These are the wise words of Affiong Williams from Nigeria. Woman, entrepreneur, ambitious and last but not least: winner of our last edition of Women in Business 2013. Her business is called “REELFRUIT”. Now that the 5th edition of the Women in Business Challenge has been launched, we wanted to check in with Affiong and see how she and her business are doing since the competition last year.
How did you find out about the Women in Business Challenge and what made you decide to enroll in the competition?
I applied for the competition in 2012 for the first time. I remember seeing an announcement of the competition on Facebook or twitter. I decided to apply, but I was not able to proceed to the second round of the competition that time. I know now that I was still at a too early stage with my business then. The following year, I received an invitation to apply for the next edition of the competition. This time, I was much better prepared and I had a wonderful coach who helped me to present a plan that ultimately became the winning plan.
What did you like the most about the Women in Business competition or what was the most valuable for you?
The most exciting part of the competition was probably the process of completely thinking through my business, although the most valuable experience was by far to be working with my coach, and to have him examine my business with criticism as an unbiased outsider. The week in Amsterdam was also fantastic. It allowed me to expand my horizon and to rethink things, to talk to people who take the time to discuss my business. This made me reflect on my business in a more objective way which is crucial if you want to become successful.
Have you been able to use the fact that you participated in and even won this competition?
I have never been good at blowing my own horn, but I think of it as an approval and as recognition of my achievement, a real boost of confidence which really helps your business. It has helped me especially in my conversations with investors and funders. I actually won another award in Nigeria as well last year.
Can you tell us a bit more about your journey since the competition last year? How have things changed for you?
We used the money of the competition to develop new products, which we expect to launch in the first quarter of this year. We are also launching a Fruit-Nutmix, a local drink and a new cashew brand: “snack-pack”. We have contacted local suppliers of banana, pineapple and coconut. We have hired two extra people and expect to expand to 12 employees this year. We want to come up with a world class Nigerian brand of which people from all over the world will say: this is great! This is all pretty ambitious, and we realize that we will need to be bold. If we can pull it off, I will shout it from the rooftops!
Have you been able to secure any finance after winning the competition?
We did follow up with the people involved in the event, but we were still too small for what the angel investors wanted. We are now looking to raise a good amount of money that will help us fully market the products, put promotion behind it and push it so it will stick in our customer’s mind.
Is it easy to get access to investors and get them interested in the products?
This is something that I have been struggling with personally. My fiancée, who helps me to raise funds, thinks we are ready because we already have sales. However, my opinion is that people here want to have a bigger range of products, so I am reluctant to put myself out there too much yet, until we have more to offer. I prefer to use the money we have now to launch new products, after which we will have more to show for.
You were connected to one of the ING coaches, of which many will participate again in this next competition. What difference did your coach make for you and why would you encourage ING coaches to participate in the 5th edition of Women in Business?
The biggest advantage of having a coach was the fact that we were from different parts of the world, with different business backgrounds. The competition was held in Amsterdam and most of the people there have a particular mindset. To have someone like that review your business, interrogating you about your business, asking you very tough questions is really valuable. They can also ask you questions that investors might have, so you can include this information in your business plan. This is why would advise all entrepreneurs in this competition to work with a coach.
I think that for Marc-Antoine Delforge, my wonderful ING coach, the most valuable was the experience of helping someone, but also the experience of opening your mind to a person from a different side of the world where businesses are run very differently. This can be very rewarding to a coach. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have in somebody’s life, by helping them to improve their business. Mark came all the way from Belgium to meet me in Amsterdam, I am very grateful for that.
As a women entrepreneur, what advice would like to give other women entrepreneurs that want to start a business?
My advice would be to really think big! I want to encourage them to remove any constraints that might hold them back from thinking they can own the business of their dreams. Society often represents so many restrictions that cause women to settle for something small, but the truth is that despite the energy and work it takes, you should always think BIG. It will not happen in one day, but it should always be your end goal. Don’t settle for something neat and tidy that fits your lifestyle. Women seem to be uncomfortable with saying “I want to own a multi- billion dollar business”. But why wouldn’t they own one? Why shouldn’t they aim for something big? That’s the lesson I have learned. It is understandable to be afraid of starting a business of your own, but you can overcome that fear by focusing on the big picture.