Ujama Akpata is co-founder of Jand2Gidi, a logistics company. She says TOFARATI IGE about his entrepreneurship and other issues
What is your educational background?
I studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Nottingham, UK and have an MSc in Advanced Chemical Engineering from Imperial College London.
Do you have corporate work experience?
I started my career in the oil and gas industry when I completed a few months internship as a reservoir engineer at ExxonMobil. I also did my National Youth Service Corps program at ExxonMobil as a process engineer. After that, I joined an oil services company called Petrofac International and worked as a process engineer for two years before founding Jand2Gidi with my partner, Kikelomo Fola-Ogunniya.
When and how did you start your business?
The company was created in 2013 by me and my partner. Having studied in the UK for almost seven years, we had grown accustomed to shopping in the high streets of the UK. We were always looking for a relative or friend to help us bring our purchased things to Nigeria, and it turned out to be a constant headache. Minimum weights were high, we struggled to make online payments in international stores and relied heavily on inconvenience from traveling friends and relatives.
We noticed a gap in the purchasing and shipping process, initially from the UK to Nigeria, so we decided to fix this from the UK. Since then, we have expanded to other countries.
What services does the company offer?
Our services include imports, which covers air and sea freight from the United Kingdom, United States of America and Canada to anywhere in Nigeria. Through this service, we also assist in making online purchases on behalf of clients to overcome Nigerian (debit) card restrictions.
We are also involved in export. We handle worldwide deliveries from Lagos and Abuja. This service is particularly popular with individuals sending goods to loved ones, small businesses selling their goods online, and people moving abroad.
We also offer trucking services for deliveries within and outside Lagos. This service is for those moving to new homes, shops and offices, or moving heavy equipment to and from Lagos.
What motivated you to start your own business?
We saw a gap in the market for people like us who had recently moved from the UK and were struggling with high minimum weights and limited options for getting goods from the UK to Nigeria. We were passionate about solving the problem for them and have now grown into a company offering delivery services beyond the single route from UK to Nigeria.
How much was your initial capital and how did you raise it?
Our initial capital was around N100,000, for incorporation documents and branding materials. We collected it with our personal savings.
What major challenges have you encountered in running the business?
The first thing we observed was the bias against us as women in a male-dominated industry, but that wasn’t enough to deter us from moving forward.
At the beginning of the company, we were forgotten during the general discussions between the owners of logistics companies. There was a forum where we shared opinions on operations within the industry and we were the only women represented there. To our surprise, our contributions were continually skipped. After applying ourselves in the industry and growing over the years, we realize that this had to happen to motivate us even more. We overcame this challenge by proving our endurance and breaking the prejudice that logistics is only for men.
We also had difficulty understanding certain parts of the vehicles we had in our fleet as well as keeping up to date with the ever-changing vehicle documents required. We rose to the challenge by outsourcing fleet management while instead focusing on the “meat” of logistics.
You run the business with a friend. How do you assign roles without causing friction?
We are fortunate to have a partnership that works. One where both parties bring value to the table and that is important for any business partnership. In our case, the sharing of roles happened naturally. I’m an engineer by profession and I love numbers, so I took charge of the financial side of the business.
Kikelomo, on the other hand, is a lawyer and is fantastic at corporate writing, as well as marketing roles. Our two skills complement each other and we are committed to the company’s vision.
Where do you draw the line between being friends and business partners?
We are both very professional and we hold each other accountable. We set goals that we both have to achieve and we evaluate each other every year. On the other hand, we are also friends and we replace each other if necessary. We provide each other with shoulders to lean on in our personal and professional relationships.
How do you advertise the business?
Our biggest mode of advertising is through social media platforms and referrals. We are forever grateful to our customers, family and friends who continually talk about our company.
In addition to this, we attend networking events and all team members are responsible for marketing the business within their circles of influence.
What type of support did you receive from your family/friends when you started the business?
We received tremendous support from our family and friends. Our husbands have been key drivers and pillars of our business. Our parents, siblings and close friends were our first customers and they spread the word to all the WhatsApp groups they belonged to and anyone who wanted to listen. We honestly have the best support system.
What do you think is the most influential factor in the success of your business?
It would be our great partnership and the fact that we keep our customers at the center of our thoughts, actions and processes as a company. Our team is our gold and we go the extra mile, as resources permit, to ensure working conditions are conducive.
What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs?
They must trust the process and be resilient. Nothing good comes easy, so you have to be ready to put in the work. They must ensure that their business has a viable structure, internally and externally. It is also important to understand why they are in their chosen industry and to make their mark there.
They also need to create boundaries and have a pleasant work environment.
How do you handle difficult customers?
The key to dealing with difficult customers is to listen to them with the intention of solving the problem, not proving your point. Take a few steps back and listen for understanding and support. Difficult customers are a great feedback channel. Only those who care about your business will speak up, so difficult customers should be valued.
How many employees do you have?
We have a total of 26 employees.