Chichi Equomah: Your experiences in the corporate world are relevant in your journey as an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship seems to be the new career wave. Do you agree?

More folks are beginning to quit their corporate work to own their dreams, become their own bosses, and above all, do the things they love! This is particularly true of ladies who are brave enough to quit their job for their dream jobs.

Chichi Equomah is one such lady.

Chichi Equomah, now Chichi Yakubu is the CEO of NyoNyo Essentials, a food brand that celebrates Ghanaian food in style! Just google the top eateries to look out for in Ghana and NyoNyo Essentials is definitely one to pop up.

From the humble beginnings of a food catering service, Nyonyo has expanded to a restaurant and the corporate go-to food services firm in the industry within a span of 3 years.

Their client portfolio is already impressive, having catered to clients such as MTN Ghana, Cummins Ghana, National Petroleum Authority, Eische Life, Ghana Water Company, EIB Group of Companies and Cocobod to name a few and with the recent opening of a restaurant, one can only imagine the way to the top.

As an erstwhile HR practitioner at TNS, a multinational market research company, Chichi leveraged on her skills in communication and project management, and her lifelong passion for cooking and creating to develop NyoNyo Essentials. But that can’t be all.

We caught up with Chichi to tell us about the relevance of her former traditional corporate jobs in her day to day running of NyoNyo Essentials. She talked about the lessons she learned and what existing and future SLAyers can pick up from their existing jobs before they make that full time transition into entrepreneurship.


 

The mastermind behind the meals:  How did the story of Chichi and NyoNyo Essentials begin?

The story of NyoNyo began with my mother. My mother is an amazing cook, and she owned a thriving food business. I picked up after her when it came to cooking and I am a foodie too, so naturally I also wanted to venture into the catering industry.

I grew up determined to start a restaurant, but life happened and it became a dream deferred.

In 2014, I felt the inkling to pursue this dream again.  I took some time off social media to lose weight, rebrand myself and strategize for this dream, and a year later, NyoNyo Essentials was born.

How did you know the time was right to leave your job and fully invest yourself in NyoNyo Essentials?

It was a rather gradual process.

I worked full time at TNS at the time, when I started this food business. I spent my spare time catering to NyoNyo, but the business was growing bigger by the day mainly because of our social media marketing and excellent recommendations.

It was becoming challenging to adequately balance the two. So one day after careful consideration, I packed my bag and baggage and decided to fully dedicate myself to NyoNyo Essentials. I have never looked back.

There comes a point in life where you really have to decide what you want to pursue.

It’s a decision you can only hold on for so long, but deep inside you know what your guts want, what you are yearning for and what fuels your passion, and eventually, you will have to choose. And I did.

Looking back, what are the top 3 lessons you have learned from your roles in the traditional corporate world that have proved useful today?

I spent four to five years in typical 8-5 jobs and I feel that’s enough for me to have pursued my dream now.

My time and experience I garnered there are still very relevant and extremely beneficial to what I do today. The first thing I learned was to be accountable to a superior. I strongly believe that everybody has to be accountable to someone; accountability makes you upright and productive.

I have also come to fully appreciate some other attitudes I learned during such time.

Be conscious of your time. It’s a priceless gift - Chichi of @NyoNyogh Click To Tweet

I learned how to be punctual. From reporting to work on time and managing my work schedules, I learned how to be consistent with my time and also manage it efficiently so that I deliver on tasks promptly.

Today, it’s one key trait that drives NyoNyo Essentials and how we operate.

I still work at Nyonyo Essentials as though I am still being monitored by a superior and I encourage my staff to also work in the same vein. If we have a delivery at 2 pm, and you show up even 15 minutes late, your client is not going to be pleased.

Besides, we deal with food so soothing a hungry and an angry client is double the work.

Another big lesson for me is that we are all replaceable, don’t get too comfortable - Chichi of @NyoNyogh Click To Tweet

I am not the only employee at work. If I goof today, I am replaceable. If I make a big blunder, I can be replaced easily. The question that makes the difference is that what am I doing to be excellent and to constantly upgrade myself?

This is same for Nyonyo Essentials. We are not the only one in Ghana’s culinary space- there are others chasing their dreams like just ours. This is why we are always challenged to be better with our food and our customer service.

It also spurs me on to continuously set milestones for Nyonyo and find answers to this burning question at all times. “What can I do to make the NyoNyo brand relevant to our customers always?”

You can only do so much. Learn to delegate - Chichi of @NyoNyogh Click To Tweet

Before entering the corporate workforce, I found it difficult to ask others to assist me with basic tasks. The one thing I learned while working was that there is always a lot on my plate and I couldn’t do it alone no matter how hard I tried to multi-task.

We work in teams, and it is important to utilize the strengths of your team members in getting things done. It is simple: train yourself to delegate when you have to, otherwise, you will be overwhelmed.

As the CEO of Nyonyo Essentials, there’s so much to do. Between overseeing the cooking and delivery of food, the management of staff, meeting new clients, preparing and reviewing our books etc. I also oversee managing our social media presence, building my personal brand and overseeing the restaurant, the duties are numerous, and I have learned that I can’t micromanage everything.

The lessons of the delegation have been very important here. I can leave my staff to handle some aspects of the business and I have a general oversight over everything.

Delegation has made me more productive, I do not burn out easily now.

Here are the other reasons why you should also get a job before starting a business, there are a lot of lessons to learn.


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

Sandra Myambu: Uplifting young people through social entrepreneurship

sandra myambu
Sandra Myambu is working towards giving school-leavers the skills that will make them employable Click To Tweet

Sandra Myambu is currently a Portfolio Programme Analyst at Dimension Data where she is involved in delivery and support of global, strategic projects. She is also the MD for Masana Social Innovations. During her university years, Sandra joined Enactus as Project Manager then Vice President. She also volunteered as a Skills Development Trainer and Project coordinator at an NGO.

When Sandra began working for Dimension Data, she still wanted to continue having an impact to society. By seeing the number of graduates increase in parallel with youth unemployment, the idea for Masana Social Innovations was stimulated. Sandra found out from various research exercises that many graduates lacked skills that deemed them employable, especially in the ICT sector. This is when she started Masana Social Innovations to uplift young people.

Sandra shares with SLA contributor, Anelisa Kasper her challenges and motivators of starting Masana Social Innovations with a full-time job. 


How has your journey/transition from corporate to entrepreneurship been like?

As I’m currently still in corporate and have recently started with Masana, my transition into entrepreneurship hasn’t been hard. Masana’s aim is to use technology innovations to enable the civil society, corporates and state entities to deliver sustainable social solutions to communities. This will be achieved through bridging the skills gap in the ICT industry with a key focus on women, through the facilitation of various skills development programmes.

This doesn’t mean it will be easy for everyone, as experiences vary from one person to the next. I haven’t had to transition as much. The most important thing was to find a balance between my corporate and my entrepreneurship venture. I have always been involved in entrepreneurial activities so juggling my job and my new business is familiar territory. There have been serious adjustments, where Masana and my job are demanding at the same time. What has helped me keep the balance was to be able to effectively manage my time. As I am the MD of Masana, it’s easier to manage my work and assign work to myself that also ensures that my job does not take major strain.

Sandra Myambu found out that many graduates lacked skills that made them employable Click To Tweet

What have been your hardest moments, and how have you overcome them and still overcoming them?

I have big dreams and aspirations for Masana as a social enterprise, and not just as an NGO. Articulating my vision for the organisation has been one of the biggest challenges to date. What I’ve learned from trying to explain that vision is putting it into smaller goals, e.g. this is where Masana is going this year in order for it to get where Masana ultimately needs to be.

Articulating the vision to people will still be a problem in the future because Masana is trying to use innovation to drive real social change. The issue is that people are still not ready to invest in social innovation or community programmes. The hope is that reaching out to more people in smaller scales and trying to explain the vision will help in increasing the buy-in.

One of the major challenges that Masana is still experiencing is getting the right buy-in from the right people. It takes time to establish those relationships and to most importantly, maintain them. Common ground and common interest are key in getting buy-in from investors for your business.

Sandra Myambu: I've always had entrepreneurial activities so balancing is familiar Click To Tweet

What keeps you going in making sure you make Masana Social Innovations an even bigger success?

It’s about knowing how whether small or big the initiatives Masana has, they are valued and they have a real impact on young people and the community. Recently, Masana hosted Africa Code Week in October. During the code week, Masana trained over 600 young people on basic coding skills. In addition, 60% – 70% of the participants were women. The programme had a big impact, and has opened up more women to coding, even if it’s starting at basic coding skills.

The initiatives that Masana holds have had a big impact. Not just to impart people with coding skills which are essential, but also to make people realise that technology is also essential. The success of a business can also be determined by the technology you choose to run your business with.

Uplifting young people is a motivator for continuing with my entrepreneurship venture. My target market has been young people from under-serviced communities and previously disadvantaged areas. Uplifting young women who do not believe they can get the same opportunities that our male counterparts receive. Most importantly, to uplift these young women in believing that they can do well in the world of tech.

According to @_WisaniSandra people aren't ready to invest in social innovation Click To Tweet

Who have been your biggest supporters through your journey? How have they been supportive?

My biggest support system is my family, my friends and a few of my colleagues. I have also received support from mentors in my professional and academic life, and conferences. Those mentors have played various roles in different stages of  my life. My mom and sister have been the most supportive where I’m able to bounce off ideas with them.

What has also helped has also been surrounding myself with friends that are also entrepreneurial and who have similar interests.

Attending the #SheHiveJoburg event this November, in that short period of time, meeting amazing, young black woman who are also visionaries and have aspirations of their own. Those ladies have become key individuals in my networks.

Masana is uplifting young women who don't believe they can get the same opportunities men receive Click To Tweet

What are your plans to ensure that Masana reaches a bigger audience and brings value to more people?

Masana is still at it’s very beginning stages. So far, we’ve successfully implemented the Africa Code Week initiative. A SAP Skills Development programme is in the works. It’s important that we also become more present, especially in the digital space. Growing digitally will, in essence, help in reaching bigger audience.

We’re also targeting learners from matric, so that they know about Masana and get acquainted with our skills initiatives. We’re working towards ensuring that the skills that school-leavers get are not only from university, but we also provide programmes that will make learners employable.

@_WisaniSandra - Ditch the dream & start doing. Start small, start messy, just start Click To Tweet

Any advice for Motherland Moguls?

A quote from Shonda Rhimes from her speech at Dartmouth University; “The most interesting, happy, creative and engaged people are the ones who are doing”. Ditch the dream, and start doing. You don’t have to start when you have all the resources, or the right connections, or in the right space. You just need to start. Start small, start messy but you just need to start. Eventually you’ll get used to the idea that you are working towards something and all the right resources and networks will come.

At Masana, we don’t have all the right resources but the important thing is that we have started and people are showing interest in our initiative.


Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.

How integrity and soft skills keeps Lucy Quist at the tippy top of the corporate ladder

First of all, a big shout out to the SLA team for this empowering conference in Accra. If they are in your country, don’t snooze or you’ll lose out on the keys to success.

Lucy Quist, MD of Airtel Ghana came through the SheHiveAccra and laid down nuggets for making it in corporate Ghana. While she highlighted teamwork, leadership skills and personal values, if I had to pick one word to remember from Lucy Quist’s session, it would be integrity

Integrity

It was eye opening to hear Lucy Quist highlight the ways in which the lack of integrity in Ghana and Africa as a whole is culturally engrained. For her, it is this lack of integrity that holds Ghana back and I must say I agree with her 101 percent. Lack of integrity makes it hard to trust that any task delegated to subordinates or left to the system will be performed efficiently, which is a stark difference from the Western world.

When you do not have integrity or do not hold yourself to a higher standard in developing economies, where people are constantly looking for ways to shortchange the system, it is impossible to reach your fullest potential and be excellent at what you do. This issue of integrity among the masses results in the creation of unnecessary problems that waste time and money.

As African women in leadership, we must hold ourselves to a high standard. We can’t say one thing and behave another way. We must walk the talk and stay true to our values. It is the only way to preserve our integrity. It is when we show that we have integrity that we can inspire others to do the same. We must lead by example.

Role Models

Lucy also honed in on the fact that although women have a place at the table, the challenge facing Ghanaian women is the reluctance to push oneself up the ladder and the absence of female role models at the top to help pull others up.

Because Lucy has had role models since she was 17, she stressed the importance of having people around you who support you and drive you to be the best version of yourself.

Leadership Skills

Another important point Lucy made was that in Africa, compared to the Western world, people openly state that they disagree with women in charge. While this may seem demoralizing, Lucy has shown leadership by sticking to her guns. As a leader, she doesn’t feel the need to justify herself to anyone or prove why she has her position.

In simple words, you are in your position because you are doing something right, so keep going, stick to your instincts and lead your team to success.

Lucy added that being a leader, however, does not mean that one should lose sight of their soft skills aka people skills. As you go further up the corporate ladder, your job slowly diverts into managing and influencing people.

To succeed, you have to be able to create an environment within which people can shine. You have to be able to put yourself in their shoes and be willing to learn consistently. Be a leader that people respect and look up to, and you will lead a successful team.

The A Team

Finally, Lucy advised that you need an excellent team around you. You need the crème de la crème who filter and think things through before they present it to you. This group reduces the burden of micro managing and taking on extra work, their work. 

Lucy used the analogy of the captain of a ship for how she views her role and the support staff around her. As the leader, you must have people around you that do all the work under deck, to allow you the mental space to see ahead and steer the company for success. Say no to mediocrity. But also, give people room to succeed, learn and grow. Allow lessons and growth in the company.

Hats off to Lucy Quist. After her session, I knew I had found myself another role model.