Louisa Kinoshi: Be OK with failure, that’s how you learn

Louisa Kinoshi - Beauty Rev NG she leads africa

Louisa Kinoshi created BeautyRevNg to celebrate the diverse beauty of African women. The Nigeria-based company, which officially launched in April 2014, aims to revolutionize the beauty shopping experience in Africa.

It seeks to put brands that cater to the needs of African women in its clients’ hands at the click of a button. BeautyRevNg also provides an online space for African beauty enthusiasts to gather and learn from each other.

“It is more than just selling makeup,” said Louisa, who is also a fashion and beauty blogger, and has written for various online publications. Before relocating to Nigeria to work on BeautyRevNG full-time, she worked for Clean Line Energy in Houston.

Prior to that, she worked in corporate public relations and marketing for seven years. Her clients included Starbucks, Pepsico and Pfizer, among others. I caught up with her to talk about her entrepreneurial journey so far.

Light-bulb moment

Louisa Kinoshi - Beauty Rev NGThe idea to start a beauty business came about when Louisa was at Carnegie Mellon University. As a student, she often travelled to Nigeria for holidays. During one of her trips, she lost her makeup bag. “It was a surprise that there was nowhere I could go to replace its contents at an affordable price,” she said.

The few places that she did find sold the makeup that she wanted at exorbitant prices. She realized then that there was a need in the market for reasonably priced beauty products that compliment African women’s skin. “I also heard from family, friends and blog followers that this was something African women want to see,” she added.

As a blogger, Louisa spend time figuring out what was missing in Africa’s beauty and fashion industry. She talked to people on the ground who shared their beauty wants and needs with her. She also cultivated relationships with beauty influencers, who included celebrity makeup artists and bloggers, in Nigeria.

It is through this research that she was able to find out the type of products that her company would initially feature. The relationships she had built came in handy when the business started. It was easy to get people to join the beauty revolution because they had heard about it from these influencers.

Louisa Kinoshi - Beauty Rev NGLouisa wanted to start small. This approach would give her leeway to make mistakes as she worked out the kinks of her business and tested to see if it was something that people really wanted. Armed with personal savings and a little bit of investment from family and friends, she embarked on turning the idea into reality.

The first order of business was getting inventory. “We live in a society where there is scarcity of product so whoever has the most inventory is queen,”she said. “If you don’t have anything to sell then that’s a problem.”

She then had to develop a website for the company. “I didn’t have to spend too much money on this,” she said. “I have web and graphic design experience so I did a lot of the web development myself.” Louisa had also fostered relationships with photographers and designers who agreed to work with her at a reduced cost.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkcxGuIim9k

Growing the brand

Louisa and her team, which consists of herself, a creative director and logistics manager, identify beauty companies to partner with through research and crowdsourcing. They first find out the brands that African women like, want and respect. “Respect is a really big factor,” Louisa said. “Then we ask, ‘Do these brands have products that cater to us?’”

They then reach out to the brands to find out if they are willing to work with BeautyRevNG and have a foot in Africa. Louisa also travels to Los Angeles and attends trade shows where she can meet with the brand representatives in person. She lets them know about her company and her mission and vision. “Once we have an agreement with them, we bring the brands to our site and market them to our customers,” she said.

Fostering these business partnerships has not been without its challenges. Some of the brands that customers desire don’t understand the opportunity in Africa yet. Others aren’t quite ready to have a presence in the continent. As such, they are not willing to form a wholesale relationship with BeautyRevNG.

“There are also some popular indie brands that are owned by small businesses, but they are struggling to provide inventory for America so they can’t quite expand,” Louisa said. “It’s not their priority.” This doesn’t deter her because the beauty industry has so many options. “If one brand says no, it definitely doesn’t kill your business,” she said.“There are also new players coming in.” “If one doesn’t work there is always the next one,” she added.

The company has also dealt with logistics challenges. Initially, it was tough to get the product from the website to the customers hands. “It would take almost three days in the same city,” said Louisa. She worked closely with her delivery partners in order to tackle this. “Now we are at a point where it takes 24 hours for most deliveries within the city.” Her goal is to cut down the product delivery time to 3 to 4 hours. “That would be the sweet spot,” she said.

Louisa Kinoshi - Beauty Rev NG

Powering the beauty revolution

The startup sets itself apart from its competition by actively engaging with its clients. “From day one we have focused on building a community,” said Louisa. “So our brand voice has always been very inclusive.” Customers participate in the company’s story. They share pictures of products they have purchased from the store as well as beauty finds they are interested in.

Through this online community, clients can also access tutorials and get beauty advice. “We are their friends,” said Louisa. “We are who they go to when they want to have conversations about beauty.” “Even if you aren’t purchasing at the time, we still want to engage you.” she added.

This online community keeps Louisa going in the face of challenges. “People are always encouraging me with their words and pictures,” she said. Her family and friends also constantly cheer her on. As a part of Tiffany Amber’s Women of Vision Mentorship Programme, she has been able to connect with other female entrepreneurs. This community of women business owners has been her sounding board and source of strength.

Louisa is excited and energized by the reception that BeautyRevNG has received so far. She is working on launching the first beauty shopping app for African women which will not only enable them to buy products, but also read their reviews and engage with beauty experts. She wants to build a beauty experience center.

Should she win the 2015 SLA Pitch Competition, Louisa plans to use the funds she gets to accomplish these two goals. “We are going to get there eventually, but winning will fast-track the process,” she said.

Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is: “Be OK with failure, that’s how you learn. Mistakes are lesson plans for the next phase.”

Abai Schulze: Your initial purpose has to be strong

Abai Shulze - ZAAF Collection

Abai Schulze moved to to Addis Ababa in 2013 to start ZAAF – a company that specializes in handcrafted luxury leather handbags and accessories produced by Ethiopian artisans. The Ethiopian-American entrepreneur has been able to combine her background in economic development and love for fine arts and creativity into a successful brand. Through ZAAF, she seeks to create unique products, open up avenues of opportunity for talented local artisans, and promote brand Ethiopia.

Schulze graduated from George Washington University where she majored in Economics and minored in Fine Arts. At the core of her entrepreneurial journey, which she terms as an exciting adventure, is to be able to impact people on an individual level. She spoke to me about how she has been able to grow and market her brand.

Taking advantage of learning opportunities

Schulze, who was born in Ethiopia and adopted by an American family at age 11, remained connected to her culture. She travelled to Ethiopia during her summer breaks to do volunteer work. It was during one of these trips that she interned with USAID where she worked with artisans and designers, and helped them to create websites to market their products internationally.

This enabled her to see how businesses work in Ethiopia. Frequently visiting the country also gave her the opportunity to witness its economic transformation firsthand and ignited the desire to return in her.

Her senior thesis analyzed Ethiopia’s potential for exporting textile. “I wanted to go into that field but it didn’t make sense because the initial capital is huge and you have to have actual hands on experience,” Schulze said.

She later found out that Ethiopia has the finest leather in the world which it exports to European countries to be used as raw material by famous brands.

“I wanted to tap into that,” she said. “Why not make it at home, by our own people, add value to it, export it, and market and rebrand Ethiopia?” “That was my initial take on it,” she added.

245f7c_84bce64e62b54c219c0d9393cc7e3b33Schulze’s plan was to get some work experience in the US and go to business school before starting her own company. After graduation she interned at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and later worked at Ashoka. It was while there that she met many entrepreneurs who inspired her to start her own company.

“I changed the timeline and decided to jump in,” she said. “I told myself, ‘If it fails, I am still young, I can start over.’” She then made the physical move to Ethiopia. “You can’t do this type of business from a distance,” she said. “I had to leave everything behind and focus on ZAAF.”

Branding and marketing ZAAF

In trying to figure out how to brand and market ZAAF, Schulze kept in mind the different connotations that come with products made in Africa. “A lot of it has that NGO feeling,” she said. “The language used is often, ‘It is made by poor people. Buy it otherwise they won’t have a job.”

She wanted to reject this guilt-driven purchase angle. “I wanted to show that we are talented, we just need to invest in our own people and we can produce something beautiful,” said Schulze. “You are buying the product because you like the product, not because you are feeling guilty.”

“Otherwise you are not going to have loyal customers who come back,” she added. “If they feel like they have done their good deed of the day, then they will move on to the next company.”

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Schulze and her team were careful and deliberate about the language that they used in branding the company. Its products are made by talented Ethiopian artisans who went to school to sharpen their craft.

“They are not people who you just tell to piece two items together,” she said. Working with skilled artisans also ensures that the products are high quality. “We are trying to compete with international brands,” she said. “We want people to buy based on that.” The language they use to talk about the brand reflects all this.

“Our products stand out,” said Schulze. “When we produce them, we really want our customers to feel a sense of where the products are made.” ZAAF integrates ageless geometric patterns created on traditional looms with leather.

“Talented weavers meticulously count knots to produce patterns of fantastic combination of color and style,” she said. The unique aspects of the handbags and accessories has attracted media attention. “That organic attraction has helped us grow,” she added.

Abai Schulze - ZAAF CollectionCustomer engagement is critical to the brand. They engage with customers primarily through social media. They are committed to providing excellent customer service. “If a customer is not happy with a product then we will redo it,” Schulze said. They also work to ensure that products are delivered in a timely fashion.

Another way that Schulze keeps her customers happy is by investing in her team. She creates incentives for them based on their desires and needs. “That way they are loyal and create high quality products,” she said. “When you have a high turnover of employees, you can’t be consistent and your customers won’t be happy.”

Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:

Your initial purpose has to be strong. You have to be passionate about what you are creating because you will face a lot of challenges over time. This passion will help you find a way to solve them. Surround yourself with people who challenge you because sometimes you will be in your own bubble and you won’t know how far you are going.

The smart entrepreneur’s guide to cutting startup costs

The Smart Entrepreneurs Guide To Cutting Costs

Just when you thought entrepreneurship was a walk in the park. Fantastic idea? Check. Grit? Double check. Money? Not so much. Let’s face it, getting a startup off the ground requires money and costs can quickly pile up.

Often times entrepreneurs who are starting out have to operate on a tight budget until they get major funding. Raising money from investors is not an easy task either and it does take time. So how you do you make your dreams a reality with limited finances?

Be realistic

You may have envisioned working out of a glass-walled office on the topmost floor of the tallest building in your city. The reality however, is that you can only afford a co-working space or the vacant room in your parents’ house.

If you are running an online business you don’t immediately need an office space. Avoid the nice-to-haves at all costs and focus on the most important things for your startup.   

Hire freelancers

There are thousands of Nigerian youth willing to offer the services you need at a fraction of the cost you’ll incur hiring full-time staff members. They are flexible with their time and can be hired on an as-needed basis.

They have specific sets of skills and are used to working independently so you don’t have to invest in training them. Use that to your advantage.

Learn something new

In order to thrive, you need to know something about everything. So before you get to the “Hire people who are smarter than you are” phase, learn some basic accounting, be your own salesman, and run your errands.  

One of the benefits of this is that you are eventually able to wear more than one hat with ease. Trust us, it works.

Advertise through word of mouth

Word of mouth has for a long time been the strongest form of marketing for startups. You need your money to provide the best product or service not to make the most noise. Got a few happy customers? Great!

Ask for an in-person referral or a social media shout out. Leverage your network to get the word out to potential customers.  Get as much free marketing as possible – that way you’ll know when and what to spend on advertising.

Keep track of everything

Always remember the books. Keep in mind that you are running on a lean budget and those little expenses easily add up. Document how much you spend on a daily basis regardless of how irrelevant it seems.

Make it a habit to keep records. This will go a long way in both saving you money and supporting your pitch to potential investors.

 

Sharon Mundia: I want a fantastic, mindblowing life

Sharon Mundia - This Is Ess

Sharon Mundia started blogging regularly three years ago, right after graduating from Monash University in South Africa with a degree in Marketing and Management. She had always had a passion for literature, even receiving a high school literary award, but practicality won out when it came to choosing an academic major.

Luckily for her, the background in marketing came in handy when she started to think of her blog, This is Ess, – which started as an online avenue for sharing little pieces of her life – as a platform on which to build her brand.

As her community of readers grew, companies sought her out to advertise their products. Initially, she would feature the free products she received from them without asking for anything in return. Blogging, however, took up time and energy.

She realized she would burnout if she couldn’t make it profitable. Her parents, who were concerned about her, gave her a time frame to figure it out. The resulting sense of urgency compelled Sharon to rethink her approach to her blog and to start viewing it as a business.

Turning the blog into a business

Sharon Mundia - This Is Ess

Sharon had to first stop accepting freebies as payment for featuring products on her blog. “Imagine Company X chose to advertise at a media house– would they tell the media house: ‘Can we give you five pairs of shoes to run this on your platform?’” she said. “They would never, so I started to think of myself as a platform for companies to share their product.”

However, she is aware that a “don’t accept freebies” policy might not work for every blogger. “It depends on where you are,” she said. “If you’re just beginning then you need some flexibility.”

She then came up with a rate card for potential clients. The card clearly spells out the cost of featuring on her blog and social media accounts. As a rule, she gives this rate card to anyone she works with – including pro-bono clients – as a way of communicating the monetary value of her work.

In order to give her site a more clean and professional look, she started working with Victor Peace, a skillful photographer who now takes most of the pictures for This is Ess. For special projects, she also partners with Corrine Munyumoo, a hairstylist, and Muthoni Njoba, a makeup artist, who both ensure that she is camera-ready.

For the most part though, This is Ess is a one woman show. Each post that successfully goes up requires a multistep process that Sharon runs on her own. First, she drafts proposals and budgets to send out to potential clients. Since This is Ess is a lifestyle and fashion blog, she approaches companies that are in those industries and that are a good fit.

Once she has received a yes from a client, it is then up to Sharon to communicate with them, organize meetings, and send invoices and post-shoot receipts. Sometimes companies approach her to work with them. She then has to assess whether the products that they are offering align with her brand.

As the creative director for the photo shoots, Sharon scouts for locations, picks themes and directs Victor Peace on the specific details she wishes to capture. After Victor has edited the pictures and selected the final ones, Sharon then adds the necessary captions or graphics, writes a piece to go with the photos and finally uploads them to This is Ess.

The entire process can take up to several days and a lot of emailing back and forth, yet the final product can be consumed by readers in less than a minute “Sometimes people think you just show up and take a picture,” she said. “But you don’t know how much time – how many emails, proposals, time for the shoot – went into making that product.”

Investing in the blog has also presented Sharon with several other opportunities. It has opened the door to endorsement deals, for example. Sharon is currently a brand ambassador for Store 66 – a Kenyan clothing store, and for the Samsung A Series.

Last year, her blogging caught the eye of Capital FM, a leading Nairobi-based radio station that was getting into online content creation. She now shoots videos and writes articles for the station.

To prioritize, Sharon divides her day into neat chunks for each activity. During her most productive morning hours she is working on content for Capital FM. Afternoons are saved for emails, planning photo shoots and attending meetings.

In the evening, she might have an interview or take photos for her blog. She doesn’t party, after discovering early on that partying on Friday night meant that she’d be recovering on Saturday morning instead of taking pictures for her blog. That is one of the sacrifices that she has to make as a mediapreneur in order to achieve her goals.

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.”

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.