Breaking the myths surrounding food processing in Nigeria! Interview with Affiong Williams
- It is nice to meet you Affiong Williams. Can we learn more about you please?
My name is Affiong Williams, 28 Years old entrepreneur, building a fruit processing company in Nigeria, and eventually other countries in Africa. I studied a general Bsc degree in Physiology and Psychology, and followed up with a diploma in business management. I worked for an SME catalyst organization for 4 years, where I learned the most about entrepreneurship. I am quite motivated and ambitious. I am passionate, curious, introverted and a bit of a nerd. I hope to hold political office in the future, and I also hope to live in different countries in Africa.
- What is your brand/service? What are your biggest achievements?
ReelFruit offers healthy snacks (dried fruits and nuts) to the growing class of people who are looking for healthier eating and lifestyle. My decision to launch ReelFruit 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, however, like any other business, it requires large investment, patience and expertise. Some of our achievements include winning a business plan competition called “Women in Business” in 2013 in the Netherlands, as well as other subsequent business competitions. We have also won some big customers, include 2 airline customers which have been great for our business.
- It is amazing to see a female doing business successfully in this industry. What has been your source of inspiration and support?
I am motivated by a number of things, but what drives me most is the possibility that I can change a community, and the agribusiness sector. 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. I get supported from a number of people, including my friends, my family, and my best friend (my husband)
- What are the 3 biggest challenges you’ve faced in the business?
There are so many challenges, and you cannot plan for all of them. I could go on all day about challenges. The biggest challenge is that most things take longer than expected, so one must always leave a little room to accommodate delays in business. I have also had a lot of “unexpected expenses” which always increase our operational expenses. I have had a mild case of dubious suppliers and even dubious products sold on the market which spoil after 1 month of use. We also have the challenge of awareness, where marketing is very expensive and we constantly have to grow our customer base through the most creative means.
- How have you solved these challenges?
For all challenges, I try as much as possible to seek counsel from people who have been in similar situations before. I would suggest that entrepreneurs invest time in expanding their network. The value of a solid network is huge. I have been so positively surprised by how helpful people (who didn’t know me prior) have been. I would recommend that people take time out for personal development by seeking out people in their industries that they can learn from. Many challenges offer great opportunities for one to learn about their businesses more intimately, so challenges are not always a bad thing…In retrospect, of course.
- What are the top 3 tips you have for younger girls that want to venture into food and agriculture?
- Agriculture and Agribusiness is very technical. It requires a lot of prior research to understand the drivers and challenges in the sector
- Processing has a significant upfront costs for equipment
- Branding and Packaging is very important for customer buying decisions, one should not cut costs on that
- What is the biggest myth you’ve heard from females that prevents them from starting their businesses?
- A woman’s most important role is being a wife and mother and that should be the priority I could spend a day dispelling this myth. This is not true at all! I find it unfair that women have pressure from society to tie their worth to marriage or children. There’s so much more to life.
- Women are not “born leaders”- again, not true. Women are very strong negotiators and this is a prized skill in business. Women possess many skills and personality traits useful for starting and growing a business especially when it comes to carefully managing resources
- Women are harassed by men in the business world- This may be true, but it doesn’t prevent women from starting their businesses, especially if they always conduct themselves professionally.
- What is the fact they should know?
Business is rewarding, but it’s also very tough. The highs and lows shift all the time, and to be successful you need a lot of perseverance and patience, as well as a lot of hard work.
- A big myth these days is that foreign/international education is a key enabler for entrepreneurship. How true is this myth?
I don’t think education is the biggest enabler for entrepreneurship. I think a good education, good work experience can be invaluable. Also, using networks is probably the biggest enabler to one’s business. I think people should spend time networking with actors in their industry, as these personal relationships can be very, very useful- to give them useful links, but also help them avoid otherwise expensive mistakes
In my case, I hadn’t lived in Nigeria for over 15 years, much less Lagos. However, I made the decision to visit several forums on agriculture, etc to learn more about the industry, and I have met people who have been invaluable to my business’ growth.
To BE CONTINUED on Friday March 6th 2015.