Today I am very happy to share with you an inspirational success story of an American-Nigerian Entrepreneur, Christina Tegbe, who started her African skin care range 54 Thrones from scratch and FAST. Oh, and she did so while being based in Houston, Texas. I am very excited about her start-up story and the interview that was held by my business partners John-Paul Iwuoha of smallstarter.com because Christina has been regularly in touch with me during her brainstorming phase, she is an active member of my Africa Business Academy, and above all she is an amazing role model for the Diaspora! Christina has started her business officially in July 2016 and by the end of the year she is now enjoying a happy and fast growing customer base and she is adding more beauty products to her range. It's the kind of story, dear Africa Business Jumpstarters – where ever you are – with a message for you. And that message is: YOU can do this, too! Build a business you love, create a lifestyle you crave…all while serving Africa!
Here is Chrsitina's story:
After her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Christina Tegbe had serious thoughts about the beauty products she was using on her hair and skin. She found many products actually have harsh chemicals and synthetic substances even when they are labelled as ‘natural.’
Christina found she wasn’t the only one concerned with the authenticity, source and content of substances used in beauty products these days. Her friends had the same worries and, as she later found out, more users of beauty products are becoming aware and asking questions.
This experience sent her down a rabbit hole of discovery and testing that unravelled her entrepreneurship abilities. Today, she’s the brain behind 54 Thrones, a remarkable brand of beauty products that are ethically sourced, locally made by African artisans, and curated to the unique needs of the market.
Christina has creatively sculpted a truly African beauty brand that makes me very proud. On top of that, she takes her customers, fans and followers on an experience that showcases the beauty and richness of Africa.
In this article, Christina shares her amazing journey from developing the business idea about her beauty business, and several interesting insights about doing business in Africa.
Let’s meet her:
Tell us about yourself. How did you end up in the business of beauty products?
My background is in healthcare consulting but I have always had a passion for beauty products, travel and all things Africa.
Not too long ago, my mother was diagnosed and beat breast cancer and this made me re-evaluate the products I was putting on my skin and hair and found that the majority of the products I used had harsh chemicals, parabens and synthetic substances in them. I found that my friends had the same concern as I did. I now wanted to use products that were pure, unrefined and safe to use, but the cocoa butter and black soaps I would find at the drug store were made with all the chemicals I was trying to avoid.
So I began to think of when I would visit my family in Nigeria, my aunts would send me packing with small tubs of handmade Shea Butter and always a Daily Manna prayer book.
I believe the world is filled with beautiful people, but the people in Africa simply don’t age, their skin is like silk, no wrinkles and part of that is due to the pure, un-adulterated products that are readily available to them. So I decided to merge my passions of beauty products, travel and Africa. I wanted to travel direct to the source, partner with local artisans and collectives that make these products and curate country collections for 54 Thrones.
What exactly is 54 Thrones, and what inspired you to come up with the name?
I love to travel and I would often post pictures on my social media accounts and I noticed people were most interested and shocked at the pictures I posted of African countries I’d visited. I’d get messages to my inbox from strangers and people I grew up with alike, astonished at the beautiful beaches in Accra or the 5 star restaurants and hotels in Lagos.
These people and were not just ordinary people, some of them are highly educated people but still ignorant about the tings Africa has to offer. The mainstream media has painted Africa in one broad stroke and many people have bought into this mass misconception. So I knew I wanted to do something to combat this.
54 Thrones was the name I came up with because there are 54 countries in Africa; each encompassing its own rich culture, history and traditions. 54 Thrones celebrates each country definitively; recognizing each country’s identity and jewels in the form of products, people, natural resources and experiences.
Far too often Africa is mistaken as a country and the individualism is lost in this incorrect and vast categorization; 54 Thrones is a part of the solution.
How did you move from ‘idea’ to ‘action’ with 54 Thrones?
I grew up in a competitive household, I have 3 siblings and everything was always a competition. My parents instilled in us that effort was nice but results got the trophy. So there was no question in executing on my ideas.
But what motivates me the most is seeing other people succeed. I love reading articles about African entrepreneurs especially women succeeding in business; it’s igniting. I always knew that I could accomplish anything so seeing other people succeed before me has always been re-affirming.
I come from a line of people with entrepreneurship in their blood. My paternal Grandfather was a noted photographer and had a successful photography studio in Ibadan, Nigeria and my maternal Grandmother owned restaurants and grocery stores, so I knew the only way I could live up to my maximum abilities was to start something on my own. I would be forever curious if I never tried.
So not moving from idea to action was never an option for me. I found that telling people about my idea, from family members to strangers was therapeutic, as well as a way of holding myself accountable.
I encourage people not to hoard their ideas for fear of someone “stealing” them, the majority of the time whomever you’re talking to is either uninterested in your industry or won’t want to do the work to get it off the ground.
Ideas are just ideas until you act upon them, which most people don’t. Instead, take these opportunities to get fresh perspectives and different viewpoints on your idea.
How did you know the market would be receptive to another product like yours, where several already exist?
Testing. I still test things with the business even today.
Social media has made it quite easy to test out ideas and see if they are viable. I took advantage of things like social media groups and Reddit. I found my target market and I would pose questions and take note of their answers. I studied what worked and then worked hard on establishing my own footing and approach.
I read countless reviews on existing products and I would search for customer’s pain points to find what customers disliked about other products. I built my brand with their pain points in mind.
I found that customers wanted organic ingredients and they wanted to know where the ingredients in their beauty products came from. Customers want to shop ethically and are moving away from beauty products with harmful chemicals and synthetic substances.
I was adamant on bringing 100% pure beauty products “Made in Africa” by Africans and only using traditional techniques to accomplish this.
What were the main challenges you faced with getting your business off the ground?
I am by nature an action-oriented person, I like things done right and I try and solve problems in my mind before they arrive.
The main challenge with starting 54 Thrones was determining logistics. I did quite a bit of researching before shipping but I still ran into some hiccups along the way. As one might assume, importing products from foreign countries can be costly and at times slow, there’s also a fair amount of risk involved.
So, finding partners that had favorable shipping rates and reliable shipping channels was a challenge. Things like free trade agreements, proximity to ports and where a country falls on the ease of doing business index can all play a part when trying to import or export.
What’s the kind of feedback you’ve received so far? What are the top 3 reasons people like your products?
I welcome all feedback, it’s always interesting when I meet someone and they don’t know I’m behind 54 Thrones and they unknowingly give their positive critiques.
The feedback has been incredible, many people have used products like Shea Butter, but had no idea how or where it was made, and after reading their product labels, they realize the ingredients weren’t as pure as they thought. I’ve received many messages like that from customers who have bought our products.
Others visit our social media pages and can’t believe the beauty within Africa and are instantly persuaded to want to visit. I’ve received an overwhelming amount of messages and emails where people are actually just expressing their shock and interest in seeing more Africa countries.
People are drawn to our products because first and foremost they are 100% pure, unrefined and natural. No harmful chemicals, parabens, or synthetic dyes are used in our products. This was very important to us since the basis of our brand is authenticity.
Another reason is transparency. We literally show you through social media liv-stream and videos of our first-hand experiences traveling to each country and the people that we collaborate with and meet along the way. Whether its non-profit organizations to women cooperatives, we show you this first-hand. We hand-curate each collection after watching and learning how each product is made.
Watching the process makes one appreciate the end-product so much more and we are able to connect with our partners on a much more personal level.
And lastly, people like the fact that our products are Made in Africa by Africans.
Our products are handmade by talented African artisans using passed-down traditional techniques. They make our products the way their mothers and their grandmothers and their grandmothers’ grandmother made them; authentic. We pinpoint exactly where and how our products are made and we show you, so that’s what makes us different and what makes our customers repeat customers.
Where do you see your business in the next 5, 10 and 20 years?
In starting 54 Thrones, my goal was to show a different side of African countries that is often not portrayed in the media and to show the incredible beauty products that come from Africa. I wanted to show that you can do business in Africa, you can vacation in Africa, and that Africa has luxury.
Opening people’s eyes was always the focus, so our goal for the future is to continue with that ethos but on a broader scale. We want to touch more people whilst promoting trade not aid.
I see 54 Thrones growing into a company dedicated to changing the narrative about Africa and embracing cultures through first-hand authentic user experiences.
Where can anyone order your range of products?
54 Thrones products can be ordered online on our website www.54thrones.com. We are currently in talks with some stockists to begin carrying our line of products as well.
It’s common belief that entrepreneurs are restless people. Tell us about the next big idea you have in the pipeline.
Restless is probably the perfect word to describe me. I’ve always been extremely competitive within myself, always wanting to improve on past marks. My Father referred to me as his daughter “obsessed with her future.”
As a child, every month on schedule I would send him my updated curriculum vitae even before I knew what CV stood for, adding in anything I felt I learned in life from the month prior. I constantly played out different scenarios and made crude algorithms to plan out my future. That tenacity has not left me to this day.
I’m really inspired by all that is going on in the African Startup scene and it’s also encouraging to see Africans in the Diaspora contributing to this “rising”. But as a new company we’re very focused on growing and expanding our brand, fulfilling our customers’ needs and perfecting the customer experience with 54 Thrones.
What’s your single most important advice to entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business?
When starting out, taking action is more important than perfection.
Don’t fall victim to “paralysis of analysis”. Once you have an idea, vet it out with your target market, and don’t be afraid to take risks and pivot when things aren’t working.
Don’t be married to your idea but instead you should have a clear ambitious end goal, having this end goal will allow you to be flexible and more apt to make small iterations and improvements along the way.
Do you want to make a gift?
Do you still need a Christmas gift this year or would you love to simply make a special gesture to someone special? (hint: that someone special could also be you). Then get the "The Ghanaian Country Collection" or the "Moroccan Spa Travel Set"!
I think we should certainly support each other's African businesses as the Diaspora knowing that by doing so we also uplift our people on the continent. It is only natural that I promote Christina's 54 Thrones products to celebrate her story! I suggest you have a look at her wonderful website and start ordering products you not only need, but that are beautiful, healthy, AND MEANINGFUL and the same time. Order your gift for someone special now.