Ms Affiong Williams is the CEO of ReelFruit, a thriving agribusiness company. Her entrepreneurial journey in the agricultural space started in 2012 when she spotted a niche in fruits sector. Thus as Thomas Edison said, ‘the value of an idea lies in the using of it,’ Ms Affiong tapped into her vision, and has set out to produce a world class fruit snacks and beverages venture. In a chat with HENRY OKONKWO, she talks about her business, challenges, successes and key lessons of being an Agripreneur.
What motivated you to go into this line of business?
My decision to launch ReelFruit in 2012 was borne out of my general decision to venture into the agribusiness sector. I believe that agriculture has huge untapped potential both in wealth and job creation. I am motivated by the possibility that I can change lives and create employment and wealth for myself and others. Reel fruit is a snack and Beverage Company, focused on locally made and well packaged snack. We started with a range of dried fruits because we saw a need in the market where we thought people wanted to start eating healthier, and we offer a healthy snack option. That made me to take a decision to start my own company.
How did you start your brand?
Prior to going into entrepreneurship, I used to work in South Africa. I actually worked as a manager in a small business incubator. That is where I learnt about entrepreneurship and grew my entrepreneurial skill. My business fully started when I decided to quit my job and move back to Nigeria. And for the first year I was running the business, I did it from my home in my apartment. I was basically organising all the regulatory approvals we would need, carrying out market research and undersigning what the real demand for the product was.
I chose to start this business because I saw the gap in the market for people who want healthier snack. Also, it was important to make these goods look and reflect the quality in the production. So, I wanted to have a Nigerian brand that could be on any shelf in the world.
What challenges do you face running and owing a flagship brand?
For a new market that has not really known the benefit and convenience of eating dried fruits, marketing has been a major challenge for us. People like the product yet we have to go around convincing people to buy. That is quite challenging and expensive. There are so many challenges. I could spend all day dwelling on them. However, to overcome challenges, the best way is to be solution-oriented. We gain the lessons from the challenge, and move on.
What most memorable experience have you had as an entrepreneur?
There are some fortunate experiences we’ve had, such as winning some business plans early on. As a team, we also feel victorious when after much rejection, we finally get our products in some stores, and sometimes it takes a year.
Personally, I would say some of my biggest victories have been in my personal development. I have learned to be more resilient as a result of all the rejection and challenges I have experienced along the way. I have not given up and this trait will carry me through as my company continues to grow. I also feel very proud to have created gainful employment for other Nigerians.
What does it take for a young lady to start and excel as an entrepreneur in a tough business terrain like Nigeria?
First, being resolute about your dreams and ambitions; this will carry you during the hard times when things don’t go your way. Second, understanding the Nigerian terrain; which is not very straightforward and requires a lot of flexibility. Lastly, network. Reach out to other entrepreneurs to learn their lessons, to avoid potentially costly mistakes.
Are you impressed with the typical Nigerian youths’ attitude towards going into entrepreneurship?
Absolutely! Young Nigerians are very entrepreneurial and have big ambitions, especially in non-traditional industries. I would just counsel that young people take time to invest in research. You only get the answers when you ask.
What’s the biggest business lesson you’ve learnt since you started?
I have learned to be more confident, more open to the idea that success is a sum of my efforts and that some things are out of my control. I have also learned to be more patient. Success in business is a marathon, not a sprint. Everything takes more time and more work than expected.
What fuels your passion as a business person?
My motivation, my ambition, and the belief that my purpose in this earth would be to create a lot of jobs for young Nigerian especially women!
How do you manage manpower and resources?
As a company that hopes to grow beyond the founder, I spend the day managing staff, delegating and making staff responsible for different aspects of the business so they can take ownership and be more responsible for driving business growth. Motivating my staff and building a culture of honesty, team work, pride and dignity at work; I desire that my staff be excited to coming to work and feel challenged but also adding value. I also teach them the ropes of the business so the business does not come to a standstill once I’m not around. The most important trait as a CEO is to lead from within. We are a small team, so we have to get involved in everything. Sometimes when we get huge orders, everyone of us get in involved in the packing and organising. So, I think it’s important to be a team player even when you are a CEO.
Where do we hope to see this brand in the next five to 10 years?
I have such big plans for my company. I believe that agriculture has huge untapped potential both in wealth and job creation. I am motivated by the possibility that I can change lives and create employment and wealth for myself and others. The values that drive our business are rooted in our long term vision, that through agribusiness, we can change lives. Nigerian products can be made to world class standards, and can be sold anywhere in the world. This is important as we are building an export based business.
I see my company being a massive fruit agribusiness. My goal is in 10 years is to provide employment for over 1000 Nigerians, so one can imagine how big we would have to grow to get there. I do not doubt that it is possible. We are currently working our way into a larger scale processing of fruit products for local consumption and export, and will probably extend our business into farming. We see huge opportunities in the fruit allied-agro sector. That’s where we’ll be focussing on. Wish us luck!
What’s your advice to youth still reluctant to consider starting up in small business?
I don’t think entrepreneurship is for everybody. If you are not much of a risk taker, I wouldn’t advise you go down this path. However, if you have a belief in a problem you’d like to solve, and you see ways you can capture value doing so, I would say invest more time in researching and speaking to people in the industry. There is never a perfect time to start, so you need to stop the excuses and just start! Start with what you have, and at where you are. I didn’t have all the resources that we have today but we started small, we showed progress, and we managed our resources carefully and that has led us to where we are today.