2 months ago, a friend of mine called to ask for a favor. He wanted me to speak to his friend’s wife – Grace.
Grace makes organic soaps and according to him, she is very good at it. He had met a couple of friends that had testified to the efficacy of her soap before he tried out for himself and he too has been won over.
So you dey bleach? I teased.
You no serious. Na every locally produced organic soap dey bleach?
He went on to explain that Grace, based on her principles had refused to venture into bleaching soaps. Not that I have anything against people who bleach their skin, but I was impressed that she could stand by her principles. These are the type of people I like to meet. People that are not all about the money.
“She just needs to be guided on how to make sense of it all” he continued.
My friend knows me well. He knows that I am always open to working with SMEs in the real sector. Especially those creating products from locally sourced raw materials.
He gave her my number and she reached out to me on whatsapp. It took a while to align schedules but we eventually met. She came to our office at Yaba about 2 weeks later. I was running late but she waited patiently
When I met her, the first thing that struck me was her face. It was smooth and glowing. She is very light skinned and these days it could be difficult to tell whose complexion is original and which is enhanced. But for one of the first times in my life, I could easily tell that this her yellow is “factory fitted/follow come” as our people will call it. She had a glow that is natural. The kind of glow that you only get after your graphic artists had done some magic editing on photoshop. Her skin was flawless and she really looked good. She also looked very young and to think that she had teenage kids. She didn’t need to tell me about the efficacy of her products. She was a living testimony that her organic soap works.
She told me about her business. It started from a personal need. She and her husband had sensitive skin and they had gone from dermatologist to dermatologist looking for solution to no avail. She was pushed to research on her own, she learned how to formulate and was able to develop something that worked for them.
Then she formulated for her kids.
Then family and friends who saw the improvement on her skin, started to ask for the secret to her youthfulness. She was always happy to formulate for them.
Then they asked for more. She obliged
Their friends asked for and she obliged and by word of mouth, the demand increased and she was forced to start asking them to pay. And they were happy to.
The classical entrepreneurs’ story
She set up an Instagram page for the business and been promoting her product but she knew that she wanted more. She loved what she was doing, she was very passionate about it and she was getting repeat sales, but she knew that she wanted more.
I could tell that she loved what she was doing. I could see that she had a working product. But I could also see that she was not making any money and although she was selling her products and she sells out, she hadn’t moved from having a hubby to being an entrepreneur.
All the ingredients are there. All that was needed is a chef that will mix them and make magic. I am already thinking that I want to be that chef
I had been listening attentively without interrupting. I wanted her to pour her heart out so that I could understand what she really wanted for the business. By the time she was done, I could tell that there was potential enough to make a winner.
“Grace, what you have here is commendable. I am really impressed. I don’t even need to try your product to tell that it is good. The testimony is on your skin. Thankfully, you are wearing a sleevless top so one can see the evidence of your work. This is the first thing that I always look out for – a product that works. A product that solves a problem and evidence that it does”.
She was her own POC (proof of concept)
“But Grace, you need to decide what you want for this business and there are 3 options. I will explain using a barber.
There are 3 men- all barbers and all equally good and passionate about giving haircuts.
The first one is so passionate that he will cut peoples hair for free. He doesn’t mind because he loves cutting hair. In fact, sometimes he feels that he should pay people for cutting their hair. Success for him is the satisfied look he gets from people that come to him for a haircut after he is done. This man has a HOBBY or NON-PROFIT. This was you when you were happy to formulate for people for free. There is nothing wrong with this if you have some other source of income or funding. But if you don’t, SAPA will eventually become a key member of your family
The second man also loves to cut peoples hair but is not willing to do it for free. In fact, he set up a barber shop and resumes there every day and charges people a fee to cut their hair -day in day out. And because he is a very good barber, a perfectionist, he alone cuts his customers hair and over time, his customers will not allow anybody cut their hair because he is the best. This man is SELF EMPLOYED. He might make money, but he will never really have the time to enjoy that money and he will most likely never be able to expand that business.
The third man is also passionate about people’s hair. So passionate that he gets a shop, employs barbers, trains them and creates a process for them to follow so that there is consistency in his offering. He spends his time getting new customers and promoting his barber shop and as he makes more money, he sets up more barber shops and employs more barbers. Over time he employs a team to market, train barbers, manage his brand, handle customer service and HR. This man will eventually become a millionaire and is able to go on a vacation and still make money because he has a Haircut company.
Notice that all three offer the same service. The only difference is how they are set up.
So Grace, which of these men are you and which of them do you want to be?
She had been listening wide-eyed and I could tell that she was excited
Grace: “The second man is where I am but I want to have a skin care company”
Me: “Well, I don’t think so, I think you are somewhere between the first and second man.”
Grace: “Why do you say that, I already ask people to pay for the products”
Me: “I can already tell that you have not properly done your costing and you are most likely running at a loss”
Grace: How is that?
Me: Well you operate from home and you use free power and your personal equipment on a small scale so you naturally will not factor that into your costing. You also will not factor in your time and intellectual property as well. If these are done properly, you will realize that you are most likely still the first man.
I could feel her morale dropping
Don’t get me wrong Grace. You have a good business. You are on the right path.
I went on to share the story of Precious Akele , MBA.. a friend since 2011. Precious is CEO of Maya Organics Limited and has done very well for herself.
“At some point, I will get you to speak with her but for now, I need you to have an open mind and be ready to give it your all. Is that something that you can do?”
Her smile of relief said it all. I could see that she was inspired
I went on to share with her the 3 ingredients that I personally look out for when I talk to small business that create products. The baseline that (in my opinion) must be met for an enterprise to be worth of my time and energy.
- A Product: A working prototype. It helps if the driver of the enterprise is a user and we can see the testimony on them. You cannot be an Orobo and be selling weight loss tea
- Demand: People must need this product. It has to solve a problem that is big enough for people to want to pay money for it
- Economics: When you combine your raw materials and manufacturing process to create your product, and the factor in the cost of sale and other associated costs, the economics of the entire process must make sense both at micro and macro levels.
For Grace, I could tell that 1 and 2 are sorted. So, I told her to go and work on 3. I could tell that she was excited. She told me that for the first time, she could see that this would be something big and that she will not disappoint.
The story of MAYA Organics Limited inspired her.
Funny that both of them could pass for sisters.
Once you are done figuring out the Economics, we will move forward to SKU sizing, Pricing, Package design, Regulatory approvals and route to market.
The more I think about it, the more excited I get. I am optimistic that Grace will do big things.
There are many talented Nigerians out there doing amazing things. Many of them just need to be guided. Some actually just need to speak to people that will understand their journey and encourage them.
Doing business in Nigeria is like climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. The process is grueling. The elements do not favor you and you will almost always choke on your problems. But if you are able to find the right guide, talk to the right people and keep on the path, no matter how tough it is, you will eventually get to your own Uhuru. And trust me, the view from Uhuru is AMAZING and worth it. I know. I have personally seen that view from the top of Mount Killimanjaro – this is why I am relentless at getting to the Uhuru of my own business.