At just 37, Hamis Kiggundu is one of East Africa’s most revered young entrepreneurs and real estate moguls. Through his company, Ham Group, he owns a property portfolio in the heart of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, that includes landmark shopping centers, office buildings and hotels.
He is currently building Ham Palm Villas – a private gated community that will accommodate 500 luxury homes in a swanky location in the city. He is also constructing a replica of the White House in Kampala, which upon completion will serve as the headquarters for some of the newer businesses he is developing – an agro-processing company and a string of Web and mobile tech startups. But perhaps his most important project at the moment is the reconstruction of the Nakivubo War Memorial Stadium. In 2017, the Ugandan government entered into a joint venture with Ham Group to effect major renovations at the stadium, involving an improvement to grounds, increasing seating from 30,000 to 35,000 and constructing retail shops inside the outside walls of the facility. The project, costing millions of dollars, is funded by Kiggundu’s company.
Kiggundu was born into privilege – and he admits that much.
Two decades ago, his father provided him with capital to start a trading business. But it is to Ham’s credit that he parlayed that small financial gift from his father into a multimillion-dollar conglomerate that directly and indirectly employs more than 5,000 people in the country today.
Hamis Kiggundu recently spoke to Billionaires.Africa’s Editor-In-Chief Mfonobong Nsehe about his journey and his plans.
— Can you tell us about your upbringing in Uganda and how your early years shaped your outlook on business?
— I was born to Mr. Segawa Haruna and Mrs. Nakayiza Jalia on Feb. 10, 1984, and was raised in the small village of Kalungu, Uganda, which is in East Africa. Kalungu village is part of Masaka, which used to be a bigger town, but it’s now a city.
I went to primary school in Masaka and, as a child, I would help my father who was a textile trader in his shop during our school holidays. During the period I was to attend high school, my family relocated to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and from there, I went to Kabojja Secondary School. Later, I attended Makerere University and graduated with a bachelor of laws. By profession, I am a lawyer, but today I’m more of a businessman than a lawyer.
It was during my middle-school holidays in 2005 that my parents gave me some capital to start a business. This gave me the opportunity to test the entrepreneurial waters. I started small, buying garments, furniture, ladies’ bags and other commodities from large importing wholesalers and selling them locally at a profit. As my margins grew, I began to source directly from international markets and became a firsthand importer myself. I imported clothes and commodities from China, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Dubai, and distributed them wholesale both in Uganda and in neighboring countries, like Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Congo and Sudan.
As I accumulated more capital, I upgraded to real estate, mainly buying and selling land and properties at a profit before I incorporated Ham Enterprises (U) Ltd. and progressed to constructing and owning my commercial properties. Yes, I did follow in my father’s footsteps because he is equally a businessman.
— So you started your business journey by trading garments, furniture and ladies‘ bags. Why did you choose to trade in those specific items at the time?
— I chose those specific items because it was those commodities that my parents were dealing in then. Like I said, I started small with reasonable startup capital from my parents – reasonable in the sense that it was not too much for me to simply spend it on my personal needs then as a young man, nor was it too small for me not to start. As my trading business thrived, I opted to venture into a more sophisticated business and real estate was a natural fit for me.
— What was it like building your first commercial property in Kampala, Ham Towers?
— It was exciting. I had some challenges like any other entrepreneur, but as a personal principle, I choose not to reflect on the past challenges. I prefer to focus on the present and the future because challenges and mistakes are only a stepping stone forward as they give me the ability never to make the same mistakes again. So, Ham Towers was the first building in our portfolio and our flagship property. Located just opposite Makerere University, it is an A-class shopping, accommodation and leisure center with offices, restaurants, supermarkets and a serviced apartment.
After Ham Towers, I had mastered the game of commercial real estate. Looking at the mistakes I had made in my first project, I was able to move a bit faster because I knew what to expect when it came to the space of commercial real estate. In 1.5 years, I made progress and managed to erect my next property — Ham Shopping Mall. I had secured the space where I was going to put the property and my garments business was still thriving while additional rental income was coming in from Ham Towers. Because of these, I was able to easily secure financing with the banks because I had reasonable collateral.
— What has your experience been like in regards to raising money from banks and other financial institutions?
— With banks and financiers, it is not about trust or emotions, it is about making business sense. Banks are equally driven by a profit motive just like private companies. If you think your bankers are your friends, then you’re mistaken; those are your business partners. That is why they foreclose immediately as soon as you make a default on your payments. In my opinion, banks are a good source of start-up and expansion capital but never for long-term sustainable progress.
In my view, one can only reasonably benefit from banks if they hold relatively equal or reasonable bargaining positions to negotiate fair interest rates and fair trading terms. However, in Uganda and most African countries, interest rates stand at as high as 25-30 percent. There are very narrow chances of small businesses succeeding and enjoying long-term sustainability with these kinds of rates. With time, I have mastered the art of growing my operational capital internally thus outgrowing the need for exploitative financing from banks for now.
— You are building some ambitious real estate projects like the Ham Palms Villas, where you are building 500 gated luxury homes set on 200 acres; the stadium which you are practically rebuilding, and other projects like the replica of the White House. How are these projects coming along?
— The 500 modern homes under Ham Palm Villas are a means for capital accumulation. The investment we’re making there is gradual and at a controlled pace, yet in the long run, we envisage huge returns on the investment. I can easily sell them gradually once I need financing. The project is like a bank; it secures capital for future investment while providing service to my community or society at the same time.
The White House will house the headquarters for all my companies but will also serve as a tourist attraction. It will equally stand as an illustration of possibilities for my fellow Ugandans and Africans at large. If the Americans have something so grand over there, we too can have it here. Africans should not chase their dreams out there, but rather put in an effort and struggle to implement their desires in Africa. I have always admired the white house as a young man and based on reason, why go to America as a tourist to visit the white house when I hold the means to build a lookalike here at home.
I embarked on the reconstruction of the stadium as corporate social responsibility for community development and equally as an example to other Ugandans and Africans that if I can pull off such a huge project with private funding, so can they. The only way to pull Africa out of poverty to prosperity is for us Africans to accept it as our responsibility and obligation. The stadium project equally makes business sense because it is surrounded by a number of commercial premises such as shops and restaurants which will bring income for us.
— Ham Enterprises also has a property portfolio in the United States and UK. What are some of the flagship properties you own there, and what prompted you to look to the west for your company’s growth?
— I own a commercial property in the UK situated at 375 Moston Ln, Manchester M40 9NB, trading as Ham International UK Ltd. I also own a logistics company trading as Ham International Express Logistics LLC based in Euless, Texas, with a number of trucks throughout the United States. I equally own Hamz Link Ltd, a multimedia platform company based in Edmonton Canada. I invested in the West because business is all about taking risks with courage and determination to move into unfamiliar new economic zones all on a balance of probabilities.
— In your 2018 book, “Success and Failure Based on Reason and Reality,” you argue that Uganda’s educational system is outdated and does not necessarily equip students with the practical tools needed to succeed in life. In your opinion, how can African governments redesign the education system to combat financial illiteracy and prepare students for successful wealth-building, accumulation and stewardship?
— Uganda and other African nations should redesign their educational systems in line with their society’s prevailing realistic circumstances to reflect the challenges of their people, so that graduates have the capacity to forge corresponding solutions to the actual problems in such societies based on reason and reality.
— Your company, Ham Group, is also venturing into large-scale agriculture with the construction of a multimillion-dollar agro-processing facility. Tell us about that business.
— Uganda is an agro-based economy with a very good climate, fertile soils and a young energetic population that survives on imported goods that are always processed from our own agro-produce that we export as raw materials at very low cost compared to the processed imports that we usually buy expensively.
This prompted me to opt for import substitution through setting up agro-processing and value-addition plants as the only way to correct the revenue imbalance given the fact that it is the only realistic way forward towards actual prosperity for our young nation, while at the same time giving Ugandans a chance to become productive and direct participants.
I, therefore, invested in research, and divided Uganda into 10 agro-zones depending on the different agro-products coming from all different parts of Uganda.
I came up with a plan to set up Integrated Agro-Processing Industrial Parks (IAIPs) in each of the 10 agro-zones, with a projected cost of $156 million per industrial park, totaling $1.56 billion for all the 10 IAIPs. However, this kind of funding is currently not available in Uganda.
I, therefore, decided to start with a pilot project of one integrated agro-processing plant in the central region with God’s blessing as a constant factor hoping that the government and other Ugandans will join me along the way for full implementation to cover all the 10 zones in Uganda.
— You recently donated money to the Ugandan government to purchase 150,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to combat COVID-19 in Uganda. What motivates your philanthropy, and what are some of the other charitable projects dearest to your heart?
— Money is only one of the tools of survival. It stands useless if it can’t save people’s lives. After all, no man is an island. I always help where and wherever I can since my individual personal survival is only limited to a very narrow scope of basic needs. I own and fully finance a charity organization operating as Ham Foundation.
Once one is blessed with success it’s only reasonable that they start their struggle towards collective society development rather than individual-centered prosperity because success amidst a poor society only stands as a liability rather than an asset. A poor society can only pull one downwards, never upwards. So, it is best you pull everyone you can for collective welfare based on reality.
— Your group employs more than 7,000 people all in. What are some of your top people management tips for first-time managers?
— Managers must have emotional intelligence and stamina. They must be malleable. Malleable leaders are those who can adapt their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings to the changing environment in which they operate. You must be able to adapt to change. This matches with my philosophy of applying reason in any prevailing circumstances.
— Any words for young entrepreneurs who desire to achieve the level of success that you have?
— I advise them to take social responsibility, connect their vision to their personal values. They must have the ability to anticipate change and most importantly they must be courageous enough to abandon their past. In fact, I highly encourage them to find time and read my books, “Success and Failure based on Reason and Reality,” and, “Reason as the World Masterpiece,” with an open mind.
All developments, past, present, and future, discoveries to come, were, are and will always be a direct reflection of the reasoning capacity of the people of such a given time frame.
Q&A with Nigerian mining entrepreneur Emotan Josephine Aburime-Shine
Her company also invests heavily in training artisanal and small-scale miners in Nigeria.
Nigeria exports more than 35 million metric tonnes of unprocessed solid minerals every year. But most of these mineral exports are carried out by foreign nationals that ship out unprocessed minerals from the country without adding value to the commodities, thereby undermining the country’s mineral sectors.
Emotan Josephine Aburime-Shine, a Nigerian mining entrepreneur, is working hard to fix this. Her company, Piramen Ventures Limited, mines industrial minerals as well as precious and semi-precious gemstones. It processes its own mined gems and even gems that it buys from local dealers. Its gem processing department cuts, polishes, carve and tumble gemstones to add value to them.
Her company is also investing heavily in artisanal and small-scale miners in Nigeria by training them on how to identify materials in their communities, as well as safer and more productive mining practices. Emotan has successfully trained lapidarists on gemstone beneficiation over the last few years, and there is a waiting list of applicants.
She recently spoke to Billionaires.Africa on her journey and Piramen’s plans.
Q: What led you into venturing into the mining sector?
A: I was fortunate to be raised by an intelligent, hardworking mother who was a successful businesswoman in her own right. So, I became a director at my mother’s company at a young age. Her company is called Vesa Group, and it is a household name in Nigeria in the importation and wholesale of frozen fish. I guess you can call me a fisherwoman… but I don’t cast no nets.
We were very close, so I would go everywhere with her whenever I was on holiday in Nigeria and I guess that was where my interest in entrepreneurship began. When I turned 21, I became a mother and this fuelled my ambition to achieve as I wanted the very best for my children. I took on the responsibility of cultivating relationships with international suppliers while I was living in the United Kingdom by attending trade fairs and other events. In a nutsehell, I built most of the important connections for purchase which our family business, Vesa Group, enjoys today.
At the same time, I was already a recording artist by the age of 16. I made my first studio album with the record label Espirit music UK but never had time to focus or tour for the album as I was very involved in my family business and raising my young family. However, when I moved back to Nigeria in 2015-2016, I was fortunate to come in contact with the right people in Nigeria’s mining industry. I started off in the mining industry by securing a Mineral Buying License because at the time I primarily wanted to just buy and hold Nigerian gemstones as an investment. But then, as I bought gemstones and other minerals from Artisanal miners and other local players in the mining industry, I discovered that the mining sector was very underdeveloped. As I dug deeper, I saw just how badly Nigeria was being robbed of her resource wealth – particularly from unscrupulous foreign businessmen who come in Nigeria, mine our resources and smuggle them out of the country without remitting taxes to the Nigerian government or improving the communities they steal so blatantly from. Just like my music, I felt like mining was a calling from God for me to step in and it was a call I chose to answer by venturing into mining.
Q: Can you provide some background into Emotan Global’s operations and the major accomplishment of its flagship subsidiary, Piramen Ventures Ltd.? How did you get started in the mining industry, and where are you at today?
A: It was very difficult to get started as I was living in London at the time, and because the northern part of Nigeria is the stronghold of the mining business in Nigeria, I had to settle down in Abuja. I had no home or family in Abuja so it was difficult finding my footing here. I also had to give up on buying all my favorite designer clothes and other vanity items I enjoy in order to plough all my saving and earnings to get things moving. This was new territory for me, and with a firm warming from my mother not to borrow any money, it was particularly difficult.
As I said, my journey began in buying gemstones and other metals from local miners after I acquired my mineral buying license. Once, I started buying I found it was a big help for the local miners who where before that time only selling to foreign companies, and I got tales of their hardship and unfair trading platforms in place that made it very difficult for them to survive.
From my research, I found that most mining in Nigeria at that time was artisinal mining. These small-scale, informal miners in rural areas were usually unaware of the value of the gemstones they were mining, so they were often exploited by formal, unregistered buyers and their agents – who often underpaid these miners. So, I started buying from them – paying them fair prices for their gemstones. I registered two mining companies – Emotan Global Ventures to explore for gold on a site we have discovered in Abuja – and Piramen Ventures, to focus on Gemstone mining, processing and trading.
I decided that my companies would set out to discover mining sites and document them and offer proper training to the local communities on how best to recognise the materials within their communities, sensitise them on the value of the materials so they are not exploited, and teach them safer and more productive mining practices. Over time, we have acquired a significant portfolio of mining rights and licenses in Nigeria for both Emotan and Piramen. We have also substantially invested in many small-scale mining operations across Nigeria. I am currently discussing with several companies now that our licenses are in place as to the best ways to utilise each site to it full potential.
Q: In the 1970s mining contributed 50 percent to the country’s GDP, today Nigeria’s mining sector contributes less than 0.3 percent to GDP. What went wrong and how can Nigeria boost private investment in exploration and mining?
A: The absence of proper education regarding our natural resources – their properties and applications, has played a role in the stagnancy of the mining sector in Nigeria.
The notion that mining requires massive investment and industrialization has also scared away many potential investors in the sector. If you can generate local interest and local use cases for the minerals we have, there will be more local investment in the sector, and as a result of this local investment and interest in addressing local requirements and needs, you will find that solutions found locally become applicable to other nations.
This is what I mean to say: If we produced metals to make solar panels and batteries – among other things – and the government encouraged people to develop solutions for the processing of raw materials to make this a reality, the produced goods would be significantly less expensive than imported finished goods with added shipping and foreign processing costs. Imagine producing so many solar panels and batteries locally that power reaches even the most remote villages, transforming them into mini-cities. If we could reduce the amount Nigerians spend on foreign imports by half and use that money to purchase locally sourced and manufactured goods, the economic outlook would change dramatically. Government could incentivize new ventures that promote the use of locally sourced materials. Also, there should be tax holidays for mining companies and government-backed funds to support mining ventures.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a gemstone miner in Nigeria today?
A: The greatest challenge has been the issue of security. This makes everything more difficult. It affects the type of workforce you can employ for the sites, it affects proper management and has affected the kind of partnerships and foreign investors one can attract. Another big problem is the transportation cost of moving materials from site, especially with the very high price of diesel now, and poor infrastructure such as bad roads; a poor trading infrastructure in the country particularly the lack of internationally recognized certification centers. As a country we also need to provide our own locally trusted standards for identification of gemstones and metals, especially for the more difficult to identify materials. Other problems include lack of skilled workers for treatment and polishing of materials to international standards among other things.
Q: What has your experience been like as a woman in the male-dominated mining sector.
A: Well, I guess for me, my experience has been generally great due to my strong business background and general philosophy. I’m quite a determined person once I set my marks, so challenges are met in a manner that leads to solutions rather than defeat. So, I’m not easily intimidated, but generally I haven’t found my gender to be an hindrance in my involvement in mining.
Q: As a successful entrepreneur, what advice would you give to young entrepreneurs looking to build successful businesses?
A: I guess it’s best to set clear targets and goals, do your research before and commitments, have a good plan for funding…I don’t encourage loans too much. Learning your way up is the best advice I can use to finish as the learning and growing never ends.
Ethiopian tycoon Negusse Hailu recounts his experiences with EABSC
Hailu said he was fortunate to have influential people in his life who shaped his outlook on life and business.
Negusse Hailu, a prominent Ethiopian businessman, was one of several Ethiopian partners who purchased the state-owned East Africa Bottling Share Company (EABSC) from the former Ethiopian Privatization Agency in 1995.
Abinet Gebremesqel, Munir Duri, Dereje Yesuworq, Shadia Nadim, and Hussein Abedella were among the other prominent Ethiopian businessmen involved in the acquisition.
The five partners joined forces with the South African Bottling Company (SABCO) to purchase the business and then formed a private limited company, which was later transformed into a joint venture in 1999 under the name EABSC.
In a recent interview with Billionaires.Africa, the Ethiopian businessman clarified a report published on April 3, 2021, and concerns about his shares in EABSC as he recounted his journey as a successful businessman who built a fortune in Ethiopia from the ground up through hard work and determination to create shared wealth in the country.
— Walk me through your childhood and some of your major life events. What was it like for you to grow up; where did you go to school, and what are some of your earliest memories of your first entrepreneurial ventures?
I was born in Ethiopia in 1969 to a father educated at the American University in Beirut, who after graduation in 1953 had the opportunity during Emperor Haile Selassie to become the foreign exchange director, replacing then a British citizen, and a mother who graduated from commerce school but chose to be a housewife to raise my sister, cousins, and me.
In Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, I attended Lycee Guebre-Mariam, a French international school. The school provided me with not only a great education, but also the opportunity to form long-lasting friendships with people from 48 different countries who now live all over the world.
My father, who has instilled in me the values of discipline, morality, and humility, was forced to flee Ethiopia during the Derg regime (Socialist-era Ethiopia).
In his absence, my godfather Antonio Varenna (an Italian national and businessman) and my uncle Abiselom Yehdego assumed the roles of father figures in my life, raising me to be a good citizen. Antonio Varenna was one of the first investors to come to the Derg era to invest in textiles, after being invited by two of my uncles.
Since the age of 10, each summer break has been spent as follows: working for two months, taking a 15-day vacation wherever I want with my family, and then preparing for the upcoming school year. My first summer job was in a family garage, where I worked for two summers in a row. Following that, I worked at a printing press and a bakery owned by my family, and my final summer job was at an Ethiopian government-owned shoe factory with an export managed by Antonio Varenna. Under Antonio’s supervision, I was able to obtain all of the certificates required for agriculture and textile from Europe shortly after graduating from Lycée.
Joining Antonio, the pioneer, to export Ethiopian garment products gave me the opportunity to be the first Ethiopian to export to the Italian market fruits and vegetables such as beans, strawberries, asparagus, and sweet melon with the help of my Italian family Case Anselmo. As a result, my entire childhood revolved around the family business. The farm was my idea, with the encouragement of Antonio Varenna’s Case Anselmo family, even though Antonio helped me until the end of his life.
— During a privatization exercise in 1995, you took control of EABSC from the government. What prompted your entry into the beverage industry, and what series of events led to your acquisition of the company? Tell us about the company’s history and how it got to where it is today.
The government announced the privatization of the Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Ambo factories in 1995. Munir Duri had the vision to participate in this venture. He had gathered all of the necessary paperwork, while I had gathered the financial information. Bereket and Kassim raised their own funds as well. Furthermore, Bereket, who has corporate experience, assisted Munir, while Alula continued to work on the day-to-day operations of our other businesses. Inchcape was our sole competitor in this new venture. We both failed on the first try because our offer fell short of the government’s expectations. We met the government’s expectations on the second try and were awarded the Addis bottling company. Our goal was to expand to Eritrea, Somalia, and other African countries, so we chose the name East Africa Bottling Pvt Ltd.
Kassim Houssein, Munir Duri, Bereket Haregot, Alula Araya, and I founded East Africa Bottling Pvt Ltd in 1995. A negotiation with the SABCO began in early 1996 and was completed in 1999 in an effort to expand the company. As a result, the name of the company was changed to EABSC. Personally, I believe that selecting SABCO as a partner was the best thing we could have done for the EABSC.
SABCO is a family-owned company that was already in the Coca-Cola business and worked from dawn to dusk. We only sold 5 million crates when we first started in 1995, with more difficulty during rainy seasons. Today, thanks to their expertise and capital injection, we have reached 100 million crates with no stock.
— Can you provide more background on the company’s operations and some of its major achievements to date, as the chairman of EABSC?
EABSC is a company that grows at a rate of more than 25 percent per year, the firm is a platinum taxpayer, and is well managed in the business world. The CEO is the company’s executive, while the chairman is in a non-executive position.
— How have EABSC’s operations evolved over time, and what has contributed to EABSC’s extraordinary success in Ethiopia: how big is it in terms of revenue, profit, and job opportunities?
For the last 10 years, EABSC has grown at a rate of 25 percent per year. After 2006, the beverage industry as a whole expanded. Coca-Cola has not only grown as a result of experience, but management has also managed to maintain a market share of 60 percent for the last nine years. Coca-Cola, as previously stated, is one of Ethiopia’s top five taxpayers. Our company has received the platinum price from the PM on a consistent basis.
— You have previously sold some of your EABSC shares. What is EABSC’s current shareholding structure?
My 26,000 shares were diluted to 11,054 by the end of 2017. After 2017, I had 121,000 paid-up shares and 5,000 unpaid shares. I sold 50,000 of my shares to three individuals in April 2021, and I still own the remaining 71000 paid-up shares and 5000 non-paid shares. I am still the chairman of the EABSC as well as the director of Ambo mineral water.
— What major obstacles, in your experience as a successful entrepreneur, must be overcome to encourage the formation of businesses?
I can’t take full credit for my success. I can only say that I was fortunate to have influential people in my life, including my father, uncles, and godfather. My father, an educated, generous, and knowledgeable man, showed me what it meant to be successful. My generous uncle, Abiselom, taught me how to socialize and be nice to everyone. My uncle Yehdego taught me about the wonders of nature and the joys of traveling. Most importantly, my Godfather Antonio, a generous man, taught me to be a strong, hard worker, and fighter. Last but not least, my Lycée classmates who have given me friendship, love, respect, and the ability to welcome me wherever they are. Most importantly, Amaretxh’s prayer group gave me faith, hope, and divine power.
— Most people identify you with your interests in Coca-Cola. What are some of your other interests?
My interests are in agriculture, manufacturing, and mining in Ethiopia and elsewhere, primarily in gold as a deal maker. I also represent various international companies in Arica’s east and horn. I am proud to be called “Negusse coca,” I fought so many battles that had nothing to do with my shares, but in every battle, people envious of my shares wanted to take me out of the EABSC, and thanks to the Lord, I survived, but I prefer to be called, “The Farmer.”
— What does success mean to you?
For me, success is waking up when my body wants to, doing what pleases me, being known as a helper, and, most importantly, being a pioneer in what I do. My personal interests include farming and making deals in mining large contracts.
Meet Osinachi Ukomadu, an African tech entrepreneur revolutionizing logistics
Heroshe allows Nigerians to buy products from any trusted U.S. online store.
Osinachi Ukomadu is one of many entrepreneurs using technology to revolutionize the logistics industry in Africa and Nigeria, taking last-mile delivery by storm through innovative solutions.
He is the founder of Heroshe, a platform that allows Nigerians to buy products from any trusted U.S. online store.
Through Heroshe, Ukomadu has been able to solve the problem of access to global commerce outside Nigeria for businesses and individuals who want products that are not locally available.
Under his leadership, Heroshe has evolved from assisting family and friends in Nigeria to shopping for and shipping goods from stores in the United States to becoming a fast-growing startup with more than 40,000 customers that deploys cutting-edge solutions to facilitate cross-border e-commerce transactions, last-mile delivery and payments for goods and services.
In a recent interview, the leading tech entrepreneur and businessman described his experiences in corporate America and as a businessman.
Heroshe, according to Ukomadu, has been built to last through a network of strong relationships with its first-leg, last-mile logistics and payment partners, allowing the startup to overcome challenges in its operating environment.
— Can you tell us about your upbringing in Nigeria and the United States? What it was like growing up in the United States, and how did your education shape your business outlook?
I was born and raised in Abia state. I grew up around different parts of Nigeria. I lived shortly in Port Harcourt, moved to Kano, and then to Lagos where I finished my high school education. I did JSS 1-3 in Adebayo Mukuolu College Ogba before leaving the country with my family to the United States. I finished my high school and university education there.
My upbringing in Nigeria, as you can see, was punctuated with a lot of changes. We moved around a bit. My father, who worked in the bank, was transferred very often to different parts of the country. It was always interesting to experience different cultures and languages. This is one of the many advantages of moving around the country. I look forward to doing more of this in the future.
Emigrating to the United States as a teenager was quite an experience. I initially struggled to adapt to the new culture. It took me a while to settle into the rhythm of life here. Schooling in the United States brought me to the reality of my otherness. It was hard relating to the other kids, who have formed strong bonds through years of doing school together. The Nigerian kids in school did not want to associate with me, because they wanted to protect their reputation from mingling with a Nigerian who still had a thick Nigerian accent. It wasn’t until new students came from Nigeria to the school that I began to feel a sense of belonging. I learned to adapt to these changing experiences.
This is one thing that has shaped my life and approach to business today. Adaptability was embedded into my core. With each move, my parents would register us in the school, and we were left to navigate the rest of the transition ourselves. I never valued those experiences back then. Looking back now, I see how those experiences have shaped the man that I am today. The adaptability and resilience that came through those experiences have shown in my approach to life in general and business specifically.
— What was it like to build your first startup, and how did you get the funding to get started?
The first company I ran was a home health services company. This came about as a result of life circumstances. My mom, who was a nurse, was thinking about leaving her full-time work to start a home health service and at that time I had just lost my first job right out of college. She shared the idea with me, and it made sense to be a part of it. I was young, fresh out of college, and looking to have an adventure. This was an opportunity. I didn’t think much about it. I jumped right on it. Being very inexperienced, I made every mistake you could possibly think of. However, the learning was immensely valuable.
The company was bootstrapped. We depended on the revenue from operations to run the business. This meant that we had to make consistent revenue every week to keep the business running. Without access to credit, this proved to be a daunting task, especially when we would not get reimbursement or the reimbursement was short. I remember times I would have to call a meeting on a Friday evening to tell employees that there were not enough funds to make payroll that week. This happened a few times.
The most painful part of this experience was looking at the faces of these men and women who have trusted us, working diligently for weeks, only to be told there was no money to pay them. It was a painful experience. I could only imagine what they had to tell their families. One thing we had going for us was the culture we built. It was such an empathetic place to work. I was surprised when Monday rolled around, seeing them all still trooping into work while waiting patiently for the funds to be sorted. This taught me a great lesson on culture. The company went on to do millions of dollars in revenue over time. I exited to pursue other interests while the company continued to operate successfully.
— Can you share with us the key milestones you achieved in terms of strategic partnerships, customer base, and revenue in the recently concluded fiscal year compared to the first year of Heroshe’s operation as a business?
We grew our customers to 40,000. We deployed our mobile app. We grew revenue by 24 percent month-on-month in the fourth quarter. We did more than 100,000 in tonnage.
– Heroshe takes pride in delivering value to customers through its operations, which are linked to the company’s commitment to solving e-commerce logistics, access and payments challenges in Nigeria. How has the company been able to deliver on this promise, particularly with payments and the country’s recent transportation and logistics rigidities?
Our primary focus is to link Africans to global commerce. Logistics, access and payments are the mechanisms by which we accomplish this. We are not immune to the global logistics challenges everyone is facing. However, we have been very strategic in making sure to build the right partnerships to enable us to deliver delight consistently. We have built a set of robust relationships with our first-leg, last-mile logistics and payment partners enabling us to overcome these challenges.
We spend time building and maintaining these relationships that ensure our delivery is assured. There are so many challenges to be solved in Africa that you can’t build fast enough to solve all of them, so working with the best of breed in each space to leverage existing infrastructure helps us to further our mission. Our goal is to continue to nurture these relationships to enable us to build towards our mission.
— The supply chain was strained in 2021 due to growing consumer demands and capacity-related issues that crystallized key discussions in the industry in 2021. With the structural difficulties in Nigeria, can you tell us how Heroshe has been able to manage some of these issues competitively, while turning challenges into strategic opportunities?
We’ve been affected by the global supply chain challenges everybody is facing. However, our volume has continued to grow. Nigerian logistics may have some structural challenges; however, there are a few players who have done a great job solving these challenges. We seek them out and selectively partner with them to deliver on our promise.
We are taking advantage of our growth to strike the right partnerships that drive better value for our customers. We make sure to only work with first-leg and last-mile partners who are aligned with our culture of delight. Increased volume gives us so many options when it comes to partner selection. Choosing the right partner has been the game-changer in the continuous delivery of a delightful experience to our customers.
— According to some supply chain experts, the COVID-19 pandemic created more opportunities for companies in the logistics industry than it caused. What are your thoughts on this, and how did it affect Heroshe’s performance during the two pandemic years?
I agree that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the industry. We saw unprecedented growth in the last year as a result of increased demand for e-commerce. Prior to COVID-19, people would travel out of the country to shop. Since COVID-19, people have depended more on shopping online. More people have gotten accustomed to shopping online. People got used to shopping online locally as a result of social distancing, this also translated to shopping online outside the country.
The fear of shopping online has been broken by several people. There is no going back now. We see this trend continuing into the future. Not only will more people shop online locally, but they will also shop online globally as the barriers between countries shrink due to the impact of technology.
— What are the key strategic inputs you brought to Heroshe from your extensive experience with iconic brands and organizations such as Apple, Hasbro, ExxonMobil and T-Mobile, and how did this translate into company growth?
Working at these iconic brands gave me the opportunity to see execution at a different level. I found one thing consistent among the top-performing companies where I worked — they knew their core competencies and focused on them. Everything else was de-emphasized or completely ignored. I brought this strategy to Heroshe. I know that for us to stay alive and grow, we had to do very few things that we were very good at doing and were core to our DNA.
We learned to be laser-focused from the onset. We learned to experiment quickly, take what is working and discard what is not working. This level of ruthless execution helped us immensely in our beginning days. We were met with so many options to pursue. My constant refrain was “focus.” Focus, in the beginning, looked like we were missing so many opportunities however, in the end, it became what has kept us delivering consistently.
— Is Heroshe planning a capital raise to scale the operation in light of the recent growth in the logistics industry? If so, where do you intend to invest this capital in your business?
Yes, Heroshe is looking to raise capital to grow its product and reach more customers. We have spent the last couple of years figuring out the customer, market, and product. We are at a place where we have a high level of confidence in the product roadmap. We will invest significantly in the product.
We will focus on building products that solve for specific segments of users. We have built out our core logistics infrastructure which is broadly serving the market. The next set of products would build on top of this logistics infrastructure to enable more tailored services to our various customer segments whose use cases are unique.
— What’s next for Osinachi Ukomadu and Heroshe? Are you setting your sights on expanding into other countries in Africa?
Eventually, we will expand to other African countries. Our current focus is solving deeply for the Nigerian market. When we have solved cross-border e-commerce access, logistics and payments deeply in Nigeria, we will set our eyes on another anglophone West African country before venturing to other parts of Africa. We want to facilitate the opening up of markets across Africa and the world.
— Do you have any words of advice for young Africans who are afraid to start something?
Your youth is a gift. You still have time to make mistakes, learn and iterate. This is the best time to get started. It becomes more difficult when you have more responsibilities. Acquire a skill that is currently in high demand. While using that skill to build your career, find time to also use that skill to build your future.
Someone once reminded me of the “food crop” and “cash crop” strategy, which we were taught in the agriculture class. Our forefathers employed this strategy, and it worked for them. Your career is your food crop, since it provides for your daily living; however, your side hustle can become your cash crop that pays for your future. You can’t afford to grow one at the expense of the other. What is your current food crop? What is your cash crop? How much time are you dedicating to each?
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