Christian Ngan left Cameroon in 2002 to study in Paris, and was then employed by French firms in private equity and investment banking. But in 2012, he made the life-changing decision to quit his job and move back to Cameroon to start Madlyn Cazalis, a bio-cosmetics company that produces natural body oils, lotions and soaps for the Cameroon market, as well as some neighbouring countries in Central Africa.
Ngan, now aged 30, is also the founder of Goldsky Partners Advisory, a small financial advisory firm in Cameroon, and he expects that he will be involved in more ventures during the course of his career. How we made it in Africa asks the young serial entrepreneur about why he saw potential in Cameroon for his two companies, his entrepreneurial journey, and his advice to others who are looking to do business in the country.
What was the inspiration behind your decision to move back to Cameroon to start a bio-cosmetics company?
It seems a bit weird to say, but I felt like I woke one morning and my vision changed. On one side, Europe was facing a financial crisis and I did not have a social life. On the other side, Africa was booming and my dreams seemed more feasible over there.
Why did I pick the cosmetics industry? First, because of the influence of my mother. She is a pharmacist and I often witnessed her take care of her patients when I was younger. She would assess their problems and give them concrete solutions. Secondly, because I went to Cameroon in 2010 and noticed that skin bleaching products were thriving on the market and that the women were buying very dangerous substances. They were taken advantage of by people who were ready to do anything to make money. I am not against making money, but I am for doing it in an ethical and responsible way. Furthermore, African women really invest a lot in their beauty and care because they value their appearance but there are not many products done and commercialised by Africans.
Was starting a business in Cameroon what you thought it would be?
My answer might surprise some but yes, it ended up being exactly how I thought it would be. I really had to prepare myself psychologically before I decided to return to Cameroon. I put myself in the skin of someone who people will try to discourage, of someone who will be criticised, of someone who will have to face unhappy customers and the administrative burden. Today, the customer satisfaction level is above 95%.
However, the Cameroonian business environment is not the easiest: there are not many initiatives to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs), a high administrative burden, a lack of clarity when it comes to legal documentation and a lot of issues related to the quality of service. In spite of all those imperfections, entrepreneurs should still work hard to forge their own destiny, overcome those challenges and prompt the public sector to put together structural reforms to improve the current system. Regardless, it is still very encouraging to see more young Cameroonians taking the entrepreneurship route every day.
Tell us about the potential for cosmetic companies and products in Cameroon.
Cameroon is a country with an incredible amount of resources but many of those are not exploited. Our climate, our wildlife and our flora can make people envious. Today, many realise the importance of healthy products issued from biological agriculture. There is a middle class slowly taking shape and consumers who have less interest in imported products of lower quality. Africans want products that look like them and that can make them proud.
Currently, the market can be divided in three main categories: the major multinationals already present in Africa; some industrial African groups that have emerged in the last 10 or 20 years; and a scattered number of artisan producers. We are somewhere in-between the last two categories with the ambition to be part of the first at some point. We are creating a market that does not currently exist in Cameroon. We are offering professionalism, a service of quality and a brand Madlyn Cazalis that will make a lot of Africans proud within the next few years.