I might be too strung out on compliments
Overdosed on confidence
After I wrote the title of this blog, it felt almost contrary to everything that should hold true. In building a business Money/ Cash is king, in fact a VC partner once said to me your number rule as a founder is to make sure you dont die.
Crucially, to not die you need money. Money comes from two places, either you have it, you get it from others or you get it from your customers.
The ultimate compliment for me? raising external funding. I was probably depressed for most of 2015, because my company was still bootstrapped, not because the company was not doing great (;-)) but because in my mind at the time I was not successful because raising = success.
Its easy to see how I somehow arrived at this belief, I would see x company raises xxx million dollars especially in Nigeria and overnight the startup and founders join an elite group of startup companies & founders who have raised external institutional funding, in the minds of many and myself they have all ready won the race.
What follows can now be summarised to a T, They start to appear at every tech conference going, newspapers fawn over them, their twitter credentials go waaay up, they get added to list x and Y , a tech crunch and tech cabal mention and if they are extra lucky some government official will mention them at exco and finally they get invited to all our NG lets talk about tech baby events ( you have to sing this part to get it) am sure at the parties they get an extra allotment of small chops.
Most importantly their money troubles are gone. Far away.
However, I think for all the noise that there on raising, there is not enough talk/ sharing off the flip side of the coin. What happens post raise? Is hyper growth demanded by most VC’s good for every company? Can you build a unicorn without raising?
I dont have all the answers, however the story of Nasty Gal, on of my favorite ecommerce fashion startups see here who recently went bankrupt after being a $23 million dollars Profitable company prior to VC raise brought it all the way home for me. In some cases, the more money you get from a VC the less chance you have a happy ending and this is now supported by research. The fact is that venture capital is not a direct route to a big payday at the end of your startup dreams. Whilst, its great for some companies, there is also life outside of that, especially in Nigeria there are great companies who have built something formidable without external funding.
In my opinion.
We place too much focus on VC funding as a metric of success when the only real metric is building a sustainable fast growing profitable business.
It all comes down to simple fact that a small team moves quickly, builds a product that takes off, and makes a core group of people happy, scale it fast as you can and reaps the biggest reward. The race does not end at raise or a non raise. It is still very much there for the taking.
Just a little over two years ago, I took my first Investor Meeting. I was meeting E , Seasoned head honcho at a VC preparing to relocate to Nigeria, he had seen it all before. He was at the tale end of a whistle stop trip to Nigeria and I wrestled a meeting via linked in and a referral.
I was still at Google and Fashpa was still my side gig. I was still perfectly manicured, hair all done up and I looked the part. BUT, I was nervous I had never spoken to anyone externally about my company, and I wasnt even sure what my ask was. Nevertheless I figured it was good to get a feel for what “VC’s investors look for? and great to network for when I was ready. I prepped up on my numbers , industry, our hockey stick metrics etc.
We met at blowfish at around 4-5 , it was raining, I was early. He was late. He asked me all this weird questions, Like why should I invest in YOU? whats makes you great? When have you failed before? Why this Idea? I said things like “hypothesis” when describing the concept familiar from my Mckinsey days, he didn’t seem that moved. And then he asked, so why would this Fail? errrh Fail, like not work out? I had it all figured out, I know the market , it was huge ( 10 billion dollars anyone), I was a first mover in fashion online in Nigeria, I was focusing on a niche, I was putting together an epic team, this is not GOING to fail. So I really didn’t have an answer.
I know better, and a million and one reasons why I could fail.
I wasn’t really an entrepreneur at that time. I am now.
You have to accept / understand/ failure in order to win.
I truly believe that Brand is the answer to what sets most successful ecommerce companies apart from the ones who are starting to falter– not cheap pricing and not celebrity endorsements. Brand.
When I started Fashpa, I wanted to disrupt the industry, mostly because I didn’t feel connected to a lot of “fashion” or ecommerce brands, they were either too high fashion or me or just so far disconnected that I didn’t want to shop there. There were no brands that evoked passion or that people were really proud to be associated with, so we set about to change that. ( more on that journey later)
To succeed at that you must truly know your customer, be laser focused on always giving them what they want, when they want it, before they even know they want it. You must be able to step into their shoes at anytime and know exactly where the shoe hurts.
I frequently meet Fashpa customers and am quite retiring and self deprecating so I tend to quietly whisper I work at Fashpa.com if we get to that part of the conversation where you are asked what you do. Most times that not, ll get someone who probes further and then ll answer , oh I am the CEO/ the founder and I typically get a hug and an accompanying big smile as they fire 1o questions about what why are you guys doing this and why dont you have this?, usually in naija style rapid fire style.
The reason they hug me, is because the brand Fashpa resonates with them. They feel connected.
But great brands take time to build, you need to be focused, consistent and stay true to the brand. In many ways in 2-0-1-5 we didn’t always stay true to the brand, but am changing that this year. A renewed focus on brand is already helping us make some tough calls too. I am super excited about 2016 already, can you tell?
What is your brand and what does it start for?
In spite of what was my toughest year, Fashpa made the list of YNAIJA list of Influential startups of the year. I have to say I agree with this one, we definitely set the pace with fashion online ( with all modesty)! Read below and you can read more about the whole cohorts here. Thank you for this Ynaija means a lot to all of us at Fashpa HQ!
The start-ups on this list have been the most visible in terms of outdoor advertising, solving a need and raising much needed funding to boost the tech system.
You may have used them, you must have heard of them.
Our top 10 list is presented in alphabetical order.
Founded by Honey Ogundeyi, a former industry manager at Google,Fashpa.com is a retail e-commerce start up whose main focus is to provide on trend clothing at affordable prices, with the use of technology and a focus on key areas like sourcing, logistics, customer service and user experience. The leading fashion online retailer based in Nigeria, Fashpa retails a mix of high street fashion from international and local brands. Fashpa’s own designs have been spotted on celebrities like Kelly Rowland and Angela Simmons.
Happy New ~Year! 2016 already seems brighter.
My Mum’s nickname for me was “survivor” you could throw me the biggest curveballs and I would always find a way to stand back up. Famously I moved to Brussels to work for Mckinsey in my early twenties without a) having been there before except for my interview b) Speaking french or dutch c) Knowing anyone. It was my second job . It definitely was not the path commonly tread ( a job in Lagos or London anyone) but I threw myself into it and had a fantastic 3 years travelling the world and learning tonnes at the firm.
2015 my was a tough year, with so many curve balls thrown my way, after a while it felt like an avalanche. One Term sheet signed that never became an investment, Well Funded ( read overly funded) ecommerce companies poaching fashpa staff for 2x salary , fashion online reduced a game of pricing, ( 1k fashion anyone), an acquisition offer ( big corp wants to buy fashpa eek but its early), a slow economy, SME killing CBN policies, bad hires, ebola, heck everything that could go wrong seemed to happen in 2015. You can read more about my travails and whats like to run a startup in Nigeria in this FT article here, happy to have provided the title 😉
I made some mistakes as well, the most devastating was hiring and not firing quick enough. The right team is KEY.
It was a tough year but I made it, my startup made it and I had I learnt a whole LOT, so as we go into 2016 I am more rugged, pragmatic and a little roughed up CEO. For me this year is about 3 year things–
- The Power of Focus
- Team is everything
- Start small dream BIG
I will expand on the following three things in future posts. I also hope to write more in 2016. So happy new year to you too and here is to a fashtastic 2016!
Thank you to Tolu Ogunlesi for reaching out to me on the economist SME piece.
In the two quarters couple of Nigeria ecommerce startups have closed shop, most notably online marketplace buyam, general consignment store buyology , fashion retailer styd and luxury fashion retailer. 5th and Quansah. These were all companies with founders, visions, dreams and a team and now they dont exist, what always struck me was the way they do down, there is never a farewell message on their website, or twitter or Instagram even our local tech blogs ignore their demise, its almost as if death comes at night and all your left with a home page link that dosent open.
I always imagine that if my company was not to not exist that I would want to have a message to share with our customers and followers that were going away with maybe a rose coloured view or candid story for why. My partner said it speaks to my branding core that even at my imaginary end how I go out matters.
For every ecommerce company that shuts down, theres 10 setting up in its a place. Most will last for a quarter, some a year, some two, and a small minority longer.
Whatever the case, what holds true is that there is a long winding road to sustainability and profitability for all Nigerian internet startups. The challenges are many. We still have a seemingly large but unaware internet population, logistics issues, slow internet, lack of funds and a local angel network that doesn’t understand online or see the opportunity. Giving up sometimes feels. appears. looks. easier that fighting for another day.
On my best days I am just happy to live another day to get to still run this awesome company and on the average day I am swimming against a tidal wave thats often seems bigger than me. Harder than I imagined and lonelier by the day.
The art of giving up is simply that. Not Giving up. NOT GIVING UP.
The post is for my 8 year cousin, Fike who is so proud of #fashpa
Decided to share this video from last year that we made to enter the #sheleadsafrica showcase last year!
New Year Resolution: I didn’t make any..but If I did the first one will be to blog more often in 2015!
Happy New Year this year !
This year will be a cracking one, it belongs to us, the wild ones, the daring, the bold and the brave!