Muslim Mohammed Nuru is an entrepreneur with creativity at the heart of what he does. Growing up, the young founder and CEO of MacBancy Perfumes and Art interacted with so many people at a tender age due to the frequency with which his father yanked him from schools to schools.
This experience, which could have affected others negatively had instead sharpen and toughen his creatively explorative mind and has now seen him venture into the world of a close-knitted perfume industry.
“We kept changing. JSS alone I know I had changed about five different schools and all those things built different characters in me. I needed to adjust myself physically and mentality to survive the changes in a new environment,” he says in an interview with The Business and Financial Times (B&FT).
An alumnus of Central University College where he studied Media and Journalism, majoring in Public Relations (PR), Nuru has always yearned to be an entrepreneur. The flaming desire to be an employer instead of an employee overwhelmed him after a series of incidents he encountered during his internship days at Metro TV and schooling days on campus.
“One thing that I knew…I always wanted to do was business…be an entrepreneur. It was very…very important to me. I wanted to do business but, I didn’t know what business to do,” he notes.
A discovery from a barbershop and beyond…
Being an entrepreneur in the perfume industry came to him by surprise even though he loves fragrances and associating with people who smell good as well as being in environments that smell amazingly good. “But I have never thought of it as a business,” he says in the interview at his perfume and art exhibition room at Agbogba, Accra.
An encounter with a barber during his level 100 days launched his entrepreneurial journey in the perfume industry. Any time Nuru went to trim his hair at the barber’s shop, the latter smelled so good. After several trips to the shop for a haircut, he asked the barber during one of his visits what perfume the barber used.
“Soul Zipper,” he was told and he wanted to own one even though he could not afford it immediately. “When I bought it, I used it and I realised that when I go to class people are like ‘charley, you de smell good, you de smell good’ and all those things. I still never thought of going into fragrance as a business.”
The straw that broke the camel’s back…
Level 200 in the second semester and Nuru started working with Metro TV as an intern. That was the time the television station boasted of several on-screen geniuses. Nuru looked up to them. He craved to be them. But his intimately personal experiences with them would refocus him 360 degrees towards entrepreneurship.
Nuru’s encounter with one of the senior on screen journalists gave him a rude awakening from the deceptive nature of the job regarding remunerations and conditions of service. The first shock was when “one of the big journalists there” called him during break hours and asked if he could lend him GH¢20.00 to ferry himself home after work.
“This is someone I really looked up to,” Nuru tells B&FT. “What could be his situation…was it like a constant thing or it was just today? I was asking myself many questions and wondering.”
Nuru, who grew up watching and listening to his sister, Shamima Muslim, and brother, Chief Moomen, do amazing things in the journalism and media space in Ghana wanted to follow in their footsteps but his early experiences in the media space, albeit briefly, refocused his mind.
But, he realised from those experiences that one has to be extremely passionate about journalism to survive—something he lacked, saying: “It is a field that you have to have a lot of passion to be able to survive there. If your passion level is not even up to 50percent, it will be difficult because you need to build it over time.”
The birth of MacBancy perfume
A friend in the US came down during the time Nuru changed his mind about pursuing a career in journalism and truncated his internship with Metro TV. The returnee brought him two fragrances—perfumes simply put.
Schools were on break then and Nuru hated being idle. He grabbed the gifts from his returnee buddy and hit the streets of Accra to sell them. His first destination was Metro TV, ironically. After marketing his products, he didn’t get a buyer. “For two weeks nobody bought them—Polo Blue and Giorgio Armani perfumes,” he says.
Nuru, who never sold anything in his life and all of sudden the ‘mini- bourgeois’ lad was texting people on WhatsApp, telling them that he was selling perfumes. “It was a difficult sell for me. So, I said that if nobody was going to buy, I would just use the products on myself,” he recollects.
Luckily for him, he dithered about using the products himself and then one morning a guy from Metro TV called to express interest in one of the perfumes. Nuru quickly yanked himself to Metro TV to close the sale. All the products were bought that day.
He invested the monies from the sale of the perfumes into the sale of Khaki trousers due to the difficulty in getting a less expensive but original fragrance on the market. The low budget ones on the market were fake and he wasn’t interested in selling anything that would put his name in jeopardy.
“It was a bit tough, and I didn’t know what to do. I called up my friend in the US. He said he was going to help me with about four pieces, but it took so long and the products weren’t coming. I didn’t know what to do and that slowed the business.
“But I never gave up. I said to myself if this is the case may be, I could go to Kantamanto and pick some khaki trousers and then come and sell them. I never sold before but I was willing to do it. I went to Kantamanto with the money from the sale of the two fragrances and invested into khaki trousers,” he recalls in the interview.
He sold the trousers on campus until level 300 second semester when he was suspended from Central University for reasons, he maintained were fudged to tarnish him.
“That suspension was actually a blessing to my life. It was a blessing in disguise because that’s what actually opened me to everything that I am doing today. That suspension that I saw as a misfortune in my life was actually a blessing to me. To be honest, if I wasn’t suspended I don’t think I will probably be doing what I am doing today. And, I don’t think you will probably be sitting here with me today,” he says.
Nuru realised whilst serving his one-year expulsion from the college that “there was more I could be…I realised that I had a whole year to prove that I can actually build something out of nothing. That was what actually pushed me.”
TV3—the gold mine
Everyone he met was a potential client. Before Nuru left home every morning, he would call on his creator to take him to places where he would be patronised.
“So, I kept on going from shops to shops, the ministries, knocked on doors to talk to people about what I am selling and all of that until one day, I decided to go to TV3,” he says where he approached the security man to ask if there was anyone in the media conglomerate who loved khaki trousers.
That day he went to Makola and grabbed a few perfumes imported from Dubai. Even though they were cheap, they smelled good. Despite knowing selling those perfumes was going to be tough, he grabbed them anyway…
The security guy told him hawkers were not allowed around. “Look at me, do I look like I am a hawker? I am just looking out for someone who loves fragrances and maybe khaki trousers,” Nuru retorted. The security guy still said no.
But, luckily for him, Iso Paelay, who was on TV then, came to pass. Smelling the fragrance, Paelay went wild asking: ‘Who de flavour here like that?’ “I just turned directly to him and said boss ibi me ooo. Ade sell fragrance. He said you sure? ‘You get this one, you get Tom Ford?’ and I was like what I get epass Tom Ford sef. He was like are sure? My brother come, he took me inside TV3 and then he went to his office. And ended up buying three of them and some few khakis,” Nuru recollects and that was the turning point. “TV3 is one of the places that actually contributed to my success today because they patronised me a lot,” he adds.
Starting his fragrance
After years of retailing imported fragrances, Nuru decided to create his fragrance line. He made the bold decision during the COVID-19 lockdown. “I have sold a lot of designer fragrances, I have learnt about perfumes, I know about their creation, how the formation is and then the places that they make them,” he says. “So I was like I wanted to do my flavour.”
That was after travelling to France where he witnessed so much potential in fragrances. “But the question was…how I do I even do my fragrance and then people will still buy it? That was a problem. That was a very big challenge because there are so many fragrances in the world with a big marketing budget pushing it heavily.
“So, who are you? Where did you come from? Nobody even knows you in the industry and all of a sudden you want to create fragrances and you think that people will buy?” he wonders amidst calls from people urging him to continue selling the imported fragrances. “Those are the soft sell. People know about them. So, you wouldn’t have to talk too much,” he was told.
Nuru, however, had other plans. He wanted to challenge his creative and exploratory mind. “I felt like nah…I have to challenge myself,” he says even though he appreciated the risky nature of the adventure.
Knowing he can’t just come into the market and expect people to jump at his fragrances, Nuru’s entry point strategy was to “create something too good to the eye that people cannot take their eyes off, secondly, give them variety for the price of one at a perfect quality and thirdly, customise the fragrances for the customers.”
Europe by Road
‘Europe by Road’ was the first fragrance Nuru launched. It is a five in one collection and the reason why he chose the name ‘Europe by Road’ was that there were a lot of people migrating from Africa through the Mediterranean and “we heard the news of a lot of them dying on the Sahara and some on the Mediterranean just to seek greener pastures over there.
So, I was like let me use these fragrances as an advocacy to prove to people leaving the shores of Ghana and Africa to wherever they want to go to…that…you can create something here that will be attractive to people in the West without having to travel through this endangering journey,” he says. “That was the point ‘Europe by Road’ wants to make.”
When one looks at the box design, he or she will see someone with a backpack walking. He is travelling by road to Europe and inside of the box different cities of Africa.
“So we are saying that these are places in Africa that the Europeans do have to come and experience…. we have Kampala, Uganda, Accra, Ghana, Maiduguri, Nigeria, Timbuktu, Mali and Soweto in South Africa. Each bottle has a name. Accra is a bottle with a unique fragrance, Kampala, Maiduguri, Soweto and Timbuktu are all bottles with unique fragrances,” Nuru explains.
Today, Nuru has about 15 different fragrances and about seven different collections under his belt. The collection pieces come in five in one, three in one, two in one, six in one. There are also limited editions too that come in bigger suitcases that one can’t find anywhere.
“When we look at the whole of Africa nobody comes close to us in terms of fragrance creation and fragrance packaging. Other people started this before us but because of the idea design mindset that we have…we are the leader in the African market,” he says, adding: “Because for me creativity has always been at the core of everything that I make. You should always look at your product from the consumers’ minds. How do they feel when they own what you have created? If it is not solving any problem nobody cares about it. It has to be solving other peoples’ problems.”