Joycee Awosika – Oriki is a brand for people to use and identify with quality
Joycee Awosika is passionate about leaving a legacy that will outlive her. She realised that a nine-to-five job won’t quite cut it, so she decided to delve into an area that has remained an issue since the beginning of time – skin care. In 2015, she became the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OrikiGroup, a luxury skin-care brand that fuses natural ingredients and scientific research to create extraordinary personal care products.As an entrepreneur, she’s a firm believer of incubators for businesses, in order to take advantages of opportunities that abound in Nigeria and Africa.With the Oriki range, Joycee is creating premiere products in the skincare space that will represent the country globally.Having lived in the United State of America all her life, she visited Nigeria for the first time with the motive to transform. A couple months after, she quit her job at a Fortune 100 power company, left her famil,y and moved to Nigeria, to launch her all-natural skin care brand for men and women.She shares her thoughts, her experiences and her plans for the future with BENJAMIN ALADE. Excerpts:
Oriki is a strange name for a beauty range, why not something more glamorous?
Oriki is glamorous to me, but I would say that the vision is to put Nigeria and Africa on a map in the international space. Imagine the products on a shelf in Heathrow Airport or in New York, and people walk by and feel amazed. We want to tell a story to our name. We want people to look at it and see it. We want people to recognise our products as African. For me, it was very important to choose a name that has a meaning that people would be interested in knowing more about the product. Oriki means your crown; it means your inspiration. It is a word that is used in Yourba land. A name given to you; your family sings your oriki name when they want to bring the best out of you, and that is how we envision our products bringing the best out of you.
You left a Fortune 100 power company to open Oriki Spa & Beauty; the two are a world apart. What led to the dramatic change?
Founding Oriki wasn’t the immediate thing I did after resigning, but it was part of the journey. For me, it was very important to know Nigeria, I actually grew up in Washington DC, United States; born and raised, and at the time I came into Nigeria, I had never been here before. When I came to Nigeria, I fell in love to start a business here. I fell in love with the fact that you can actually make an impact while building. I fell in love with the fact that there was much green, meaning there are so many new opportunities here, and I decided that it was time that I created something that would outlive me by creating a business that will utilise our resources.
Oriki is an agro beauty brand in the agriculture sector. We are also in the beauty and personal grooming sector, and I wanted to create something that can compete globally. For me, it wasn’t about working in a 9 to 5 job anymore; it was all about building something that I could use to empower others, and to also leave a legacy.
Do you think your family, especially your mum might have influenced your job switch?
My mother is a firm believer in following your purpose and pursuing what you feel is your destiny. She was a big encourager from the point of view of being an entrepreneur, but she had her fears. She is based in the U.S. still. For her, she felt like I was going to Nigeria all by myself, a new environment without my immediate family there; and so for her, it was hard and it would be for any parent but she was very supportive.
Considering you left everything behind in New York to return to Nigeria, would you say you’re fulfilled and satisfied with what you’re doing now?
I’m more than fulfilled!
Skin care is a whole lot of issues for African women because the popular ones never seem to quite cut it for their skin tone. Is Oriki an answer to these issues – pimples, black spots, skin irritation etc?
One of the methods that Oriki uses is to segment our product line by skin concern and skin type. So, a lot of brands may say here is a moisturiser, cleanser, but skins are different from one another. You may have different issues with your skin. So what we do is, if your skin is sensitive, oily, or if you suffer from hyper pigmentation, there are the products you need to use, and we make sure we have a range. We have a moisturiser, cleanser for each skin type. All of these skin types and concerns can be handled with natural ingredients. We do see that there are more issues that are more severe, and then it is important to then get a doctor or a dermatologist. But for minor to mild issues, you can actually treat them with natural skincare products.
Do your products really do what they claim?
Yes, all our products do what they claim.
We’re told you source for your raw materials within the continent, and all your products are made in Nigeria. How easy is it for you especially as many manufacturers are finding it difficult to backward integrate?
I won’t say it is easy because we are only able to source a portion of our ingredients on ground; we still have to source some globally. So we still have to look into South Africa for some of our ingredients, in Ghana, and what we have done is that we have realised that it is better we empower farmers across the value chain. So, if for example, for us, Shea butter is one of the ingredients, we have been able to procure Shea butter from cohorts, from ladies who spend their time on it as a means of their livelihood, and we realised that as we grow, we can empower them, that is our vision. Beyond the Oriki Group, we have a Foundation, which is all about empowering farmers across the value chain. From farm to factory, from soil to skin, from beauty to botany; we believe that if we have ladies cultivating cocoa or we have men growing cocoa, we can purchase cocoa from them, and the more that we grow, the more they grow. And we can actually help them to produce the quality that we want. So it hasn’t been the easiest, but there is one division of Oriki that spends time working to look for new artisans, farmers. Beyond that Oriki is also starting its own farm here in Lagos.
It’s been two years down the line, what are the challenges you faced as a start-up?
When you are starting a business in Nigeria you have to be ready to adapt. For me adaptability has allowed me to overcome the various challenges. It’s not been the easiest road facing the challenges faced by different agencies. Sometimes within our premise, we don’t only have a product line, we have a Spa, and the Spa is the service side of the business. We deal with customers on massages, facials, and we had to have clean water to do that. When we came into the apartment, we had no idea that there is a water problem here, so we actually paid for water to be delivered every week, to be able to run this business. With not much emphasis on electricity, we all know the issues with that. But there are so many different things as a business owner or a company shouldn’t have to worry about that we do. Just like the bills coming our way. We have the most recent issue with electricity suppliers, and they say our meter is incorrect meter, so they need to send us a new bill; we can’t have a prepaid meter anymore, they are going to give use estimated billing. To me, I wonder because basically you can choose any number, any figure or charges you want any time.
Another agency came recently and asked us to pay for signage from three years ago; I had to prove that we weren’t on the property three years ago. Why am I fighting these battles when I have a strategy to do, when I need to take the business to the next level? That is one of our major issues. Of course, the issue of export as well, to export out of Nigeria to my customers abroad, the cost is so high that the customers aren’t interested. So the method has to be through distribution, creating almost a presence in other parts of the world and actually stocking products there. So when a customer in the U.S. wants to order, it will come from the U.S as supposed to being from here. But whenever we get to the point where I can ship, and I can send without the high cost, I can send bulk orders. These are some of the issues that we face. Every single day it is all about overcoming that and creating a strategy to be sustainable, and not let the pebbles keep us down.
Government’s new slogan, ‘buy made in Nigeria’ must be working in your favour. Are you smiling to the banks as one would expect?
We have a long way to go, but I’m so happy that Nigeria is in the state that it is now, forcing people to look within. We cannot rely on the former ways of doing things, and so people are looking to spend less and to be more economical. In that regard, people are more interested in buying more Nigerian, and we find customers who even say I want to try your product line because it is Nigerian. But we still have a long way, there is still a sense of foreign is better, foreign seems to have more share, and glam to it. But what we are doing is, it is important Nigerian brands compete all around, from product packaging to the potency, to the fact that you can buy this brand and you see that it works. We are very careful along the way to ensure that they don’t have anything to discredit us with. We haven’t seen the direct effect of the slogan yet, but we know it will get there because buy Nigerian is becoming a mantra itself, it’s taking a life of itself and people are going to naturally adapt to it. When you repeat something several times over and over, you begin to understand it. I know right now what I used to be sourcing abroad here in Nigeria and it is important for me to do so and hopefully overtime the government efforts, businesses would actually to see impact.
Manufacturing is not an easy enterprise, how easy was it starting up in terms of access to funding, access to market, infrastructure and a host of others?
It is difficult definitely in Nigeria for start-ups to find funding to start a business. The climate isn’t easy. But for me, while researching and creating a business plan for Oriki, I shared my dreams with many as people as possible strategically, and I knew I was going to put my skin in the gain. So I took my own savings to utilise it in the initiative to invest in the company, and that was to create the initial products. I was working before, so I was able to create small batches of the products, and then from there, I sought investment; I looked for grants; I applied for all kinds of incubators. I applied for YouWin, I applied for GEM programme, the government, I applied for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship programme, and I was successful, and I was able to use that towards investment as well as very strategic mentors and investors, who came on board and believed in the dream.
You’re a 2015 Elumelu Entrepreneur and recognised as YNaija 100 most influential women. Tell us about these experiences?
I am a firm believer that incubators for businesses are very important and very key and when one sees opportunities, it is to take advantage of it. For me, the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP), to be precise was highly beneficial, not even the funding. What was beneficial for me was the programme. One of the requirements was to set us up with mentors. We have mentors who are successful in their own businesses and my mentor happens to be somebody in the PR and advertising space, which is something like a witness for Oriki, trying to get the word out there, figure out the message. The mentor I was paired with is one of the best top in Nigeria, and for me that was quite beneficial to learn from him and have him look into the business, engage with us and give us advice. Beyond that, I met hundreds of other entrepreneurs, so I created this network with other African entrepreneurs, who 20 to 30 years down the road, we would have to bond and support each other.
Competing with the big names at the airport duty free shops is not an easy task, how are your products faring on the African market and do you have plans to go beyond the continent?
Absolutely! It is a journey, and a journey of a thousand miles starts with one single step. For us, we would be two years old in October, so we are still in the beginning phase of our journey, but we have come very far. We have already begun to distribute our products outside of Nigeria, we have a presence in the U.S., U.K., and we have an ecommerce site that ships worldwide. We are about to have a presence in Ghana, and in South Africa, so we are actually looking within and outside of the continent.
As far as fairing against competitors, we realise that it doesn’t happen overnight, if we were to do a study or survey on the biggest companies in this field, they have been in the journey for years, even decades. So for us, we are passionate about getting it right and doing it with excellence every step of the way. We are just pushing and continuously taking the products to the next level.
Your products are tagged: luxury products, which presuppose it’s for the bourgeois, do you plan to make it available for the common man since skincare is everybody’s problem?
We understand that the way we have marketed the products have made it seem it’s for a certain demographic, but the truth is, we want the public, consumers and Nigerians and everyone to actually watch the space, because we are working on some new products that are targeted for all and also, utilising, enhancing the abundant natural resources we have. Although we may have a premiere price point now, we are very mindful of the fact that we have products for the mass market and for all as well.
Has government policies been favourable to entrepreneurs?
The government needs to do better. There are other parts of the world where if you want to register a business, it can be done in hours in one day. You don’t have these bureaucracy and bottlenecks that prevents you from opening a business. The government should encourage it because the private sector is what is going to transform the country inevitable. So I find that there are necessary issues. For example, we are constantly bombarded with different agencies claiming that we owe them but we don’t know or never heard of them before. Last year, the radio and TV agency came to our doors and said we have to pay N200,000 for a licence and I wondered, we are not on the radio. We inquired about what exactly the money was for, and they responded that we are overdue and have to pay. We asked for a letter or document sent to us but they had none.
The following week, another agency came and said they needed to charge us for signage; the week after that we had someone else coming for a different matter, and it doesn’t end! Where is the handbook or website that shows a business owner everything they should be mindful of? We pay our taxes, at Oriki we pay tax, we pay VAT, we are compliant to the government rules but when we don’t know of something, how are we supposed to be compliant? So, the government needs to do better. With that being said, I and a few friends have recently started something that we want to take out to the public; an SME Union that is actually able to support one another because we realise that so many businesses get harassed. Some agencies will come today to shut down someone’s business, and they don’t give any explanation. They say your land or business doesn’t belong to business jurisdiction but has a business owner you have no idea, you pay a landlord who rented you the space and didn’t tell you, it couldn’t be used for business. So the SME Union really wants to stand together and protect businesses, small and medium enterprises, to make sure we have one voice when we are speaking to the government, and make sure that we speak to government about changing policies and enacting policies that are favourable for us. At the end of the day, it benefits the government to support the private sector.
When is the SME Union coming up?
As we speak, we are electing a board. We are electing our first board members to run the SME Union. We want the election to be free and fair. We want to do it like the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would do it, and have laws and mandate. But we have already created a mandate for the SME Union; we already have dozens and hundreds of businesses interested, and we are already a part. Right now, we discuss through a WhatsApp group, and we are able to lend our voices to different issues. We share knowledge, information. As soon as the governance is put in place, government and even Lagos would start to feel our presence.
What are your plans for sustainability?
I believe in structure. So I create a structure for every aspect of the business. I create a standard operating procedure. So for us, when a customer orders a product, there are three steps to be taken and we have those three steps in place. The issue of water, it doesn’t benefit the company that every time water is delivered we are taking from cash on ground to pay. So we created a structure/plan with water providers to supply certain quantity of water in a month, and at the end of the month they receive certain amount. We structured it as a salary payment, so it is a fixed cost for us now. That is how you build; you grow when you can actually fix your cost. You know you are operating an expenditure; you know what it takes to run a company, and then you work on increasing revenue. The more you increase revenue and you keep your operational cost the same, the more profit you make. The key word is structure in everything we do. What is our structure for procuring Shea butter, structure for procuring cocoa, structure for procuring Moringa oil, the artisans that we are going to be using, we have some unique products that are going to be using coconut shell, which is like home to Nigeria. Our plan is, we train them as a cohort, and we empower them, and then we know that we have a team of Oriki artisan that is working for the company. So creating a structure is very important.
What is the future for Oriki?
We are planning to continue on our growth trajectory, which is to continue to create a presence outside of Nigeria; we will continue to roll out beyond the borders of Nigeria into new countries and territories. We are looking at a few distributorship in New York, so people can access it, and also we are building the Oriki farm. Our dream is to truly motivate the farm to skin culture where we are taking these raw natural ingredients and turning them into finished premier goods that can be used on skin and be proud of.
What is your advice for youths towing the line of entrepreneurship?
They need to stay focused; they need to draw out the noise. God has given everyone talents and skills, and there are so many things, I can be doing outside of this but I know that this is what I am meant to be doing right now, and this is my purpose. So when I see a lot of attractive things coming my way, I remind myself that this is the part I am supposed to be on, and I must continue to put my eyes on the brand. For me, I am guided by my faith. If you don’t have vision, knowledge, and wisdom to stay on your journey, you would be distracted, and that distraction would ultimately lead to perishing, to not fulfilling your purpose, to not fulfilling your destiny. It is important to be honest, follow your passion.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.