The quest to add value to society was one drive that gingered pretty Ehime Eigbe to venture into the terrain of entrepreneurship. Her aspiration saw her carve a niche for herself. And today, she is the owner of the Sweet Kiwi brand, a pioneer frozen yogurts shop that makes and sells fat-free creamy delights. In an interview with HENRY OKONKWO, this young entrepreneur talks on why she made a detour from pursuing a flourishing career in Business Information Technology and International Relations to start up and run her own venture. Excerpts…
If a big company offers to pay you five times what you earn as an entrepreneur, would you accept it?
No way. I love what I do so much, and I can’t even imagine dumping my brand to pick up paid employment. I was in paid employment before and I got out of it as fast as I could. It was scary at first to give up on your job which was a source of financial security. But one day I woke up and asked myself to choose to be happy while making small amount of money or to remain miserable doing a job that I felt that I have outgrown. I love what I do because it doesn’t get boring, and there is always something new to learn around the corner. And I make it interesting to me. And I’m trying to build a company that would last a lifetime. I aspire to build an African brand.
What is your brand, Sweet Kiwi into?
Sweet Kiwi is a brand created to give customers a healthy option to eating desserts. There are so many diseases plaguing individuals that stem from our poor eating habits. So, the concept is to provide a better alternative for people taking ice creams filled with too many calories. We sought to provide pure yogurts that taste nice and are very good for your body because it is fat-free, facilitates digestion and contains loads of nutritional value.
What is the story behind starting out in entrepreneurship?
When I was working in corporate circles, I came across the concept of frozen yogurts and I thought it would be a good addition to Nigeria. When I visited Nigeria, I thought it would be a good idea to come here, open and then introduce the concept to Nigerians. So, I went back to America and learnt how to make yogurts. Then I came down to Nigeria to put all that knowledge to work.
Do you sometimes regret coming down to start up here in Nigeria?
No, I don’t regret, although as an entrepreneur, I face a lot of challenges running a business here in Nigeria. But I don’t nurse any regrets coming to the country at all, we have to keep moving forward. I actually wanted to do the business in America but I was advised to come to Nigeria because the concept of selling self-served yogurts is non-existent in my country. That is why starting up here would surely add more value. In America, we have an already saturated market; I wanted to start up a brand that isn’t aimed at making money but to help people live a healthier lifestyle.
Frozen yoghurt isn’t like the regular ice cream that Nigerians are familiar with, how easy was it for people to buy into your idea?
One of the reasons there is no market for it was that Nigerians don’t know about it. So, what we did was to market and give knowledge about what the product does. Ice creams on one hand are full of fat with over 500 calories while yoghurts on the other hand is more natural, fat-free with just 20 calories per serving. Our slogan, ‘Healthy Never Tasted Better,’ encompasses all that we represent, so it was easy for people to buy into the idea.
Where do you aspire to be in the next five to 10 years?
I aspire to build a very big brand in Africa and beyond. I expect to go into other healthier lines of products and foods because there is the need for us to change the way we eat and see foods. It is very key to our survival. That we are having increasing cases of cancer is all because of the way we eat and live. Back in the olden days, they lived much longer because people ate natural foods and we have stepped away from that and that is what we must go back to. Preserve our health and maintain our quality of life and that is what my value adding is all about.
What are some of the challenges you face doing business here in Nigeria?
There are many challenges in Nigeria, and inefficient power supply is number one because we run a venture that produces yogurts. And yogurts must be kept at a certain temperature to keep it fresh. So, generating our own source of power most of the time is a big burden on us. Again, finding access to financing is very hard here in Nigeria. We don’t have a credit history system which could be used by financial institutions to vouch if one is credit worthy. I have a good knowledge and experience in banking and I’m trying to figure out how assessing loans works here.
Tell us the most memorable start up challenge you had and how did you handle it
Finding a space to start up my brand was the most difficult thing I had to grapple with. The pricing of some spaces for business venture does not allow small businesses to grow. There is no fair market value for houses. And this makes the landlords to be dictating the market prices of houses, which is not very proper. In every country that I have been to, they have a fair pricing system for a property. But here, it is unregulated which makes it very difficult for small business owners.
That was the biggest start-up challenge that almost killed my dream, because at a time I almost gave up setting up here in Nigeria. When I needed to start up, I couldn’t get a space. I had to resort to setting up small shops in other people’s spaces which wasn’t selling the idea we want to present to people. And for three years (we started up in 2011), we were patching up until early this year, 2014. It is very difficult to get a suitable place to start up and when I finally got one and make the payment, two days later the land-lord called, saying I should come and take up my cheque because another person has offered to pay much more than I have already paid. At a point, I was put off and was done searching for a space.
I started making arrangements to return to the US, where I would start up my business in peace. But my mother was there striving until she nosed out another good area where I finally started up, and finally realised the dream I had. And I would say there is a lesson in not giving up, because if I had given up at that time, this would not have become what it is today.
What are some other business lessons have you learnt over the years?
Aside dedication, I have also learnt perseverance and how to do thing properly, in the sense that if you make just N100, you should be sure that that N100 is accounted for, it is necessary to have accountability in business. Again, separate yourself from the business. Learn to withstand pressure because trial times would definitely come but what keeps you afloat in business is the strong foundation that you have laid for it
Gender could be a big issues in Nigeria, have you ever been looked down upon since you started here in the country?
No, I’ve found people in Nigeria to be very supportive not minding your gender. The people that have gender issues are mainly people that are not very educated. So, I try to limit my exposure to people with such mindset. I understand that making a women feel less it is not how they want to be but because they are not well enlightened to know and respect womanhood. So, I strive to educate such individuals and strive to work hard because when such could make them show women more regard and respect. But in my business environment a lot of men have shown immense support and belief in my vision.
What does it take for a woman to start up and flourish in business?
Dedication and a clear mind of what you want, because as a woman, you have a lot of things pulling you left and right. Amid all this pressure, you must have a clear mind of what you want for yourself. I don’t see anything wrong in juggling it all. That is what strong women do. As a woman, you know you relationships and choose people who are supportive of what you are doing. Again, I don’t think it’s a tougher environment for women, I only believe that you should build your strength as you go. When you build your strength, it makes you stronger. Without challenges, you cannot be a stronger person. Challenges make you a complete person. It’s said in the Bible that ‘when you face trials, consider with nothing but joy because those trials would make you stronger and perfect you into the person God wants you to be’.
What would be your advice to the young and unemployment?
Step up and take action on your life. You should look at your environment and strive to create value. That was what spurred me into creating my venture. I didn’t sit complaining that we don’t have frozen yogurt outlets in the country; rather I took the challenge to initiate the concept here. Going into business shouldn’t be motivated by the desire to make money rather by building and empowering your society.
Source : SunOnline