THE YCEO: I Inherited Entrepreneurial Genes From My Parents —Okoli-Tasie, CEO, Mara Cruiz Organics - THE YCEO

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THE YCEO: I Inherited Entrepreneurial Genes From My Parents —Okoli-Tasie, CEO, Mara Cruiz Organics

Amara Okoli-Tasie
Amara Okoli-Tasie, an entrepreneur, manufacturer and innovator is the founder of Mara Cruiz Organics, a made-in-Nigeria hair care brand, and also the founder of The Manufacturers Hub, an empowerment hub for Nigerian women. In this interview with NIYI OYEDEJI, she shares her experience as an entrepreneur.

What ’s your business background?
I have B.A degree in English Literature, Diploma in Organic Product Formulation & Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management. I inherited entrepreneurial genes from my parents. I got the first-hand training and discipline on how to do business from my dad and he taught me the importance of core values like integrity, hard work, honesty and excellence in business. I have tried a lot of businesses and also developed a couple of skills like baking, designing, sewing, event planning and decoration. I gradually transformed from jack of all trades to an entrepreneur who actually provides solution to people’s problems. As I grew older, I learnt the difference between being a business person and an entrepreneur. I constantly engage in research and development to harness my entrepreneurial skills and for my personal and business growth.
What inspired you to start your manufacturing business?
My personal experience inspired me to start the Mara Cruiz Hair Brand. In 2015, the commercial baby products I used for my daughter left dry burnt patches on her skin and boils on her scalp. I whipped up some shea butter and coconut oil butter and they were all cleared within few days. This discovery sparked my imagination to search for other things nature has in stock for us. My daughter’s amazing type of hair also needs proper care. The kinky nature of her hair texture needed to be managed well and naturally too because she had a tender scalp. This led me into developing products that would help other moms like me to easily care for their kids’ hair and eventually we developed solution to different hair care problems.

What do you produce?
We manufacture organic hair products using high-performance natural plant butters, oils and botanical extracts. We have designed solutions for different hair problems like dandruff and itchy scalp, hair breakage, hair loss, difficulty in managing natural hair, among others. We have hair care solution for both kids and adults with natural & relaxed hair. We also offer hair care consultancy for women with different hair problems by offering them solutions that will help them achieve healthy hair.
When was this business established?
The genesis of Mara Cruiz brand was in September 2015 though the company was registered in February 2014.

What was your initial start-up capital, how were you able to raise it and how would you say your business has grown since starting?
My initial start-up was quite low and it was raised from my personal savings and support from family. I kicked off with just a hand blender, whipping machine and few raw materials, using a spare room in my apartment. No staff. No factory. This is our fourth year and we have bootstrapped our way to expansion. Last year, we moved to a mini-factory. We have also grown to having over 80 distributors in three African countries.

How many numbers of employees do you currently have?
Mara Cruiz has grown to a team of 10, both in the production and administration departments.
How would you evaluate Nigeria’s manufacturing industry?
Nigeria’s manufacturing industry is growing with lots of made-in-Nigeria brands springing up every day. But it is sad that most of these MSMEs and SMEs are not really able to grow or expand because of lack of access to finance, inadequate business education, difficulty in getting regulatory certifications, among other limitations. There is still so much to do to improve the manufacturing industry in Nigeria.

It has being quite challenging for manufacturing businesses in the country with some of them closing down. What do you intend to do differently to remain in business?
It is in fact very challenging building a manufacturing business in Nigeria, but one thing that has really helped me is setting goals (milestones) and being focused on the goal I want to achieve by having a clear strategy and tweaking it along the way, as I encounter challenges. I also maximise the use of technology in our production, operations, marketing, distribution and sales and this has helped me to foresee some hurdles along the way and also measure how we are faring and areas that needs improvements before it gets detrimental to our business growth.

What are some of your expansion plans?
Our expansion plan is to have a manufacturing plant and a wide distribution channel across Africa and beyond, to enable our products be easily accessible to our targeted African audience and Africans in the Diaspora.

What are the major challenges you have faced since starting your business and how did you overcome them?
When I started, I faced the challenge of sourcing for high quality raw materials to enable me to create high-performance products. Intense research and a lot of leg-walk helped me overcome this. In our third year, we experienced what I call growth pains. Sourcing and procuring the machines; recruiting and training our team and still bootstrapping has been some major challenge I have faced. Research, consulting with business growth experts and having a strong and reliable support system helped me greatly. Notwithstanding, most times it is so hard to push on, but the vision I have for Mara Cruiz gears me on. There is no other way than to fulfill our mission. Our mission is to be the leading organic hair care solution provider in Africa that runs a successful channel/distribution based business by using technology to drive growth and empower women. So, when I think of millions of people out there who need our solution, especially our solution for moms to easily nurture and grow their kids’ hair the natural way, I pick myself up and strategise to overcome whatever challenge I am facing at the time. When I think about the thousands of women we are yet to empower through our distribution and entrepreneurship programmes, I know that I can’t give up on this dream.

How do you think the government can address some of these challenges?
I think the government needs to create an enabling environment for manufacturers to thrive. Issues of inadequate infrastructures like water, electricity, good road network, and so on have been over-flogged, but we can’t stop talking about it till it is improved, as these are the major challenges faced by manufacturers in Nigeria. The operational cost of running and maintaining these infrastructures are heavy and enough to put one out of business. Enabling environment will also allow our local engineers to construct some of these heavy imported machines.

Have you won any award or source for any international grants?
Yes. In 2017, we won the Afrikinky Award for the Best Natural Hair Brand in Nigeria. We are yet to receive any grants or external funding.
What is your advice to other entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is a journey and it is not a very smooth one. Every entrepreneur should endeavour to have a clear roadmap that will guide them through their entrepreneurial journey. As challenges come, study your map, improve your process and strategy while focusing on your mission which is why you started the journey in the first place. In all, hardwork, perseverance and determination is needed to remain in business.

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