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South African mining magnate Quinton van der Burgh speaks on life, business and the future of fiat money

Van der Burgh is a serial entrepreneur, philanthropist and one of the wealthiest people in South Africa.

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South African mining tycoon Quinton van der Burgh.

Quinton van der Burgh is a South African mining magnate and one of the wealthiest people in the country. He is a serial entrepreneur whose business is largely focused on the energy sector. 

Van der Burgh is the founder of Quinton van der Burgh Investments (Pty) Limited, a diversified business conglomerate. Through its subsidiaries, he manages investments in the mining, property and media industries.

The South African is reputed to have made his first $1 million before turning 21. However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the tycoon, who lost everything at the age of 26 in London, only to then pick up the pieces and build it all again from scratch. 

With a large heart for generosity, the 44-year-old is passionate about changing the lives of South African youth and wants to help South Africans who are living in poverty to become financially free. 

In a recent chat with Billionaires.Africa, van der Burgh recounted his business successes and challenges, passion for philanthropy and views about the future of a global digitized financial economy.

In South Africa, the name “Quinton van der Burgh” is synonymous with a goal-getter, a philanthropist, and a man with a diversified business portfolio. Who is Quinton van der Burgh? Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what informs your life decisions? Were you born wealthy? Or did you start from scratch? 

— I think it’s more about how I was raised, being Christian, and being taught by my mother at a very young age to give back and make sure that people around me are more important than what I think my life is, otherwise. So, I always put other people first over myself, and I think those relationships, over time, talked for themselves. I have a lot of trusted relationships. My handshake means everything. Honor means everything. 

Although it’s challenging in today’s times, because everything is a contract, and most people don’t abide by their contracts. Which is a very competitive version of how I was brought up. But I still believe in a handshake and this has benefited me. People who have done business with me understand that if there’s a mistake, I make sure that it is made up. Even if it takes time to make it up, I’ll stick to my word and stick to the fact that if I owe you 10 Rand and I can’t pay today, I’ll tell you how I’m going to pay you that 10 Rand. 

In business, it’s not all smooth sailing. Every single billionaire will tell you the same story. They’ve gone through many trials and tribulations and many ups and downs. And I think that character is what pulls you through and why people would want to deal with you again. Especially if you have had a default or problem in your life, to know that if it ever happens again, you’re good for your word, and you’re good for making it happen again. So it’s not always a glorified story. 

Obviously, many things have happened in my career from 21, as you said, making much money in London. I had a lot of businesses and much success. But through that, at 26 years old, I had a massive issue that hit me from a global auditing perspective. My accounts were frozen. Then, I had the goal of making it bigger and better and ensuring I never got back to that point again. I didn’t come from a family of money or trust funds. I had to make all that money in London by myself. I had to stand on my own two feet every time I hit a roadblock or a problem in my career, which has happened three times. 

So yes, it’s a character thing, and I think that’s what I believe in, which makes me who I am. I’m a firm believer in people and in the upliftment of people. However, people have faulted me for that because they’ve said: “people are taking you for a ride” or “people are using you” or x, y, z. 

But, that’s not on me, you know. If you look at the Christian way, that’s on them. I’m not going to be judged for that. They’re going to be judged for that one day. 

So, I’m going to stick to what I do and what I’m good at doing. To just always be a good person. I think that’s what makes the difference between a lot of wealthy and successful business people today. I look at their shortcomings, and a lot of them are based on being self-centered. They want to hoard money for themselves and to make that success for themselves.

And you will always hear me in my statements. I never refer to “I.” I always refer to “we.” If you always see anything I’ve done online, any interviews, otherwise, the success is not owed to me. The success is owed to the people who have stuck by my side, the companies I have run entrepreneurial roles with and the people who I have groomed and developed over time to be the success they are. And I think that’s where my success has stemmed. I have a great team behind me.

What are the core values that have shaped your business life?

— Trust. People can look at me and see that I’m open and I’m trusting. I could walk into any room, and any boardroom, and that energy that I project is that of trust and that of getting the deal done. And I think people look for that perseverance and persistence. They look for that energy. That’s what rubs off and people can pick it up. Whether you are not an energy person, I am. So I can tell very quickly whether I can do something with you. I can see whether you’re a go-getter. I can see whether you have the same level of thinking and aspirations.

An entrepreneur loves, eats, sleeps and drinks business. I think that’s what my character is built upon. It’s pure energy. I’m a trusting person and when it gets to a deal, I can see through the bullshit.

If you come in here with a story, speak openly and honestly about what you know. That itself goes a million miles while we have another conversation. 

You would agree that the year 2020 was unprecedented and disruptive for the global market. Most business people and investors were forced to recreate boxes as the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic made people scramble for ways to live with the new normal. How was the Quinton van der Burgh brand able to stay afloat at the pandemic’s peak in 2020, especially in South Africa, which happens to be the hardest hit on the continent?

— Okay, so it affected everyone, I think, in more than one way. But my business is explicitly energy-related, which is a necessity and essential service. So, we struggled in the first two, three weeks. I think that market prices had depth, specifically with what we do from exports. And I think that everyone felt it. The times were hard, but I pushed myself harder because I saw the default in not doing so. In other words, what I’ve gone through as career breaks and seen in the downtimes, I saw that in COVID-19 and it worried everybody because we didn’t know how long it was going to last. 

You know, when everyone said “shut down,” businesses shut down, mine shut down. I was kind of thinking, “Oh, shit, here it comes again.” Just when you think you’re ahead, you know, slam dunk! And everybody’s back to zero again.

It made me realize that everybody was starting from the starting block again. It gave everybody an equal opportunity to prove themselves, because many big corporations saw bad times, too. And they had to pick up the pieces themselves. They were also going to concentrate on just keeping their doors open, as many opportunities would be available to the open market again and to many young entrepreneurs, more diverse people, and people seeing the breaks within logical operational faults. 

So for me, I picked up a lot of good things during COVID-19. In the same sense, I saw more business opportunities. I hustled twice as hard. I made sure that on the mining front, I developed things from COVID-19 when it first started in March. I began developing mines when everybody was running away from it. So now, what’s happening in our market today? I’m seeing the benefit of that because I’ve developed to see the good times again during the bad times. And now that everyone is trying to get back into it, it is a bit too late, you know. The year 2020 was good for me for many reasons, like rebuilding myself mentally, physically, and otherwise.

— Quinton Global Commodities (QGC) is a significant player in South Africa’s mining industry and a key coal supplier to Eskom, the national grid. What has revenue turnover been for QGC since Eskom began experiencing severe power cuts between 2019 and now? Has it been a struggle?

— We did much good business from COVID-19 to now. Eskom has always been a struggle for us, you know. We deal through a lot of indirect contracts — people who short-supply and otherwise. But our biggest strong point is making sure that every day we persist with new transactions. Sales and marketing are our forte to ensure we get multiple angles to moving coal specifically and other minerals we trade in. I myself will never take a day as a mistake or as a misread market sort of delay on what we’re trying to achieve. So yes, I’ve just built.

In the last year, I think we’ve doubled our capacity. We’ve pushed harder. We’ve gone into multiple angles to distribute our product, even though the market is down, even though Eskom is not taking any product.

In 2015, you launched Generosity Water in South Africa to provide clean drinking water to millions of people throughout Africa. In conjunction with the Quinton van der Burgh Foundation, you have donated a portion of the proceeds to building boreholes throughout the country. Also, between 2018 and now, you succeeded in helping more than 200,000 people gain access to clean drinking water. Is this gesture only for South Africans? Are there other African countries already benefiting from this initiative, or are plans underway for that to happen?

— About 12 years ago, Generosity Water was formed in the States. It was a foundation. I sort of progressed to taking that model into Africa, South Africa. It’s been in Haiti, India, worldwide. But more so in South Africa. We’ve concentrated heavily on schools. To uplift schools because sanitation and water are not there in our schools, and government assistance hasn’t been there either. So I took it upon myself.

I’m self-funded as a foundation. I do not look or seek money from anybody because I’m highly passionate about it. I’m extremely passionate about change. I see the flaws in the government, and I see the flaws in what has not been provided to the people. And for me, as a South African being brought up the way I am, I just want to make as much impact as I can before I depart from this world and hopefully leave a legacy that I can extend. If I die, I hope that my foundation will continue for the next 25 years doing good work, and that’s what I have put in place to fund to make sure that it continues. We are helping families come out of financial debts by giving them financial advice and helping them pay their debts off. We are also helping schools and orphanages. 

Pretty much half of my life goes towards thinking about how to change other people’s lives. And the most important thing for me is when people get to a similar level of business, check to know if it is about greed. What are you doing with that money, and what impact can you make for your society around you? That is what counts. It’s not about the cars or clients or houses that you own. It’s really about what you’re doing to impact your country’s society positively.

There’s a lot of good people around the world doing that, you know. I think many people are passionate about it. 

You recently launched a coffee table book, “100 Making a Difference,” where you spotlighted over a hundred globally renowned celebrities, including Serena Williams, Dwain Johnson, Usher, Oprah Winfrey and many others, who are actively contributing to charitable causes on the international stage. What inspired that book and what is the long-term goal you hope to achieve with it?

— The book is, actually, a brainchild of a guy called John Russo, a world-renowned photographer who only shoots A-list celebrities. I’ve known John for some time. He came to me when the book was still in concept, basically conceptualizing what he would do with that and I wanted to partner with him. I want to be remembered for having South Africa or Africa as a reach for the foundation and having a global reach, and leaving a legacy for global impact. 

And so, we got into this seven years later. Russo shot every single person in that book firsthand. You know, we’ve got 143 foundations, with probably 70, or 80 of the biggest names in the world, A-listers. Firstly it’s a coffee table book, something you can put out there and be proud of. But it’s 100-percent foundation driven. So, in other words, every single cent from purchases of this book goes towards those 143 foundations’ support. We’re doing this work to bring attention to global foundation or philanthropy work, like Ronaldo, for instance. Everyone’s got their foundation. Everyone’s passionate about it. But how many people knew that half these people ran these foundations? So we are bringing a voice to it, one that brings credibility. And I think the social reach of the people in the book is 1.6 billion. So I think that pretty much the entire social media platform is in that book if we can get that reach. 

The more people who buy that book, the more money is going towards good causes that will be spread amongst these 143 foundations. And for me, I’m very proud to have put my time, money and effort into making sure that that was a global success. 

We’ve done a soft launch. We’re waiting for the hard copies to be released in the next coming weeks. Once that is, and even COVID-19 lifts, we’ll be doing some pretty large launches around the world next year. And we’ll be getting involved with a lot of these celebrities firsthand to make sure that they bring the voice, as well, to the book and to the foundations.

We found you to be interested in the progress and self-advancement of young South Africans. You believe youth is the future and you do what you can to support them. Recently, your company offered a Johannesburg home to Bright Hlongwane, an ambitious young entrepreneur. He was looking to relocate to Johannesburg. We find that quite inspiring. To what length do you want to go for the South African youth? 

— The old generation or the generation from my era or after still has a systemic issue that will not go away anytime soon. And I think the only way you’re going to rebuild this country is for us to be united. And that messaging will come from the youth, who are the future leaders of this country. 

So, as a white South African, I want to positively bring that messaging to say we all want to work together or need to work together. We need to quickly forget about fighting and going on past aspects for which none of us are to be blamed today. 

Unfortunately, in Africa, especially South Africa, unemployment is not going to be an easy fix because the unemployment rate in South Africa ranks as the highest in the world. Something we’re not going to just get away from. 

And people need to understand that and then each understands its economics before they can start judging it and questioning it and start blaming somebody for it. And obviously, who is the natural person to blame is the Old South Africans that ran the country. So you know, I’m really trying to develop and bring that positive energy back into the youth. And obviously, people that take this country, and hopefully change what is systematically wrong right now. Something that I cannot fix. Something that no one can fix right now.

I think it’s going to take 10, 20, 30 years for that to change progressively. And when it does, hopefully, the people would be helping with the messaging that is positive and upliftment of youngsters and young people in this country. To promote education on a world platform, not just a South African or African platform, young people could scale themselves in competing in international markets. I think I’m very passionate about that. So that’s why I’m focusing heavily on schools, education, and financial distress because that’s the three areas that I believe need help right now. And yes, that’s all I can try and do. I’m one person. I’ve got a support channel with my company behind me. Still, I’m saying that to one person that I’m trying to do what I can in my space, you know, and try and bring that messaging to other people to do the same thing, hopefully.

— In the global market, not everyone has entirely accepted cryptocurrency, given its volatility. Are there statistics that show that your crypto brand, AXIA Coin, has had a steady sail since its inception and what major headwinds have you been able to surmount? 

— So, we launched about two months ago. I’d say it’s more of a soft launch in my opinion. AXIA is not a cryptocurrency alone. It’s a currency that is competing against the dollar and other world currencies. More so, hyper deflationary, which means there will be a finite supply, which means it’s always going to increase in value. 

So we burned the actual access coins and anything that will be used as interest or charges and otherwise. People can bank you in AXIA. You can utilize this money anywhere in the world. It’s not crypto that is hard to trade or hard to transact like Bitcoin. You know, Bitcoin is a store of value alone. In my opinion, it is very difficult to use.

In my opinion, we are building out a massive platform. It is multi-tiered. It’s an entire ecosystem that we are building, like a normal world economy like you see today in Africa and globally, and we’re doing it from the ground. 

So it’s going to be an interesting journey to follow. It is truly unique in its design, enabling users to make money over a period of time. It is truly rewarding to the individual because of its no charges from tier to tier. So if I transfer to you, there are no charges. It’s extremely safe to transact. You get a bank card. You can spend it anywhere in the world, dollar, pound, euro. In Nigeria, wherever you are, you can spend your money.

It is designed like an institutional bank today, but within its back is a decentralized cryptocurrency with all its value curves. You have the browser, monetary rewards, and you have a dozen things that AXIA does that no one else does. So combine what you know of the natural world today. We’ve got everything you can imagine from a financial point of view, plus rewards, applications, our emailing system and our integration. 

How does a layman get to use the AXIA Coin? Do people have to download an app or contact an agent to connect them? 

— So basically, it’s a straightforward process. You visit axiacoin.org or go to AXIA capital bank to open up a bank account and do your certification, which is a straightforward process. From there, you transfer your money from your existing bank account to AXIA, and you can utilize it any way you please. 

It’s easy to subscribe, and you get your bank card given to you wherever you are in the world. We will send you a bank card, and you can spend your money freely as you wish. You also get 12-percent interest rates in our bank, which is not heard of anywhere else. It’s an offshore jurisdiction, which is helpful to people that are trying to put some money away for a rainy day or otherwise. And it’s fascinating about how many values you earn just by banking, with the bank, and how many different applications you can use to advance your life daily.

It’s not a quick fix. It’s going to be a slow “progresser,” but one that you want to get in early because you will look back at it a couple of years later. It is going to be one of those things going up in value because we’re asset-backed.

At the moment, we’re sitting with a $30-billion asset backing launch. This means our currency holds weight, holds value, and holds an actual concentric value that people can say, “Oh, okay, it’s not just imaginary money.” It’s something that you can hold on to. 

The more businesses we acquire, the more applications that grow, the more people who join the ecosystem and spend on their credit cards, all that money gets earned for the individual. 

So yes, it’s hard for the layman to understand that because they’re looking like, “I don’t understand digital. I don’t understand what crypto is. I don’t understand what to do with it.” You don’t have to. Just put your money in a bank, spend it how you want and get a little reward on the back of it. Simple! 

The layman’s simple explanation is that I can put my money into cold storage, it’s safe, and it’s protected. I then get a bank card, switch on my computer, see my bank balance. If it’s $1,000, or $5,000, or $50,000, it doesn’t matter. And I’m able to spend it wherever I like as long as I’ve got a tap and go, where I’ve got a transactional Visa card station that I can use it on. It’s easy to use.

So that’s the point. Everybody wants to access, see and touch. And I want to be able to do what I want with it right at any given time. 

Cryptos, in general, are just challenging to transact because you got to go to wallets. You got to go through specific elements of trying to trade it. But with AXIA, it is very different. It’s like a regular bank.

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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.

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Ethiopian businessman Negusse Hailu.

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 sought to clarify a report published on April 3, 2021, has addressed concerns about his shares in EABSC as he recounts 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.

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Meet Osinachi Ukomadu, an African tech entrepreneur revolutionizing logistics

Heroshe allows Nigerians to buy products from any trusted U.S. online store.

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Osinachi Ukomadu.

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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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.

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Businesswoman Jess Henrich.

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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