Meet the Boss: Chris Folayan, CEO, MallforAfrica

Chris Folayan is a speaker at the 2017 African Diaspora Investment Symposium.

1. What was your first job?

At the early age of seven, I decided to start a tyre reclaiming and recycling company to earn a little extra money so I could buy all the things deemed important to any seven-year old: toys, stamps, comic books, candy, and junk food. After all, I was a young boy with big dreams.

I connected a network of like-minded seven-year-olds from my school to convince their parents to help pick up tyres on the side of the road and bring them to my house where I would arrange to have them picked up by a company and get paid. I have always loved thinking of and executing ideas. It’s a passion of mine that drives me every day.

2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?

Every part of my job keeps me up at night, literally. From expansion plans to dealing with shipping to taking international conference calls to looking to improve customer service. Every single detail about my company is crucial to me.

MallforAfrica isn’t just for people looking to purchase the hottest new clothing item, jewellery or home electronic item. We also provide schools with books, provide shop owners a platform to stock their new stores, and businesses of all sorts the ability to purchase products to start a small business. Our goal is to keep on enabling, educating, and serving emerging markets with high-quality products needed to grow and produce benefits to their immediate family and empower people around them.

3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career?

I credit my early entrepreneurial spirit to my parents. My dad was an entrepreneur himself and still owns an engineering firm and always encouraged me to make my dreams a reality. When he told me at age seven that I had to earn extra money if I wanted to purchase my favourite candy bars, that’s when the idea for my tyre reclaiming company came to fruition.

4. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice ever is to, “Always be willing to make mistakes because they are the ones that make you grow the fastest and learn the most in the shortest amount of time”.

When we first started MallforAfrica it was about door-to-door delivery. It was the only form of delivery we would do. I was so convinced that everyone would want their packages delivered to their homes. A friend of mine suggested that we try and have people pick up their items at his office, which was centrally located in Lagos, a big city in Nigeria. Within a week of announcing a pick-up location, orders went up, new customers joined, and I was blown away. What did I learn? Most people don’t want to have to schedule a delivery window of eight hours as it’s more convenient to have a location where you can pick up items.

Today, we have over 25 pick-up locations in Nigeria alone and over 80% of our orders go to pickup locations. I learned so much in such a short amount of time about perception and ease of collection of purchased items being so key to our success.

5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?

  • Knowing that failure is non-existent yet inevitable
  • Developed a family work dynamic
  • I love to listen
  • Made a plan and executed
  • Goals aren’t enough
  • Didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and learned from other successful entrepreneurs

 6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?

Most definitely on the job. While school is excellent for preparation, nothing beats hands-on experience. I have personally learned the most by diving deep into a company and figuring out what it takes to be successful.

 7. How do you relax?

I love to travel and cook. I’m no chef, but I must say that I can pull off a good finger lickin’ lunch or dinner. I also exercise quite a bit. I have found it to be the most appealing way to distress and mentally rejuvenate my mind.

8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

I’m typically up working at my desk by 6am. Anyone who is an entrepreneur with companies that are in multiple time zones will tell you that finding time to sleep isn’t easy, especially when growing your company at a rapid rate and have huge goals to achieve.

 9. Your favourite job interview question?

“Tell me about your failures.” The answer to this is important because it tells me how the candidate takes risks and will admit when things didn’t work out. People always like to discuss their successes, while I’m more interested in their failures and how they overcame and learned from it.

10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?

The best advice I can give would be to advise everyone to know you have a competitor, never think you don’t, because you do. Always evolve because staying stagnant and content with how things are means you are not going to be around much longer, because someone is working on building a company better than yours.

With 20 years’ experience in technology and startups, Chris Folayan founded MallforAfrica and MallfortheWorld. The award-winning global e-commerce company enables Africans and people in emerging markets to purchase billions of products from over 200 US and UK online retailers. Folayan also sits on several boards globally and serves as Chairman of the Board of the African Diaspora Network, one of the largest US-based African diaspora networking groups focused on promoting economic development. Prior to MallforAfrica, he was the Founder and CEO of OCFX Inc. – a globally-recognised software and web design agency in the Silicon Valley.