Keturah Ovio is the founder and CEO of Qeturah.com; a curated online marketplace that helps you discover and shop for quality made in Nigeria brands and their products with just a click of a button.
She dabbles into Arts to curate events from time to time. Personally mentored by Sir Richard Branson; Chairman of the Virgin Group in UK, Keturah also received sponsorship to be trained at the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship, Johannesburg South Africa. She loves to build sustainable products and companies that impact the lives of Nigerians, positively.
In this interview with woman.ng, she tells us how she started her business.
FROM HAVING AN IDEA TO STARTING YOUR BUSINESS, SHARE YOUR JOURNEY WITH US
I have had this business idea for over 5 years now and even though the business was only but a fuzzy idea at the time, I knew it was something I’d pursue that could re-imagine commerce across Africa. After my undergrad, it was either I did my Masters, or took up a job. The scholarship I had hoped for didn’t come through, so, I went job hunting. I decided to pass on a well paying job that was 3mins walk away from my house instead, I took on a job in a different state (1hr travel – taxi, train, bus in that order) at a Japanese tech startup where I was the first employee.
My thoughts was, I had much more to learn first hand from the dynamic trio of directors than any business school could teach me. And I was right. Being the first employee, a lot of information and transparency I got to enjoy and first hand coaching. I made it clear to them I had business ideas I wanted to run in Nigeria someday and was willing to work for them to learn first-hand what it takes to build a successful tech or tech-enabled business. After some 2 years, I decided to try out my business idea whilst still living in Asia but that didn’t fly. You know how, ‘If you want to get something done you need to do it yourself?’ This was my then reality.
I left corporate Asia to explore my options; on one hand, I could move back to Nigeria and give it say 2 years to try out my business idea, or, move to Silicon valley, earn and save more money, experience, and grow my network. I chose the former. What informed my decision was when I got accepted as a pioneer Entrepreneur into the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program in 2015. I immediately booked my one-way ticket to Nigeria because I thought; if an organization as prestigious as this thought my business idea is feasible, I must be on to something good.
The first six (6) months I spent it fully immersing myself in the training program provided by the Foundation and conducting marketing research to know who my customer really is, what challenges do they face, what mediums have they been using to transact sales, how they would want to improve this, if they would want to sell/buy Nigerian-made products online and what type of products would move the market.
November 2015, I launched my website. 4 months after validating my business concept – March 2016 – I emerged overall winner at the British Council organized Enterprise challenge out of 10,800+ applicants.. You can only imagine the whirlwind of events that occurred thereafter.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WHAT YOU DO? THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER BUSINESSES YOU COULD HAVE EXPLORED, WHY THIS?
If I got into and stuck with this business for the money, I wouldn’t be here still, hacking together the how-to’s and how to grow to the next stage. I love what I do because my passion lies in technology and also helping people. My online marketplace uses technology to help people; it allows just about anybody with a remarkable handcrafted product to get their businesses online to compete on international level.
This business idea was born out of my years living as an African Diaspora across continents and not being able to access products that identified me as African, as Nigerian and even when I did, giving me options and varieties at my fingertips. As a software engineer, I knew it only took a few hacks to get a simple website up and running to test my idea and actually see if people would want to buy Nigerian-made goods and do so online.
AS A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER YOU CAN’T DO EVERYTHING, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE HIRING STAFF AND BUILDING YOUR TEAM
It’s been tough. As any Nigerian founder and they’d almost lament about how we all face the same problem; finding good talent. Finding people with good talent, team spirit mentality, can-do mentality, and working fast-paced at a price a startup founder can afford in Nigeria is very difficult. My team size has drastically reduced. I’ve had to let go of founders and staff along the way but I’ve learned two important things my journey to here:
- Fire as quickly as you hire – Don’t be scared to fire an under performer or someone you believe no longer fits into the team culture you’re working to build.
- Nobody is indispensable- As good as your last guy was, there’ll always be someone better.
- You are your company’s chief errand officer and your core is to determine and communicate your organization’s strategic direction, build the culture, and perform the task of balancing resources – capital and people.
YOUR GREATEST SKILL/STRENGTHS THAT HAVE BEEN PARTICULARLY BEEN OF HELP IN STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS
Having a good relationship with people and maintaining that relationship. I’ve come to realize that businesses are built on relationships and your attitude, personality and interactions with people can foster or kill relationships that can or could’ve proved beneficial to your company and its progress. Nobody wants to collaborate with a person who’s got a terrible attitude and this is where a lot of young people lose out.
DID YOU HAVE TO GET A FORMAL TRAINING OR QUALIFICATION TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS?
I get asked this question often, perhaps because I come off as a ‘smart’ person. My answer is a Yes and a No. I would love to attend a business school someday (for the network if anything), but no I did not get a formal qualification, however, it is a Yes to formal training.
There are two (2) ways to acquire knowledge:
- Go to an institution that can teach you all there is to know
- Be an apprentice under someone (or people) with experience in your field of interest. Knowing fully well I’d start my business someday, I turned down fancy job offers that were 2 mins drive from my house to taking an offer in a different state where I had to travel more than 45mins by taxi+train+bus in that order to get to work.
YOU HAVE BEEN RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS FOR SOME TIME NOW, WHAT DO YOU KNOW NOW THAT YOU WISHED YOU HAD KNOWN BEFORE YOU STARTED?
That everything in life is like a jigsaw puzzle; at some point you may think and feel some pieces are missing or are the wrong fit at that point in time, however, trust in the process, your abilities, and God (if you believe in one), that everything will fall together to make a picture perfect collage.
When you get your 3 P’s (People, Process, Product) right, the sky is just the beginning.
ANY LIFE EXPERIENCE THAT HAS PARTICULARLY PREPARED YOU DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY FOR WHAT YOU DO NOW?
My life and travels across continents to be fair. My constant travels informed me of Diasporas who are in dire need for platforms such as mine.
CHANGE CAN BRING OUT A PART OF US WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED, WHAT NEW THINGS HAVE YOU DISCOVERED ABOUT YOURSELF IN THE COURSE OF STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS
In terms of change, I have discovered how much strength lies within me. I’ve been through so many experiences that should have shaken me but here I am, still standing.
I have also discovered that people’s opinions whilst I should listen to them, do not define me, nor are they always the truth. If you believe in your business and feel like you alone can see the vision, keep going. I didn’t have a clear path of how to realize my vision, nor could I make sense of the jargon at the time, but keep true to my vision and knowing when to pivot has gotten me this far. I have pivoted twice in the past one year, who knows, I may pivot some more.
I have discovered that I am a people person, and this is a very vital business skill.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE MOST ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS ESPECIALLY IN NIGERIA?
Self Confidence. People skills.
Discipline, especially with finance. The earlier you separate your personal expenses from that of your company, the better for you. Always keep clean accounting of your business.