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Joycee Awosika: Africa In A Jar

Joycee Awosika: Africa In A Jar

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In an age when many young people see leaving the shores of the country as their only hope for a better life, Joycee found herself being drawn back to her motherland and is now committed to taking the best of Nigeria to the world through her farm-to-skin brand, ORÍKÌ.

In a chat with Sharon-Ann Adaigbe, she shares how her entrepreneurship journey began and the pivotal lessons she has learnt along the way

By Sharon-Ann Adaigbe

The Beginning

Growing up in the US, Joycee had always been called Miss CEO because she was known for getting her hands into different ventures. Her creative spirit shone brightest at home, where she would mix up different natural ingredients for use on her hair or skin with her mum as a ready tester! Little did she know that this foreshadowed the path she would take in years to come.

“I was always called Miss CEO from a very young age because I was always getting my hands into different things, but there was something that was awakened  in me when I moved to Nigeria. That move was my first time of being in Nigeria and all I could see around me was just abundance…abundance of natural resources. I just kept thinking, ‘The picture of what I see as Nigeria from the States, is different from what I’m seeing here. This country is rich, this place is rich. That was when I felt the first inkling of wanting to do something with these resources.”

As a trained energy economist, Joycee had to draw a distinction between what she studied and what was really her passion. 

“I was working in the power sector in Abuja, but  I had started making products in my home. The passion was burning, I was eager to get home and create the next batch but I also had to ask myself ‘Joycee, what is really propelling you?’ I realized that from a young age I was making products. I used to mix all types of ingredients for my hair and my skin while growing up. On Saturdays, my mother would ask me, ‘Joycee, what are you making now? I would respond, ‘This time, I’ve added Avocado to my hair conditioner’ and she’d ask me to give it to her if it worked. 

The defining factor for her came towards the end of her last job in the power sector at Abuja. It became clearer that it was time to step out and build ORÍKÌ. While Joycee contemplated this, the fear of not having the safety net of a job began to creep in.  She said to herself, “If you keep playing safe, are you ever going to go big?” At this point, Joycee  decided that she had to focus on building ORÍKÌ in 2015.

Taking the Plunge

As the Curator of the Abuja Global Shapers community of the World Economic Forum, Joycee was able to build a network and talk to other global shapers who were doing big, audacious things around the world about her idea to build an agro skincare brand. 

“I remember one conversation with a shaper from Zimbabwe and she said to me, ‘You know, just go for it, just do it. Write your plan, go and sell it to your friends and family first. Sell the idea and if people  want to back you, then you know you are up to something because friends and family should tell you the truth.”

Later that month, Joycee also spoke to someone who she considered as a mentor and he said to her, “Create your business plan. That will force you to think things through.” 

Her first step besides creating the products and believing in them, was putting pen to paper, and that gave her the power and clarity to go and speak to other people about the idea. She created a business plan and a document which she called an information memorandum. It was a short snippet that showed what she needed to start off at different levels of scale. 

Building ORÍKÌ

As an agro beauty, farm-to-skin brand, ORÍKÌ under Joycee’s leadership,  is positioned to take the natural resources that are abundant in Nigeria primarily and also in Africa and turn them into products that are exportable. ORÍKÌ wants to change the narrative of the African story through their products. In Joycee’s words “We envision our best-selling body scrub that uses shea butter from Ondo State, cocoa from Osun State, and coconuts from Badagry, to be on the shelves in New York, London, Paris, all around the world and for people to actually engage with a proudly African brand. That is what I work towards every single day – building ORÍKÌ group to be an African brand that can compete globally.

ORÍKÌ products are currently stocked in the United States, Australia and South Africa, with a presence in London coming soon. Their products are also available by shipping  all around the world as well.

The Diamond in the Rough

Joycee is convinced that despite the myriad of challenges in the country, there are very few places that can give as many opportunities as the emerging market that Nigeria is.  Despite the ‘saturation’ in her sector, she believes that in this part of the world, one has the ability to leapfrog and go steps ahead. 

“For example, natural skin care is not really a big thing in Nigeria yet. We have not gotten there. So I have realized that I can use where I am now to harness the natural resources here, start pushing it across the world until Nigeria catches on. And as  I am headquartered here, and I started from here and I am still a proudly Nigerian-African company. This is a very critical part of my story, moving to Nigeria. You’ll realise that there are enviable riches and resources available here that are not found in other parts of the world.  It’s a big part of my story and I honestly wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

Challenges 

As faced by many businesses in Nigeria, keeping ORÍKÌ running requires providing a lot of infrastructure that should have ideally been provided by the government. Flowing water and stable electricity are non-negotiable for a business with a spa arm and a lot of resources used to go into that until a recent review of the business model. “I have recently changed our business model for the spa side. ORÍKÌ group has two components: the product line and the spa which also uses the ORÍKÌ product range for services. Recently deciding to change our model is allowing us to grow quicker. It’s one thing to have a stand alone property but with it, you are paying for everything – landscaping, water, diesel, electricity, everything. You have to pay for handyman to be on duty at all times, but in our new model for example where we are able to go in to luxurious  buildings and add value with a purpose-built spa, we are now able to cut our costs in certain departments and really maximize profit as a result.” 

Many business owners complain about the quality of human resources and Joycee has had her fair share of challenges with staffing.  She explains, “I believe now that when you are hiring in Nigeria, it’s quite important to look at character, a person’s willingness to learn and their work ethic above their knowledge and ambition. I have hired based on qualifications and dealt with bad attitudes, laziness and people who were building their own business at the same time as they were working for me. I have also hired the other way around where I have interviewed very lovely people who were very excited, eager to work and then they’ve been trained by me. Some of my team members have been working with me for almost four years now and they have been promoted two, three times and are loyal, equitable members of the team.” 

Another challenge is just perception. “Even when you are struggling to build, people just look at you and assume that there must have been a hand-me-down. You end up thinking to yourself ‘I’ve worked so hard, why is there this perception because I’m a woman?’ It’s probably the most emotional challenge but it is the one you have to get rid of. People will always have things to say. It is all about your putting your head down and doing the work and over a period of time, the work would speak for you and time will tell.” 

Pivotal Lessons

When asked if there was anything she wishes she had known then when she was starting out  in business, Joycee answered at the drop of a hat: “Growth should be managed. Don’t get too excited too early. Yes, you have all these goals and ideas but create a strategy document when you are not emotional over a deal you’ve just closed or a new opportunity that is lurking. It is okay to grow exponentially, but it is more important to have an overarching strategy that guides that growth, otherwise you will find yourself literally taking on more than you can carry.” She gave an example of  ORÍKÌ’s product line which started with 32 products, an inventory nightmare, according to her. Although it felt good to walk into a showroom that was fully stocked, it was practically impossible to properly market all 32 products. Capital was tied down with those products and  the longer they sat on the shelves, the more money was being wasted. “Even for the big companies such as Apple, when a Mac or even an iPhone comes out, they make so much noise about it. They don’t launch  iPhones 7, 8,9 and 10 at the same time. Though this example comes from a different industry, I have drawn lessons from it. I would do and currently do things differently now. I tread carefully now. I don’t let excitement cloud my judgement or decisions now. I thoroughly analyse  my opportunities before I make a decision.”

 Big on numbers, Joycee mentions a mistake that SMEs tend to make easily. 

“Profit matters more than revenue. What is your profit?  Okay, today your gross sales are one million naira. What was your cost to get that one million naira? There are delivery costs, transport costs, cost of staff, the labour cost for packaging the product or marketing the product. Exactly how much did you spend? Know your profit. That’s how you know if your business is truly sustainable and ultimately, if it is profitable.”

Ease of Doing Business

Nigeria remains a very peculiar terrain to do business in. Joycee recalls a day in 2017 when some tax officials threatened to shut down her facility because of an outstanding Radio and TV license fee, a levy she was unaware of till that day. 

“I have registered a company in two different countries and the difference is clear. It is supposed to be made as easy and as accessible as possible for businesses, because the government should gain joy from the fact that people are opening business, wanting to help improve the GDP, boost the economy and create jobs but instead it’s almost as if things are secret.  You never know who is going to  come to you next. Even though there are agencies like CAC that help businesses get incorporated, there should be a body or agency where you can just get all your questions answered.. Even within industries, people don’t know how much tax should be paid. ORÍKÌ is tax compliant but yet we still don’t know all the different levies relevant to us. Sometimes, things just creep up and there is no information. So, I think the government needs to work as hard as possible to create an enabling environment. Let us know the documentation we need, what taxes need to be paid by industries and what penalties are applicable. It just needs to be very clear.”

Productivity Hacks 

Joycee calls herself a ‘productivity connoisseur’.  Dropbox, Evernote, Slack, accounting software and even a physical notebook for daily to-dos are all part of her productivity toolkit. “I find it important to create checklists every single morning. You will forget so many things as an entrepreneur, so when you wake up in the morning before the day starts, you need to literally write down everything that needs to be done. You empower yourself not just to get things done but to also physically cross off things and see what is left and what can be delegated.”

Work-Life Balance

Joycee declares that one of the blessings of living in Nigeria is being able to have a support community or village accessible to you. As a mum of two boys under two, she is greatly assisted by domestic staff. Her husband has also helped with providing an amazing structure and environment to enable her to handle the homefront while also building the business. “Prioritising is key for me. People  ask me how I balance things but I don’t think it is a question of balance. For me, I give weight to different things in different hours of different days. As far as my time is concerned, I am very very big at looking at the week holistically. So I may decide that on Friday, I am not coming into the office until later on in the afternoon and I get things done and I stay at home and work from home for a few hours of that day. I also try to leave the office at a good enough time so I can still catch dinner with my first son, play with him and pray with him before he goes to sleep. And of course as a wife as well, you have to just cut out the time. I know it does seem like there’s not enough time in the day but you give weight where weight is due.

Final Words

The one piece of advice she would give an entrepreneur just starting out is straight to the point – 

“Please go and do a market survey, first. Know your onions.  Do your market research and market survey first to validate your idea.”

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