Yes, we know the coronavirus pandemic has one way or another affected the lives of everyone negatively. But in every situation – be it good or bad – there is an opportunity that comes out of it. This week, B&FT’s Inspiring Startups focuses on how the pandemic has positively impacted one startup in Ghana – Belo Cosmetics. The CEO, Augustina Dedo, also shares her troubled childhood and how she went against all the odds to fight for her future. Enjoy reading!
Augustina Dedo Adjoka was born in the Volta Region of Ghana. She had a very terrible childhood, as both parents died and left her alone without any siblings at the tender age of five. Since then, her struggles in life began. After her parents’ premature demise, her grandmother took over and moved her to the capital city, Accra. As a petty trader, she involved Augustina in her business of buying and selling. Since things were difficult for them, young Augustina usually sold gari (a local grain made from cassava) to complement her grandmother’s efforts to raise enough money for paying her school fees at both junior and senior high level. Sadly, her grandmother also passed while she was still in high school, at the La Presbyterian Senior High School in Accra.
Then, the baton of taking care of her was naturally passed on to her aunt. Her aunt’s husband saw she had a potential to be someone useful to the society in future, so he took over the expenses of her education. But another tragedy soon hit her again, when her aunt lost her husband. At this point, she began asking God the question everyone who suffers one form or another kind of disaster would normally ask: “Why me?”
So, after senior high school she was left stranded. While walking along the street one day, she was overwhelmed with all the anxieties she had been through in her life and started shedding tears. Well, like a typical movie scene, a good Samaritan saw her and asked why she was crying. After narrating her ordeal in life, the stranger – a man – offered to take care of her education and other basic needs. Augustina says the man was like an angel sent from God to help her in life. To her surprise, the man wasn’t in to take advantage of her as many would usually do. She says that he never attached any clandestine motive or conditions to helping her.
The stranger financed her to enrol in a radio broadcasting school, but later she lost interest and moved to the Ghana Institute of Languages where she studied Chinese and French, among others. From there she got a job with an NGO where her responsibility was to raise funds and be paid a commission on how much she was able to raise. At the same time, she was taking a degree course at the African University College of Communications (AUCC); but her income wasn’t able to finance her education, so she decided to rather defer the programme while in her final year and instead invest the money in a business that would give her returns in future to allow her continue learning.
After putting her university education on hold, she started experimenting with making liquid soap. The liquid soap was fine, but she had to work on her packaging. However, her challenge was that the packaging would eventually become more expensive than the soap; and that would increase the price of her product astronomically, whereby it would be difficult to sell. So, she kept thinking what would rather be a prudent investment if she used attractive packaging. That was when she decided to go into skin-care products.
Belo Cosmetics shows up
Augustina is naturally light-skinned. And as usual, light-skinned ladies cherish their skin so much that they are very careful what kind of cream to use on them. Thanks to a trip she once made to Ivory Coast, someone taught her how to make skin-care products. With that knowledge, she settled on producing skin-care products for both male and female regardless of their complexion. She named her business Belo Cosmetics.
The business has gone through difficult moments. From having just two clients four years ago when she started, Belo Cosmetics now sells to more than 70 clients in a month – a sure indication that business is good.
In the next five years, Belo Cosmetics wants to have a mini-mart that would solely sell her products and be the main contact point for clients. The purpose is to put a stop to the practice wherein some shop owners who accept to sell her products adulterate them with other ingredients, thereby breaking the trust people have in her products.
The role of education
For Augustina, the struggle to get the needed education has paid off. Without it, she says, she wouldn’t be able to read and write. She has also learned customer service, and that has helped her appreciate the difference in every customer.
One challenge that confronts her is the risk of losing all in production. Since chemicals are used in production, a little mistake on her part during the process can spoil the whole production – causing serious financial loss to the business.
Another challenge is with thieves who have disguised themselves as delivery boys. She recalls the several times that some delivery boys have absconded with her money. Even though mobile money has come as a solution, some clients after receiving the products will take forever to pay you when they opt to do so via mobile money – pushing her to rely on the delivery boys with its associated risks.
The impact of coronavirus
Someway, somehow, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t impacted Augustina’s business negatively. It is rather the opposite. She says due to stay-at-home orders that came along with the virus, a lot of people now have time to care for their skin, and this has rather made her sales shoot up.
“Sometimes, clients call and say since they are now at home they want to have time to give their skin good treat, so that when they resume work fully they will look fresh. So, the pandemic is rather impacting positively on my business.”
How government should support
Augustina says government must step up efforts in helping startups by paying close attention to their challenges, so that whatever assistance it offers them will be tailored to their needs and not a one-fit-all approach.
Advice to young entrepreneurs
“I want to tell my fellow young entrepreneurs to translate their dreams into reality. Some have good ideas, but do not take the bold steps to come out of the dreamers’ circle and translate them into reality. So, bring the dream out; and after starting, don’t give up.”