In a gleaming shopping mall in urban Nigeria, Elizabeth Mwizu is talking to a supermarket manager about the performance of her product, Yes Chilli. Three years ago Elizabeth was living in London and testing her fledgling product on friends. Now, back in Lagos, she’s outselling Nando’s sauce and about to launch her second product. Elizabeth is part of a new breed of business women in Nigeria and Road to Growth is setting them on their way.
Yes Chilli started out as a solution to the differing taste buds of friends and family. A keen host, Elizabeth would often cook meals for loved ones but after a while became tired of cooking two different dishes – one hot, one less so. She started cooking one mild dish but always had a pot of homemade pepper sauce on the table for those who wanted their meal to pack a bigger punch. When she started making plans to leave her job in administration in London, one of her friends suggested she turn her delicious sauce into a business venture.
When she returned to Nigeria, Elizabeth moved in with family who let her produce her sauce in a kitchen on their property, and Yes Chilli was born. Her business was two years old when she applied for Road to Growth: “I was new to business and I had a lot to learn. I didn’t know enough to feel confident in all the things I was doing and I needed some direction. It was my first experience of having to study in that way but this is the digital age so you have to take advantage of technology. The emphasis on remote learning made it convenient because you could fit all the study around your own schedule.”
For Elizabeth a significant outcome is a more positive mind-set towards debt: “Since Road to Growth, the biggest change I’ve made would be in the area of finance. I’m stricter on the books, I’m more diligent and I’m more consistent in terms of record keeping. I’m also more open now to viewing debt as a tool for growth. I used to be pretty old school, thinking that if I didn’t have the money then I couldn’t do something, but now I know that you need loans to grow and scale up. One of the things that I learnt was that you have to be business-ready for a loan, which means knowing how to use money strategically. My business isn’t ready yet but I’m working towards it. When I can I’ll be taking out a loan to scale up.”
With a marketing strategy focused on reaching more supermarkets and restaurants, a new product just launched and another planned for the next year, it’s unlikely to be long until Elizabeth is ready for the loan. The growth she has achieved in just three years is already remarkable. She is selling around 800 bottles of Yes Chilli sauce a month and plans to increase this to 2000 within the year. She also employs three permanent staff members and up to ten part-time staff depending on how busy she is with in-store promotions.
“My ambition is to have one Yes Chilli product in every urban Nigerian home within the next five years. I know it’s a tall order but with the skills I’ve learned from Road to Growth I think it’s achievable. I think what the programme did for me was define the path to my end goal. I think I would still be on this path, but I would possibly be a few paces back. I have a clear vision now and different markers and road signs to follow.”
And Elizabeth is proud to be part of a new generation of women business leaders: “One of the things you won’t see in any of the course notes is the value in sharing. I mean sharing information, sharing resources, sharing knowledge. It’s just so refreshing to have a group of people that are so open and so willing to share with strangers. What inspires me about the women I’ve met on the programme is good old fashioned hard work, integrity and this never-say-die attitude. It’s important to develop women’s expertise in Nigeria because it’s been an area that for too long has been neglected. If we are going to move forward as strongly as we would like and keep in step with other developing countries, then it just makes good business sense to develop women.”