Today, we begin a new series spotlighting young African entrepreneurs doing very wonderful things to not only meet Africa’s unique needs, but also grow the African economy.
When you think about an entrepreneur who moved from zero to become a heroine and a celebrated business success, then Amara is a classical example.
Her story is such a tremendous inspiration to young African entrepreneurs because it brings to life the possibility of growing a mega business strictly by reinvesting earnings (bootstrapping).
Amara has successfully built a reputable manufacturing business (from almost nothing) without any external capital injection. Her story therefore bursts the myth that unless you have a rich friend or relative, success in her line of business (manufacturing) is impossible.
In this interview, Amara shares her exceptional entrepreneurial experience with us. Read on to learn from her experience.
Please tell us about yourself and what you do
My name is Amara Okoli Tasie, an entrepreneur, manufacturer, innovator and founder of Mara Cruiz Organics, a made in Nigeria hair care brand providing solutions to different African hair care needs.
I am also the founder of The Manufacturers Hub, where I help other women manufacturers to grow a profitable & sustainable business.
I am a research addict & a lover of innovation. Learning the difference between doing business just for business sake and being an entrepreneur was one of the turning points in my life. From being just a business woman who buys and sells things for profit, I transformed into an entrepreneur who actually solves a dire problem in the society.
What is your academic background?
I have a B.A degree in English Literature(Nnamdi Azikiwe University), Diploma in Organic Product Formulation(Formula Botanica, UK) & a Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management from the Lagos Business School’s Enterprise Development Centre (EDC).
What inspired you into entrepreneurship?
I would say profit and impact. I come from a business-oriented family, so, being enterprising came naturally to me but the ability to make a profit and at the same time create an impact has been very inspiring for me.
What informed your decision to venture into the business you’re currently doing?
My personal experience inspired me to start the Mara Cruiz Hair Brand. In 2015, the commercial baby products I used for my daughter left dry burnt patches on her skin and boils on her scalp. I whipped up some shea butter and coconut oil butter and they all cleared within days.
This discovery sparked my imagination to search for other things nature had in stock for us.
My daughter’s amazing mop of hair also needs proper care. The kinky nature of her hair texture needed to be managed well and naturally too because she had a tender scalp.
This led me into developing products that would help other moms like myself easily care for their kids hair and eventually we developed solution to different hair care problems.
For The Manufacturers Hub, the huge education gap that currently exists in the manufacturing sector informed my decision to provide a learning & support system for women manufacturers.
What has your business achieved so far and where do you see your business in 5 years?
It’s been a very challenging and rewarding journey. But the rewards always outweigh the challenges. We have recorded some amazing milestones. Within the space of 3 years of establishing Mara Cruiz Organics, we moved from my home to a mini factory and grew our team exponentially. Currently, we have almost 100 distributors in 3 African Countries. We have been able to serve thousands of customers who enjoy using our hair care solutions.
In 2017, we won the Afrikinky Award for the Best Natural Hair Brand in Nigeria.
In the next 5 years, we have the vision of expanding our reach by increasing our distribution in all the 36 states of Nigeria and in each country in West and East Africa, The United States, and Europe.
We also hope to streamline our operations for swifter & more efficient services using technology and of course having a fully automated production and assembly line to meet up with the growing demand.
What were the challenges you faced when starting out as an entrepreneur?
When I started, I faced the challenge of sourcing for high quality raw materials to enable me to create high performance products.
Intense research & a lot of leg walk helped me overcome this.
Growing, I also experienced challenges with sourcing & procuring machines for production, recruiting & training our team.
Any business success story in your family before now?
Yes yes. A lot. Right from my great grandfather(they said I took after him), who was a very talented craftsman(we were told stories of how he carves human images with wood), down to my dad, uncle & some cousins, we have a lot of successful entrepreneurs in my family.
How did your family and friends react to your decision to be an entrepreneur?
No reaction. It is like a norm or culture in my family for everyone to venture into entrepreneurship.
What can you say is the secret to your success in business?
I would say we have been able to remain in business and record some amazing achievements because of how sustainable my business is. That is why when venturing into any business, you need to do your market research well to make sure your idea is sustainable & has the ability to scale. You need to make sure your solution is what people are willing and ready to buy.
Hard work, perseverance and determination have also played very key roles.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing startups in Nigeria and Africa?
I think the greatest challenge is the inability to access funds.
In your opinion, how best can this challenge be tackled?
So it’s 2 ways. On the part of the entrepreneur, funds shouldn’t be a limiting factor to start up. To scale, funds is most definitely needed, but most businesses can be started with little funds. I always advise startups to start with the resources they have and grow. I didn’t get any external funds when starting, I successfully bootstrapped my way to the growth phase. In fact, even if you have access to funds, it is always wise to test your idea first before investing heavily in it.
On the part of the government and other financial institutions, more funding opportunities should be created to enable qualified entrepreneurs to start & scale so that viable business ideas that would have made a huge impact in the society & economy do not die because of lack of access to funding.
In addition to this, more educational systems should be established and made accessible to entrepreneurs to learn how to properly structure and run their businesses so that funds received are not mismanaged or wasted.
What advice do you have for young Africans still contemplating about embracing entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is a journey. You start first and improve. You don’t wait to gather all the experience or funds you need. Procrastination is a killer of dream. Start with the resources you have and scale.
It is worthy to note that the entrepreneurial journey is not a very smooth one. Every entrepreneur must have a clear roadmap that will guide them through the journey and tweak it as they encounter challenges or notice some pitfalls in their strategy.
In all, hard work, perseverance and determination is needed to remain en route.
Very inspiring you will agree. We believed you learnt a bunch from her story which is riddled with sound entrepreneurial advice.
Please share this inspiring story with your friends and networks so they too can learn and become better and more informed entrepreneurs.