Esther Ovbiebo Tongo is the founder of Esther’s Authentic Foods, a ready-made African stew in a jar. Esther went to the US for educational opportunities and studied Agricultural education, poultry science, and general Agriculture. She had her master’s degree in Agricultural economics and dreamt of returning to Nigeria to become the biggest farmer in the country.
However, she went into the oil and gas industry where she worked for many years. Soon, she started craving for her African stew but was unable to get it to the market, where she lives in the US. Unfortunately for her too, whenever she was returning to the US from Nigeria, the stew she packages was always thrown away. So, she decided to create a market out of it by making stew for Africans like her and packaging it in a jar.
Esther’s transition from corporate America into a solo business owner wasn’t an easy one but she attributes her success to the support from friends, family, and God.
In a Facebook video, where she discussed her journey into entrepreneurship in the US, we learned six things from the business owner.
On taking the first steps to your dreams
Find a mentor.
Find people that believe in you and not just the money. There will be a lot of people that think they are supporting you but they are discouraging you.
You have to visualize what you want to do.
Being a very good salesperson is helpful.
Applying for all the necessary certification from the government is helpful
Asking questions is helpful
Spend more time as the salesperson for your company than being the CEO. CEO doesn’t get you anything, it’s the sales. So train yourself to be a good salesperson to market your product.
On feeling nervous about selling her product
Have a very good product. A product will sell itself. Have good ingredients in your product. Challenge anyone to taste your product and see that it is the best in the market. I pride myself on having the best stew in a jar in the market and I challenge anybody to try it. Well, I will not cut corners on my product. I had experience in corporate America, where my ethical standing cost me a position but I’m glad I stood on my grounds. It is very refreshing when you take a position, although it’s not popular you know in your heart that it is the right thing and in the end, it is the right thing and everyone will respect you for that.
Same thing with my manufacturers. I don’t cut corners. Use the ingredients I talked about. I don’t care what the price is, it needs to taste authentic, the way I eat it in my house.
On challenges, she has learned most from
When I started, I had a co-packer and I depended on the co-packer to produce the product while I focus on selling. As my business started to grow, one day, I got a certified mail from the co-packer and said they would not produce my product anymore because I was too demanding on the quality of ingredients they can have in the product. At that time, I didn’t have any certification on how to produce the product that will last three years in the jar. So, I was forced to go take the classes to get certification in the manufacturing of my products. So now, I am a certified manufacturer of my product. It cost money, it cost time but that failure propelled me into becoming a manufacturer myself.
What I learned is that coming to this country and not having godfathers and godmothers in the business was very difficult but I surrounded myself with knowledge. I was craving knowledge, asking people what they did at one stage or the other in their journey to success. When they tell you, you sit back, thank them, and go practice.
If her cultural heritage gave her an advantage in business
Being Nigerian cuts both ways. We think we can do everything; we have no hindrances with the best, then you come to this country and you find out that there is a lot of game to play in corporate America and in the real world of selling your product. How you navigate that comes with the experience especially when you don’t have people to hold you by the hand. We are the first generation of people to come to America and trying to fill our way through and now that we know, we are going to teach it to the rest and say this is how we did it and survive.
On people who are scared of following their dreams
I’ll say, ‘go for it.’ If you go for it and it doesn’t work out, you’ll know you tried. If you do not go for it, you’re still going to be wondering if it’s going to work or not.
Watch her share her story here
first published feb 19 2019