for fashion and started BINTI AFRIQUE. I did most first runway show in MARCH 2015 and that’s how my entrepreneurial journey started. I have been on and off the runway and in 2018 I opened up a beauty and cosmetic shop with little savings that I got which was hardly enough and I had to raise the funds on my own. I had run out of options I tried borrowing from friends and family only to end up being ignored. I felt deeply hurt but I didn’t give up.
My role as a CEO is to allocate capital for the business operations and this is one hectic affair. Most banks are afraid of putting their money into startups and the whole process is like climbing Mount Everest. Apart from raising capital, my job is to make sure the products are 100% natural and do what they are meant to do. I also have to set strategy and direction for the company and model the company’s structure.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Risper: I invested $375, funds that I got from my mum and uncle in the name of school project. This were funds for the fashion label and in 2018 when I opened the Beauty and cosmetics shop, All attempt to borrow money failed and I kept asking myself what shall I do? A few days later as I was heading home, I came up with a great idea on how I was going to raise funds in order to purchase stocks for the beauty shop, I started a self˗help savings group for small business within my neighborhood. I approached 20 small business men and women who were just shopkeepers, cyber café owners, boutique owners and other ran small restaurants. I sold them the idea of us putting our money together that $2 per day and within 7 days we give it to one member until the whole rotation was complete.
Luckily for me 15 agreed and the total amount I got within that week was $210. With this sum, I was ready to take over the world. The business started picking up slowly then all of a sudden the government banned the use of some cosmetics body creams, soaps and lotions which were proved to contain traces of mercury and hydroquinone which may lead to skin cancer in the long run. I and other beauty business had no other choice but to dispatch those creams as fast as we could or else we could face a long jail term or even risked paying a huge fine. Day after day customers came streaming in and were asking for better substitutes for the harmful creams they were using and I had to do a research .
This was where I saw a great opportunity right before my eyes and grabbed it with my own hands and ran with it. My idea was to make the best alternative body cosmeceutical creams using organic ingredients. And there LUXE INDULGENCE BY BINTI AFRIQUE was born. Our first generation products have been luxurious Face masks, Beauty soaps, whipped body butter and chebe hair products. Our products helps in solving beauty problems like pimples, acne, rashes, uneven skin tone, dark spots and age spots. Also we offer solutions for hair loss, thin hair and hairline problems which millions and millions of African women are seeking solutions for.
Alaba: What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Risper: This challenges started while I was growing up. I was raised by a single mother after the death of my dad in 2002. It was a struggle seeing us through school but I was determined to leave a legacy behind. This kept pushing me forward to being a better version of myself.
The company has faced so many challenges just like any other. Lack of enough capital is a great pain in the neck as it always slows down the business. Sometimes compensating my team is a problem and at one time this shook the stability of the company. I had to think outside the box and wrote an agreement that the team will be paid 30% commission on every sale they make as the company cannot still forfeit salary yet.
Another challenge is that the market is super saturated with well-established and upcoming competitors who slightly under price the products and this gets so frustrating. However, we are doing research and developing our “hero” product something that the market would love. Another notable challenge is limited working space and warehouse. We operate our business at my mum’s small backyard as it is rent free but comes with lots of limitations in the production process.
Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of Africa?
Risper: BINTI AFRIQUE is slowly and surely contributing to the development of Africa in the following ways:
Creating jobs for the youth. Unemployment is a crisis in Africa and we have more jobless graduates coming into the job market every year. In Kenya alone we have 4.3 million unemployed graduates between the age of 21 to 35, this is according to Kenya integrated household budget survey. We have employed 3 hardworking youth who are part time students. Africa needs more job creators than job seekers and if we could push and squeeze the Entrepreneurship narrative into the Education system right from elementary school, then unemployment rate could soon trickle down.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa business ecosystem?
Risper: My view on the development of AFRICA BUSINESS ECOSYSTEM is that for business to thrive and Africa to thrive, we need to squash all the trade barriers within the region and to implement the use of a single homogenous currency within the continent. With this currency Africa will stop relying on foreign currency for development and trade. Imagine Africa with free movement of persons, capital, foods and services.
At the AFRICA E˗COMMERCE WEEK 2018, organized by UNCATD, where I was a delegate, a lot has to be done for Africa to realize its development growth in line with Agenda 2063ː The Africa we want. First of all, in order for us to trade we need to produce. We have to improve our productive capacity, physical infrastructure as well as interconnectivity before we can expand digital trade. If we do not do these, we will still be open and aggressively relying on more imports from outside our continent .this in turn destroys jobs, decimate MSMEs and distort development.
Alaba: Where do you see your business in 5 years and what steps are you taking to achieve them?
Risper: In 5 years’ time I see BINTI AFRIQUE making its foot print in East Africa, supplying our products to Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda etc. as the East Africa Community will be one single trade block which will ease trade among its country members. We will also launch our organic cosmetic line consisting of natural lip balm, lipsticks, pressed powder and face foundations. The steps that we are taking to achieve these are, looking for an investor who will be willing to come in and share his/her expertise, network and of course the funds that will stir the company in the right direction and achieve its full potential.
We are working on online campaigns that create awareness on the dangers of using cosmetics products which are made from chemicals and to telling the consumer on the best alternative which are cruelty free. We want to constantly innovate and embrace Artificial Intelligence in every aspect of our business.
Alaba: What advice will you give prospecting entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Risper: The advice I would give to potential entrepreneurs is entrepreneurship is not a get rich quick scheme. You do not plant a seed and expect to eat the fruits that same day…you have to exercise patience, persistence, constantly innovate and adapt to the shifts in consumer attention.
Alaba: What inspires you and keeps you going?
Risper: My inspiration comes from our continent AFRICA, we got a great potential that most of us do not see. By 2050 our population is projected to grow from 1.2 billion to 2.2 billion. Africa is a young ‘nation’ with untapped resources and potential, if only we could get the kind of leaders who are passionate enough to drive the continent into being a powerful global economy we would be talking of different story right now.. if we didn’t have the potential, global companies like google, Facebook etc would not establish their base here and china as an investor would not have spent a dime on this continent.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Risper: I take a day off my week just to go for nature walks in the park and visualize my week ahead and meditate on my present and future. I also love reading motivational and inspirational books written my renowned business men. On top of my list is Rich dad, poor dad series books by Robert Kiyosaki, I am a fan of Donald trump and have read his books too. Currently I am reading Girl wash your face by Rachel Hollis and looking forward to reading Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Her Short Biography:
My name is RISPER ACHEING OPIYO, born and raised in NAIROBI, KENYA. I am 26 years old and pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in international Business Administration at the United States International University Africa. I am a budding entrepreneur and a passionate youth leader. I have always been a book fan and that is why my educational journey has not been that tough.
My achievements so far include, starting INUA FUNDI initiative meant for the Kenya fashion industry which aim was to put funds together and be able to boost individual talents and later on opened our doors to small businesses. I have been a delegate at African summit on Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ASENTI) SINCE 2014. I have also been a delegate to the 1st AFRICAN E˗COMMERCE WEEK by UNCTAD held at the UN Offices in Nairobi which was a remarkable experience. In 2018 I got an award for being a great sponsor to youth empowerment activities. My company sponsored this year’s House of legacy Awards, an event recognizing and celebrating youth talents in fashion, entertainment and entrepreneurship. I am also a member of Ideal Democratic and Economic Party (IDEP) a newly formed political party by youth in Kenya.
Interview with James Lawson, Founder, Intergreatme; A RegTech Company Helping You Create Your Own Digital Identity
James Lawson is the Founder and Chief Information Officer at Intergreatme, a global digital identity platform that can be integrated into a wide range of businesses in less than a day to bring identity verification and secure multi-factor authentication in seconds. In this exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, Lawson shares insights into his approach to leadership as CIO of a technology company, scaling a digital business, and overcoming operational challenges in the Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and ID verification space. Excerpt.
Heath: CIO roles in today’s IT environment are quite dynamic. What do you enjoy most about your role?
James: Each day is completely different from the next. I try and plan what I can in the morning, and then spend the rest of my day engaging with executives, development team, support agents, and with our clients.We have a dynamic business, and being a start-up means we are constantly dealing with resource constraints – which isn’t a bad thing, it forces you to focus on the most important tasks at hand.
I enjoy the freedom that I have around exploring new technologies, looking at existing products and looking at how we can optimise not only the code we have, but the products and services we use to run the business.I am also analytical and detail oriented. I build my own reports, interrogate the data, and use it to build data-driven decisions to help optimise the business. This helps to provide recommendations to our customers as to how they can optimise processes where our technology plays a role in their onboarding process, especially where they can achieve greater savings by implementing quick-win solutions.
Heath: Describe your leadership style? How do you lead through change?
James: My main leadership style is through servant leadership. As such, I believe that the technology side of the business is most effective when employees are given the opportunities to make their own choices, and for me to support them in those choices (unless I can see there is an obvious issue with the decision-making process). This also gives each individual a high degree of autonomy, and we have really worked hard to try and build self-managing teams.
This is also really reflected in my attitude towards servicing our customers. That does not mean to say that I am a “yes man” and will implement every product feature that a customer asks for, but that I will hear our customers out, and advise them on the best route forward – and sometimes decision that involves persuading them to cut out a feature, though proven experience in our product domain.
Heath: Can you explain the most difficult part of being a leader?
James: The most difficult part of being a leader is dealing with the decisions no one else is prepared to make. Sometimes, those decisions are not the popular ones. But at the end of the day, the decisions I make in the business are always focused towards the betterment of the company, and the people working inside of it.
Heath: To what do you attribute your success? How has it impacted your enterprise digital goals?
James: I consider myself fortunate that I have been able to move between different industries. I have worked in several non-technical jobs in banking and finance; have lectured at several universities, worked as a journalist, as well as in tech-and-management roles. While some might consider this a more… checked past, I see this as a valuable attribution to my collective knowledge and experience in the workplace.
One of the more innovative solutions I helped design was for a training institute, where we digitised the manual process of getting classroom labs set-up into an automated one. Before setting up a lab, a technician is required to manually copy each image across to the computer, often a symmetric process of copying the image across one-computer at a time. Working with the internal development team I managed (along with 3 other departments), we incorporated BitTorrent into the classrooms and built a Web-UI classroom management solution.
This meant the technician could now do his work remotely, increased the speed at which classroom labs could be setup, but more importantly, if a student had an issue with their lab, a new instance could be deployed in seconds vs. minutes or hours to manually find the correct image on a server and copy it across.
The impact was massive in terms of time and money saved, as well as customer satisfaction.
Heath: Where do you see your business in two years?
James: Intergreatme has two products, an app where people can upload and manage their identity with form-completing services, like renewing their car licence disc; and our Know Your Customer (Self-KYC) solution that handles the remote collection, validation, and verification of personal information to help businesses comply with their regulatory requirements, such as FICA and RICA.
I believe in the next two years that we will see a shift to our coresolution as corporate South Africa comes to grips with regulations like therisk-based KYC approach and the eventual implementation of Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI).
Heath: What are some of the challenges you face from a day-to-day operational perspective?
James: I would say my biggest operational challenge is keeping the focus in the company on the route forward – the identity space can be disrupted in so many ways! It is easy for someone to come up with an idea that is entirely feasible, and easy to implement; but knowing when to show restraint and say no, is one of my biggest daily challenges.
It can also be very tough to motivate the various teams, especially when we are under pressure to deliver product. I am proud to say I was able to refine our internal development process to reduce the stress levels of everyone in the dev. team, while also keeping stakeholders happy. We moved from break-neck development with long hours, and tight deadlines, to a more sensible flow.
Understanding policy, especially from a local regulatory stance. Our business is built around identity, and trust, and ensuring that we not only build a product around these regulations, but also that we employ a best-effort approach to securing our services.
How This Tanzanian Is Building An eLearning Platform For Students To Learn, Discuss and Network
Kizwalo Simbila is the Founder of SchoolBiz Forums, a growing online student community and social learning platform for schools and universities. He is passionate about Youth Development and thrives in raising young people in leadership. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Kizwalo reflects on his entrepreneurial journey, talks about SchoolBiz Forums, how it operates, challenges of eLearning in Tanzania, the future of his company and much more. Excerpt.
Alaba: Tell us about SchoolBiz Forums and the gap its filling?
Kizwalo: For instance, students could be located off-campus for the duration of their enrollment and successfully do discussions online. It is important to mention that online platforms include discussing at all levels of education. In recent time, the Online Education industry recorded strong growth and of course this is due to rising internet penetration in households and changing consumer preferences that favor conducting online discussions.
SchoolBiz Forums is the growing online student community and social learning mobile application for schools and universities. It was founded in the year 2016 and designed for every student to use and support each other –whatever their background through education, life around learning, all the way through to careers. They are given opportunities to Learn, Discuss and Network. SchoolBiz Forums is unlike any other Forums you will come across! At SchoolBiz Forums we seek to improve African education.
Alaba: What sparked your interest in starting this social enterprise?
Kizwalo: It resulted from prayer and burden to see African students and youth having a platform that will bring them together and do lean and network because we believe that this transformation lies in the hands and minds of studying youngsters with the desire to move lives toward prosperity and achievement.
Alaba: How are you funding your business?
Kizwalo: The platform is funded by me and our partners including Universities who we are working with to make changes and help students all around.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competitions and how are you overcoming them?
Kizwalo: Challenges are always there and we are here to learn from them. Getting a right team of people who can be trusted and move together towards the success of the company can be tricky sometimes. A successful business needs a strong foundation. Or more literally, founders. Before you bring in new hires, we have to be clear on our leadership positions. Tanzania has two platforms dealing with secondary schools education helping them with notes and quizzes. We can up with a new idea getting a platform for all students all over Africa that they can do more than just school and enjoy the atmosphere in there.
Overcoming the challenges is one of the factors of growing. That’s when you solved a mistake and next time you won’t repeat the same. Reading books and having mentors who can help me with ideas on how I can solve problems is one of the factors of me overcoming them.
Alaba: How does your organisation measure its impact?
Kizwalo: We measure our impact through the activities going on in the application. All we need is to make sure we have enough traffic of activities in the application.
Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of the EdTech ecosystem in Tanzania?
Kizwalo: In the 2018, an article done in Tanzania about Adoption of E-learning systems in Tanzania’s universities says “Current studies indicate that there is no comprehensive instructor model in e-learning systems’ adoption in universities in Tanzania”. We want to be the only leading E-Learning platform in Tanzania that can be helpful to all students and solve different problems in and out of the border.
Alaba: What’s the future of your business and what steps are you taking to achieve them?
Kizwalo: Our future is to build an online educational brand that will become one of the preferred online educative platforms in the online community in Tanzania. We have to position our online forums to become one of the leading brands in and out of Tanzania. To make all this happen needs commitment, team work and new ideas to make the company better.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Kizwalo: I feel hungry for more in Africa. “Entrepreneurs don’t wait for the right conditions” to start a business. “They create the right conditions.” I need to do more and take Africa somewhere because I am part of my continent and I will do all it takes for it’s development.
Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Kizwalo: Never stop learning. Starting your own business is a constant process of achievement and learning. It’s important to enrich yourself with both practical and emotional skills, it helps. Also “Take Risk”. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas. If it won’t work learn and try something else no matter the cost. That’s the life of an entrepreneur.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Kizwalo: I love travelling. Giving yourself some holiday to relax your kind is so important. That’s how I relax my mind and explore more than thinking. This year 2020 I will be reading more on Entrepreneurship and business books so that I can learn more and more.
B I O G R A P H Y
Kizwalo Simbila, is the Founder of SchoolBiz Forums, Public speaker and entrepreneur from Tanzania. I am passionate about Youth Development and thrive in raising young people in leadership. I fancy deep discussions on what ways young people can impact the economic development in Tanzania.I strongly believe in the case of Tanzania, the brain drain has left a wound, which could only be healed if we go back and resuscitate the economy and education.
To learn more, visit: SchoolBiz Forums
Lola A. Åkerström: Award-winning Travel Photographer of African Descent Exploring The World Through The Lens
Award-winning Stockholm-based author and photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström explores culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle for high profile publications such as National Geographic Traveler, BBC, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, amongst others. Alaba Ayinuola chatted with Lola about being an award-winning travel photographer, what sparked her interest in photography, how she’s connecting with local cultures across the world and telling the African story in the Diaspora through photography and more!
Alaba: Tell us about the Geotraveler media and the gap its filling?
Lola: Geotraveler Media is my umbrella company that covers all aspects of my work within travel media and culture. In essence, I am sharing through words, photography, and video how I am experiencing the world as an African and through those lens. Whether it’s exploring Greenland or working with local communities in Nepal. It is sharing my voice and others on a mainstream level.
Alaba: What inspired you to go into writing and travel photography?
Lola: I’ve always loved writing and used to pen fictional short stories all through secondary school while growing up in Nigeria. Then over time, I replaced fiction with creative non-fiction once I ventured into travel writing because I love exploring culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle. Photography, at the time, was a means to an end. I used to be an oil painter and so I took photographs of various scenes I wanted to paint when I returned from my travels.
Then over time, I realized my photography could stand on its own and I began to use it as a medium of expression over oil painting. But this career path came together many years ago, while volunteering with an expedition race in Fiji. It was while in a remote part of the country I realized that could create a career from becoming a travel writer and photographer.
Once when I returned back to my job as a GIS programmer and system architect, I started plotting my career transition.
Alaba: Which came first, the writing or the photography?
Lola: Writing came first as I love exploring and describing worlds through words. Photography became that ultimate complementary skill, because sometimes, painstakingly describing a detail can be answered through a single powerful shot that takes away all doubt and stops the viewer in their tracks.
I started out as an oil painter and used photography as a way of capturing scenes I wanted to paint once back. After awhile, I realized my photography was strong enough to stand on its own and so I stopped painting and started exploring photography as my new medium of expression. Semblances of my past life as an oil painter can be seen in the way I edit my photos – very vivid with a lot of heavy contrasts.
Alaba: How have your writing skills as a writer helped further your photography journey?
Lola: Within the world of travel, if you can do both and do them very well, then you’re at an advantage when it comes to getting assignments. Because editors know you can illustrate your stories powerfully with your own photographs. As an artist, you can choose whichever medium you’d like to focus on more, based on when you feel inspired or not.
Sometimes, it’s writing, other days, it’s photography. My writing skills have helped me develop my visual voice as a photographer as well. So my images feel like my own writing voice visualized.
Alaba: What makes a great image stand out from a good one?
Lola: For me, a great image is one that answers as many of these questions as possible: When, why, what, who, and other details, while leaving a bit of mystery. For me, a great image is not a technically perfect one, but one that moves me emotionally. There are thousands of amazing landscape photographers who have perfected technical settings to the point of not being able to differentiate whose photo of Patagonia is whose.
I would rather have a less technically perfect shot with a clear visual style than a technically perfect shot and no visual voice.
Alaba: How has photography enabled you to connect with local cultures across the world?
Lola: For me, I love observing interactions and connections… from how light is interacting with the landscape in front of me to capturing that moment of awareness and connection in the eyes of my subjects. I especially love environmental portraits of people and capturing a sense of them and their personality as wholly as I can.
Alaba: What is the impact of social media (Instagram and Pinterest) on travel photography?
Lola: Social media has ushered in a raise in overly staged travel photos. What once inspired people to go explore a new place, enjoy its cuisine and learn about different cultures is now forcing people to relegate places to just backdrops in search of the most creative angle. The main advantage is that it’s inspiring more people to get out there and see the world. The main irony is that they may end up not seeing as much of the world with their backs turned towards it.
I use Instagram and think it’s a great platform to play creatively as a photographer and take bold risks, regardless of whether Instagram rewards you or not based on its weird algorithms.
We can do much better by turning around and taking time to soak up and appreciate the places we’re exploring. Think about longevity and timelessness. We can always find a balance between the types of images we share. That cool visual trend today will become tiring and predictable tomorrow.
Alaba: How do you balance your time on the road between work and travel?
Lola: I always say you can’t raise the walls of a house without a solid foundation. In other words, taking time to develop roots for your company, business or brand. So I’m not always on the road and often plan my longer travels so I have at least four weeks in between.
Overall, I keep my travels short and targeted, so I am exploring a place through a focused, deeper theme instead of skimming its surface. That’s why I’m an advocate of slow travel. It’s not duration for me, but rather, the pace with which you explore a place. Whether it’s 24 days or 24 hours, you can still slow travel based on how you explore a place.
Alaba: How are you telling the African story in the Diaspora?
Lola: I am showing that as an African, I am richly layered and multi-dimensional. That as an African, I can be a professional travel photographer on a mainstream level. I’ve worked with many high profile publications (National Geographic, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, to name a few), yet I still get “Did you shoot that?” questions while my white male colleagues are revered with no questions asked.
My photography has been represented by National Geographic Image Collection for over years, I have contributed to the Nat Geo brand and magazines with writing and photography, and I’m one of the contributing photographers at National Geographic Traveller (UK). I am showing up and taking space as an African within travel media to represent as well as inspire the next generation of travel writers and travel photographers of African-descent.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African travel photographer?
Lola: As a professional travel photographer of Nigerian descent, it is extremely vital for me to show the world through my own eyes. That my voice and way of capturing the world is valid and relevant on a higher level too. Sometimes people react and interact with me in a way that’s different from the traditional white male travel photographer, and I can capture those special interactions on camera. This diversifies the stories of places we visually tell.
Alaba: What is your view on the travel and leisure ecosystem in Africa?
Lola: There are still so many untapped opportunities and stories we could be telling, including advocating for us to explore our own backyards a lot more. With people like Pelu Awofeso championing travel within Nigeria, PaJohn Bentsifi Dadson championing travel within Ghana, and Cherae Robinson of Tastemaskers, championing local niche experiences across the continent as a whole (just to name a few), I am excited about the deeper, more nuanced direction of travel and leisure within the continent.
B I O G R A P H Y
Award-winning Stockholm-based author and photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström explores culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle for high profile publications such as National Geographic Traveler, BBC, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, amongst others.
As a photographer, she has collaborated with many well-known brands – from Mercedes Benz and Dove to Intrepid Travel and National Geographic Channel. She is the author of two books – award-winning Due North & bestselling LAGOM: Swedish Secret of Living Well. LAGOM is available in 18 foreign language editions around the world. She is editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm and founder of NordicTB Collective which brings together the top professional travel bloggers and digital storytellers from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.
She is the 2018 Travel Photographer of the Year Bill Muster Award recipient and was honoured with a MIPAD 100 (Most Influential People of African Descent) Award within media and culture. Her photography is represented by National Geographic Image Collection.
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