Raphael Afaedor is a co-founder and CEO of Supermart.ng, an online retailer that allows users to shop from supermarkets and retail outlets across Lagos, Nigeria.
Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
It’s difficult to talk about a particular group of experiences being the toughest because every week comes with incredibly tough challenges. Many a times, I wake up thinking this week is when it all ends – the week when I will be unable to make payroll or some other important thing breaks. But I learned that companies die when the entrepreneurs give up, not when the entrepreneurs are executing. So I wake up and forge on and somehow things sort themselves out.
Which business achievement are you most proud of?
Building a business in Nigeria is incredibly hard. But the 2015-2016 recession took hardship to another level all together. Yet my company Supermart.ng survived it. I am incredibly proud of that. My partner Gbolahan and I decided to build proper systems and processes from the very onset – from standard operating procedures and succession plans, through to employee welfare schemes and customer feedback systems. And I will say, these enabled us to survive the difficult recessionary times.
I also tend to be very proud of employees who go on to start companies. Today I count at least 20 companies that have been started by people who at some point worked in Supermart.ng or Jumia (Afaedor’s previous company), and that is very satisfying.
Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I care a lot about my employees and colleagues and invest a lot of my management time into motivating them and working on their mindsets – so whenever one left, it used to affect me in a profound way. Over time, I learned attrition is normal and to be expected and most importantly my job is to build my teams such that the company can recover easily.
I still spend time with my direct reports motivating them, working on their mindsets but I don’t stress it as much when any [employee] leaves, especially since I almost always have a successor already in place. I derive pride now from them coming back to tell me how they value the impact I’ve had in their lives and the mentorship they want from me going forward.
Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
I am not a fan of many of the phrases bandied about today when entrepreneurship is mentioned. Example: disrupt. I don’t believe modern, new businesses are meant to disrupt old markets. It’s a mindset that is full of hubris. Millions, if not billions, of dollars have been invested in empirical research and development to build today’s markets and solutions. The notion that a bunch of newbies will come and disrupt it, is wrong. I prefer thinking I will collaborate with the old businesses and use technology to enhance them. That’s why we chose to partner with existing supermarkets to build Supermart.ng. They know more about groceries than we know; we know about internet technology, demand generation online, and delivery to homes. So we chose to partner and leverage each others competences.
Similarly, I don’t believe in companies calling themselves start-ups. I feel it is a licence new companies give themselves to do things wrongly under the guise of being scrappy. I prefer to think of the businesses I get involved in as businesses – small, but businesses nonetheless. So we try to do the right things from the get go: proper financials, documented and formalised systems and processes, contracts and the respect for them, etc. I think this sets you on the right course to succeed.
Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
I guess how incredibly hard it is and how long a time it takes. It is also so, so unsexy. There is a prevailing notion that entrepreneurs are rockstars. If you want to be a rockstar and make a tonne of money with a decent degree of certainty, go to school, learn a skill and join a good company. Entrepreneurship is definitely not the best path to riches.
Name a business opportunity you would still like to pursue.
None. I have my hands full as it is with Supermart.ng. We are currently building Nigeria’s leading food logistics company. It’s a lot of work as it is. I also don’t think about other opportunities because I know now that none are easy and none happens quickly. So I will stay in my current lane, and focus and build Supermart.ng to become the great company it potentially can become.