Ogola Lois Kange: From two-bedroom apartment in Zaria to Shoprite Nigeria
How did you come up with your business name?
MY late husband came up with the name of my business. At the time, I had just completed my NYSC programme and I told him that I wanted to start a business. I was quite passionate about catering, food, and agriculture and I wanted a name that represented this passion. My late husband was a graphic designer and I valued his input, so when he said, ‘why not call it ‘Smiley’z,’ like the emojis but with a ‘Z’ instead of an’S’ at the end to differentiate your brand.’ I immediately loved the name and I have kept the brand name to date.
What or who inspired you to start this business?
Upon the completion of my degree in Architecture, I wanted to teach, but I was disappointed when I was not retained at the place where I served for NYSC. I also did not want to be a stay at home wife who depended solely on her husband for everything single thing, so, I started my business by doing what I loved, which was catering. I started Smiley’z Mobile Kitchen from my home, in the kitchen of my two-bedroom apartment in Zaria.
Who is your target market?
Smiley’z Mobile Kitchen began in 2012 and we received our official CAC registration in 2014. The company started out with a passion for cooking and sharing good food and a need to solve the problem of convenience and stable income. The initial idea was to have nice, healthy home-cooked meals delivered to a client’s doorsteps. This model is one that has been perfected outside Nigeria, but it was also very suitable for our climate as well. So, I started out with a focus on busy clients. Those who needed food on the go but still wanted proper meals, not just the typical take out.
Today, my company – Smiley’z Mobile Kitchen Limited has grown and transformed into a food processing company with the goal to reduce post-harvest losses in Nigeria’s agricultural sector. Our first product is the Smiley’z fresh tomato paste, which is 100 pre cent tomatoes with no additives or preservatives and has a one-year shelf life. Our target market includes women, their families, restaurants, hoteliers, caterers and schools that have in house catering.
How have you financed your company?
I bootstrapped. I basically started my business with my savings together with financial contributions from family members. Later on, we received grant and seed funding from numerous business programs and this has continued to help the company expand. For the food processing aspect of the business, my company obtained funding from the government of the Netherlands under a program called the food connection challenge through which, we won matching funds.
What is your competitive edge? What sets you apart from your competitors?
What sets me apart from others is the amount of work I put into my business. My company’s core values also include integrity – I want customers to know that they are ordering products from a company guided by strong core values. We work hard to build a brand that delivers on its promises.
Smiley’z Tomato Paste is 100 per cent tomatoes without any additives or preservatives and this allows customers to enjoy the fresh, natural taste of tomatoes for the various meals they cook for their families. All our subsequent products have the same quality and we work hard to maintain our homegrown, natural, unique taste.
What is the long-term plan for your business?
In the next five years, it is my goal and intention to become a household name throughout Nigeria and beyond. We have begun this process with the tomato paste product, and the company will continue to develop other food products as well. We aim to reduce post-harvest losses in Nigeria’s agricultural supply chain.
What challenges do you face or have you faced thus far?
We have faced lots and loads of challenges, as the business climate for SMEs in Nigeria is not very friendly. From unstable power supply to difficulties getting the right suppliers of raw materials, to maintaining the right staff, to funding business expansion and ideas. Some of the things that have helped us overcome many of these challenges have been the fact that we have leveraged on our networks and this has really helped us with both the know-how, the right opportunities and contacts for reliable suppliers.
What key things have you learned since starting this idea?
First and foremost, I have learned that persistence pays.
Secondly, success in entrepreneurship is a journey.
Thirdly, I would encourage entrepreneurs not to be afraid to drop or modify an idea that is not working.
Next, technology is your friend; use it. Lastly, my personal belief is that only God can ultimately help you succeed.
What five things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?
– Fail fast, learn quickly, and move on.
– Do not expect overnight success.
– Nothing good comes easy.
– Leverage on your networks. What you are searching for may just be a call or a chat away.
– Write a business plan and apply for seed grants. Even if you do not get selected, keep working on your idea and on your business. Keep refining your business plan and keep putting yourself out there. Eventually, there will be someone who believes in you and your ideas enough to put some money behind it.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say, ‘there is no money’?
Sometimes, what you need as a startup may not be money. If your idea is good and marketable, the money will definitely find you.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
African youths can support each other by bartering; the barter systems works. Think about providing your service in exchange for the product or service you need.
How many jobs have you created so far?
To date, we have employed over 30 full-time staff, taught skills acquisitions empowering over 200 women and trained over 25 cottage processors.
How has technology enhanced your business idea?
The business has grown and developed to the stage we are today and is still growing because we are able to leverage technology to our advantage. From using social media, to technologically backed payment platforms to digital advertisement to name a few.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
What we need now more than anything else is access to markets. We have very good products that have been tried and tested by hundreds of customers and have been used by thousands, but we need a lot more visibility because it is still new and people need to key into ‘buy Nigerian.’
How has the AWP Network Vendor Program helped or supported your business?
I truly enjoyed the AWP Network Vendor Program especially the community and connecting with other entrepreneurs in my cohort. The educational content received in the duration of the program has been helpful for me in my business. Specifically, after the training session on what investors want, I immediately applied some of the key take-home points. I began to send out a much more daring pitch deck and received positive responses.
What I liked the most about the AWP Network Vendor program is the fact that it is not just about the training but also about the opportunity to pitch to large retailers. I think that this is a great plus for the program. The practicality of the sessions made it totally relatable and immediately applicable to my business.
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