Joshua Tetteh…the man who is projecting Africa through coconut shells
It is always exciting to come across young people who want to project and promote products made in Africa. One such young person is Joshua Tetteh, an entrepreneur in Accra who uses coconut shells to produce amazing products. He makes bowls, cups, money savers, plaques, among others, all from coconut shells. Read more as he tells the B&FT how it all began and what the journey has been like so far.
Joshua Tetteh, CEO of Akooshi, was born and bred in Accra. He is a product of the Presby Boys Secondary School, and the University of Ghana, Legon, where he graduated in 2008. Following that, he did his national service in his father’s hotel at Dodowa.
Prior to his entering the university, he learned web designing. After a year’s stint with his father, he decided to quit to do something related to the web designing. He subsequently got a job at the Zenith University College as a Web Master.
A few years later, his father died and he was recalled by his family to take over one of the deceased’s businesses. But things were tough, as there were a lot of family issues to settle. Joshua decided to start his own business, which he named Switch It GH, a web designing firm which was co-managed by his friend.
He had the opportunity to travel outside for some time and upon his return, the friend who co-managed the business with him decided to quit. Managing the business alone, alongside family issues made it a herculean task for Joshua. Eventually, he was left with no option than to close down the business to concentrate on managing the family’s sawmill, one of the companies his father left behind. But something interesting happened that changed the direction of his business and his life.
The game changer
Joshua recalls that, one day, when he was in the mill, his younger brother showed him a nice product made from coconut shell, which caught his eye.
“One day, my brother came from town with a container made of coconut shell and asked if I could do a similar thing. I accepted the challenge and went to try my hands on it when I got home. After I finished, mine looked even nicer than what my brother showed me. I took it to him and he was so happy with it.”
After that event, Joshua thought deeply about it and realised he could use it as his full-time business. He immediately began preparations to produce more.
Akooshi on the move
When he made up his mind, he and some of the workers at the sawmill went to the streets to talk to the coconut sellers to supply them with coconut shells. With time, Joshua and his men realised that the coconuts they bought from the streets were still fresh and didn’t have dry shells. So, they resorted to the coconut dumping sites for dry ones.
The process, Joshua says, is a very tedious one, as they have to wash the shells thoroughly with hot water to ensure they are clean and safe for use.
The hard work has paid off though. Every product that comes from the treated coconut shells has a touch of finesse.
Today, anyone who sees products from Akooshi is not able to look away.
“We went for an exhibition and someone bought some of our products. He took it home and he had some visitors from Germany. Immediately they saw it, he said, they took all of them. So, he called me and bought more. After a week, he came back again and said he needed more because a restaurant in Germany has requested some.
Someone also came from the UK and told me he wants to be a distributor of our products in UK. We have also had calls from Austria and other places. So, people are actually becoming fascinated by our products.”
To ensure sustainability of their innovation, every quarter, he, together with his team, review all designs they have made and decide what new thing they can add to remain market leaders.
As expected, in this country many expect graduates to work in an office environment where they would be seen wearing suits, holding files here and there, and sitting in an air-conditioned room. But that was not the kind of job Joshua chose. As a result, he heard a lot of discouraging comments from people around him. Some told him he should look for a more dignifying job which pays.
Another challenge he has had to deal with is the non- availabity of skilled-workers. Joshua feels this boils down to the “Ghanaian mindset” which puts much premium on white collar jobs.
“The Ghanaian mindset thinks that craft business is not something that can bring in revenue, so, they don’t respect the trade.”
How education has contributed
“I think because I did a lot of courses in the university, I have become dynamic. I don’t always feel comfortable in one place. I always strive to try something different. And education has also helped me structure the way I do my business.”
How the products are marketed
In the era of social media, Joshua has not let the advantage it offers businesses slip through his fingers. He has Facebook and Instagram accounts stocked with pictures of his products where clients can see and make requests from.
How government can support
For Joshua, beyond the financial needs of many start-ups, a lot of them also face a major problem of keeping their books. So, he wants government to establish an institution that can offer free consultancy services for start-ups on how to keep their books and the kind of accounting measures to put in place to grow their businesses.
Advice to the unemployed
“I believe that everyone has got a talent or an idea. It is up to you to bring that talent out. So, those who are unemployed should look at how best they can start something up, and with the support of others, they can succeed.”