“When courage, persistence, faith, and action meet, they wipe out the fear that holds us back from achieving our greatest level of success.” Karlene Sinclair-Robinson
“There are a lot of bad reasons to start a company. But there’s only one good, legitimate reason, and I think you know what it is; it’s to change the world” – Phil Libin, Evernote CEO.
In our quest to find young and inspirational African voices, very few can be compared to Affiong Williams. Affiong Williams is an African power woman and CEO of ReelFruit, whose business footprint is slowly changing her world and etching her name on the plaque of women achievers. Recently celebrated by Forbes Africa’s 30 under 30 CEO’s who are making a difference via their business platforms and also enjoys numerous mentions in various business journals.
In this interview with Affiong Williams, Whoot Africa learns about her life and business journey with the Reel Fruit Brand and her remarkable rise in the business world.
Can you share a little with us about Affiong Williams, the individual, businessperson and Reelfruit as a brand you currently represent?
I would describe myself as ambitious, curious, and passionate, especially about my business and the plans I have to grow it. I am somewhat of a fitness enthusiast and I enjoy politics. I hope to run for political office one day.
My company, ReelFruit, produces a range of healthy snacks, but that’s just the beginning. I am building a leading fruit processing company in Nigeria, producing a myriad of fruit products for local consumption and export. I have a long journey to walk, but I am quite excited by the prospects
Can you share with us the Inspiration behind the ReelFruit brand?
My business was borne out of my general interest in Agriculture and value addition. I was excited by the prospect of adding value to agricultural produce as well as branding and marketing. I am also a ‘healthy living’ advocate, so this solved one of my challenges in Nigeria- finding healthy, convenient snacks. I thought there was a gap in the market, and decided to explore it.
What drives you?
I am driven by a number of things, one is an innate desire to succeed. I am also driven by clarity of purpose, and driven to grow a large business that offers employment to hundreds of Nigerians.
Reel Fruit is a pioneer product brand in Nigeria with no predecessors in the same market, how has it been marketing the brand and how are you positioning the brand to compete with new entrants soon to come in the market?
Getting awareness for a brand new category of product is not easy, and traditional forms of marketing are quite expensive. We have been nimble to be able to take advantage of different forums to exhibit our products for free, and conduct in store promotion when we get the opportunity. We have seen a lot of gains from customer referrals and we have extended our product range to give customers more options. We are getting prepared for competition; we will be able to compete on quality, price, and range of products. This is an exciting year in terms of the growth anticipated for our company, so I’m looking forward to sharing more of our progress in the coming months.
As a woman in business, can you share some of the challenges you have encountered that you believe are unique to women and how you overcame them?
To be honest, I have not let any effects/pressures of being a woman deter me. If anything, I think there are advantages as a woman, which can be used to propel your business. I am a big believer in women. I’d hire women over men any day. I think we are very efficient, resourceful and loyal.
From our research, you have managed to start a fast selling brand with little investments, what advice would you give to upcoming business people who are yet to follow their passions and dreams of entrepreneurship as a result of a lack of funding?
Money will always be a challenge, at every stage of business. Money will follow good ideas and progress, so start with what you have and where you are, if your idea has legs you will attract funding for its growth
Reel Fruit has been in the market for less than 4years and has done phenomenally well, what is the secret? Can you share with us without compromising your trade secrets and strategies?
There is no secret. The ‘secret’ is persistence, networking, being open to learn, and being bold about the future.
Looking back on the last couple of years, how would you describe your business journey?
It has been tremendous; tremendously draining, exciting, challenging and rewarding. I have gone through a steep learning curve, and I have grown so much personally. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, irrespective of the outcome
You were featured in Forbes Africa recently, what was that recognition like and how it impacted your business, do you feel pressured with the spotlight, especially at this early stage of your business?
I do worry about “over exposure.” I never want to fall into the trap of being more “hype” than substance. I’d like to think that I am careful about what perception of me and my business is being put out there, and more importantly, I use the opportunity to share my bold vision with others.
In one of your interviews, you talked about being mentored playing a big role in your success, how important is mentoring and is it important for every business owner to be mentored by an already established business owner?
It is extremely important. I think people underestimate how willing other Nigerians are to share their experiences and networks with others -including relative strangers. I have so many stories about how much help I’ve received from people whom I have never met. The most notable being a lady in Benue, who went to check on the price of fruit in the market for me. She didn’t know me from anywhere.
I’d advise every entrepreneur to be proactive in asking questions, and seeking help to solve pertinent business questions. The answers are sometimes more valuable than money.
If you had to sell doing business in Nigeria to a foreigner, how would you describe the business environment?
Where do you envision Reel Fruit in 5-10years and how do you keep your team members motivated in helping push the brand to where it is today?
I expect us to be processing a lot of fruit products, for a mix of customers and really doing some good work to organize the fruit value chain to make it more efficient, and put more money in the hands of farmers.
What more should we expect from the Reel Fruit brand?
More products, more customers, export market and hopefully loads of success
30 years from now, what would you like to be remembered for when the name Affiong Williams is mentioned in the business world?
An “average Joe” who started from scratch, and built something big and worthwhile.
If you missed the previous parts of the 15 Questions with the CEO series, please click here