Engineering & Capital Goods News

It was tough getting recognition in male-dominated business — Akpata

Ujama Akpata is a co-founder of Jand2Gidi, a logistics company. She tells TOFARATI IGE about her entrepreneurial drive and other issues

What is your educational background?

I studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, and I have a Master’s Degree in Advanced Chemical Engineering from Imperial College, London.

Do you have any corporate work experience?

I started my career in the oil and gas industry when I interned for a few months as a reservoir engineer at ExxonMobil. I also underwent my National Youth Service Corps scheme at ExxonMobil as a process engineer. After this, I moved to an oil servicing company called Petrofac International and worked as a process engineer for two years before starting Jand2Gidi with my partner, Kikelomo Fola-Ogunniya.

When and how did you start your company?

The company was started in 2013 by me and my partner. Having studied in the UK for close to seven years, we had grown accustomed to shopping on UK’s high street. We were always looking for one relative or friend to help us bring our things we bought to Nigeria, and that proved to be a constant headache. The minimum weights were high, we struggled with making online payments to international stores and we largely relied on inconveniencing travelling friends and relatives.

We saw a gap in the shopping and shipping process, initially from the UK to Nigeria, so we decided to solve that problem from the UK. We have since expanded to other countries.

What services does the company offer?

Our services include imports, which cover air and sea freight from the UK, United States of America and Canada to anywhere in Nigeria. Through this service, we also assist with making online purchases on behalf of clients to overcome Nigerian (debit) card restrictions.

We are involved in exports as well. We handle worldwide deliveries from Lagos and Abuja. This service is particularly popular with individuals sending goods to their loved ones, small businesses selling their wares online, and people relocating abroad.

We also offer trucking services for deliveries within and outside Lagos. This service is for those moving to new homes, stores 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 that had recently relocated from the UK and struggled with high minimum weights and limited options with bringing goods from the UK to Nigeria. We were passionate about solving the problem for them and we have now evolved into a business rendering delivery services beyond just the UK to Nigeria route.

How much was your initial capital, and how did you raise it?

Our initial capital was about N100,000, which was for incorporation documents and brand materials. We raised it from our personal savings.

What major challenges have you faced in the course of running the business?

The first thing we observed was the bias against us as females in a male dominated industry, but that was not enough to deter us from forging ahead.

In the early days of the business, we were overlooked during general discussions among logistics business owners. There was a forum where we were sharing opinions on operations within the industry and we were the only females represented there. To our surprise, our contributions were continuously skipped. Having applied ourselves in the industry and grown over the years, we realise that this had to happen to motivate us even more. We have overcome this challenge by proving our staying power and breaking that bias that logistics is only for men.

We also experienced difficulties with understanding parts of the vehicles we had in our fleet as well as keeping abreast of the ever-changing vehicle documentations required. We overcame the challenge by outsourcing fleet management while we focused on the ‘meat’ of logistics instead.

You run the company together with a friend. How do you assign roles without causing friction?

We have been blessed with a partnership that works. One where both parties bring value to the table and this is important for any business partnership. In our case, the role sharing happened naturally. I am an engineer by profession and love numbers, so I have taken on the financial aspect of the business.

Kikelomo, on the other hand, is a lawyer and is fantastic in corporate writing, as well as marketing roles. Both our skills complement each other and we are committed to the vision of the company.

Where do you draw the line between being friends and business partners?

We are both very professional and hold ourselves accountable to each other. We set targets for ourselves which we both must meet, and we carry out appraisals on each other annually. On the other hand, we are also friends and stand in for each other when necessary. We offer each other shoulders to lean on in both our personal and business relationships.

How do you advertise the business?

Our biggest mode of advertisement is via social media platforms and referrals. We are forever grateful to our clients, family and friends who continually speak about our business.

In addition to this, we attend networking events and all members of the team are responsible for marketing the business within their circles of influence.

What kind of support did you receive from your family/friends when you started the firm?

We received immense support from our family and friends. Our husbands have been key drivers and pillars in our business. Our parents, siblings and close-knit friends were our first clients and they spread the word to every WhatsApp group they belonged to, and anyone that would listen. We honestly have the best support system.

What would you say is the most influential factor in your business’ success?

That would be our formidable partnership and the fact that we keep our customers at the centre of our thoughts, actions and processes as a business. Our team is our gold and we go the extra mile, as resources would permit, to make sure the working conditions are conducive.

What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs?

They should trust the process and be resilient. Nothing good comes easy, so you have to be willing to put in the work. They should ensure that their business has a workable structure, internally and externally. It is also important to understand why they are in their chosen sector and make their marks in it.

They should also create boundaries and have a pleasant working environment.

How do you handle difficult customers?

The key to handling difficult customers is listening to them with the intention to solve the problem and not prove one’s point. Take a few steps back and listen to understand and give support. Difficult customers are a great channel for feedback. Only those that care about your business will speak up, so difficult customers should actually be valued.

How many employees do you have?

We have a total of 26 employees.

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