During her time at Endeavor South Africa, a non-profit that identifies and supports innovative, high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets, Affiong Williams became inspired by the entrepreneurs she worked with. She began to equate successful businesses with those that offered dignified labour to many people. With this in mind, Affiong looked to agriculture when the time came to start her own business. Ayiba’s Eyitemi Popo talks to Reel Fruit’s Affiong Williams about her agri-business, future aspirations, and how she manages to balance it all.
How did you get the idea for Reel Fruit?
It came from a number of things.The first was my desire to venture into the Agriculture, but with a focus on Value Addition value addition agri-business work, instead of just farming. This decision was based on the premise, that I could make well produced, well packaged Nigerian products that could sell on any store shelf in the world. I settled on dried fruit because I’m quite health conscious, and I noticed a gap in the market with the dearth of healthy snacks in the market, and I figured, this was a need I could meet.
How have you expanded beyond or deviated from your vision?
We have veered off a little in terms of the products we’ve added on. For example, when we started with dried fruits, customers started asking for other kinds of dried fruits and nuts. So we thought to do a trail mix and decided on using cashews. We then realized that there were no single-sized servings of cashews on the market, just the big bottles or cans. When we began making the single-sized snacks, we started getting airline customers and that led us to create more products for the airline industry. So we’ve veered off like that in terms of products.
Another slight deviation is that we have had to hold off on processing to export because we want to do things to proper international standards and so we’re building up to that slowly, we want to get our books in order first.
Those are two things that in terms of our vision have changed to respond to the market and also ensure that we are building the foundation to grow into a large and notable fruit agri-business company.
What was the most challenging part of setting up?
The surprises. We’ve had so many surprises in terms of operational expenses There are lots of unavoidable surprises and delays that are to be expected when doing business in Nigeria.
I have also had challenges around personal development. I have had to mature through the process of dealing with disappointment. I’ve learned to accept that every high doesn’t last, neither does every low. I’m very proud that I’ve been able to overcome and deal with the roller coaster of emotions that come with the entrepreneurial journey.
What are some of the challenges of doing business in Nigeria?
Trying to hold on to your vision and mission despite the challenging environment that is Nigeria when doing business here is tough.
There is the lack of infrastructure. There is a lack of steady electric power supply and an absence of security. So, when building a factory, we have to consider all these factors.
There is a lot of regulation and bureaucracy with government which slows down businessLack of law and order and accountability. If someone supplies you with bad product, runs away with your money or owes you indefinitely, there is no recourse.
The challenge is in the unpredictability and instability of doing business here. I don’t mean to scare anyone, but they are real challenges.
How do you strike a balance in your life?
I’m lucky because my husband is an entrepreneur. We have a similar drive and he is supportive of my ambitions. In terms of other things in my life, like friends, I’ve had to learn to switch off from thinking about my business all the time. I’m trying to vary my life and be more holistic. I work out a lot. I run 4 or 5 times a week. I love travel. I also love politics and have political ambitions so I stay active with political discourse as well.
Our goal is to be exporting by the end of next year and to do that we need to build a world-class factory, so that’s the next milestone.