In 2009 when Ehime Eigbe Akindele visited Nigeria on holiday from the US, she kept asking for where to buy Frozen Yogurt and nobody could give her an answer. And just like that, the idea came to her: come start a FroYo business back home. Today, Sweet Kiwi Frozen Yoghurt is strategically branded as the IT place for Frozen Yogurt in Lagos, Nigeria.
Ehime started the business by catering at events, and eventually the proceeds from those jobs funded the flagship store.Ehime talks about the nuances of running a business in Nigeria, and what it means to be an entrepreneur in the current economic clime. We hope you enjoy the interview.
So who is Ehime?
I am the founder of Sweet Kiwi frozen yogurt. I studied Business information Technology and International relations at the London Metropolitan University, I graduated in 2006. I have alwaysworked mostly part time in London with my first career job being at Amnesty International in London. In 2007 I moved to America and I worked for a few companies including Citigroup where I was a Bankruptcy Referral Litigation specialist. This was my last job before I founded Sweet Kiwi
How did you find yourself on the path to Sweet Kiwi?
I found frozen yogurt by mistake. I would always see the signs but I had no clue what it was. In 2010 I ended up visiting an outlet and so began my romance with frozen yogurt. I took a training course to learn how to make frozen yogurt, I also did a food handlers and restaurant management training to prepare me for the business. I did a lot of research as well and started planning the kindof brand I wanted to have.
Let’s talk about money! Did you have to go through the loan or equity route?
To start the business I used my savings and money from family so I did not have to go through a loan or equity route.
What’s an average day in your life like?
My average day is pretty hectic. I wake up about 7am and try to plan my day. I have a little book where I write my to do list, I revise it every morning as it helps keep me on track with all the things I have to do. I get to the office about 8am and I start to put my list into action. I have to gothrough loads of reports, have several meetings throughout the day, visit Sweet Kiwi locations and meet with management staff. My little black book helps me keep sight of the pressing items I have to attend to.
Can you describe what it is like being a young, female entrepreneur in Nigeria today?
Being a female entrepreneur is not easy at all, it is very tasking and I take my hats off to anyone who is doing it. Nigeria is an interesting place and even when you plan your day down to the very last second, it hardly ever goes according to plan. My typical day ends about 1/2am.
What are some of the constraints of running a business of this nature in Nigeria – given theabsence of basic infrastructure such as electricity?
For us a major constraint is power, easy access to funding and government policies that affect SMEs. Once your business is visible, I find you get harassment from all kinds of real and made up governmental agencies. I think this issue should really be addressed as their aggressive nature suggest they do not want the development or growth of small businesses. Funding is another major issue as it is extremely difficult to raise funding as a business in Nigeria and every business needs funds to grow. Going into the power issue is like flogging a dead horse.
What’s the current staff strength of Sweet Kiwi?
Right now we have a staff strength of about 30 people. That’s an impressive number. We know that a lot of budding entrepreneurs complain about the availability of good human resources – staff. Do you have any of those challenges at Sweet Kiwi?This is a major challenge for us and I find that it stems from the educational and social environment in the country. I find young people are not encourage to start working early and so they do not understand how to behave within a work environment. I think the Nigerian educational system should be restructured and also older secondary school children should start working part time in different industries so they gain work experience. I started working at a young age and I believe that instilled great work ethics in me so I am a supporter of teaching responsibility early.
Please share some of the ways you overcome these staffing difficulties?
At Sweet Kiwi we do a lot of training. We try to imbibe our own culture into our staff. We keep our compensation package attractive and try to maintain a fun work environment where staff have room to develop their skills and grow. We like our staff to own their processes, and have the ability to think through actions. It is still a daily challenge but I like to believe we are overcoming it.
What are your short term and long term goals for Sweet Kiwi?
My short term goals are to expand the business through Nigeria and build solid internal structures and processes. Long term goals are to expand Sweet Kiwi international, for it to be the largest frozen yogurt company out of Africa.
That’s an admirable goal. So far, what would you say has been highest point of your experience running Sweet Kiwi?
My highest point would be the day we opened our first official location on Admiralty way. I was put through the fire to achieve that but at the end it was all worth it. It wasn’t a perfect day but it was amazing to finally have a dream which had been in my head since 2010 come to fruition.
In hindsight, what are three things you would have done differently – if you had to do it all over?
Honestly, I can pick a million things I could have done differently but I believe those things have shaped both me and Sweet Kiwi to be what we are today. Every experience for me is a learning opportunity and maybe if I did not do it in the first place I won’t know not to do it now. I find it is best to make those mistakes when you are still small and growing.
Do you have any nuggets of wisdom to share with any aspiring entrepreneurs reading this?
‘Be fearless in the pursuit of whatever sets your soul on fire’. It will not be easy but it will be worth it, you just have to hang in there, be selfless and dedicated.
Thank you for speaking to us, Ehime. We can’t wait to see Sweet Kiwi International and we wish
you the best in your future endeavours.