Four things you must have to be pitch perfect

What makes a pitch perfect?
Cookie clapping

This is a question many entrepreneurs ask as they prepare to speak to investors. It is also  a question we are asked quite frequently at SLA. We’ve heard a number of pitches through our own pitch competitions, both the SLA 2014 and SLA 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase.

We know what moves us. To make sure we are not alone, we’ve also looked at the research and numbers and found that there are 4 items all investors look for in a pitch.

To make the point clear, first watch this video of Aaron Krause of Scrub Daddy. He is no Motherland Mogul but his pitch makes a few items easily identifiable.

The 4 items and takeaways are clear:

Enthusiasm and passion WINS

U.S. based Shark Tank investor, Barbara Cocoron, says she knows within the first 40 seconds of a founder speaking whether she will invest or not. Does your demeanor show that you are confident in your business or are you anxious and fidgety?

When you speak, are you excited about your business? Do you have a genuine passion for your vision?

Your business solves a problem and your solution is of value

Meaning, what is your value proposition? What makes your business stand out from the rest in the market.

What problem is it solving in the world? How are you solving the differently from the rest of the companies in your industry? State this concisely, clearly, and early.

Your business works in the real world

Also known as proof of concept, investors want to know that there is an actual need for your product or service. Have you taken your business to market? Have you made sales? What’s your revenue for this year and/or last?

The only way to know that a business is valuable is by taking it to market and letting the people decide its value with their money.

You are the one to run the business

We all know; coming up with a business idea is easy, execution is key. Why are you the one to make the idea fly? Are you clear in your communication and can you. Have you led a business in the past? Have you taken the time to develop some of the prerequisite skills for running a business; that is, negotiation, project management.

As we see from Aaron Krause’s pitch, not every investor will be immediately wowed by your idea. All you need is one!

One investor who believes in your business, vision, and you. But, in order to bring that one right investor on board, all four items —enthusiasm, value proposition, proof of concept, and business acumen— must be present.

The mind of a champion: Lessons from Blessing Okagbare and Serena Williams

Sport champions like Blessing Okagbare and Serena Williams are perfect examples of how each of us, as entrepreneurs and professionals, can attain greatness when we aim to improve our personal best.

Blessing is a Nigerian track and field athlete, who is an Olympic and IAAF World Championships medalist in the long jump, and a world medalist in the 200 metres. Serena is undeniably one of the most dominating sports champions of our generation. She has won a title in all four International Grand Slam tournaments and is also an Olympic gold medalist.

Blessing’s Olympic medal wins and Serena’s tennis successes serve as reminders of excellence to all of us. They have spent many years training to be champions. Along the way, they have achieved multiple milestones, actively taken part in smaller competitions and peaked at the right moment. When they put their hard-earned skills into practice and keep their eyes on the prize, it’s their time to shine.

As entrepreneurs what lessons can we learn from these phenomenal women?

Keep training

Blessing-Okagbare-Nike-AfricaSoFast-Campaign-BellaNaija-July2015001

Like every successful athlete, successful entrepreneurs must never stop training. That means keeping your skills fresh and your talents sharpened, so that you’re always one step ahead of the competition.

Keep learning, networking and trying to improve yourself and your business. The process is continual but it is powerful and fun if you love what you are doing.

Have a support system

Venus and Serena HuggingEvery champion has a team behind them. You can’t do everything on your own. Especially when training is getting difficult or the competition is tough. Build a strong network that will support you and help you reach the top.

If you do not have a mentor find one, or at the very least seek role models who will inspire you. Make sure those who are part of your team hold you accountable and keep you focused.

Celebrate your achievements

Blessing-OkagbareWhat moment are you seeking? As you strive to attain greatness, ask yourself at what point will you feel like you’ve won your Gold Medal or Trophy.

Never forget that no matter how much competition is out there, or how long it takes to achieve YOUR own personal best, each and every one of us can get a medal. So go out there and get it!

It is easy to discount all your achievements as you seek even better ones, but don’t overlook your moment. When your moment comes, make sure you celebrate!

I’m really exciting. I smile a lot, I win a lot, and I’m really sexy.”
– Serena Williams

Do not fear competition

Serena Williams Sports Illustrated CoverKeep your eyes on the prize in your business and professional life. Have clearly defined strategies and goals that will make you a champion. In his book, The Winner’s Mind, Allen Fox explains, “Unconscious fear of failure saps the will to win by distorting perceptions and causing competitors to hesitate to compete, procrastinate, lie to themselves, blame others, fail to finish tasks, and panic on the verge of victory.”  

Do not fear competition. As entrepreneurs competition is necessary and mandatory in the marketplace. It will help to motivate you to be better. Use it to empower yourself along the way and do not be afraid of winning!

Learn from your mistakes

Being in business isn’t about never failing, it’s about knowing what to do when failure strikes! You must not allow failure to block your path to excellence. When a sportswoman like Blessing loses a race, do you think she laments about her loss for so long that it stops her from running?

No, she stays focused, perfects her skills and works harder. It’s the same with Serena. If she misses a serve or loses a match she does not let her mistakes consume her. She uses her mistakes as stepping stones to doing better the next time.

Kasope Ladipo-Ajai: Building Omo Alata for the next generation

The desire to work on a business that would showcase her creativity led 2015 SLA-Entrepreneur Showcase winner Kasope Ladipo-Ajai to starting her food processing company Omo Alata.

The Nigeria-based food service brand, launched in 2012, is focused on the production and sale of hygienically processed and packaged Nigerian soups, spices and peppers. It aims to promote healthy eating and to make cooking easier for busy people.

Kasope, with a degree in Computer Science, resigned from a full-time job to pursue her entrepreneurial ambitions. She worked for 4 years at Virgin Nigeria in various roles including IT Service Engineer, Project Coordinator and Business Process Analyst. She also handled core IT project implementation for Taytom Group. I caught up with the food production entrepreneur to talk about her startup journey.


Inspiration from travel

Travel, particularly to advanced countries, exposed Kasope to the possibilities of quick and convenient meal preparation. While on her trips, she went to various African stores and realized that many of the ingredients for cooking Nigerian meals were not produced or packaged in Nigeria. This is largely due to packaging issues in the country which rules out the exporting of some its food products.

Kasope: “We have all these products but why can’t we package it properly? If we package it properly then we can export it.” It was with this realization that the idea for a food service brand was birthed. Kasope decided to start by packaging pepper. “It is a produce that is basic to us in Nigeria.”

Once she had the concept for Omo Alata in mind, she solidified her decision to venture into entrepreneurship by registering the business. Kasope then carried out research on the product she was trying to launch. She looked into sourcing fresh produce, and best practices for cleaning, processing and packaging it.

She also solicited advice about brand development from knowledgeable people in her network. A lot of work was put into the graphic and package design aspect of it. Kasope knew that she had to come up with something that would both look right and catch people’s attention. The package itself, too, had to be functional.

Personal income

Kasope and her partner leveraged their personal income to get the business off the ground. “We had limited funds to play with. We asked ourselves, ‘What do we need to do?’ and ‘What’s the best way to do it?’” There were essentials for their company that they couldn’t avoid spending money on.

These included securing a factory space as well as the necessary equipment for production. They had to get creative when it came to spending money on professional services that they really needed.

“We leverage on our family and friends expertise for such,” Kasope said. “We told them our vision and asked them to work with us, and we pay them in kind or later.”

The process

The produce that is used in making the pepper mix —Omo Alata’s flagship product— is sourced from local markets. “We have relationships with suppliers who already know that we want the freshest products,” said Kasope.

The company organizes delivery of the tomatoes, onions and peppers from the suppliers to the factory. Contract workers at the factory sort the produce and remove any unsuitable ones. The remaining products are then thoroughly cleaned and all the stalks taken out.

Omo Alata logoThe next step in the process is to blend the produce to the finest mix. This is then boiled to preserve the mix better and reduce customers’ cooking time. The company’s quality control  specialist checks to make sure that the mix is being boiled at the right temperature and to the appropriate consistency.

It is then left to cool and packaged using the company’s special sealing technology. Each resealable bag is then labelled and frozen until the product is shipped to retail store partners for sale.

The pepper mix is purely organic. It doesn’t contain any food coloring or artificial preservatives. A testament to the startup’s commitment to providing its customers with the freshest products that have a natural taste.

Throughout the process, Omo Alata adheres to a strict quality assurance policy and hygienic processing methods that have been certified by Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

Growing pains

Kasope has had to tackle several challenges that come with running a business in the food industry. For starters the raw materials that are used for making Omo Alata products are seasonal. “The produce gets expensive when it is out of season,” she said. “The suppliers will try to exploit you.”

“You have to be on your toes checking to make sure suppliers are not taking advantage of the fact that you have a relationship with them,” she added. Farm produce does not have a fixed price. Kasope constantly checks the market to make sure that she is being charged the correct seasonal price.

Local interruptions


Omo Alata PackagingThe company also has to deal with the lack of constant electricity supply. This affects the business from processing to product sale. “The only way to cool the mix fast is in a cold room which requires electricity,” said Kasope.

Once the mix cools, it is packed and frozen. Again, electricity is required for this. Having an unsteady supply of electricity significantly slows down the process. It creates a lag time between cooling and packing and freezing. The startup has invested in generators in order to overcome this.

Some of the retail stores that they have partnered with don’t pay for the products until they have all been sold. “Others have policies like ‘We won’t pay until 60 days after delivery,’” she said. “This ties up our cash all the time.” As such, Kasope and her partner end up having to take money from their own pockets in order to keep the business going.

Kasope pushes through all these, thanks to support from family, friends, fellow entrepreneurs and clients. She is also driven by her ultimate vision which is to grow Omo Alata into a brand that will not only be a household name but also make a difference in society. “Getting calls from clients expressing their gratitude and praise is encouraging,” she said.

“It’s reassurance that we are on the right track.” Kasope and her partner knew from the get-go that it would take a while for their business to grow and they prepared themselves mentally for that. “The plan was to build a brand that will outlive our generation,” she said. “When we feel discouraged we remind ourselves of that dream and plan.” She then adds: “We know that building a brand like this doesn’t happen in one day.”

And the winner is…

Kasope won first prize in SLA’s 2015 Entrepreneur Showcase. She won a $10,000 cash prize, a mobile device from Etisalat, international media coverage and a host of other prizes.

Omo Alata Pitch - Kasope Ladipo-Ajai

Focusing on the future

The startup intends to have more product lines as it grows. Kasope plans on having tryout stands in stores to give potential customers the opportunity to taste the company’s products.

This will also give Omo Alata a chance to get in person feedback and ideas on the product line that the market wants to see launched next. As an entrepreneur she knows that her business has to meet its customers at their point of need.

Kasope’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “It’s going to be tough but don’t let that stop you from starting.  Join a support group of other entrepreneurs. It helps to speak to people who are going through similar experiences because they understand you in ways others may not. These are the people who will keep you going.”

Judith Ohikuare: When I’m given an opportunity, I take it

judith ohikuare she leads africa

Some of us know the following lecture from their African parents: “My daughter, you can only be two things: lawyer and doctor, or doctor and lawyer.” Respond that you want to be a journalist, and watch the hilarity ensue.

You’ll hear; “So you want to kill me now?” But against the traditional narrative, many young African women continue to trailblaze in creative careers. SLA caught up with Judith Ohikuare, editor at Cosmopolitan, for gems and takeaways from her journey to the top. 


Every single place that I’ve worked at before has been an application for the position I have now. I have been able to bring in the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired in my past towards my current position.”


How did you get your start as a journalist?

“After high school, I did an internship at Penguin Group where I got experience in the publishing aspect. The following summer, I worked as a marketing and publicity intern at Inc. magazine because that was the opportunity that I could get.

I didn’t really have any experience but they were willing to let me in there, so I took it. I then went on to work as a features intern for Seventeen magazine and later Marie Claire.

Cosmopolitan magazineAfter college I worked at Inc. magazine where I was initially hired as a reporter on the print side.They were integrating print and digital at the time. After the integration, I was one of the social media managers. I still did small pieces as a junior reporter for the magazine covering live events for the website. 

I left Inc. and moved to Washington D.C. for a fellowship at The Atlantic because I wanted to delve into human interest stories. When the fellowship was over, I briefly worked for a startup and I am now at the print side of Cosmopolitan Magazine as an associate editor.”

What is it like marketing yourself and standing out of the crowd?

“For me, it came down to finding people who are doing things that I like and building connections with them. I stay in touch with people that I want to learn from and whose work I respect. I think that when you make those natural connections then you can easily sell yourself. Those authentic networking connections lead to positions.

For example, during my internship at Inc. Magazine, I worked with an editorial intern who is an incredible interviewer. I admired her interviewing style and we naturally became friends. She is the one who let me know once a full-time position opened up at Inc.”

Cosmopolitan Black Lives Matter

How do you approach personal branding? 

When it comes to branding, I would say choose spaces that make sense to you and that you feel represent you most authentically. If it’s on Twitter, how do you want to convey your voice?

Do you want it to be more personal or professional? If it’s on Facebook, do you use your personal account to share your writings or do you want to create a writer’s page for that?

How have you utilized social media to build your brand?

You don’t need to be on every platform. You don’t have to be on periscope, if that’s not why people are coming to you, for example. I think you and your brand come off most authentically when you are doing what is most natural to you.

If you are creating a website for your work, which is what I am thinking of doing, then how do you organize that? Do you organize it by theme or by publications? That entails getting in touch with what people are coming to you for. If I think that people are coming to me more for profiles then I will organize my website in terms of profiles as opposed to publications.

What’s your opinion on creating personal space on the internet? 

It’s something that I’m still working on. For me, it’s about going into the sites that I feel represent me the best. I initially created a Twitter account to share the things that I’m reading and that I find fascinating.

When I started getting more into journalism, it became a great tool to discover other writer’s voices so that I could know what they talk about, and connect with people, too. I also use Facebook to share things that I write. Occasionally, I email articles that I have written to friends who I think may be interested.

What risks have you taken for your career? 

I gave up a full-time job to join the Atlantic for a one year fellowship that wasn’t necessarily going to lead to a job after it was done. But I followed it because it was something that I was very interested in and that I knew I would learn from.

Put yourself out there for positions that may not have an immediate sense of pay off but that will teach you valuable skills.

Do you believe there is one set way to becoming a journalist? 

There is no set career path in this field so try different things. It’s great to have a beat, but if you get opportunities outside of that take them if you can do them and do them well.

One of the things that I have done on the side is write a few profiles for Mater Mea – a website that celebrates black women who are mothers and have careers. This is because I love what it is doing and think there is a lot of good value in being a part of it.

I would advise anybody to follow those passion projects. Whether it is something that you start yourself or that you are a part of through somebody else.

What advice do you have on identifying opportunities?

Take them. Even when you can’t necessarily see where they will lead. When I was at Inc. and ended up becoming one of the social media managers, I knew how to use Twitter as a consume, not from a business perspective.

It was definitely more work but I learnt so much about analytics, creating a voice online and connecting with people. I ended up using those skills at The Atlantic. When I’m given an opportunity, I take it.


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

7 things I learned from my first startup failure

At the beginning of 2014, Kegaugetswe Florence Mukwevho and her two business partners started a food company. The startup, which launched in April of that year, was on a mission to create youth employment by operating a low cost, scalable mobile kitchen for a local growing chicken brand.

The business was doing well in its first few months; sales were high, showing that there was a market for the product and service they offered. Startups in their early stages need funding for growth and expansion and this was the case for the food company.

Kega came across the 2014 She Leads Africa Entrepreneur Showcase and thought that it provided a great opportunity for the company to get much-needed funds. With the support of her co-founders, she applied and was selected as one of the top 10 finalists. Although she didn’t win the competition, she received great feedback from the judges and mentors and support from the SLA team.

Upon her return home however, Kega noticed that the dynamics in the company had shifted. In partnerships, group dynamics can bring synergy or divide at the expense of the business.

The latter was the case for the food startup. Ultimately, the three entrepreneurs decided to go their separate ways. Although it has been a difficult journey, Kega shares firsthand what she learned from the failure of her first startup.


1. Have a partnership agreement

New Girl no such thing as love

Our business relationship was going so well in the first few months that we delayed creating a partnership agreement. For me, it was unspoken. Our official agreement came much later as a reaction to issues rather than as a proactive step in the initial phase. It is important that one does not assume that common sense is common to everyone. We are all human beings with different backgrounds therefore we do not think the same way.

“We could have avoided some disagreements by clearly putting down expectations regarding our roles and responsibilities, how to run the business, funding and equity earlier on.”

Make sure you seek assistance from mentors and other entrepreneurs  to get an idea of some of the real issues that may arise in your business.

2. Be 100% involved in your company

When we started the business, we were full-time students with the exception of one partner who was studying part-time. As such, he was the operational partner and was on site all the time. Starting a business is no easy task and it is well known that the failure rate for new startups is very high within the first 18 months.

It is during this infant stage that a business needs the most tender, love, and care. I was juggling being a full-time student and a business partner. As a result, I did not give the business the undivided focus and attention it needed during this critical stage. Not only did this hurt the business but it also placed a greater burden on my partners.

“We did not realize from the get-go the kind of hands on involvement and input we needed in order to thrive.”

I wish I knew then the importance of being more involved in the daily running of the business.

3. Things are not always as they seem

Mya

Business is about testing assumptions. While we might have had a very convincing story on paper including a probable financial model, things don’t always turn out the way we envision them. According to our business plan, we were set for success. In drafting any budget, there is a principle that you “overstate your costs and liabilities and you understate your revenue and assets”.

This is particularly important for a startup. We did not prepare for the worst case scenario and found ourselves running into serious cash flow problems. It may seem like everything will go well, but things do fall apart. You must be prepared for the possibility of failure.

When it comes to financial modelling, you should rather exaggerate your costs and other expenditures by using the worst case scenario, just to be safe. Also, financially, physically and emotionally, prepare yourself to not be profitable for the first few months.

4. Don’t underestimate your competition

We chose to locate our business in a township. We assumed that because we were selling grilled chicken, it would be better to sell it near a large hospital because people would want a healthier alternative. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

We had underestimated our competition. Although there wasn’t a flame grilled chicken option in that area at the time, we had competition from people selling cakes and other fatty foods.

The market wasn’t open to having healthier alternatives. Our competitors had already realized this.

5. Invest in a stellar marketing strategy<

Beyonce-Signs-50-Million-Pepsi-Deal

Around October of last year, our sales were increasing organically because it was the festive season. But even then, we knew there were certain challenges. In the beginning, business was good because we had a new product that people wanted to try out.

But in the long term, it was not. People tasted our chicken and liked it but in that township, eating chicken was more of a status thing. We were trying to create a lifestyle but most people could only buy our chicken at the end of the week or month when they had been paid.

We made a lot of assumptions but I think that is what business is about – testing assumptions. We tested our assumptions and some of them didn’t turn out as we hoped. We tried to have more marketing to increase sales to the level that we wanted.

However, we did not allocate a sufficient budget for this and as such we could not do everything that we wanted to do. There is a lot more we could have done with a lot more time and money; we should have thought to invest in a marketing strategy much earlier on.

6. Keep employee morale high

The loyalty of employees is very important as they are the operational drivers of the business. Having a relationship with the people who work for you makes a world of difference. This is even more important when you are struggling and having cash flow problems.

Initially, we paid our employees competitively – above minimum wage. Then we started having pay issues. When things were not going well sales-wise, we weren’t able to pay them as well as we previously did. Our staff was constantly updated on the progress of the business and when we were having tough times.

Whilst some of them endured the struggle and remained a part of the story right until the end, we lost some key employees earlier on. Staff retention is unfortunately a real struggle for any business.

While employees have to be paid well regardless of what is happening in the business, it is important that you incentivise them in other non-financial ways, as well as communicate with them regularly and honestly. This way they will have your back during the darker days.

7. Share the spotlight

Nicki Minaj Paparazzi

Participating in the SLA Pitch Competition came with a fair amount of media attention. It was mainly focused on me as the only woman on the founders’ team. This brought some tension. I have been thinking a lot about this.

If you had a partner who wasn’t as involved in the general running of the business but saw an opportunity to promote the business, took it and ended up in the spotlight it, it would affect you.You would think, “But I am the one doing all the work”. It’s a natural reaction. This would negatively impact your working relationship.

Overall, I don’t regret getting involved in the startup at all. I feel like I bought a valuable experience with my investment in the company. I have so many projects that I want to venture into after I complete my CTA Honors in Accounting and Finance postgraduate studies. I am moving forward wiser and with a better perspective on what it takes to run a successful business.

Why smart girls become risk averse women

More attention is being drawn to the obstacles that female entrepreneurs and career women around the world face when looking to reach the next level of professional success.

From studies revealing that women are less likely to receive venture capitalist funding to research confirming that women have to work harder to be considered at par with their male colleagues, it is clear that women face a unique set of challenges in the workforce.

Beyond opportunity and wage inequality, there are gaps in the way young girls are raised that can create a mindset which can hinder the future success of these women.

Women are their own strongest critics

It turns out that most women judge their abilities and intellect much more critically than men do. In one study, fifth grade students with high IQs were given challenging tasks.

The girls were more likely to give up on challenging tasks while the boys worked harder to figure out the solution. Interestingly, the higher the girl’s IQ, the more likely she was to throw in the towel and feel helpless in face of the challenging task.

Gymnast HappyIt should be noted that the girls in the fifth grade, as observed in this study, typically outperform boys in math and science.

So why do otherwise smart girls doubt themselves when it comes to unfamiliar and challenging tasks? What does it have to do with the confidence professional women have in themselves?

Praise and self-confidence in women

Social psychologist Dr. Halvorson’s explanation of this study in a Psychology Today post, provides  great insight on why this happens:

Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their “goodness.” When we do well in school, we are told that we are “so smart,” “so clever, ” or “such a good student.” This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don’t.

Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., “If you would just pay attention you could learn this,” “If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.”) The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t “good” and “smart,” and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder”

Research at Stanford confirms this association: smart young girls are likely to unconsciously retain this perception that ability is a rigid characteristic that cannot be changed. They eventually grow up to be adults that judge themselves harshly and are less likely to take risks or challenges outside their area of expertise.

What does this mean for you?

If you have been mulling about launching a new blog, tech start up, ecommerce store, website or any other venture for a while, and your main concern is your lack of expertise in the field, remember this: the ability to perform a task is very flexible.

Just go for it! Research shows that the key to mastering a skill or area you are unfamiliar with is to be persistent and continue practicing.
Fifth Harmony

Raising a girl child and wondering how you can help her develop a “growth mindset” that sees challenging tasks as an opportunity as opposed to a problem? It’s fairly simple.

Encourage your children of both sexes (especially the girls) by praising their progress and achievements in relation to their hard work. Instead of praising them for work well done by saying, “You are so smart,” recognize them by saying, “You must have worked hard to get this done!”

It’s a message that’s not just great for kids but for budding entrepreneurs too. Nothing great happens overnight; keep building.

 

Gloria Barasa: Balancing my baby with my startup

It was my last day at work and the first day of the next phase of my life. I had decided to become a full time entrepreneur and solely focus on building my own business.

My 10-month-old baby daughter would be my constant companion since my nanny was going away on leave at that time. This meant that it would take me longer than expected to get my business up and running.

Several weeks later, I now realize that setting up a business is a gradual process that requires time and dedication. Things also don’t always go as planned. Here is what I have learnt from my journey:

Have short, medium and long term goals

Dividing your goals into these categories will help you to focus while managing your time effectively. A popular acronym developed by George T. Doran is S.M.A.R.T. This means that all goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

Practising this approach can be beneficial if adopted at the initial stages of business development. Overlooking any of the criteria could hamper progress and create frustration.

I, for example, wanted to have my company up and running in two weeks. However, this was not possible given my home situation. I was able to adjust accordingly and establish my company within a more realistic time frame.

In taking this approach, I quickly learnt that focusing on gaining a large customer base and revenue without fully building and understanding my business model would not work.

Adapt quickly

According to Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler in their Harvard Business Review article, Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage, a company must have its antennae tuned to signals of change from the external environment, decode them, and quickly act to refine or reinvent its business model, and even reshape the information landscape of its industry.

Going into the same industry as my previous employer, I initially believed that developing a similar work structure would lead to business success.  However, I realized that this approach would not be ideal given the lack of human and financial capital on my end.

I chose to adopt the most relevant aspects for my business such as customer relations. I opted to take a different approach on other aspects such as marketing.

Goals are moving targets

Business goals are moving targets.  You can’t afford to get comfortable as this leads to stagnation. It is important to be open to providing current market needs. Keep abreast of the happenings in your industry as well as related industries.

This can be done through reading business journals and articles, attending conferences with industry peers, or simply carrying out research to understand the latest developments in the market. As an entrepreneur you need to keep up with the ever-changing market needs.

Enjoy the ride

Make the most of your experiences. Learn from each of them. Don’t be consumed by the business, however, as this will result in stress. In order to avoid frustration devise various coping mechanisms.

According to Forbes magazine, this could be as simple as scheduling breaks throughout the day or focusing on other interests that are unrelated to your business. Most importantly, appreciate your family in this moment. In my case, being with my baby daughter was the best stress reliever I had and probably will ever have.

At the end of the day, my nanny being away turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

 

5 legal issues startups should think about within 6 months

Developing a new idea, creating a website and customers are all the exciting things about building a startup but dealing legal issues will never be on a founder’s top ten list. Unfortunately, a strong legal foundation is necessary in order to build a growth company and not taking care of these important issues can keep you from getting investment or expanding down the line.

Here are five things all founders should pay attention to within the first six months of starting their business to ensure it’s off to the right start.

Co-founders

Key Takeaway: Be sure to draft a founders’ agreement early on and without emotion.

Kermit typewriter

Allocation of company ownership is important. It is also vital to address what happens if one founder departs. It is not uncommon for pre-incorporation founders to fall off the map before the startup becomes profitable. Deadbeat co-founders may also show up to claim profits if the startup takes off. You therefore need a clear strategy on how to handle this.

Founders should also clarify what their duties are to current and former employers. If the idea for a startup was developed or worked on while an entrepreneur was employed by another business, there may be specific legal issues to consider.

Lawyers

Key Takeaway: Retain appropriate legal counsel as soon as possible or utilize open sourced legal documents for the early stages.

Scandal - its handled

Focusing on legal issues early is key, and is especially helpful for new entrepreneurs. However, do not give your lawyers equity and do not use your investors’ lawyers. Also, remember that violation of privacy, securities or tax laws can lead to criminal liability so it is imperative that startups have proper policies in place and carefully adhere to them.

Don’t have the funds to hire a full time lawyer? Check out the Founder Institute’s open source agreements that can serve as a good start for standard legal agreements.

Intellectual Property

Key Takeaway: Founders should implement an intellectual property strategy to monitor the use and disclosure of their intellectual property.

The Boy Is Mine

Protect your startup’s name. It could be one of the company’s most valuable assets. Many startups operate under the mistaken assumption that a corporate name reservation is the only thing they need to protect their business name. Remember that you also have to register the name globally as a trademark.

One of the most common pitfalls that entrepreneurs fall into is the exposure of their intellectual property by communicating confidential information to various people without non-disclosure agreements and other safeguards, or the use of inadequate non-disclosure agreements. Non-disclosure agreements should be drafted with the particular circumstances of the disclosure in mind and ought not to be treated as a basic boiler-plate document.

Consultants/Employees

Key Takeaway: Draft formal agreements for all consultants and employees so the terms of service and confidentiality requirements are clear.

Beyonce bossy

It is vital to enter into a written consulting agreement with such contractors. Intellectual property developed by an independent contractor will typically belong to the independent contractor in the absence of a clause in a contract to the contrary.

It is also important to familiarise yourself with the employee laws of the city, state or country in which you setup. The most common employment law violations are misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor and/or failing to pay an employee appropriately.

Licensing and Incorporation

Key Takeaway: Know what the important license conditions are for your city and country and ensure that they are are not being violated in the course of your business.

Greys Anatomy - License To Kill

Set up a corporation or LLC for everything but a short-term business whose existence will be numbered in months rather than in years. Only raise funds from “accredited investors” and do not pay commissions for fundraising unless it is to a registered broker-dealer.

Additionally, in most countries, running any kind of business requires several licenses, some of which might be simple tax registrations or trade licenses. Failure to comply with licensing norms leads to fines, costly legal suits and even business shutdown.

Ngozi Opara: Breaking through the $500B black hair market

Ngozi Opara started Heat Free Hair to provide women with high quality protective styling options that wouldn’t damage their natural hair. The Washington D.C. based company, launched in 2012, specializes in 100% virgin hair extensions designed to perfectly match one’s natural hair texture and curl pattern.

Heat Free Hair was a pioneer in the natural hair extensions market and quickly carved out a niche in the $500b black hair market. She Leads Africa quickly caught up with Ngozi to learn more about the entrepreneur who didn’t just create a brand, but a movement.
Heat Free Hair Product Photos

Who is Ngozi Opara? 

I graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with a degree in Finance and Accounting. Keeping with my field of study, I worked as a financial analyst once I graduated although I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. So I opened up a small hair studio in DC to tend to clients after work each day.

Ngozi Opara

Prior to opening up my own business, I worked for eight different entrepreneurs to gain experience in business ownership and management. My interest and passion for the world of natural hair sparked from being natural myself, as well as working as a manager for natural hair care industry lead, Carol’s Daughter.

What inspired you to start Heat Free Hair?

I owned a hair studio in Washington, DC. For a while back in 2011, 90% of my customers were using extensions to protect and grow out their hair. A majority of them also wanted to transition to free their hair of chemical processing and wanted to be natural.

When I noticed that during their transition with extensions they were reaching tremendous success in hair growth, but inherently experiencing breakage from heat on the portion of their hair left out, I felt like I was becoming an agent in one of the many issues surrounding black hair care, breakage.

started thinking that there had to be some type of way for women to wear extensions as their protective style of choice, while also protecting all of their hair. Thus, the initial idea for Heat Free Hair was born.

Once you decided that you are going to embark on the entrepreneurial journey, what steps did you take?

I started to really save up for the launch of my business and budget my living expenses. I did this by keeping my personal expenses at a minimum while I was trying to reach my goal.

To get in the right mindset and gain motivation, I started to read a lot of success books and attend different conferences in order to learn, as well as to network with like-minded people. I used my savings from my finance job to launch the business & lived completely off of the money I earned doing hair.

How do you prioritize what to spend the money raised on?

At first I needed people to believe in something they hadn’t seen so I invested in good images of the product and a website. I didn’t have enough to fully stock the product so I initially offered it for preorder and eventually kept investing back into the business’ inventory.”
Heat Free Hair - Natural Hair Extension Models

What are the marketing tools/strategies that you use to promote your business?

Word of mouth is the greatest marketing tool. Organic marketing has worked really well for us as well as influencer marketing and social media.

What is the one thing you know now that you wish you knew when Heat Free Hair launched?

There really isn’t anything I would go back and tell myself. I really do believe I was where I needed to be in life when I needed to be there. I learned the right lessons at the right time and because of that, I can stand comfortably and happily where I am today.

Obstacles along the road I traveled served as building blocks and I’m truly thankful for my journey and the development of my business.