Who is Chidi?
Chidi was born and raised in Nigeria. I am married with three lovely children. My wife and I are not your usual couple as we are also business partners. She and I founded the Paper packaging company. This is not the first company that we have built together. We’ve built another company before called CAE brands and services, a construction, and janitorial service company that we handed over to another management in 2019. Other than that I am a Christian, fun-loving, I like to meet people and I enjoy traveling.
What does entrepreneurship mean for you?
For me, entrepreneurship means identifying a problem and creating a solution to tackle that problem to create value for society. While doing that you earn your revenues and make a profit.
What inspired the idea of the Paper packaging company?
At first, we were called paper cup factory Nigeria limited and our primary focus was the production of paper cups. The problem around us was that people used plastic disposable cups that are very common in Nigeria. I traveled to China at the time and I saw something different, cafes were using paper cups which were nicely branded with their company logos. Paper cups are also environmentally friendly so I decided to bring that solution to my country. I came back and did some research and we started the company. People found it interesting as this added color to events as companies could put their colors and logos on the cups. Over time our clients started demanding other things from us like delivery bags and food boxes. We expanded and started producing other forms of packaging.
Capital is a huge challenge to many entrepreneurs, was it challenging for you when you started and how did you manage?
A lot of businesses feel stuck because they do not have access to funding. I am referring to the companies that are starting and those that are bootstrapping. The thing is entrepreneurs focus solely on money and forget to make use of all the other resources around them that they can leverage on to grow. One thing is communication and how you can leverage the free tools that are available to you like youtube, Instagram, Twitter to let people know about your products. In our case, we focused on starting small. There were so many big paper packaging companies in Nigeria by the time we were entering the market. We got customers however few, got their feedback and we improved the product. Over time they started demanding more from us and that is how we grew. Something else that helped us was creativity and innovation, we found creative and affordable ways to do our production. We didn’t have to buy expensive equipment. We started by creating products manually that still gave value to clients.
In the four years of your operation, what are the key lessons that you have learned while running your business?
One of the key lessons is the importance of partnership and collaboration. In the course of our operation, we have gone into partnerships to achieve a common goal. Also, putting customer service at the core of our business. As earlier mentioned before we started by providing cups, however if our cups weren’t good enough our clients wouldn’t have demanded more products from us. Having a good team is also very important and the only way to do that is to ensure that your core values are strong so that you can identify people with similar core values and cultures. In addition to having a good team, we had a good advisory board and this enabled us to borrow from their experience and learnings. Another thing that I would recommend is to test things quickly, entrepreneurs focus on perfection and forget that when you test things quickly you get feedback from customers and that enables you to improve the product.
At what stage does a business need to be or what does one need before reaching out to venture capitalists or investors to raise funding?
It often depends on the type of business that you are doing because venture capitalists and investors invest at different stages of business. However, any entrepreneur who is looking to raise money needs to have a minimum viable product for anyone to take you seriously. You can not claim to have this big business idea that you haven’t tested, no one will invest in your business. This brings me to my previous point which is to test things quickly and work on improving the product based on the feedback you get from your customers. As an entrepreneur, you need to demonstrate how that product works to the venture capitalist before they can invest in your business. Also, investors look at your team to see if they can bring your vision to life.
You applied for ANPI 2019 and out of the 10,000 applications received you made it to top 20. Will you apply again this year, and how did the ANPI experience shape you as a business?
Yes, we will apply again this year. It was a success for us even though we did not make it to the top 10. This was the first grant that we ever applied for and getting to the top 20 was a huge validation for us and our business concept. It made us proud of the work that we have done in the four years of our operation. I also made some really good contacts when I came to Kenya and interacted with the other top 20 finalists. It was a great honor to meet Jack in person when I went to Ghana for the finale. That experience inspired us to come up with a grant here in Nigeria to support entrepreneurs called the Anchor pitch. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been a part of ANPI.