Ep 37 // The Importance of Grit & Persistence with the Founder of ReelFruit Affiong Williams

Ep 37- Affiong Williams

Affiong Williams, the CEO and Founder of ReelFruit is an entrepreneur and leader who knows how to get things done. In this episode, she chats with Akua about her work and how she's been able to leverage her purpose to move forward. She shares her story of how she started as an entrepreneur in Nigeria and eventually created a successful business that is now impacting farmers on a larger scale. 

She also talks about the importance of social media in her work and how she uses it to connect with her audience. This is an inspiring chat with a woman who is making a difference in the world. If you're looking for some motivation on how to grow a business, this is the episode for you!

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What's Covered in this Episode About Business Building

  • Affiong Williams shares her story of how she became an entrepreneur and built a successful business in Nigeria
  • Why she decided to focus on the agricultural value chain
  • The challenges and opportunities of doing business in Nigeria
  • How she is using her platform to empower other entrepreneurs
  • What the future holds for her business and for Nigeria's agricultural industry
  • The importance of purpose in business and in life
  • Why social media can be a valuable tool for entrepreneurs

Quotes from this Episode of Open Door Conversations

  • "I think the biggest lesson I've learned is just persistence. I think the entrepreneurial journey is one that is a marathon no matter what you're no matter what you're, you know where you are in what you're doing. And there has to be some staying power, especially in a country with so much macroeconomic turbulence like Nigeria." - Affiong Williams
  • "My purpose is really geared around, you know, my life's work being around providing employment opportunities for people." - Affiong Williams
  • "I always knew I could suffer more than others, and I could withstand more than others. And to be honest, I don't think there's anything if there's one quality that has gotten me to where I am today, it's that and you know, I'm glad that I was able to recognise that." - Affiong Williams

Get to Know this Episode's Guest

Affiong Williams was born on March, 9th, 1986 and is the CEO/ Founder of ReelFruit the largest fruit processing, packaging and marketing company in Nigeria. The company, founded in 2012, retails a range of dried fruit and nut snacks through a variety of channels including over 450 Supermarkets, Airlines, Schools, Hotels, and concluding export sales via Amazon.com ReelFruit is an award-winning brand, winning both an international Women In Business Competition in the Netherlands. She has also recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of the most promising ’30 under 30′ entrepreneurs in 2015. Affiong is passionate about agribusiness and looking at innovative, market-driven solutions to add value to local produce given Nigeria’s unique agricultural landscape. 

Her Select Work Experience Includes: 

  • Established a complex supply chain in 4 countries (Ghana, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria) to achieve year-round availability of products- a key competitive advantage¬†
  • Successfully registered ReelFruit products for sale on Amazon.com, leveraging AGOA and reducing transport costs by 30%- the first company in Nigeria to do so.¬†
  • Registered and active member of the Nigeria Export Promotion Council¬†
  • Managed several mid-sized export sales to Belgium, Switzerland, and the US, (finalizing Canada), also completing intra-Africa trade to Gambia and Senegal by Q1, 2018¬†
  • Lead a team of over 50 full staff members, as well as 4 external consultants, and managed a pilot farm project training 45 women in Mango Farming in Kaduna¬†
  • As part of business model, have gained experienced with several horticultural and commodity mapping studies that have both been backed by donors such as IDH and USAID NEXXT, as well as company-funded research studies¬†
  • Have offered pro-bono advisory for large Ghanaian Agricultural company looking at market entry into Nigeria¬†
  • Advised the Lagos State Government on their approach to investing in SMEs in order to achieve maximum job creation¬†

Through her entrepreneurial journey she has been invited to countless fora on Agribusiness, investment, and trade. Most recent of these include; 

  • Panellist, Inaugural Intra African Trade Fair, Cairo 2018¬†
  • Finalist, Strive Masiyiwa Go Gettaz Initiative Accra, 2019¬†
  • Finalist, AFDB Africa Investment Forum Market Days Entrepreneurial Venture Showcase. Johannesburg, 2019¬†
  • Finalist, AFDB African Youth Agripreneur forum and Agripitch, CapeTown, 2019¬†
  • Winner, Village Capital Agriculture Accelerator, Kenya, 2020¬†

Affiong Williams obtained a post graduate diploma in Business Administration from Wits Business School, Johannesburg, South Africa. In 2018, she also participated in the Stanford SEED Transformation Program- Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies. She worked for 4 years for Endeavor Global, a global non-profit which catalyzes economic development by supporting small to medium enterprises in developing markets. Affiong is passionate in unearthing the job and wealth creation potential of agribusiness and global trade. 

Affiong is passionate about Entrepreneurship, Agriculture, Politics and is an avid runner, completing over 15 marathons, raising funds for charity in the process.

LinkedIn: @Affiong Williams
Twitter: @Affiong Williams
Website: www.reelfruit.com

Get to Know the Host of the Open Door Conversations Podcast

Learn more about your host, Akua Nyame-Mensah.

Akua is a certified executive and leadership coach, recognized learning and organizational development facilitator, speaker, and former startup executive. 

Since 2018, she has had the opportunity to partner with amazing organizations, from high-growth startups to multinational brands all around the world, to maximize people, performance, and profit.  Outside of her coaching and corporate speaking engagements, she is a regular mentor, coach, and judge for various entrepreneurship-focused organizations.

Stay in touch with Akua Nyame-Mensah, Leadership & Culture Advisor:

  • Read about¬†Akua‚Äôs services¬†if you‚Äôd like to learn more about how you can hire her to help you strengthen your organization‚Äôs culture.

  • Complete her¬†contact form¬†to jump on a call.

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Here’s the transcript for episode 37 about The Importance of Grit & Persistence

NOTE: Please excuse any errors in this transcript; it was created using an AI tool. Akua Nyame-Mensah 0:07 Welcome to the open door podcast. My name is Akua Nyame-Mensah. I also respond to Aqua and I'm a certified executive and leadership coach recognised facilitator and former sort of leader that loves supporting reluctant buyer fighting and overwhelmed leaders. I've worked with them to help them clarify where they should focus their time, and energy each and every day so that they can love themselves, love their work, and ultimately love their life. If you're looking to learn leadership information and hear different perspectives, you are in the right place. My aim in this podcast is to help you see that one of the most productive and profitable things you can do is deeply understand yourself. Understand how you show up, understand how you thrive, and allow yourself to align everything in your work in your life, and in your business to support that think of this podcast as your weekly opportunity to receive leadership support. And remember, there is no one right way to lead yourself or others. Thank you so much for taking the time to join me today. Let's get started. Hello, and welcome to this podcast episode of the open door conversations Podcast. Today I have an amazing interview with a woman who is based out of Lagos, Nigeria, and we talk all about grit, and persistence. So the reason why I actually wanted to have a conversation with her is because she is epic, I believe on Twitter, and she has absolutely no problem sharing her perspective both inside and outside of her business. She has spent the last nine years of building her business and recently raised a lot of money to support it. And she's also building a business that I love because it's all about snacks and specifically healthy snacks. So in today's episode, we cover who she is both inside and outside of work. So if you want to hear someone's perspective on what it takes to build an end to end processing company in Lagos, Nigeria, and have a family and run marathons, keep listening or write. So today I am joined by Alfie Williams to talk about building an end to end processing company. Alfie, welcome to the show. Thank you so much. I'm so excited to have you. But for those who are meeting you for the first time, could you please share a little bit more about who you are and what you do? Speaker 1 2:50 Yes, my name is Afyon Williams, I go buy coffee. I am an entrepreneur, founder and CEO of real fruit, which is the largest dried fruit processing company in Nigeria. Our company was founded basically nine years ago now. And the goal was to really build an end to end food processing company that would impact you know, a number of things that matter to me, one, unemployment being the biggest problem my business is trying to solve, and to increasing incomes for farmers and just you know, building knowledge and innovation in a sector that, you know, did not really exist. So, by nature, I am very bold, adventurous, I like to do very hard things. I don't shy away from difficult work. I am I am a mother and a wife. So I also have a very wonderful family. And, yes, I've been living and learning to love living in Lagos for the past nine years, which has been probably, you know, the best time of my life. Akua Nyame-Mensah 3:47 Oh, my gosh, that was an amazing introduction. Thank you so much for sharing all of that. And I want us to just dive deep. Let's start with actually, how did you end up in Lagos? Speaker 1 3:58 Yeah, so I'm Nigerian. So you know, left Nigeria when I've been 11 years old and lived in two different countries of the US on South Africa. And after living in South Africa for 12 years, I I went to school, finished my high school University and I started working there for an entrepreneurship incubator called endeavour, South Africa. So very popular organisation done great work. I really loved my job. And that was my exposure to entrepreneurship. And it was in that job, I kept thinking, you know, I really admire entrepreneurs, I admire the risks they take. And I admire that the results when they went and just go beyond their own personal financial gain. They change people's lives, they create employment. So I was inspired to start my own business. And unemployment in Africa was dear to my heart. Because I just thought, you know, that's something that gives people dignity, opportunity, etc. And I came back to Nigeria said I want to start a business and I told my mom, I'm leaving South Africa. I'm coming back home even though I had not lived there for about You know, 14 years or so I came back and made started making a home in Lagos because of course, if you're starting a business in Nigeria, you kind of have to end up in Lagos. And I started chipping away at this problem ever since. And, and you know, fortunately met my husband not even six months later, yes, I love this story, started building my tribe. And Lagos is now my home. And I've been living here ever since and working working here ever since. Akua Nyame-Mensah 5:27 And how did you choose snacks? And agriculture is really the area that you wanted to focus on? Speaker 1 5:33 Yeah, this is a very funny story. Actually, I didn't really knew what business I wanted. I just wanted to find an industry that created a lot of jobs. And at the time is around 2012 agribusiness was a hot topic, everybody was talking about it. Oh, make agric sexy youth in agriculture. And I literally said, what, what sector of agriculture would I would I create what I play in that would one create a lot of jobs and to do something around transforming raw materials to more value added products. So I knew that that was something I also wanted to do, and sort of, you know, sort of, you know, bring me to Nigeria up, you know, sort of try and make clean as best as I can make quality products from Nigeria finished products. And I settled on fruit because I read that the fruit value chain creates more jobs and other commodities. And I wanted to get into fruit juice, but then I didn't have the money. So I was like, what's the next best thing I could do that meets all that criteria, and it literally was dried fruit snacks, because that was, you know, that met all the criteria, but also much lower and capital investment. And another attraction for me was that I was living in South Africa with dried fruits when big and very big snack. I mean, in South Africa, you have single stores selling only dried fruit snacks, and it was novel didn't exist in Nigeria. So I thought, Oh, I'm going to bring bring it here and make it big. And, of course, you know, not understanding what that really meant. I sort of saw that as the positive and went ahead to settle on dried fruit as my as what I was going to do. And that's how I ended up with dried fruit snacks. Akua Nyame-Mensah 7:05 Oh, that's such a great story. And you've been doing this for a while. So can you share some of the key lessons that you've learned while trying to build out this business, provide these employment opportunities and bring something that was? That is quite new, right, or that was at the time quite new to the market? Speaker 1 7:21 Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest lesson I've learned is just persistence. I think the entrepreneurial journey is one that is a marathon no matter what you're no matter what you're, you know where you are in what you're doing. And there has to be some staying power, especially in a country with so much macroeconomic turbulence like Nigeria, I think a face like three to four huge currency devaluations. And after that the economy sort of regresses and bounces back and regresses and bounces back. But, you know, my goal had always been to build something to last. So I sort of made of course, I was never patient with the fact that it took so long to get, you know, get the traction we've gotten. But I knew that it takes it took time, I guess I learned over the years that it takes time to build what you want. And you really need to build a strong foundation until last. So that's probably one of my lessons. And it's counterintuitive in a country where people are very opportunistic, when things are hot and major, especially when you know what sort of oil price boom and bust kind of economy when things are Heartland people come in, when things are down, people leave, and sort of to buck that trend, I kind of said I had to, you know, stick with it, make sure I work on this business full time, and really see it through to the vision. I know the grand grandiose vision I have of it. So I guess one of my my biggest lessons has just been around staying power and persistence. And, of course, if you're blessed to have the kind of support networks on you know, the community that allows you to do that, then, you know, it makes the journey a lot more easy to swallow, even though it's probably the hardest thing I've done in my life. So that's one big lesson. And I guess, you know, the second one is just around, you know, learning how to network and really just pull resources together. Nigeria is a very, very turbulent economy and a turbulent place to do business, you need to know a lot of people, you need to have networks in our pockets, you know, from the high, you know, from the high flying like government official to investor to like, you know, the local street, you know, you know, street like Lord or whatever the case may be, you just need to build networks. That's what kind of makes the journey move. And I'd learned to do that it wasn't a skill I had innately I didn't I found it very difficult to ask people for stuff if I didn't know them well enough. But over time you learn that you know, you just have to go after what you want and ask questions. And I think the third thing is about just being authentic and true, which which you know, to what you're doing and what your purpose is in business. And that's also guided me in a lot of ways around not doubting that I'm on the right path. Of course in the beginning, I was very anxious, very know First, I thought I was gonna feel like though I picked the wrong idea, but over time, I settled into what my purpose was in business. And I don't look back, I don't regret it. And I don't, you know, wake up feeling doubtful that this is what I meant to do. So, I mean, there's been the biggest lessons, I guess I would have learned along the way. Akua Nyame-Mensah 10:18 I love that. Absolutely love that, would you be open to sharing your purpose, especially in relation to your business? Yeah, I Speaker 1 10:25 think it's, I think, yes, of course, my purpose is really geared around, you know, my life's work being around providing employment opportunities for people. So creating an engine that gives people you know, the opportunity to hopefully, earn money dictate their own lives, and obviously, working in dignified environment. And I made a lot of sacrifices to do that from a business perspective. And it continues to matter to me. And in fact, you know, that that's kind of what has kept me going over the years, the people I work with people I create opportunities for, and I don't even if my business fails, I would never feel like it was a complete failure. I, you know, I succeeded in that mission. And I continue to even when unemployment is growing right in the country, just because standing firm in that purpose means that I still continue to gain the courage drive and the motivation to keep going. So yeah, I really feel strongly about that. And, you know, it's really, really, and I'm really feel, I really feel privileged that I, I knew that at 26 years old when I started my business, which is very young for for somebody to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. And I am glad I leaned into it. And I'm glad that I took the leap of faith. And I think it's, it's meant that I'm living a very rich and extraordinary life. Akua Nyame-Mensah 11:47 Oh, my gosh, sounds very mushy. But it's true, though. I absolutely love that. And I think that's really a great segue to talk a little bit more about who you are outside of your work, because that's actually where I got to learn a little bit more about you, in addition to being a massive fan of your snacks. Can you tell us you know who you are outside of work and how that actually enables you to show up as a leader and business owner? Speaker 1 12:11 Yes, absolutely. One to my biggest hobbies are around physical fitness. I'm a rough I've run over, you know, maybe 20 marathons now I've lost count. But I challenged myself to keep running and showing up. I'm part of the best running club in my, in my opinion in Nigeria, in the world even. And, actually, recently, two weeks ago, now I just led I was the race check, recheck committee for annual family fun five and 10k Road Race which we planned. And it was such a success. And for me, the validation, there was just creating an event to allow families come together and promote running physical fitness, exercise and just family time. And you know, these are things I do with the same intensity as I would my work. I run marathons, I, you know, challenge myself to break my personal best time, I get up everyday, and you know, most days, like four or five times a week, just getting on the road and being physically active from and it really helps with maintaining that level of sanity, you know, that I need to survive being an entrepreneur, and gives me a sense of victory as well, you know, just doing other things outside of business. So diversifying my life a lot more. And of course, like I mentioned, my running community, I've made a lot of great friendships through that. And it's one that I love, you know, pouring into and I get a lot out of so running has been one of the best things I've done in my adult life. And it's, you know, it's paid back to me immeasurably. And of course, the second is flag football, where we kind of have met each other on the field, which is team sport, you know, running is a solo sport, but I've loved I've been playing flat flat. I never knew anything about football. I mean, flag football is a version of noncontact American football, and I didn't know anything about football, and I don't I can count the number of football games I watch. But I got into it because I'm a competitor and I I'm athletic, and I just wanted to push myself in that way. And, you know, I started playing in like 2017 So and 20 Oh 2018 And the year I started playing, my team actually won the championships. And on that day of the championship game, I was in Amsterdam, breaking my personal record my marathon time personal record, sorry, Train for flag football, run three hours in the morning and go train for flag football. And you know, it just it just kind of made me feel and I've been doing that ever since I run a Nike flag at the same time. And it just makes me feel like I am such a champion and that you know, there are no limits to what I can do. Even as I grew older I, sport has really been a great addition to my life. And speaking of flag we, we were, my team has been in the championships for four seasons in a row. Yeah, we only won once last season, we lost, we made it to the finals. And this season, we counted ourselves out because we thought that we had lost a lot of games and we had a new team, we thought we needed more time to mesh. But just by sticking together and sticking to the principles of the team, we went on a winning streak that is literally made for the history books. And we found ourselves in the final again, with an expanded team, there are now 10 teams in our league up from I think six or seven last season, wow. And we still made it to the finals with half a new team, a new quarterback. So those kinds of things just make you, you know, I just love being part of such communities, where you strive and you're around a group of like minded people, and you're playing for yourself, and you're playing for them. And you're giving your all I mean, it just kind of it just, it just mirrors a lot of business around moving everybody in one direction together to achieve a common vision and go, and really, you know, coming up, you know, whether it be you know, victorious moments are down moments, just being able to sort of, you know, come together as a team, and continue moving forward is such a big lesson that sport gives me, so I enjoy, I enjoy sport so much. And you know, there's a majority what takes up my time, you know, recreationally and then of course, I have a two and a half year old son, and you know, I have a growing family. And I really, you know, like spending time with my family and I love watching my son grow up and just hearing blab about a lot of stuff. And I you know, that's also wonderful, you know, wonderful part of my life as well. I spend a lot of time with my husband very good friends. So yeah, we are, you know, my little family is also, you know, sort of a wonderful gift I have. Yeah, Akua Nyame-Mensah 17:00 amazing. Absolutely amazing. And I'm curious, if you were to sort of go back in time and sort of see where you are now, would you say this is what you you thought you would be doing? And you thought you would be here? Or is all of this sort of just something that yeah, that's just sort of happened? Oh, that's Speaker 1 17:19 a very good question is I remember when I was, you know, sort of a teenager ish, I just kind of, I knew I had outside sort of grit, but I didn't think like it would take me far. I always thought, you know, when you're young, you're thinking that, you know, if you're not academically gifted, or, you know, sometimes if you're not physically attract, like the most stunning person in the room, or you're not, you know, you don't have a differentiating factor, you settle for like, a mediocre life, or maybe, you know, average life kind of thing. So I never thought I would be like special per se. But I didn't know that grit and persistence can lead to a very, very interesting life. And I think that's what's gotten me this far. So when I think back in terms of the qualities I had, as a young person, a teenager, I think I always had the qualities I just didn't see, you know, see, I couldn't see the bigger picture. And even when I first started, but I always knew I could suffer more than others, and I could withstand more than others. And to be honest, I don't think there's anything if there's one quality that has gotten me to where I am today, it's that and you know, I'm glad that I was able to recognise that. Yeah, nothing special, just a high tolerance for pain. Akua Nyame-Mensah 18:36 In my eyes, and I think what is so fascinating about having the opportunity to learn a little bit more about you, and sort of what I hear you saying is the importance of community and having connections and being connected to your purpose, and that seems to give you the motivation to continue to move forward. Speaker 1 18:53 Yes, absolutely. I mean, I can't I don't think that anybody who's an entrepreneur, without you know, would have the staying power if you were not connected or linked to a higher purpose of why you're doing it because they're just so many long years of not much happening of disappointment of rejection of failure, you know, something other than yourself. And of course, money has to motivate you because of course, there are easier ways to make money these days, especially than then running a business and building a business and, and so I think most people, most entrepreneurs will share that common thread of there is just something that you know, some bigger vision I'm trying to attain, that just keeps me going. And you know, the earlier you get connected to it, the more I think the journey smoothens and the less the less the sort of internal conflict you have, which will always be there, but it's much less when you know your why and I definitely agree with that. Holy, Akua Nyame-Mensah 19:53 yes. So what's what is next for AFI? What are you looking forward to in 20? Yeah, What are you looking forward to in 2022? Speaker 1 20:02 Oh, wow, a lot, actually a lot, a lot of changes in my, in my business, we've recently raised our as institutional funding. So we're expanding, we've purchased a massive factory in one state, and we're expanding six times. So getting to the next level of enterprise that will, you know, not just increase our capacity and our businesses, you know, profitability, etc, but also achieve my personal goals, which is around creating a lot more jobs is really exciting for me to look forward to. I've been a part of a fellowship with MIT. And that's, you know, sort of culminating in in March of next year in Boston in the US, I'm really excited about that community and where, how it advances my role as not just an entrepreneur, but as an ecosystem like leader in the fruit value chain. And by virtue of my work, really expanding our businesses reach to now impact farmers at a larger scale is really exciting to me, we're bringing so much innovation to that part of the value chain. And I'm really excited to see what that does for fruit farming in Nigeria over the next couple of years. So next year is really exciting. I do need a break though now. But I am taking one soon. And I will be recharged because I think it's going to be a fantastic year. And also next year is our business's 10 year anniversary. So milestone for us and one I am really excited to sell it celebrate. Akua Nyame-Mensah 21:31 Absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for sharing more about your background, your vision, and how you've really been able to leverage your purpose to move forward. Where can people find out more about you and your work online, Speaker 1 21:47 I've started to do a lot of more. On Twitter, my handle is at Afyon. Williams, I tried to write I'm trying to engage people more on the business of manufacturing value chain gaps and things like that, because that's more I think, of, you know, valuable to the wider community of people who are interested in our space. So I share some of our business lessons, I share a lot about fundraising and just all the things around building a business on that handle. I think if people are interested, they can follow me on my on my official handle at our Phil Williams. And of course, you know, our website, real for.com We actually recently launched our US e commerce site as well, so people can buy our products, especially if they're based in the US from our website, and we deliver to them directly to really cool. And yeah, so people around the world can take buy our products in the US in the UK and of course in Nigeria. And yeah, I'm just on LinkedIn as well. I share a lot and interact a lot on LinkedIn on our company's a feed. So that's also you know, where people can reach me or you know, reach reach our business and see what we're up to. Akua Nyame-Mensah 22:54 Amazing. I will make sure all of those are linked in the show notes and I honestly would recommend that everybody follows her on Twitter. I think her perspective is amazing. Especially when she talks more about her personal life. I love it. I absolutely love it. Thank you so much for joining me today. Alfie. This has been an absolute pleasure. Speaker 1 23:11 Thank you so much for having me. I've had so much fun just chatting with you. Akua Nyame-Mensah 23:15 Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to today's episode. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please share it with your friends. We can continue this conversation on social media the links to my socials so that is LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. You can find them in the show notes. If you tagged me in a story and include the hashtag hashtag ask Akua I will share a special little gift with you. Thank you so much once again for your time and I cannot wait to share my next episode with you stay safe and sane.


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