Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part interview with our Next Nigerian Entrepreneur, the MD/CEO of GoodDay Paper Mills Ltd, a tissue production company. In this first part, he shares with us how he started and some of the challenges he faced. In the second part, he reveals some of the habits that made him a successful entrepreneur and how aspiring entrepreneurs could make their startups a success. Enjoy it!
My name is Ezekpudoghu Chijioke. I am 31 years old. I’m from Anambra state. I’m the MD/CEO of GoodDay Paper Mills, a tissue production/converting company. We have 2 brands of products: GoodDay tissue paper and GoodDay serviette.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
The beginning was not easy, although nothing comes easy because the world is not a bed of roses. I started GoodDay Paper Mills Ltd in July, 2010. I started with nothing. After my Youth Service in February, 2009, I was able to save only N18,000. I had some money in the stock market because while I was in school I borrowed money from my mother to buy some stocks. When the market crashed my stocks stock became almost useless and I lost a lot of money. But I never wanted to look for a job; in my heart I’m an entrepreneur. At the time, people thought I was crazy. How could someone graduate from school and say he’s not going to look for a job? I mean, why did we send you to school in the first place? (laughs). So when I wanted to start my business, I had no money.
But I never believed that I could not get the money. That was my state of mind then; It was not an option for me. I believed strongly that once I was ready, the money would come. The question facing me was: what was I going to do with 18,000? I needed to raise a reasonable sum of money before I could approach anyone for funding. It doesn’t make sense to approach people to fund your business when you have nothing on your own. I knew I could raise money from farming so in 2009, I met my family and friends and told them: “I want to farm. Please I need money”. (Laughs). It was as if I had gone crazy. My people were like: What kind of rubbish is this? Laughs. But I have an amazing sister who always listens to me. I knew I could tell her anything. She encouraged me and gave me 200,000.
Now I had some money but there was another problem: land. I went to Awka and met the then Commissioner for Youths and Sports, Mrs Chinwe Anowai. She took me to a director in the Ministry of Agriculture and asked them to make sure I got the land I wanted for my farming enterprise. The director called the people at RTEP (Roots and Tubers Extension Program) at Igbariam – It was a federal government program. Long story short, they leased out 3 hectares of land to me. That solved my problem; I had money and land. Then I used that money to plant maize and cassava.
You did the planting yourself or you hired workers?
Laughs…I no strong nah and I had not done any farming in my life. I hired laborers of course.
So in your experience, you started farming without any prior experience?
Yes. It’s possible. I never had any experience; I was a complete novice. I thought that farming was just to plant. That experience taught me that farming is science.
Ok, go on…
After the planting season, when I harvested my produce, I didn’t make much profit but I didn’t lose money either. At the end of the day, I got my money back. Farming is not easy; you need knowledge. There were obstacles: The site in Igbariam was not easily accessible and planting was done during the rainy season. So it made cultivation and transportation a nightmare. I also had to deal with middle men while selling my product. Some of them tried to rip me off. So I suspended farming for a while. When I made up my mind to suspend farming, I sold off my hectare of land to a friend and with the money, I thought of what next to do. I had options to go into polythene production or paper mills. I settled on paper mills. I sold off my stocks and with a little support from my family, I entered a partnership deal with my cousin. And that was how GoodDay Paper Mills Ltd came about.
Looking at how and when you started, how much have you grown?
Our growth has been exponential. We had our challenges but we have grown. We started with a team of 4 young
ladies – O-level graduates. I was 25 then. It was a very young team; very naïve. We knew basically nothing about tissue production. But my team believed in me and I believed in myself. So we took off. We started with 1 locally fabricated machine that always broke down unexpectedly. We had no generator so we depended solely on NEPA. We once went a whole month without electricity and had to close down production as a result. It was very challenging. But I thank God, we were able to break even in our first year. That was when our product was accepted into the market. By June the following year, we were battling to meet demands. Business has grown exponentially. Now we have up to 70 staff on our payroll.
What were your major challenges in tissue production and what did you do to overcome them?
Our challenges were much. We started business at a time when Nigeria was labelled as one of the worst places to start a business in the world. For example, registering a business name should not take more than 24 hours but in Nigeria it could take up to 1 month at times. We dealt with all that. Access to loan facility could take up to a year. In organized countries, it should not take more than a month because time is money.
Our major challenge was electricity. At times we would not get up to 4 hours of electricity in a day. But because power always came on at night, we introduced night shifts. My team was exceptional. Night shifts! And none of them said a word. We worked with locally fabricated machines and they always broke down. You could have electricity but the machines would adamantly refuse to work.
My staff was basically inexperienced. They could neglect things that could cause a lot of damage. But I’m going to hand it to them; they were committed. These were women who would work till late into the night and never complained or demanded overtime. And they did it with all their heart. Their commitment was 100 percent plus one. They were young and naïve but their loyalty was more important to me than their work rate because work rate could be improved but loyalty could never be forced.
So how did you keep them motivated to perform at their peak?
Laughs…mathematics. Just mathematics. At first it was difficult because none of us had worked for anyone before. We were just fresh out of school; the cohesion was not there at first. But we knew what we were there for. And because I was young, I could relate with them and they liked that. That helped us to form a strong bond. But I still needed to do something about their productivity. See eh… to sit down at a place for hours and manually wrap up tissues by hand is never easy. The labor is back breaking. I tried it once and I went home and said to my mother “I want to quit (laughs). My entire back is aching. This is not what I bargained for.” But I persevered and so did my team.
I introduced targets to wrap 20 bags of tissue each. Our general target to break even was to wrap 100 bags of tissue daily. Now there were 5 of us, but 2 of us were handling machines so it was down to 3 of them to wrap 33 bags each if we were to get something out of it. I told them to start with 20 first. At the end of the day, one of them could be doing 4 or 5 (laughs). It happened for weeks and that was not acceptable. So I called them one day and was able to show them that wrapping 4 bags of tissue per day meant it took 5 minutes to wrap a single tissue. I got one of them to wrap a tissue on the spot and it took about 10 seconds. I told them they could do more because the future of our company depended on their doing more. The effect was magic. They were able to see that it was possible to get 20 bags or more each per day. Initially they thought it could not be done, but within one year, those ladies could wrap over 30 bags of tissue each before lunch time.
I also introduced a friendly competition and reward system. It was all fun and play but it did the trick.
Editor’s Note: The second part of the interview continues. We hope you learnt a thing or two and you are motivated to start your own business no matter the odds. Let us know in the comments box.