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.
6 Reasons Why Culture Is Important For Startup Growth (Case Study: SmartCodes)
When I was in Harvard Business School, I learnt a lot regarding how to operate profitable businesses by not only making just a business grow and expand in different markets but also to make an impact to your clients and customers. Being in the US as Harvard student for couple of weeks was major shift on my perception about what growth is, and how we Africans are not taking advantage of what we have.
Hence fast forward, I would like to share with the startup community on why culture should be most important part for the growth of your business and why it’s important to let everyone involve on the process.
1. Conduct a proper SWOT analysis within your Industry
I am not a huge fan of questions like “who are your competitors” as I believe everyone has a purpose. If you know whereyou’re going and take an important challenge to venture in new opportunities, you will find yourself focusing more on delivering solutions to your customers and less looking on what others are doing. For us, we have different competitors in different category as our company structured to implement solutions for tech, advertising, products and venture in helping startups and collaborate with other corporate, hence SWOT is important as it will make you see all sort of weakness and threats and use your strength as a checklist to combat them and grow faster.
2. Use your SWOT results to review your company vision
After sitting with your team and review all the SWOT results, it’s very important now to strategically review your vision, mission and purpose that will inspire everyone to deliver and know why they should workup in the morning and execute their task. This was one of the great exercises we did at Smart Codes and we involved everyone from our top managers to the supporting teams’ even drivers to security team, and collectively we awesomely re-define our purpose. The major key question to everyone was on defining our WHY which was the light to our PURPOSE. As a result, we find our main purpose was to make a mark in their project we touch and help our client’s grow.
3. Train your dragons
During the SWOT process, you must measure the culture from strength to weakness and immediately invest more on your weak holes so as to train the team to be better than themselves. There is no better investment than training and empowering your existing team vs trying to hire the new one which they won’t really understand your purpose at one place unless your growth need new wings and hence add one to grow faster.
Even at SC, after strategically knowing our focus was to expand in other African markets, we immediately started collaborating with top talented experts in different African markets. We inspired our teamthat, with this digital age of transformation, you can do anything it’s just you need to plan and have courage to execute it. I remember we once invited Stanbic’s CIO, Mussa Ally to come and we did amazing workshop with our team on how they can grow their career. This was not just for Smart Codes but most importantly was for their own career growth. This was done to train them to think BIG by eating an elephant in bit by bit instead of thinking or eating chips-mayai which no-one will get a wow factor from you as a person.
We have also worked closely with great minds like Max Ngari – one of the top creative people in Africa who won many awards such as the Cannes Lions awards.
4. Break your Vision into objective goals
The major learning here is, knowing how to eat an Elephant. You need to break down this elephant goal into small tasks and assign each team member to deal with a few tasks. For example, at Smart Codes we don’t have KPIs but we have objective goals plan at which each team members knows what part are they executing, hence it has helped to have smooth execution and objectives which define timelines. That has been a success for us, as it works better that, just calling them KPIs.
5. Show your client and partners your vision and purpose
Showing it’s not an easy task, but I remember one of my Professors who was teaching us about the implementation of “Diffusion of innovations”. This shows the baby steps of implementing anything new, you would 1st need to know your “Innovators” – People who will be willing to listen and then “Early Adopters” – which are more of opinion leaders, which are those around your Industry ecosystem. Surprisingly when we implemented our new VISION at Smart Codes, everyone got it and mostly we have seen people starting to add our key purpose “Making a Mark” in their hashtags, and “UNTIL ITS DONE” which is our infinity journey.
6. Share your small wins with everyone
The major thing most people have is selfishness, most of people are fearing to share their ideas and success because of competitors will know theirs moves, rather than looking at the mirror of sharing skills and opinions to help other grow the same way they did. Sharing most of the things we do at Smart Codes have been a major key growth from our team, as we know, only by sharing and open doors for outsiders to comment it’s a two way learning, and it has been an incredible growth within our team and we have even seen it via our Innovation wing at SmartLab.
I remember one of or my classmate was inspiring using a phone brand called “ONE-PLUS” and when we asked, She says that brand helped to push her dreams because all the time she switch the phone-on its pop a message says “NEVER SETTLE” then I get that this A1 culture have been a major shift of growth at OnePlus’ fanbase. Let’s share our success and failures so others can learn and also collect opinions from outsiders that will only impacting our growth.
I never thought culture was a very big thing, but as Strive Masiyiwa says “believe you me” until you practice it,its when you will see the results. And it’s important to impact your life with adding more books in your reading list and try to implement those learnings in your real life to measure growth results.Lastly, reading is the only way you can get a chance to learn new skills, as we all know “you can only give the output of what you know” and knowledge is collectively inputs and output of your interest.
I am looking forward to share more and please also share your growth list via the comment section below, so we can all learn from you as well and collectively we can MAKE A MARK across our African ecosystem.
Edwin Bruno is the Founder and CEO at SmartCodes
Coverdor: An insurtech providing digital insurance experience targeted at millennial and emerging generation
Seun Ayegbusi is the Founder and CEO at Coverdor, a Lagos based and Nigeria’s first fully digital insurance platform, providing insurance when you need it the most, entirely online. Seun and his team believe insurance is not just a fancy product, but A FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT everyone deserves, especially in Nigeria and Africa where the level of risks and uncertainties we face is really high. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Seun shed more light on his brand tend to simplify the insurance experience and create easy accessibility to social benefiting insurance products in every emerging market they serve. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about Coverdor and the gap it’s filling.
Seun: Coverdor is an AI-powered digital insurance distribution platform focused on insurance coverage for everyday items like smartphone, laptops etc against mechanical, liquid, accidental damages and theft. Coverdor also enables service providers (retail stores and ecommerce websites) cross-sell add-on gadget insurance on every consumer gadgets sold at their online or offline point of sale.
We discovered that although insurance was created for the fundamental good of society in indemnifying against risks and uncertainties, however the industry lacks the technology and innovation to connect to the retail market segment (the millennial demographic) who are more risk-prone and expects to interact with insurers and insurance products the exact way they interact with any online business who offers them convenience when shopping online.
Hence, Coverdor is filling the gap of complex, paper-based, delayed and manual processes experienced in the conventional insurance system to deliver a completely digital insurance experience for the average upward-mobile millennial offering innovative insurance products that fit their lifestyle.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Seun: Our startup capital was in excess of $20,000 and was sourced through savings committed from founders and funds raised from family and friends.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Seun: Talking about challenges we encountered while innovating within the insurance industry can’t be over stretched, one of which is compliance with NAICOM’s regulation, which I must say is the biggest challenge we have faced however, working closely with our partner insurance company has helped us and is constantly helping us to navigate this issue.
Alaba: How is your startup different from other financial startups?
Seun: Coverdor is a lot different from any other fintech startup as the category of financial services sector we operate in differs from the categories other fintech startups operate within, especially within the payment, lending, asset management categories. However, Coverdor on the other hand is an insurance technology startup focused on insurance digitization, direct-to-customer distribution and cross-selling distribution. We also differ from other insurtech categories that focus on insurance price comparison.
Alaba: What’s the future for your startup and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Seun: The future of Coverdor is to become a full fledged digital insurance company, providing new and innovative insurance products that fits the lifestyle and meet the needs of Nigerian millennials. Also in the next 2-3 years we plan to launch a dedicated technology arm of Coverdor that will focus on core insurance solutions using emerging technologies to redefine core operational areas of insurance business, while advancing the digital transformation of the insurance industry in Nigeria.
Alaba: How can governments provide the best support for startups in Africa?
Seun: The government can do a lot in supporting startups in Africa, however, top on the list will be creating enabling policies to foster growth for startup across all sectors of the economy.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa InsurTech ecosystem?
Seun: The insurtech ecosystem in Africa is beginning to gain momentum as we witnessing different startups innovating across different points of the insurance value chain, however, to speed up the development, ecosystem players must become deliberate and intentional about fast-tracking development. Incumbent Insurers should set up digital transformation units that will foster partnerships with insurtechs looking to innovate alongside incumbent insurers. Furthermore, we need insurtech-focused accelerators to bolster insurtech startup growth, when these things are done, then the African Insurtech ecosystem will experience similar growth as seen in the US, Europe and Asia.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Seun: I feel proud to be an African entrepreneur, being part of the people bringing solutions to the many problems Africans are facing in Africa. Also being able to team up with other entrepreneurs to create jobs and contribute to the economy is a great way to live one’s life.
Alaba: What advice would you give prospecting entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa.
Seun: I will like to tell them that “nothing moves until you move”. There is never a better time to push yourself and kickstart that idea or pet project of yours, work hard to turn it into a great product or service. Three things I think will pull you through are “passion” for what you do or build, “tenacity” to see it succeed and “hope” that you will succeed as well.
Alaba: How do you and partners relax and what books do you read?
Seun: All work and no play makes Seun a dull boy, however when I need to relax I hang out with my family, family happy hour does it for me. Then as for books, I read lots of business and personal development books. Top on my list is “My Vision: challenges in the race for excellence” by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Alaba: Please teach us one word in your home language and your favorite local dish?
Seun: Has a Yoruba man, I will like to teach you a Yoruba word that says “elubo” translated in English as yam flour.
My favourite local dish as a proud Ondo man is “iyan and efo elegusi with eja kika” translated as pounded yam with melon and vegetable soup with stock fish.
Seun Ayegbusi is a Nigerian-born tech entrepreneur, business development and digital product development expert, and a serial innovator with extensive knowledge of the African emerging markets. A graduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University, and an alumnus of London Academy Business School. With over six years of experience in the private sector and the tech startup scene and a passion to tackle one of Africa’s most stubborn social development issues birthed the startup – Coverdor.
Interview With The Founder And Textile Designer At The Adirelounge, Cynthia Asije
Cynthia Asije is the founder and textile designer at The Adirelounge, a Nigeria based textile company with a premium textile brand that creates unique designs using the “Adire” skill that has been passed from generations to generations. At AdireLounge they have modernized the technical grain textile by integrating technology, design, and empowerment to strengthen financial inclusion in rural Nigeria. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Cynthia talked about her entrepreneurship journey, how Adirelounge is creating prosperity for African women, youths and their families and her plans to make her brand the number one Textile Hub with different experience outlets in major cities in Nigeria and Africa. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about Adirelounge and the inspiration behind it?
Cynthia: The Adirelounge is a hand dyed Textile Company that creates unique designs on non-conventional fabrics like chiffon, t-shirts,scarves and silk. We also train rural women, widows, vulnerable and out of school youth in this Adire skill. Thereby preserving culture and traditions, rich heritage and the textile making skills of Nigeria. And also curbing unemployment and creating job opportunities for these women and youth. After school I went for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps in Ogun State and I was posted to Abeokuta. After service I bought some adire fabrics to sell when I get back to Benin. I sold out but my customers had complains like, why are the colors dull? Why is it strong? The colors run, why? etc. so I knew there was a problem. I had to learn how to dye this fabric and make it well. I went back to Abeokuta stayed for some time and learnt Adire making properly. I even tried dying several fabrics like Chiffon, Cotton, Jersey, Silk, Linen, Lace, Denim, T-shirts and Scarves and it came out well and was able to tackle all the questions my clients were asking.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how did you raise it?
Cynthia: My start up capital was N20,000 gotten from my savings.
Alaba: What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Cynthia: Our top three Challenges are;
- Design Theft: Most of our marketing is done online so our designs are available, people take them and use them as theirs, and we had to watermark our images before it goes online.
- Finance to expand: There are no readily available finance option for small business owners with a single digit to grow their business, so at Adirelounge we overcame that by bootstrapping. But now we are open to investment options.
- Regulation: We overcame this by understanding the meaning of regulation in our industry and its implications for my business and to develop the skills necessary to deal with it.
- Finding the right Staff: we had to get our recruitment right and train them to the company’s standards, and carry out training where it is necessary following identification of staff strength.
Alaba: How is your brand unique and different from other Adire brands?
Cynthia: The Adirelounge brand is a premium brand that creates unique patterns on different fabric mediums like Silk, Chiffon, Tshirts, an ecommerce platform where customers can shop at their own convenience. We also train and empower rural women and youths in the adire skill.
Alaba: How are you promoting the Adire brand beyond the shores of Africa?
Cynthia: We are promoting the Adire brand beyond the shores of Africa via our partnerships with international ecommerce sites, partnering with fashion brands outside Africa has helped with promoting the Adire brand.
Alaba: How can African government support Startups and SMEs?
Cynthia: African government can support entrepreneurs by creating state loans or grants for entrepreneurs, reduce small business tax and hiring requirements, Create a policy framework that is pro-business and pro-employment, Co-ordinate with industry associations and business entities to advance innovation, ensure compliance, balance profits with employee focused social benefits, and encourage competition by effectively checking monopolies.
Alaba: What’s the future of your brand and what steps are you taking towards achieving them?
Cynthia: To be the number one Textile Hub in Nigeria with different experience outlets in major cities in the country. Exporting our fabrics to major stores in Europe, USA and other African countries. Establish our textile art institute in major communities in the country to teach women, youths the art of adire making so they can create sustainable income for themselves.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Cynthia: I feel so elated to be an African entrepreneur in these times. The world is watching, we have great talents and brands emerging from Africa. There is no better time to be an African entrepreneur.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Cynthia: I used to be a hermit, but part of my 2019 personal development goal is to go out more often, visit friends, attend networking meetings, and I read a lot of business and self-care books and blogs.
Alaba: Please teach us one word in your home language? What’s your favourite local dish?
Cynthia: I’m from ‘Ora’ in Edo State, Nigeria. My best local dish is ‘Black soup and starch’and ‘Oboshan’ which means ‘Welcome’.
Her Short Bio:
Cynthia Asije is a multi-award winning textile designer at The Adirelounge, a hand dyed Textile Company that trains women in rural communities and create job opportunities for them.She has a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from EDC Lagos, and a Non Profit Leadership certificate from Lagos Business School.She was on the Ynaija Power list 2018 for Fashion and Style and 100 Africa’s Next Start up by IFC-World Bank Group 2018.