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Standing out in business is taking something basic, adding something extra and it becomes extra-ordinary-Ouserigha

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Queen Ouserigha is the CEO/Founder of Cura Foods. From starting Cura Crunch in her kitchen eight years ago, she has grown the Nigerian brand to International standard which has gained traction. As the world celebrates International Womens Day today with the theme “Invest in women: Accelerate progress, Queen tells 120edgenews.com her inspiring journey as an entrepreneur.

By Victoria Onehi

Q: What was on your mind when you began Cura Crunch?

Queen: While for others it would have been an idea of building a big company, mine did not come that way. In my case, it did not happen that way. It was like an accident. But as a person, I know I love to build things.  I have always been an entrepreneur. So Cura Crunch was expressing a part of myself.I wanted to do something more homegrown. Then I thought of doing something around food. Like the say, ‘people will always eat’. That was how it started. No vision, no passion driving me per se. The passion driving me was hunger.

Q: How did now start off?

Queen: I started from home. I started from my kitchen because at that time, I could not really get the machinery because they were expensive. I did not have the money at that time in 2016, so I went to Pantaker in Abuja and I decided to fabricate mine watching a lot of Youtube videos to see how it works.  I worked with the fabricator so closely. I resumed with them and I closed there because I wanted them to help me get exactly what I wanted. I needed to communicate what I wanted to them because these people are hands-on men, but understanding is a struggle, so I had to sit by them to follow through the process. I did not import. I simply bought some parts in bits to add to what they were fabricating for me. And what they did for me worked. It’s only few years ago that we started buying our own machines. I just started with what I had and did not wait to import the machines.

Cura crunch is a product made from unripe plantain flour. Closest to it will be chin-chin, but it’s still different. Its biscuit made from unplantain flour but it’s baked and not fried.  And it has a crunch. So what gives it the crunch is an extruda.

Q: How did you learn to make it?

Queen: I did not want to do the regular plantain chips and I did not want do the regular chin-chin. So, I had seen this product in Asia. It is very big in Asia. Asia is a big market for snacks, so they have lots of snacks.  Most of their snacks is not very heavy, its very light so you can eat and be full till you have the next meal. So, I got on YouTube and started looking at all the videos and the companies doing it. And they literally show you what they are doing. The information on YouTube is crazy/it’s so much. And sometime I wonder, don’t these people know they are giving out everything? Now I know, because you can’t give out everything. The more you give out, the more God gives you. Don’t hold it. If you hold it, you are sought of putting a fence around the one He wants to give you, and you want him to wait. But God wants to give you more. And that information they gave has helped me establish a business. I did not have to go to a school to learn it. So, I tell people, don’t sit down and look for a particular business idea, there is nothing new. Whatever you think about is going on somewhere, you just have not seen it. But is the uniqueness and creativity that comes from you that is what makes yours different.

What has made Cura Crunch to standout?

Did we stand out? Laughs. I think the product itself is different. People eat it and say this is really nice.  They say this is unique. The regular growing up in business is the same for most business people in Nigeria. Like I said, I started without a vision and the vision came in motion. After, I conquered my hunger for food, then I started getting traction. People started buying the product. At that point, I now knew this could be something. So, I now sat back to think through. Thank God I have a very fantastic partner, his name is Richard. We are business partners. What brought us together is the hunger to do things i.e. create things and break new grounds. And when I told him this is the idea I have but I think we should do it small, he said ‘no’, I think we should blow it. Make it big. What is the vision for the business? It has to be something that will outlive us. So, what I learnt there is, ‘take something basic, put something extra and that’s what makes it extra-ordinary.’ Don’t wait for one big invention that will take man to the moon. If you are lucky to have that one, then good for you. If not, look around you, pick something basic and put a bit of your creative touch and it becomes something big.

Q: Who are your target markets?

Queen: So, we started out not knowing who our target markets were. In business, it sought of a crime, because they say ‘if you know your target market, that way, you don’t shoot amiss.’ But, I am only saying that, because sometimes, you start-out not knowing who. Please, just keep moving, you will think out a lot of things as you go in motion. Don’t be too hard on yourself to want to know everything before you start. Make a move. There is so much you get when you make a move. So focus on the moving first and other things will align. We knew what we were doing was very healthy, so it will appeal to people who are health conscious and then people who are probably diabetics. Then, we say we are for everyone, because we give to kids and they also like it and are excited about it.  But now we know that we are for people that are enthusiastic about their weight and health. And who is not? People now know that your biggest medicine is what you eat.

Q: So, where can we find Cura Crunch?

Queen: We are in Ebano stores and we are at Shoprite as well. We are looking at stores that have chains and H-Medix is one. They have so many branches and they are bringing out more.  We are at some mini marts and we are well spread. We are in six cities in Nigeria presently i.e Jos, Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Warri. We have also started exporting. We are in Canada and Brazil. We hope to move to the USA. We are working on that so we are growing.

Q: Where do you see Cura Crunch the in the next three years?

Queen: This question is good eventhough, now we take it a day at a time. Some few years back, our dream was to export and we are there now. So, now we are looking at being in more countries. Now again, we are looking at it again and saying logistics is a big problem. Moving products around is a big challenge because you have to pay a lot of duties. So our plan for next three to four years is to have our factory in Europe. So, when we have our factory in Europe, we will be partnering with an existing company and we start by producing two times a week. So with that, we can begin to spread abroad and that way, we don’t deal with so much quality and certification issues. But so far, we have exported to Canada and Brazil and soon to the USA.

Q: When you started did you think it will be this big?

Queen: Not at all, and that has drawn me back a while. It is like seeing your child grow. And you are wondering, is it this child that has now grown to puberty? So, that’s how I feel about the business. So, I have now seen that this is big, and I have to step aside abit. There is a new CEO coming. I will be the Founder, and I will let the person be CEO doing the day-to-day running of the company while we trust God to break new grounds.

Q: Did you learn the business skills that helped you build the business to this point?

Queen:Like I said, it’s not about your business, but it’s about you driving the business. For example, if Tony Elumelu decides to sell Kolanuts, it’s not about selling Kolanuts, but its about the person selling the Kolanuts. And before you know it, Kolanuts becomes the next Gold and every person want to sell Kolanuts.

On building business skills, I read a lot. Then, call me for anything that has to do with personal development, I am there. Then, I belong to some business communities were we sit down and have conversations. So we sit with other CEOs and have conversations.

Q: What is your staff strength?

Queen: Because I sit with some CEOs and see their mistakes, I have learnt some tips. For Instance, some businesses make a lot of money, and loose it in Operations. Some businesses are not big but are quick to establish, HR Department and others. That time will come and there will be resources to manage those departments. But, if your core is to produce and sell, then focus on that,let your staff be around that only. At some point, I had to outsource accounting. I did not have to employ an Accountant and be paying salaries. I have like 5 people working full time and 10 who join us when we have huge orders, and then myself because, I still work.  The days I want to produce, I roll-up my sleeves and I am there full time. I do that because if I have to step aside from being CEO, I have to replicate myself. Then, how do I replicate myself?  By being involved. I have to be involved. The more you are involved the more you can see those that can be ‘you’.  You walk closely with them and begin to mentor them .

Q: So what is production like? Does it take a day?

Queen: Yes, it takes a whole day. And that is why I say the government should encourage entrepreneurs. Don’t encourage people the way you want, but encourage them the way they want.  How do you know? By engaging them and having a conversations. Can we stop things like we are giving out 20 million and then everybody becomes an entrepreneur overnight, and then people begin to struggle for that. The real entrepreneurs are too busy and will not be there because they have products to sell. And each time you make it about that, the people you find are not the real business people. They are portfolio business people. The moment the receive the money, the move on to the next one and when you mention another grant, they come. If government want to assist entrepreneurs, they have to change the approach and  have conversations with entrepreneurs to know what they need.

You asked how is production like? Years ago, when I was doing it manually, it was back- breaking. Nobody will like to do that kind of business. You get to the point were you ask yourself, is it really worth it? Is there anything I can do that I can earn this much? That is why some small business pack up. Because it becomes tiring. But if you get government support, you will see modern machinery that could take off that stress. So, if it is machinery an entrepreneur needs, then don’t present money.

So, now our production time is shorter. By the time, you do your weighing and all that. Our unripe plantain flour comes already dried. So, I don’t have to go through that hassle. I have a farmer who has the equipment on ground and does that. So, she supplies me 50 and 100 kg bags of well packaged unripe plantain flour. Everything filtered and tested for the ash content. The ash content means, if it’s not properly dried, you will have mucous in your products and that reduces the shelf life.

The farmer knows my specifications because we have worked together.  She can even tell me things like, ‘next season, we will not have much plantain, can we invest more and plant more.’ I have to partner with her because that is the life of the business. Without that raw material, we will do nothing. So, if we hear such imminent challenge, we plan ahead. Because if plantain becomes expensive, and you buy three times the price, and you now increase your price, customers won’t like it. They know things are expensive, but you don’t wake up one morning and change your price. So, you need to do your work ahead of time.

Q: How did you break even to get the machines?

Queen: I have never had to take external injections of cash through loans, it has been self-funded. So, at some point,I started doing coaching and training to get more funds which I invested in the business. Don’t be in a hurry to scale but also, don’t remain small.

Q: It’s International Womens’ Day today with the theme ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate progress’. How would you encourage that young female entrepreneur not to give up?

Queen: For a young person going into business, ask yourself, why do you want to do it? That will keep you going. Secondly, develop the staying power. Define if it a hussle or your real business. So hussle is for short term but if it’s what you want to do for life, the approach has to be different. Your decision making has to be long- term. Then there should be a place for building relationship and learning.

Q: How do you deal with competition in business?

Queen: I don’t worry about competition because we play in Nigeria which is one of the largest market in Africa. If they ask me to produce for 200 million people, I can’t do it so let other people play in the market. Take a fraction and concentrate on it.

Q: Tell us about your educational background

Queen: I had my first degree in University of Port Harcourt in Secretarial Administration and had my Master’s degree in University of South Wales were I did Logistics and Supply Chain. Then, I did another degree in South Wales in the Operation department.  But, I tell you, I am not using any of them. That is what I tell people coming up and my children. The real education has left the four walls of the university.  The education in the class room is to get you to think.  The real education is outside there. How you relate with people, peoples skill, Communications skills and Networking. That is the education. That is what open doors for you.

Q: Do you hope to diversify in Cura Foods?

Queen: The next area we are thinking to diversify to as a brand is the spices market. I am interested in the spices and probably coffee too.

Q: What legacy would you like to leave behind?

Queen: Because, I don’t want my children to go through the hassle of getting job, it’s one of my driving force to push the business. To have an established business were they can work.

Again, there is a business group I belong to, it’s called Sustainable Innovation Hub. They take a lot of lessons and one focus is on family business. I am interested in that because it teaches you how to do the succession plan. It helps you groom them without them knowing. Trans generation businesses is big in Sweden, were you have businesses that are a 100 years old. Each generation will come and change a few things. One started as a farm, then they started making juice because the grow apples and now it a resort. So the business evolved.

Q: How supportive has your spouse been?


Queen:
Earlier, he was reluctant to support me because he felt I deserved much more. But now, he is giving me every support I need. He has come to realise that the small thing of yesterday is now big. First, I had to tell God if you are in this business and you have validated this, then you have to make him understand. Now, he does. He believes in it very well.

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