In the words of Carlos Castaneda -“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”
“To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart. “– Sr. Thomas Watson
Today’s Inspiration Africa interview features yet another phenomenal business woman in the person of Saudat Salami, whose determination and doggedness has seen her become a success while charting unchartered territories with her business. 10 years on, Saudat Salami shares her thoughts on her business journey, women empowerment and everything that makes her an exceptional businessperson.
Saudat Salami is the CEO and Founder of Easyshop Easycook Limited.
Outside of the press write-ups, business journals and articles about Saudat Salami, can you share a little with Whoot Africa; who is Saudat Salami, the individual, the businessperson and the CEO of EasyShop Easycook Ltd?
Saudat is a Muslim by birth and choice. I understand faith, higher power and I strongly believe in the God factor in all aspects of my life. I want to believe that I treat people how they present themselves to me and not by color, religion, race, tribe or gender. I am married to a very supportive husband, Mr. Abiodun Salami, mother to two beautiful girls and surrounded by a strong network of friends and family. As a business owner, I’m a solution provider.
You have such an inspiring visionary business journey of determination, doggedness and charting a business course that many probably didn’t think would lead this far, what inspires a woman like Saudat Salami? What inspires and drives you as a person, and today as an inspiration in the business world?
I am a dreamer. As far as I can remember this has been my guiding principle “To accomplish great things, we must not only act but also dream, not only plan but also believe” Anatole France“. Everything inspires me actually; if you know any of my friends they will tell you I always see a positive side to almost everything. My driving force is about supporting people and being part of the solution. I believe there is always a solution if we look at things from various angles. When I get distracted, tired, broke and I think about my vision I get back up and keep going. The journey can be altered but never the destination.
Easyshop Easycook recently celebrated a decade in business, can you describe your journey so far, and what business mistakes/lessons did you make in the first couple of years that you sincerely wish someone had told you about and that you today wish to share in hopes that others who are setting out don’t make the same?
Easyshop idea came in 2001. It came about to be the service that makes it easy for working women to pursue their careers and manage their homes; which is the basis for the work/life balance people keep talking about. The domestic demands of a woman in our society are very high. Although I believe the mother does a better job at raising her children and taking care of her home, I also know that not every woman is ready to give up her career to do that and they don’t have to because a lot can be achieved side by side. They must not be victimized for making that decision. In 2005 when the business was registered and we started business, we spent a long time convincing women to trust us with their shopping. We were the first to do this on this level and using the e-commerce medium so I had to rely on similar businesses abroad to guide me. We made a lot of mistakes but luckily we were bootstrapping so our mistakes did not cost us a lot but gave us valuable lessons. In hind sight I’m actually happy I was not able to raise a lot of money at the beginning. This was a business no one had done before, we were experimenting every day. If we had a lot of money it would have been disastrous. Another key lesson is keeping your books. My husband is an accountant, he had his reservations like a lot of people about this business at inception so keeping my accounts daily gave him assurance I was serious about this business. When I was looking for business mentors, my books also spoke for me. We were not doing much but my books were intact. They figured if I can keep my books up to date with my little funding then I was ready to run a business. Very importantly, I am my own biggest cheer leader. It is my vision, my dream and I do not tolerate any cynicism about it. People tend to douse your drive when you are on to something not because they hate you, but because they have given up on their own dreams or they can’t identify their purpose. We need to be able to identify such people and stay away from them.
You have built a brand, and a continuous rising client/customer base, if one was to ask you today; why should one use the services of EasyShop Easycook especially with most Nigerians still believing that the women in the markets usually offer the cheapest options? (They think brand and they think added prices and taxes)
Customers who use our service do so because our service helps them manage their time and home better, and not because they are looking for cheap products. That’s not to say our products are not fairly priced. We understand the challenges of the Nigerian working woman, the cultural demands and work demands. This underlining knowledge guides the way we serve our customers and that is why our customers trust and use our service. We refer to our customers as Super Women because these are the women you see everyday juggling work, home, travel, vacation, faith etc. Women multitask a lot but they also need help to keep it together. If women delegate more, more can be achieved in 24hours. Our men rely on our multitasking abilities that is why a married man with children can go about his business and life like a bachelor just because he knows his wife has it all sorted out.
Over the past few years, there has been a rapid rise in the online errand and delivery space. Do you consider this an encouragement to your business and how do you differentiate yourself from growing competition?
It is a huge encouragement and validation of what I envisioned years ago. When we started years ago we had to convince people about it, a lot of people laughed in my face. Almost every day a new online business opens ups and this goes to show that if you believe in yourself and keep at what you believe in, everything will work out in the end. Differentiating from competition is the why behind what we do. We are aware that being first to market does not mean you are the best but we are constantly tweaking our business to better serve our customers and they know that. Besides, the industry is still in its infancy and the market is huge so for all the players that are serious minded; the only way is up.
They say doing business in Nigeria is not for the fainthearted, especially as a past scholar of the Goldman Sachs Women Enterprise and Leadership Programme, what are those things you think make the average Nigerian business person a unique breed compared to their counterparts around the world?
I can only tell you about myself and what makes me unique. I am a positive and solution oriented dreamer. The challenges and lack of infrastructure that frustrates the average Nigerian business owner, to me is an opportunity to make money. With every problem lies a solution, If you can commercialize that solution and start a business, all the better. Nigeria is tough but it is also filled with possibilities. Public amenities can be better, policies can be better, interest rates can be better, government agencies can be better managed but guess what, they are not. These “not so good institutions” are run by Nigerians that mostly want to profit from chaos at the expense of the masses. We have to either help in fixing the problem or run our business in spite of them. The people that have made it in Nigeria legitimately did so in spite of the challenges and a lot of them are not from privileged backgrounds. People dwell so much on the bad side of Nigeria and this keeps them depressed. I try not to do that, at least not often.
A lot of CEO’s and business owners seem to tell the juicy stories of starting up, but one can visibly see the challenges of financing businesses in this part of the world? Without sugarcoating it, how were you able to finance your business as well as the financial continuity aspect of it?
I started my business from personal funds and gift from family. I found a way to start with what I had about N25, 000.00. My mum gave me her car during the week days to use for shopping and delivery, and my husband gave me a space at home to use as an office. Friends chipped in whenever I needed working capital and I paid back as soon as I could. I just found a way to start with what I had like Pastor Sam Adeyemi said. Having kept my books up to date, I later brought in investors/directors to keep us afloat. Presently, we are trying to raise new funds for the next phase of our business and this has been difficult because of the amount of money we need. It is always difficult raising funds whether equity/loan, at least for those of us that do not have rich parents/guardians.
The Agricultural sector has grown commendably and is currently attracting more young people, what are some of those things you believe can be done to ensure that Nigeria enjoys Food security, if you also had the chance to address the government with regards to your daily experience with farmers and those in the food sourcing line; what needs to change for businesses like yours to thrive even more?
We need to enforce food safety standards in the whole value chain from farm to table. I can’t emphasize this enough. The lack of these standards caused some of our export produce to be banned in Europe recently, and it is also the cause of over 50% of farm produce going to waste. A lot of farmers do not utilize all their land for farming because they cannot move all their produce from the farm. The roads from farm to market are bad; the trucks moving the produce are not fitted for this purpose so a lot of the produce is spoilt before they get to the market. What we hear is how the government is giving farmers fertilize. The fertilizer use is not regulated and there is hardly any traceability in the system and farmers do not have proper irrigation systems in place. Most don’t have access to agronomist or pack houses. We need new technology in the farms so that we can increase our yield per hectare, we also need more people at the post harvest side of farming. Food is expensive in Nigeria because of the high percentage of waste in the system, lack of storage facilities, inaccessible roads and dearth of infrastructure in the whole value chain. I believe the youth should concentrate on the post harvest side and leave farming itself for now because if we don’t solve the post harvest problems no one will make money from agriculture.
What are your thoughts on women empowerment and how do you plan to inspire the next generation of young business women to be achievers like you and even better?
I did not grow up discriminated against based on gender. I might have missed some chances because of it but I refused to interpret the event as gender discrimination. Having said that, I know a lot of women have gone through this and are still going through discrimination. My advice to women is for them to dig deep and see themselves for who God made them to be. You can’t birth a child and then allow yourself to be victimized by that child. Mistakes have been made in the past and we have allowed men to feel they can make decisions for us and tell us we can’t aspire to be whoever we want to be but that is past. It is time to raise our boys the way we want the men to treat us. In my opinion, women and men are not the same and are definitely not equal. What we should fight for is justice and fairness. Our wants and needs are very different and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, if a woman wants to be a pilot or an engineer, she should be, if she decides on being a nurse or a hair dresser that is also ok. There is a reason why most baby girls gravitate to dolls and baby boys gravitate to balls. Let us celebrate who we are and not let people make us feel guilty about our identity. Women and men should take their power into their own hands. It might be difficult in many societies to do because of culture etc but we are not trees, so once you are able to move, do so quickly and be who you want to be.
Pepsi Co’s CEO, Indra K Noogi sent the business world buzzing last year, when she was quoted as saying, “we pretend to have it all, women can’t have it all” – what are your thoughts on the work-life balance from your own experience over the years?
Even men don’t have it all, so that’s okay. At every point, everyone is making a choice to take one thing and forego another. I don’t stress myself too much on it, once I feel frustrated or empty, I find a place to cry very well, wipe my eyes and keep going. The grass is always greener on the other side but if you look very well there is probably no one playing on the beautiful green grass on the other side. Focus on the moment and find joy in it. What does having it all mean anyway? My wants and needs are very different from the next person. Celebrities, royals, religious leaders and seemingly successful people both male and female all have one thing or the other they are not happy with so why stress about having it all. What you should have is gratitude. Once you have gratitude then you can find joy, it doesn’t stop you for wanting more but it makes the journey beautiful and that’s good enough for me.
You have an amazing network of supportive business women, especially in a world where they say women are their own worst enemies – How has your experience being so far having these female networks? Are women really as supportive or do we still have a mighty long way to go?
I am comfortable in my position, so sharing, supporting and celebrating others comes to me easily. All women have their own insecurities and they guard this very well; some to the point of appearing arrogant and snobbish. If you can look past that then you’ll be okay with most women. My best business network is the WIMBIZ network. I joined them when I started my business, young, naïve and desperate. I went there with no expectations or sense of entitlement, just humble, willing to learn and to be mentored. My business has grown because of my relationship with these women and I am so very grateful to them. What guides me in dealing with business women are 1. No one owes me anything, 2. They can only say no. 3. A ‘no’ today can be ‘yes’ tomorrow. People should forget the ‘worst enemies’ mantra. Summon the courage to meet the woman you want assistance from in whatever capacity and be ready to follow up. Know that they also have issues they might be dealing with that does not have to do with you. If it works out fine otherwise look for someone else that can assist you but don’t go around saying all women are enemies because of one or two instances that did not favour you.
Do you think women demand for opportunities rather than go out to show what they are capable of in the business and career world?
I don’t like to generalize so no I don’t think so. A lot of women are doing wonderful things. They have broken doors and shattered “ceilings” to get what they want without waiting for handouts, you can’t also not see that there are some men that hold back opportunities from women just because of their gender.
Can you mention three qualities you think are important for longevity and sustainability of any business?
Believe in yourself, Believe in a higher power (God), Believe in your purpose.
If you had to address a room full of aspiring young business people, what are those things you would like to share with them on making the best of their lives, first as a mother, a businessperson, a successful career woman and an inspiration in the business world?
As a mother I’d say be present in the lives of your children. They grow up so fast that if you do not form that bond in their youth, you will regret it later. – As a business person, find your driving force and don’t let the crowd sway you from it, always remember there is enough to go round so don’t be greedy. Get mentors in various aspects of your life but know that the ultimate decision is yours to make. – As a successful career woman, surround yourself with people of similar goals. Career/money is not everything, your friends and support system brings meaning to whatever you are doing. If you can’t share your joy and pain with loved ones then what is the purpose of life. Finally, share yourself, be it time, knowledge or resource, learn to share for that’s the best way to receive and grow.
30 years from now, what would you like to be remembered for when the name Saudat Salami is mentioned in the business world?
Catch up on previous inspirational interview on Whoot Africa – The CEOs