Ehime Eigbe Akindele: From Citigroup to Sweet Kiwi
In 2009 whenEhime Eigbe Akindele visited Nigeria on holiday from the US, she kept asking for where to buy Frozen Yoghurt and nobody could give her an answer. That motivated her to quit she job at Citi Group, in Texas, USA and come back to Nigeria to establish Sweet Kiwi. Five years after, Sweet Kiwi Frozen Yoghurt is strategically branded as the go-to place for frozen yoghurt in Lagos, Nigeria.
A Goldman Sachs 10, 000 Women scholar and a public speaker, Ehime holds a degree in Business Information Technology and International Studies from London Metropolitan University and completed Entrepreneur Management programme at the Enterprise Development Centre of Pan African University, Lagos. She has also received certifications in restaurant management and dessert manufacturing. In this interview with Guardian Woman, she discusses plans for her business among other things.
You left your job with the Citigroup in the US to set up Sweet Kiwi in Nigeria? What prompted the decision?
I saw a gap/ opportunity in the Nigerian market as there were no frozen yoghurt stores at the time in the country and decided to take a chance by starting my own frozen yoghurt brand in Nigeria.
Why yoghurt as a choice of business? Could you have invested in another business?
I fell in love with the whole concept of frozen yoghurt, because I love dessert and this was a healthy way to have dessert without counting calories and worrying about the impact on your weight or cholesterol level.
How do you source materials for your products? Does the forex crisis impact your overhead?
The forex crisis has greatly destabilised out business. We use real yoghurt made in Nigeria to make our frozen yoghurt however the forex crisis impacts everyone as little is manufactured in Nigeria. Even items made in Nigeria have increased greatly in price, locally grown fruit as well. We get price increase notices almost monthly. We also source the majority of our other supplies abroad as they are not produced in Nigeria. Our overheads have increased greatly, it is unfortunate that the government refuses to provide forex to ensure the survival of small businesses.
What were the initial challenges you had to contend with transitioning from being an employee to being an employer of about 30 persons?
I would say the first one understood the environment I was doing business in was the first challenge. Understanding the mindset and employee culture was also another challenge. I had to grow into the role, learnt from a lot of experiences both good and bad. Took a few courses, read a lot of books. I am continuously evolving as an employer and the experiences help set the tone for our employment policies.
Staffing poses one of the major problems for niche start-ups. How easy was it for you to get 30 employees to share your vision for Sweet Kiwi?
It is not an easy task but I tried to do my best to inspire my employees and get them to imbibe the company culture. One of the ways of doing that is by setting the best example for them to live up to in the way I carry out my own duties. Continuous training and great work life balance also help.
The Economic recession has impacted people’s purchasing power. How has this impacted on your earnings as a business?
Like everyone else we have felt the impact of the recession and the decline in purchasing power. We are hopeful that things would turn around but in the meantime, I try to minimise the negative effects and maximise the positives. Every situation is a learning experience and 2016 has been a great lecturer in the art of running lean operations.
How are you dealing with these/this impact(s)?
We have been focused on a strategy to stay in the industry and not just stay but flourish in these difficult times. Part of that is running lean operations like I said earlier, we are also trying to innovate in the space to combat the effects of the recession.
Are there plans to take your business out of Lagos to other Nigerian states?
Yes, we are looking to kickstart our franchise program to grow our brand into other parts of Nigeria and the rest of Africa.
Any regrets dumping your paid job for entrepreneurship?
I would not use the word ‘Dump’ but yes I have no regrets.
Who is Ehime Eigbe Akindele?
I am a simple, goal oriented woman who loves music and strives for perfection in all that I do.