Join us on November 20 in Lagos, Nigeria for the Demo Day of our 2016 SLA Accelerator. Demo Day is a public viewing for investors, corporates senior executives and the press to view our most recent accelerator startups.
The SLA Accelerator is a 3-month program designed to identify, support and fund the next generation of Nigeria’s brightest female entrepreneurs.
The selected businesses are:
Art Splash Studio – A virtual art studio offering a social art experience through our Paint Nite painting classes hosted at different venues in Abuja.
BathKandy Co. – Creates sumptuous dessert-inspired beauty treats for women who crave the finer things.
Bubble Tii – Bringing the Bubble Tea phenomena to Africa.
DeliveryBros – Helps you save time and stress through pickup and drops from the market to your house or office.
Medsaf.com – Solves the medical industry’s procurement problem, by providing a technology enabled distribution solution resulting in transparency and simplicity.
Shuttlers – Enables professionals to access comfortable and efficient transportation to and from work using seat matching technology.
SLA Accelerator is in partnership with the Work in Progress! Alliance and Guaranty Trust Bank
The Work in Progress! Alliance is focused on unlocking the economic potential of young women and men in Egypt, Nigeria and Somalia. The project aims to enable them to generate sustainable and living incomes – by finding regular employment or starting enterprises. Alliance partners include Oxfam, VC4Africa and Butterfly Works
Guaranty Trust Bank is recognized as one of the most profitable and well managed financial institutions in Africa for providing quality service, ethics, professionalism, integrity, innovation and internationally accepted corporate governance standards.
SLA Accelerator is also one of 16 global incubators and accelerators selected as a Village Capital Community
VilCap Communities enables anyone, anywhere to use peer-selected investment to support entrepreneurs within their communities. In 2016, each VilCap Community will be running its own entrepreneur training program and investing in two ventures using Village Capital’s peer selection methodology.
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.
The 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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
I 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.”
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.