Last year, a young African female entrepreneur named Joycee Awojoodu launched a luxury botanically-based product line and spa clinic in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub. The brand, ORÍKÌ, which caters to both men and women, utilizes a plethora of raw materials and natural ingredients to create a leading luxury brand.
Awojoodu, who was born and raised in Washington D.C. USA, nurtured a vision to create a proudly African brand with international standards that can compete on a global level. Not minding the cost of managing a business in one of the world’s developing continents, she says she is driven by the passion for empowering farmers and utilizing agriculture to change the African narrative in regards to building a global brand that is set to put Africa on the map.
But her venture to return to Africa did not happen overnight. After finishing her degrees in economics and business management, she moved to New York to work in the power sector. At the age of 25, she visited Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, for the first time and instantly had an epiphany that it was her destiny to relocate and set up base in Nigeria, with the intention of working in areas that she is very passionate about – development, power and entrepreneurship. Four months after her first visit, she packed up and moved to Nigeria.
Prior to launching ORÍKÌ in Nigeria, Awojoodu worked in the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development’s (DFID) infrastructure assistance programme in Nigeria, the Nigerian Infrastructure Advisory Facility (NIAF), as the Technical Assistant on Research, Analysis and Informatics (Performance Monitoring) to the Minister of Power for 2 years. In this role, she worked on the ongoing reform, privatisation and future policy strategy for Nigeria’s power sector. She began her career in power at Constellation Energy, a Fortune 100 company in the United States and was also one of the African entrepreneurs selected for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program in 2014.
As a serial entrepreneur, Joycee is building a reputation for successfully running companies in Nigeria. She also manages PowerCareers, which provides recruitment & training solutions for the energy sector. ORÍKÌ, her more recent business enterprise, is a luxury personal grooming brand that fuses all-natural ingredients primarily sourced from the continent of Africa with scientific research to create extraordinary personal care products.
In this interview with Jennifer Ehidiamen, the young female CEO sheds light on her career, entrepreneurial journey and hopes since launching the ORÍKÌ brand.
On the events that have occurred since launching ORÍKÌ
Awojoodu: ORÍKÌ has generated a lot of interest in the area of brand awareness. The construction of the ORÍKÌ Spa, Halo Hair Clinic by ORÍKÌ and the Men’s Grooming parlour has culminated in a launch date set for this month.
On the challenge of managing a start-up
Awojoodu: Some of the key challenges faced while starting up the business was dealing with contractors and ensuring that I am one step ahead of them because they tend to try and outsmart you. I had to do a lot of research and market runs myself to ensure that I wasn’t being cheated. Another key challenge was in the area of staffing. I call the back office the engine room because their job is to ensure that the business runs smoothly and that their various departments are excelling. It was difficult to find exactly what I was looking for as far as experience and character but word of mouth was critical and I now have a great team.
Now that operations have commenced, one of the biggest challenges is brand awareness. Being that I am building a proudly African brand that I have a global plan for, it takes a lot of work to penetrate the market and get people in the know.
The benefit of mentorship programs like Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program [TEEP] and the Diamond Initiative for women
Awojoodu: The TEEP experience was phenomenal for me in the area of mentorship. Each TEEPer was assigned a mentor and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. Mr. Ehi Braimah owns a Media & PR company so his advice was invaluable in an area of need for ORÍKÌ. TEEP connected us and now the mentorship has continued and I know I always have an ear to share my thoughts about the business with and a person who also can offer advice in the area of Media & PR.
The Diamond Initiative for women is a program that seeks to empower women in business. I find their events to be fantastic for networking with inspiring, ambitious women and learning further about specific topics that can impact the business. The last event I attended had a guest speaker who covered “The importance and impact of Social Media.” Additionally, I am a big fan of WIMBIZ for their drive to connect women through their networking events and lunch roundtables. Last year, I was selected as a member of the Africa Leadership network. 200 new members are selected each year by nomination and approvals to join a community of most dynamic and influential leaders working to create change in Africa. And as a global shaper, the youngest sub-group of the World Economic Forum, I have also been privileged to attend many seminars, forums and events that have impacted my business positively.
Is the Nigerian economy still exciting for entrepreneurs?
Awojoodu: It is a new season in Nigeria and in my experience new seasons often translate to new opportunities. While some recent CBN policies have made business more challenging, especially for a new business, I look forward to experiencing the positive impact that is expected. I look forward to experiencing what the new leadership has in store for Nigeria and I am hopeful that they will diversify their focus and place more effort/create enabling policies in sectors such as agriculture and technology.
On the African economy and its entrepreneurship landscape
Awojoodu: I see an increase in ambitious, devoted and motivated African entrepreneurs daily and it excites me. Might I also add that the number of young African entrepreneurs is inspiring! To me, this can only be a good thing as we continue to pour into the continent and change the stories and perceptions that other parts of the world have. Entrepreneurs are not waiting any longer for someone to dish them riches on a platter of gold, they are ready to work for it and I am confident that the hardwork will pay off and posterity will thank us for our belief in Africa and our commitment to building businesses in Africa.
What bothers you about the two issues above?
Awojoodu: I have been a bit worried about our currency and the exchange rate as well as the federalist system. I believe that states need to take more action and build economies, like the Lagos example. We have to stop relying on the center for everything as every state is blessed with something that can be monetized.
When it comes to entrepreneurs in Africa – policies, policies, policies. I wonder how committed the government is to enabling entrepreneurs in the area of finance, land, tax breaks, etc. Entrepreneurs are part of the answer in ensuring that the countries in Africa soar and are successful with thriving economies but I do not see the translation overall when it comes to government’s emphasis.
What more should we expect from ORÍKÌ brand?
Awojoodu: You can expect a global presence. ORÍKÌ seeks to put Nigeria on the map in the global personal grooming space. In time, we expect ORÍKÌ stores around the world, kiosks, in international airports, products in luxury boutique hotels and a thriving e-commerce website that delivers our proudly African, botanically-based products to your doorstep no matter where you are. The ORÍKÌ Spa, Halo Hair Clinic, which focuses on utilizing natural ingredients to nourish and stimulate hair as well as the Men’s Grooming Parlour is open at the ORÍKÌ Headquarters in [Victoria Island] Lagos.
About the author:
Jennifer Ehidiamen is a Nigerian Journalist currently studying Business and Economics at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism New York. Connect with her on Twitter: @disgeneration or via www.ruralreporters.com.