When he’s not sharing his love for great coffee and exceptionally tasting healthier sandwiches, he’s strategizing and finding creative ways to expand the Angelos brand and getting more people to experience the food the Angelos way. Edwin Momife is the Co-founder of Angelos; a food service brand that started out as a hobby and has grown phenomenally in the last 7years with the support and partnership of his Co-founder and lovely wife, Ijey Momife.
In this interview with Whoot Africa, the former Mtel boss talks about his life as a former Telecoms Executive, his transition into entrepreneurship, the journey so far and promoting the Angelos Café’s across Lagos.
From the world of Telecommunications to IT and now Coffee, Sandwiches and Bread. How did it happen?
I am not a telecoms person; I am a sales professional in technology. The first job I ever had was with Xerox Corporation as a junior sales person selling networking solutions. I left Xerox after 11 years and went on to sell software. I was selling software to telecom companies and to sell such you must be able to demonstrate an understanding of their strategic and business challenges and show how your technology can help solve problems. Selling software to the biggest telecoms companies in Europe gave me a profound and deep understanding of how telecom companies work. That is how I became a telecoms person, not from an engineering point of view, but from a customer management point of view. Of course, at that level you learn very quickly.
I moved to Nigeria to work as Chief Marketing Officer for Nitel’s mobile arm called MTEL. Exactly a year later, I became the CEO of the company and I managed the company for two years. When it was sold to Transcorp, I moved on to other things, such as helping companies develop sales strategy for consumer products and more. We built sales and distribution networks for many great consumer brands in Nigeria.
My wife, who is a food person and a software engineer by training, started playing with sandwiches, wraps, salads et al. One day, I looked at it and said, I am going to sell this. That was how I became the Chief sales person for Angelos, a business we started with 50,000 Naira in seed in 2010 from our living room in Lagos.
Angelos was the idea of an amazing woman who loved to make sandwiches, tell us a little about your wife and Co-founder?
She is beautiful, a proper lady, thoughtful, organized, detailed, compassionate, firm like a rock and that’s some of the guiding principle that has helped us with the quality and consistency that we have had over the years.
Becoming major players in the food industry?
I called everyone I knew. I said hey, my wife makes and sells the best sandwiches, would you like to taste it? They all decided to buy and that was it, we got a sale.
We went to the Jazz festival in Lagos with sandwiches and wraps but nobody was buying it. An aviation executive, who happened to be the Deputy Managing Director of Dana Group tasted our food and asked if we would be interested in supplying the airline, and that was how we went from selling sandwiches over the phone to supplying one of Nigeria’s major airlines. After successfully landing our first major deal as a growing company, I decided we could do more, I went on LinkedIn, did my research and connected with Aviation Executive, Dikko Nwachukwu, who at the time was trying to set up his airline, and later went on to become the CCO of Aero Contractors. He got us in the door at Aero Contractors and gave us a chance to pitch our business to help change the airline’s menu, we got the deal and became suppliers to two major airlines and supplying over five thousand meals per day for both business and economy classes.
Landing our second deal meant sorting out food for 55 flights per day; some days I was a delivery truck driver, baker, cleaner and just about doing everything and anything that ensured we met our targets and contractual obligations to both airlines. Our contract terms and conditions were so strict, if you missed a flight, your contract was automatically terminated.
Angelos was a different ball game entirely. Everyone in my family pitched in to support, if you lived in my house you automatically become an Angelos staff, it was a joint effort of dedication and passionate work. As things progressed, we got our licenses, premises and safety checks and we started recruiting, and as at my last count we employ 78 people and have supplied over 3.5million meals.
What does it feel like mixing business with family?
I had no choice, there was a job to be done and that meant we had to work out the business issues we have from time to time. We disagreed on investment priorities and in the end, we worked and made it happen for each other. I would rather work with my wife who I have been married to for 26years than a guy I know little about. So, it was a conscious effort that this works for me, we can plan together as we have always done, argue like we do from time to time and make the right compromises to make our relationship work.
Angelos Food has been around for 7years, and the retail outlets have been around for a year. How have things changed?
We don’t differentiate between the time we were selling sandwiches over the phone and the time we were doing it online and now that we eventually have shops. Angelos retail has been around for 7years, however the physical cafes are a new concept, it is just a year and I think we are doing well.
Why the fast pace of opening more outlets?
The aviation business has been unpredictable lately, and we had to have other sources of revenue, which meant scaling up our business in different directions. The experience of setting up 3 shops in one year has been really intriguing. We have a lot of friends who have stepped in to help us in their own way, from location to marketing to word of mouth advertising. A lot of good things have happened.
What was it like and how easy was it adapting from being an enterprise software sales professional to the food business?
My wife was a software engineer before Angelos. She has a master’s in software engineering, a career that requires being methodical, process driven and systematic. We would fill our boards with post it notes and map the process of everything we needed to do. Process mapping helped us apply the basics and break task into smaller bits. From recruiting to training, it was crazy. We worked long hours and sometimes when we got tired we slept in the factory. We were lucky to have excellent people. We had a guy from France who was one of the best pastry chefs in the world. He worked with us for about a year, he helped to develop our pastry menu alongside with my wife, Ijey Momife. We had some of the best hands in setting up our kitchen to international standards. Our daughter, an architect, also helped us with some designs. It was about building an ecosystem with people who shared the same passion to make it work.
How strategic are you with Networking?
I have always made friends easily, so I always had a network to fall back on. I have also been in Nigeria for 12 years. You know people, meet people, pick up the phone to call people. Sometimes they help, sometimes they are too busy to help, but in the end, people are important. Networking is critical.
So far, what are the Highs and Lows of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship isn’t glamourous. Forget it, don’t do it (laughs). Get a job with a good bank, get a big fat salary that gives you that luxury life most people want. If you want a life as an entrepreneur, trust me it isn’t all that it is made out to be. Most founding entrepreneurs never really make lots of money. Macroeconomic factors change; look at the current forex issues, aviation isn’t doing too great right now, most airlines are struggling, real estate is still very expensive and rising, and buying equipment right now is difficult. My first advice would be, to be an entrepreneur means you really must love what you do. If you must do, it must be something you enjoy and it must not feel like work, if you are crazy enough to be an entrepreneur, then be ready to take the pain, the many sleepless nights, and be willing to do everything yourself until you can get people who you can train well enough to be able to work with you.
Are there moments when you feel like giving up?
I feel like giving up every now and again, but I have no choice. The love one has for the mission means you cannot and must not give up. Even on the not so good days the fulfilment is very rewarding.
Motivation and inspiration?
There is something about being Nigerian; Nigerians don’t quit. And off course if you want to be religious, God. (Makes biblical reference to the story of Moses and the rod in his hands) God has given us Angelos and we are going to use it, come hell or high waters we will keep going.
History of entrepreneurship in his family?
My father was a carpenter who became a successful businessman in his day, he was a very skilful and talented maker of things. My mother was also a successful trader and she raised 9 children. My late parents were resourceful and hardworking people and I learnt a lot watching their lives and how they always made the best of every situation and this inspires me till date.
Where do you see this business going?
Angelos, in the immediate term, plans to have a café in every major neighbourhood in Lagos. If you want a good cup of coffee, sandwich or salad, you’d get it in Lagos which is the immediate plan. Later, we will look at expanding to other parts of the country. We have had people reach out to us asking us to come to their states, but you would be shocked at the work and engineering that goes into retaining consistency in the taste and quality of our products. So, for now, we won’t rush it. It is easier for us to execute our business in Lagos and as the business grows we would be able to replicate support centres for it outside Lagos.
Is Angelos considering Franchise?
Don’t outsource what you haven’t mastered. For now, getting it right is more important, and we are still in the process of getting it right
It is believed that your generation had it easier than the millennials? The younger generation feel the older generation haven’t left them with much opportunities. What is your impression of young people you meet today?
First, I need to correct the impression that my generation had it all in terms of opportunities from government et.al. Well, I have never gotten a penny in terms of government opportunities, scholarships or sponsorships. I made a conscious decision early in life that I wanted to go study abroad. I had relatives living abroad and I decided I wanted a fresh perspective. I have two degrees both from the U.S. and by happenstance I ended up working in the UK.
The difference between my generation and the young people today, is the lack of exposure to what I would call top-notch role models. In my generation, we had people like Professor B.V.O Awosika, Kenneth Dike, a Professor of History and first Vice Chancellor at the University of Ibadan. When you look around you, there were people doing things remarkably. They weren’t rich but they were people we grew up wanting to be like, these were people who could stand shoulder to shoulder with their foreign counterparts and made us proud to be Nigerians. We never felt like we were on a back foot or inferior. The problem is, Nigeria has degraded in some areas so much over time that some people have a little bit of “Nigeria isn’t supposed to be positive” mindset. When I was growing up Nigeria was everything, which is a big difference and I feel sorry for them because this is truly the most amazing country on earth, despite all its flaws. Look at where we are right now, we are in the central business district (Apongbon, Lagos) what is supposed to be the bottom end of Lagos, but I tell you, this is the richest part of Africa, and it has an amazing rich history.
What do you think about the Young people you meet?
The young people in Nigeria are still as creative as ever. They are vibrant and energetic. They need guidance no doubt, but I think they will be the greatest generation this nation has ever had since we came together as a nation. Look at what young people have done with music, Nigerian music is being sold everywhere in the world. The tech space is also beginning to set the pace in West Africa. Look at Nollywood and we are still in the process, we haven’t seen the best of Nigerian arts yet. I am not a doom and gloom person as far as Nigeria is concerned. Yes, we do have some serious issues about the future of the Nigerian youth, but we haven’t scratched the surface yet.
Majority of the people in this country are under 35, that means the most productive, most energetic, most creative and most vibrant set of people are in Nigeria and this is one of the reasons we opened Angelos, the Café. We know that one day these people will appreciate great coffee and exceptional food which is what we offer, and we will always be there to serve them.
Would you re-write anything about your journey?
No, absolutely nothing, because if I did, I would have missed some of my greatest moments and economic difficulties. Then I won’t have been resourceful, it all comes with the package. It is a balanced bittersweet encounter. Everything I have ever wanted to do as a professional, I have done already and now, I am chasing a dream that is dear to my heart and something we both are very passionate about. An absolute labour of love.