When things are going really bad, make sure you put on your lipstick. People are watching you and they want to see that you are confident – especially in times of trouble.” - Lisa Gersh
Women nowadays are becoming more and more noticed for their exceptional success in the tangentially male dominated corporate world of global business and technology. Women have shown the world how they are great business leaders, and how their approach to business is strikingly different from men, due to their unique skills and leadership approach.
Last week, I had the opportunity of talking to Lola Olusola, Founder of Ella Matthew. Ella Matthew was one of the startups funded by accelerator, 440.ng, in their first cohort. In this sit down, Lola and I chatted extensively about the opportunities, prospects and unique challenges of being a female founder of a growing startup in the eCommerce industry.
My name is Lola Olusola and I founded Ella Matthew in December of 2013. Before I decided to start Ella Mathew, I worked in retail in the UK. I worked with a handbag company called Radley. We had a team and I was the team leader, we were like 7, out of 200. My team was bringing in about 50% of the company's revenue. That was around the time I realized eCommerce was becoming a big thing in Nigeria. With the advancement of technology – everyone had mobile phones and laptops, so I thought, I have worked for a bunch of other companies, it may be time to start my own. So I quit my job and decided I was coming back home, to venture into eCommerce.
I actually studied Multimedia. My whole work experience has virtually been in the creative industry. I also have a technical backing as well. My major project in university was actually in eCommerce. But, I had no idea that 7 years down the line I'd actually be doing this.
Ella Mathew: The Company Culture
Our main focus is on our customers, the products and service they want and doing everything in our power to serve it to them
Definitely not corporate, although very deadline and results oriented. Our main focus is on our customers, the products and service they want and doing everything in our power to serve it to them. I’ve only had creative and tech jobs my entire career and the culture has always been the friendly, collaborative and dynamic. I’ve brought this along with me to Ella Matthew where every suggestion is a welcome one. You have to be a “jack of all trades and a master of yours” to last long in this company so everyone who works here can do almost every other person’s job. I believe that it is really important that everyone on the team is a strong leader in what they do both here and in their personal lives and so I try to foster a leadership culture that focuses on every individual.
We are a team of 5 full time staff and 3 creative and tech freelancers who are really passionate about seeing this brand grow daily. The best thing about this team is the collaborative, can-do spirit that we’ve developed over the years. We all know what the common goal is, and strive to attain it.
I heard about 440 through a friend. I was actually thinking about applying for something else at the time and I heard like 3 or 4 days before applications closed. So I applied online, they called me for an interview and I got in. We started the first programme around the end of September. It was a very good experience. One of the things I gained from there, apart from the financial backing, was meeting mentors and leveraging on the relationships. There are a lot of things that people wouldn't be able to have access to like the CEOs of Konga and Jumia, it was amazing for me. We had Don Jazzy come at one time. We had a lot of really awesome people in the industry. And then we had lots of investors come in. It was a really good experience and I think it helped both financially and morally. If you want to grow a business you can bootstrap or you can try to break things quickly. I think the financial backing helped us to break ground more quickly.
Niche Market positioning relative to the Konga and Jumia
I don't see them as competition, I see them as enablers. Of course, the good thing about having your own platform is that you get 100% of the revenue, as opposed to paying commissions to Jumia and Konga.
I think they're amazing. We partner with Jumia and Konga. We try to get out as many of our products out, through as many channels as possible. So our customers can shop through our site or Konga or Jumia. I don't see them as competition, I see them as enablers. Of course, the good thing about having your own platform is that you get 100% of the revenue, as opposed to paying commissions to Jumia and Konga. But I think if they weren't on the market, we probably would not be serving as much as we are serving now.
But where we are now, I think we are at a place where our brand is starting to get recognized for fashion. I think there'll come a time in Nigeria where there'll actually be people looking for particular brands. At the moment everybody knows Konga and Jumia, but I hope we can get to a point when people decide to shop for fashion, they actually go to fashion companies, such as Ella Matthew.
The Journey Here
In Nigeria, you are marginalized for being your own individual, especially being a lady.
There is some unwritten rule that expects that everyone should be the same, look the same, and study the same degrees, do the same jobs, do the same things women (or men) are expected to do. I understand that sometimes this is the only thing people know but I’d definitely have to say that we are all made differently. Everyone has different abilities and ideas of where they want to be. People, friends and family alike, really need to be a bit more sensitive when they force their very “wise” opinions on others.
Being a Female in a Male-Dominated Space
Honestly, apart from the physical aspects, which we have a man-on-hand to assist with when we need; we pretty much face the same kinds of challenges that a man would face in the same industry whether it is in trying to manage a team, raise funding or in dealing with logistics. Now, if the question were more about being a woman in business in Nigeria, there would be a completely different answer to that question.
Back in Time
Too much planning in entrepreneur world a lot of times is unproductive because the path you set out on is very likely to change.
Oh gosh… I think I would plan better. That said, too much planning in entrepreneur world a lot of times is unproductive because the path you set out on is very likely to change. That said, even though I’m burned out at the end of every day, I would do this business over and over again.
We have 3 goals for 2015 - to grow the brand recognition and grow our revenue. When we launched the brand initially, we spent a lot of money to push the brand, but sales were suffering. And then later in the year, it was settled and the brand was kind of suffering. We are trying to find a balance
We want to be a major force to be reckoned with in the fashion industry in Nigeria, Africa and all over the globe. We are working on building a brand that women all over the world can relate with.
To young women who are business or tech inclined
Running a business is a big risk. Dare I even say that it is a big gamble? A gamble that expects you to put in all your time, all your money, all your hard work and with a bit of luck you may earn half the salary you earned at your last job or worse, you may lose it all. My advice is that you should definitely make sure that whatever you do, you’re passionate about it and you’re in it for the long haul because if you’re not, then you may not survive. Passion is the fuel that runs most businesses and it is easier working in a 9-5. In a 9-5, you have “one job”. Running a business, you have to do at least 30 different things on a daily basis. When you do decide that you want to take the plunge… My advice is that you work your hardest, don’t give up, the great days will make the terrible days worth the madness.