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?
Meet the South African woman who has created the world’s first ocean water distilled gin
Jess Henrich is the founder of Amari Ocean Gin, which is inspired by the icy Atlantic Ocean.
South African businesswoman Jess Henrich always wanted to create a gin inspired by the ocean. In 2016, after more than a decade working in the advertising industry – first as a client account manager and then as a copywriter and creative director — she took a dive into the murky waters of entrepreneurship and partnered with her university friend Niel du Toit to start A Mari Ocean Gin. The gin is inspired by the icy Atlantic Ocean, and sea water is utilized in the distillation process where it is infused with indigenous Cape coastal fynbos. Her A Mari Ocean gin has now become a favorite among South Africa’s young, urban, upwardly mobile professionals.
Henrich recounted her business story to Billionaires.Africa Editor-In-Chief Mfonobong Nsehe.
— Walk me through your early beginnings in life and some of your major milestones. What was growing up for you like? Where did you go to school and what are some of your earliest memories of your earliest entrepreneurial ventures?
— Growing up was pretty magical, as I was born in Kenya. We had the sort of wild freedom there as children that I think today is pretty rare. My time, when not in school, was spent either in the Ngong forest, on the coastline, in Lamu, or exploring some rugged beautiful part of this incredible country. I went to Banda, then Switzerland, and then back to Kenya and Hillcrest, and was then sent to Swaziland for two years at Waterford. My earliest entrepreneurial venture involved, at age seven, trying to buy Masai goats with my pocket money to resell to my mum’s friends as lawnmowers. Hugely unsuccessful sadly.
— What did you did you do before starting A Mari Ocean Gin company, and what are the series of events that inspired you to create your gin and distillery?
— I am a brand strategist and copywriter by trade. The story of A Mari starts on the small Spanish island of Ibiza, where I was living and working.
At a dinner party one night I heard about the Ibiza Preservation Fund, which aims to kickstart agriculture on the island again by granting free land ( and sometimes houses) to people with agri-projects.
Ibiza used to be a prolific producer of fruits and vegetables and now imports most of its produce as the farmers have gone into tourism and the land is largely lying fallow.
Anyway, the next morning, I was at the preservation fund offices and there was an old finca (farmhouse) in the north that was up for a pitch — they asked me if I had an agricultural project to present, as the Balaeric government were there that weekend for grants. This is on Thursday. I said yes — though I didn’t have an agricultural project.
I went home and cobbled together a business plan for a distillery, as the island is covered in juniper and at that point there wasn’t an ibiza gin, plus I had worked with wine and am really fascinated by plants and alcohol. So, I end up presenting, through a Catalan translator, in an olive field to the Baleric government — sheer madness.
They liked my project, though, so I flew home to South Africa and sold everything I owned and moved back to start this distillery. Within six weeks of me being back on the island it all went bottoms up, the license fell through, I couldn’t use the finca as the distillery had to be in an industrial area.
Fast forward six months and I am back in South Africa and working for an ad agency, my now business partner, Niel, had just moved back from London, and we are old friends from university days.
We met for dinner and started talking about my gin idea, which had very much stayed on my mind, but I didn’t have enough cash to do it alone. Niel immediately said he’d go in on it.
Around 3AM that morning after several bottles of wine, we bought a potstill on the Internet and both quit our jobs the next day.
We literally walked up and down this coastline distilling everything from seaweed to citrus. We were at that point in. Niel’s bathroom, with this utterly dreadful temperamental potstill that is plugged into the water mains over his bathtub. If anyone flushed the loo or turned on a tap in the house, the temperature would leap and the batch would be ruined- so we had to sit with it for 12-hour shifts at a time. We knew we wanted to do something different to what was on the market, and the only variable to change with was the water and it has a profound effect on whiskey; so stands to reason it does in gin. We spent three months playing with recipes and coastal plants and trying it on our friends (who each time were like are you sure we aren’t going to go blind?).
So there we are on the day of our first big distillation and we only have enough money for one run. We arrive with jerrycans of seawater having had the genius idea in the middle of the night — why not actually distill with ocean water? No one had done it. Including us, Roger looked at this when we arrived and he was like guys are you sure? We only have one shot at this. We looked at each other and were just like hell yes. So we did, and it was beautiful, and A Mari Atlantic was born.
— A Mari is the only ocean water distilled gin in the world. What exactly does that mean?
We are the only gin made from the sea — we literally put ocean water into the potstill with the botanicals and spirit. It desalinates as it distills, which means the gin is not salty but the process gives the gin a unique and beautiful smoothness. You can drink it on the rocks its that good!
— Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?
Haha, no — as above this was a combination of balls, timing and sheer determination to succeed. And a lot of learning curves on the way.
— How did you initially raise the finance to start your own gin company?
We have bootstrapped from the beginning and put all our own savings into it. We’re actually looking at raising at the moment to expand.
— Tell me about the thought process that went into developing A Mari Ocean Gin. What makes it different from your regular gin brand, and what has been the recipe for A Mari’s success?
I think two things, the quality of the gin — making a superior product has always been at the heart of what we do, and we have never compromised quality for volume. We still make small batches and I grow all the Fynbos myself. The second thing is the USP, which is the ocean water story, we are the only gin in the world made this way. We are also supporters of marine conservation, working with SeaShepherd to give back into the ocean.
— Can you tell us more about your production process?
We start with the botanical harvesting and measuring out the recipe (endless peeling of oranges, lemons and limes), then these botanicals, with the ocean water and the neutral spirit goes into a potstill. Its a one shot distillation, which means everything goes into one run so there is no room for error! When it comes off the still we cut it to strength at 43 percent and bottle and label and it goes off to our distributors around the world.
— How would you describe your gins in three words?
Extremely, unusually delicious.
— What is the one thing you’ve learned from being an entrepreneur that you can share with us?
Resilience. You get knocked down, thats the nature of the game. You just get back up stronger and more determined.
— What’s next for A Mari Ocean Gin?
Our goal is to get a bottle of A Mari into every sea facing bar in the world, so thats what we work towards. We are bringing out a limited edition too which is going to be super special.
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