Starting a new enterprise in Africa and Nigeria in particular, can be both exciting and terrifying at the same time. The adrenaline pumps of living your dreams may soon face the reality of harsh business conditions in the country.
Here, we take a look at Tara Fela-Durotoye and the famed House of Tara, and how she was able to navigate the uncharted waters of starting a new course of business in a country as Nigeria.
Tara Fela-Durotoye is a Nigerian-born lawyer turned Africa’s leading beauty and makeup entrepreneur. She started House of Tara at the age of 20, from her living room, whilst an undergraduate at the Lagos State University back in 1998. She’s since gone on to launch Nigeria’s first ever bridal directory in 1999, and in 2004 she opened the country’s leading beauty academy.
Today, Tara has over 3,000 reps spread across Nigeria and 14 stores to her name and she is steadfastly dedicated to realizing her vision of building a globally respected beauty company of African origin.
Tara remains an inspirational role-model and mentor to make-up artists and aspiring beauty business owners across Africa. Tara made the Forbes’ list of 20 Young Power Women in Africa, 2013 and was also nominated as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
While she acknowledged that “creating a business that impacts and generates income, developing micro entrepreneurs who will grow their businesses and employ more people so as to make the Nigerian economy better is what’s most important” and fuels her passion, it was not all that easy for the young entrepreneur.
The society was such that had no place for entrepreneurship, and need not talk of a young lady at that. With her education, she was expected to earn her living being a lawyer, but the young Tara had to follow her dream.
“I was in secondary school many years ago and a man came to speak to us. He came to speak to us as an entrepreneur, that is, as a business man. He was in advertising and because he was creative, I found him interesting. He made me interested in business…I eventually went to the university and I studied law. As an undergraduate, while I was still in school I started a business. I started with just N15,000.”
She later trained as a makeup artist of Charles Fox. According to Tara, her mother was her major source of inspiration while growing up. I grew up seeing her adorn herself and I liked looking at her through all that process. I didn’t know that a seed was being sown in my heart.”
Every startup entrepreneur has his own share of challenges and House of Tara was not any different. While some challenges may fade away as your outfit moves up on the growth chart, others just stay put or dissolve into another according to the peculiarity of the outfit.
According to Tara: “At start up, we faced challenges with raising funds. In Nigeria, you need to be able to get financing and raising funds was a big problem. Also, our industry is an informal one and as pioneers, we could not find standards to copy. It’s easier when you see something you can copy but when you have to think it through and make it up as they come along, it’s not easy. Now, we face the challenge of people asking us to sell shares in the company and people consistently looking for ways to be part of the business that will boom.”
Dare To Be Different
One major challenge for startups is carving a niche for themselves out of an over saturated market or industry. Even established organizations pay a huge sum to just keep re-branding an over flogged idea or concept. The motivation is to always remain original with your concept, otherwise you’ll get drowned in the crowd of opinions or competitions.
Speaking about the impact her entrepreneurial journey has had in the country, Tara says: “For us it’s the impact we are making that is most rewarding. We have given many people the opportunity to start up something as a business, to be business owners, to start up their own businesses and to make money from it but also to be financially independent and many of them have had to employ one or two people as well and I think that gives us greater joy.”