In Nigeria, starting and running a business – any business, is no walk in the park, as countless entrepreneurs have failed repeatedly. Hence, starting and successfully scaling a business, is a feather only few can lay claim to.
Co-founder and CEO of Loshes Chocolate, Femi Oyedipe, was a guest on the Nairametrics Business Half Hour, where she shared her start-up story and succeeding in a field where she was entirely self-taught.
The graduate of Biochemistry from the premiere University of Ibadan, recalls that her decision to start producing chocolates locally meant that her office became her classroom. Her words described the satisfaction she has derived from this chosen path.
“The fun of trying out new recipes, making mistakes, learning and unlearning till you understand the best recipes is a huge reward,” she said.
The decision to start
Entrepreneurship is innate for her, since she always gravitated towards it. However, taking it as a full-time venture definitely seemed less attractive. So, she tried out other options, things she could do alongside a day job. She had a brief stint as a make-up artist, and then another in trading Ankara fabrics, before becoming a cake-maker.
It was while making cakes, Femi picked interest in chocolates. As a caterer, she would use them in some cakes, sometimes breaking or melting ready-made chocolates.
“It did not make sense to me that we still had to import almost all the chocolates on the store shelf, even when we had cocoa locally available,” she recalled.
However, she was still hesitant to take the bull by the horn, until 2015.
“I had my eye on a job I was going to start when I came back from the U.S in 2015, and it was supposed to take me on a totally different career path. When it didn’t come through, I was upset and disappointed. It was in the midst of this disappointment, that the inspiration to make chocolates came.”
It dawned on her that the major ingredient for chocolates – cocoa, was locally available in large quantities, and decided to challenge the norm of importing chocolates for consumption. From her house, in that same year, she started Loshes Chocolate. The single-origin, bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Nigeria.
Capital is key to any start-up venture, and it was no different for Loshes Chocolate. Femi pooled resources with her husband, and started by sourcing cocoa from local farmers, then processing it into chocolate for direct consumption, and for use by caterers and confectioners.
“The drive was ensuring that we retain the natural flavors and health benefits of cocoa, as against the usual mass-produced chocolates which have lots of additives. People are becoming more conscious of eating healthy foods, and we try to meet that need while producing chocolates that are still yummy,” she said.
Being domiciled in one of the largest cocoa-producing countries, availability of the major ingredient had taken care of a lot of problems except for electricity – a possible deal-breaker.
“It takes about 36 to 48 hours to grind the cocoa beans into powder, and you can imagine how much power that consumes,”
“We needed some machines to get started and could not lay hands on them at the time, so my husband being an engineer helped to fabricate some of them. We got some parts from local markets in Lagos state, like Orile and put them together to make the machines we needed,” she explained.
Femi understood early on that, variety is the spice of life, so She spent time trying out new recipes, with family members and friends also serving as ‘guinea pigs’ for each new recipe. This served as a great source of feedback.
Later on, they needed to get the specialized machinery, and Femi recalled how fluctuations in Foreign Exchange, and the availability of manpower to maintain and service the machines posed a serious challenge.
Yet, she remains graceful in her advice to would-be entrepreneurs. “Just start where you can. In there, is where the innovation lies, because you do not have access to so much, and the business environment in Nigeria is not easy for SMEs. Instead of turning your back, you stay and become creative,”
With so many milestones attained, the company is not resting on its laurels. Loshes Chocolates still serves the local market at the moment, but there are plans to raise funds, scale-up, and start exporting. Femi is optimistic in the possibilities that abounds for her company, as is evident from her mantra, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
How managing your business can be easier and better with Pennee Tech – CEO
Pennee’s core target is to help business owners become more business savvy, make better decisions and have the resources to actually grow the business.
With the hundreds of thousands of businesses that the Corporate Affairs Commission registers annually, the Nigerian economy and the GDP should be booming, but this is not the case. Statistics suggest that about a third of these businesses crash within the first 18 months, and another 20% crash before they clock 5 years.
Several others struggle for years, hardly growing from micro and small businesses to become the medium-scale businesses that the economy needs to advance. Still stuck at the micro-level, most of them do not get to the point of employing people and paying them well. It is to help businesses like these that Pennee Technologies exists.
Co-founder and CEO of Pennee Technologies, Mejero Emmanuella Kunu, was a guest on the Nairametrics Business Half Hour and explained that Pennee had sprung up to provide support to small and micro-businesses and help them advance to a point where they survive, grow and create better employment opportunities for others.
No economy can survive on just big businesses, or small businesses, so there is the need to push and support the small businesses to become medium businesses that can make some significant impact on the economy. Kunu and her Co-Founder started Pennee in 2019 to provide this much-needed support.
What kind of support can small businesses get when they decide to sign up with Pennee?
One complaint common to small businesses is the inability to access much-needed loans to scale and grow their operations. Pennee is solving this by giving them asset-based loans and overdrafts.
“We don’t want that kind of situation where someone presents the business to secure the loan, and spend it on something else. Any loan we are giving has to go straight into the business, buying assets, restocking etc, and our target is to improve your productivity so that you can easily repay,” Kunu said.
Sales and inventory management is also part of the package Pennee offers. With Pennee, small businesses can automate accounting, store transaction history, and download financial statements. This takes the huge burden of organising the books off business owners so that they can focus on running the business. Pennee also provides them with a mobile wallet for transactions, backed by Providus bank, and allows them to receive payments via transfers and cards.
“You might not be able to open a corporate account due to stringent requirements but you can open a corporate wallet with Pennee easily, and over time, have access to loans and overdrafts. You can save in your NUBAN assigned wallets and earn interests,” she explained.
Another critical support the business owners get is business intelligence and analytics which equips them to make better decisions. They can understand where their customers are coming from, where and when they make the most sales, how to target their ads, what products need to be purchased in larger quantities; and make decisions based on these, instead of randomly guessing their way through and groping in the dark.
There is also customer relationship management where Pennee helps businesses acquire customer information and use it to better manage the customers. They also get access to lots of resources that guide them through everyday business challenges.
“The core target is to help business owners become more business savvy, make better decisions and have the resources to actually grow the business.”
The money story
When Pennee started in 2019, the loans for business owners were sourced via peer-to-peer funding, where those with excess money supported those in need. In spite of the COVID-19 challenges of 2020, this model remained solid and most business owners adapted to the new normal quickly, moving their businesses online and selling items that were in high demand.
To support the peer-to-peer model, Pennee also keeps a decent 80:20% ratio on wallet deposits and transactions which is used to give asset-based loans and overdrafts to these businesses.
The company is also currently raising a seed round to get more funding and Kunu says, “Sustainability and scalability are some things investors look out for, and we have proven that we can execute what we are saying. I think this is what investors will be looking out for. We are also on the lookout for investors that really get our vision and want to be a part of it.”
Pennee intends to be serving 1 million businesses across Africa within the next five years since the small business challenge is common to developing economies.
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