There is no shortcut to success, nothing beats hard work, grace and goodwill
Temitope Mayegun is the founder and CEO of Avila Naturalle Ltd, a manufacturer of organic and natural body care and foods in Africa. Mayegun holds a B.Sc in Accounting from the University of Lagos, an advanced diploma in Skincare formulations from the School of Natural Skincare USA; International Masters in Business Administration (IMBA) from Eaton Business School; Harvard Business School Executive Leadership course in Leading Difference and High-Performance Team and Lagos Business School Leadership Program.
With $100 in her pocket, a dream and a burgeoning distributorship spread across the globe, Mayegun has built a million-dollar company today. A tactical and inspiring team builder, with experience in training, team development, and delivering excellence, she is a driven leader with years of experience in managing and directing. Temitope’s success can be traced back to her several years of work in the financial sector as an investment banker and her huge belief in giving back through her Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) women development and empowerment programs through funding and product start-up packages.
In light of the skin cancer awareness month this week, Mayegun who is on the mandate for a healthier and happier world through organic and natural lifestyle tells TOBI AWODIPE how she started her business with coconuts worth N30, 000 from a small mini-flat in Lagos, the hazards of skin bleaching, how to reposition the beauty and wellness industry to employ thousands of Nigerians, what new entrants must avoid and do for maximum impact in the industry amongst other issues.
From investment banking to entrepreneurship is quite a turnaround, what made you decide to leave the finance sector finally?
From my previous positions in several government parastatals, financial regulatory boards and the decision to leave the investment banking sector were all because I got a clear cut divine direction to begin working with natural and organic farm produce into beauty and wellness products. Prior to founding my business, I did not realise how having started an agriculture and livestock farm a few years before was the preceding background to this vision. Looking at it now, it was a pet peeve back then, visiting stores and seeing beauty products with harmful substances in growing numbers and the consumers in growing numbers simultaneously; there was an innate desire to do something about this. I can’t possibly lay claim to having started the brand of my own direct knowledge rather it was through God’s divine inspiration.
With $100, you built this business in four short years; tell us how you did it?
If I earned a dollar for every time I have been asked this question, I’ll be a billionaire by now, but I say this always, there is no shortcut to success. Nothing beats sheer hard work and a dose of grace, goodwill and acceptance. We’ve had literal sleepless nights, brainstorming and fine-tuning processes and modules to suit the challenging day-to-day business activities. Our customers and distributors are the foundation on which this business has grown, even great global acceptance I must say propelled us, so all of these are the basics of how we have gotten here.
Take us through your entrepreneurship journey, how you started and how it has been so far?
Looking back now it must have been laughable to naysayers, starting a business with 30,000 Naira, a little below $100 at the time, to purchase coconuts. But that is what we began with, in a mini flat/bungalow in order to set up a mini-factory suitable to NAFDAC SME business standard. We had to go through the stressful journey of processing NAFDAC, SON and other industry-related certifications and finally, some essential oils and soaps were approved. We went on to hire three people, production began and we had to deal with consumers who were used to skin bleaching products as opposed to this new innovative brand of ours. We had to begin sensitization programs and campaigns everywhere on the hazards of skin bleaching and toning and the effect of damaging the skin, which is unfortunately very rampant now. The long-term effects, such as skin cancer, of these harmful products are more common than we realise and we need more people to realise this sooner rather than later. We had to let people know they could enhance their skin complexion naturally through prolonged use of essential oils. It was only after these campaigns we began to truly enjoy full patronage and great acceptance. It has been a rather graceful journey and one that I only hope continues to unfold.
What really inspired the organic and natural body care and foods idea?
Having started Avila Natural, which we rebranded to Avila Naturalle, with just coconut oils on the basic hinge of divine inspiration, after much great feedback and reviews, we went back to the lab and came out with several discoveries and innovations. Clinical research is what has continued to inspire us to dig deep into the beautiful world of nature, as it is amazing and mind-blowing how many plants, seeds and fruits can produce cold-pressed oils. It was only a matter of time before Avila foods and beverages were created and the results speak for themselves.
Would you say the beauty and wellness industry was affected by the pandemic and if so, how are you looking to rebound?
Seeing how most of the economic sectors was affected, the global beauty industry was not exempted. Our initial challenges began with packaging materials and farm produce not naturally grown in Nigeria; products we used to import from farms in Turkey, India China were stalled as the travel and import ban rose and when we could procure, the prices had shot up. Our foods and beverage arm did not suffer as much due to how important food is, though the supply chain was affected. However the goal is to keep production running and put the well-being of consumers first, cut down on overhead and I believe that as soon as everything stabilizes, the status quo will be reverted.
The global beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar one, which experts have said Nigeria is yet to fully tap into. How can we achieve that?
For us, we hope to exceed the multi-billion dollar threshold. With the number of world-standard infrastructure being set up at our soon-to-be-revealed factory/plant currently under construction in Nigeria and Ghana as well as the distributors of our products in over 100 countries, our unique, pioneer products such as watermelon oil we have will definitely put Nigeria on the global beauty space.
This industry seems to be getting oversaturated, owing to the number of emerging brands, what future do you see for this space in the next 10 years?
We have a niche and with over 200 million people in Nigeria alone, the market is huge enough for many more brands. As a thought-leader, I see beyond competition and look at the jobs these brands will create. Our over 2000 distributors globally are on a monthly commission payroll, this is nothing short of human empowerment. There will be more strict regulations governing the beauty industry especially the organic and natural niche, more beauty brands will covert to the organic and natural space as the world goes green and its benefits become more glaring.
Being an entrepreneur here can be challenging, what are some of the issues you have had to deal with over the years?
I must say my entrepreneurial journey has been nothing short of interesting, innovative, encouraging and very challenging. Initially, we had to deal with human capital, filling job positions that require a high level of competence and professionalism. We also had to deal with consumer acceptance as consumers here used to prefer known brands. Sourcing raw materials is also a challenge; in our partnerships with farms, we have had to deal with farms that did not want to adhere to our strict regulation of 100 percent naturally grown farm produce as opposed to fertilizer aided ones. The insecurity in the country has also affected the confidence of some of our farmers, affecting the total output of produce.
What keeps you passionate about doing what you do?
The positive feedback we keep getting, benefits and opportunities to have empowered several distributors, and most importantly the drive to create a healthier and happier world.
With the rise of quacks and fakes in this sector how best do you think this can be stemmed?
I believe bodies such as NAFDAC and SON are doing the best they can, but I think more important in this chain is the consumer, who needs to be more aware of reading labels, knowing and understanding ingredients before consuming them. The entry borders of these products need to be stricter, Nigeria is not a dumping site for harmful products, and our people are at the receiving end.
As a passionate advocate for women’s rights and empowerment, tell us a few ways you are exemplifying this?
I believe women natural instincts to conceive and deliver has granted us the willpower to turn the world around, I believe women if given the opportunity have the capacity of multiplication, we have the skills, emotional capacity, tenacity, empathy, lead innovation, a lot of women are shattering the glass ceilings whether in silicone valley or the market square. We have empowered thousands of women through our various CSR programs and it is evident in the high number of women under the Avila Brand(s).
How can we create better opportunities for our local industry players in the global beauty and wellness market?
We can create better opportunities for local players by making our platforms more accessible for mentoring and this solely lies with the top players. We need to project our success stories to the world at large. We implore the government to make Nigeria more enabling for investors looking to partner to have full confidence to do so. This topic of global representation is of utmost importance to us and so much is going on to position Nigeria strongly on the global beauty and wellness market.
How can we get more women to successfully thrive and rise to the top as you have done? What tips do you have for younger women?
A woman needs to surround herself with a strong support system, I say be very sure of what you want in and from life and leave no stone unturned in achieving it. You must understand that the stakes are higher for a woman and be prepared to go beyond it. Find your source of inner strength and always go back for refueling when life throws you challenges. Set your goals and do your best to surpass them.
What five things would you tell an entrant into this business to avoid and do respectively for maximum impact?
Own your journey. To each his/her own, avoid comparison. Be clear about what your niche and market are. Create a happy work environment. Do not be afraid to start small. Create a fantastic product that is irresistible and one that solves issues.
Tell us something you did/do that has turned your business around positively for you?
In totality or partially as that would be sharing full trade secrets, but seriously I will say sheer hard work and grace has worked for my organizations, countless days when I have put in 19 hours straight. We have hired right, we have the best team, good and innovative products and I will say our customer-centric attitude, to their feedback, reviews, suggestions and even complaints. Also, every brand must have an open mind to complaints.
What final words do you want to leave for people reading these?
I want to use this medium and opportunity to thank our stakeholders, from our customers, regulatory bodies, distributors, board of directors, staff to our competitors in the industries; you’ve all helped to hold the beacon with which our brand has walked through. We could not have been here without the support and market space. To my support system, my family and my loving husband, Abiodun thank you for believing in me and allowing me to shine.