#LLA Interview – “Entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed when they acquaint themselves with mentors that provide support and guidance.” Gbubemi Vera Aibangbee

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One would have guessed that she would have given up her entrepreneurial dreams due to her many failed attempts at businesses. Instead, Gbubemi went on to build her agricultural passion into a sustainable kitchen aid for working women and mothers. Enjoy this interview with her.

For those who don’t know you, introduce yourself

My name is Gbubemi Vera Aibangbee. I am the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Madam Sabi Market Services, a pioneer internet based food shopping website in Nigeria (www.madamsabi.com). The company basically leverages on technology to distribute agricultural food produce to individuals and corporate organizations.

Excellent! What is Madam Sabi, and what’s the idea behind it?

When Madam Sabi was conceptualized, the idea was to create a sustainable brand to support the lives of working women and busy moms. New facets and possibilities soon emerged and we discovered the potential to do so much more with the Madam Sabi brand. It evolved beyond providing a service to powerfully impacting the businesses of female farmers and foodstuff traders. It has gone further to touch the lives of underprivileged children via our C.S.R initiative captioned “Food off My Table”. We are in partnership with The Bethesda Child Support Agency.

The name “Madam Sabi,” is quite quirky and different; how did you come up with it?

We wanted a corporate identity that hinted a feminine association, a name with an indigenous ring to it and yet not tied to any particular ethnicity. “Madam Sabi” in local parlance captures the essence or attitude of a knowledgeable woman with a wealth of experience. A woman who “knows best” or “is best” at doing something. We wanted our confidence to shine forth through our brand name. After going back and forth between ourselves and our families for several days, we found the perfect name. Every pidgin English speaking Nigerian knows what to “Sabi” means….and we work hard to live up to our name every day!

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Before you started Madam Sabi, what were you doing?

After my NYSC in 2001, I worked several years for a telecommunication multinational, got married and took some time off to raise a family. During that time, I forayed into entrepreneurship and set out to “be-my-own-boss”. During the next seven years on the quest of “finding my passion”, I attempted several businesses most of which I failed at. I however learnt valuable lessons from my failures. I never returned to being an employee.

Nigeria can be quite conservative with some ideas, how was your business received initially?

We got mixed reactions. Mostly commendation for coming up with a viable business idea that met a real need. Other reactions were expressed as doubts in our ability to perform efficiently enough to impress our target demographic – which are mostly discerning women who are naturals at haggling. In some quarters it was completely rebuffed because some people thought it unacceptable that any “responsible Nigerian woman” would engage an online company to do their foodstuff shopping.

Wow! How did you get funding for your business, and how have you been able to scale up?

Madam Sabi has so far been solely funded by us the partners. We have been extremely judicious with funds and are constantly seeking innovative and cost effective means to stay afloat in this very challenging business climate. We have been very ingenious in our scaling-up strategies which we achieve by mostly leveraging on the reputation we have built.

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What are some of the challenges you faced in starting your business, and how did you overcome them?

Like most start-ups, funding for marketing was a major challenge and still is. We have to keep finding affordable means of reaching out to prospective customers.  Other challenges have been those involving logistics, expansion and power supply. These are the pertinent issues we have had to contend with daily. I look forward to a time when I can say we’ve overcome them.

Who is the quintessential Madam Sabi customer, and how have you been able to meet their needs?

The quintessential Madam Sabi customer is anyone – individual, group or organization who values their time, has done the math and so values their money and most importantly seeks to enjoy first rate service without compromise on quality or quantity. We have met our customers’ needs over the years by sheer hard work and continuous improvement on our product offering and services.

What sets Madam Sabi apart from competition? Why should they choose you?

Choose us because we give value for money and customize our services to suit individual needs and preferences. Our “ready to cook” presentation sets us apart. We go the extra mile to prep requests in a “ready-to-cook” state paying attention to details like freshness, hygiene, packaging, and presentation. With a keen service-oriented attitude, our customer service is unparalleled! We take great pride in exceeding customer’s expectations and have steadily gained a reputation for excellent service quality.

How have you been able to gain and maintain consumer trust over the years?

By sustaining a culture of honesty and always putting the customers’ interest first.

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What are your views on mentorship? Is it important for entrepreneurs and women in general to have mentors? And why?

Whether directly or indirectly, everyone performs better with the right support from the right people. Up-and-coming entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed when they acquaint themselves with mentors that provide support and guidance. Mentorship better prepares them for the business challenges ahead and significantly helps to avoid or reduce the pitfalls they would otherwise fall into. Many women are often discouraged by their circumstances, self-doubt, or sometimes do not even see their potential at all. It makes a world of difference when they encounter and relate with other women like themselves who have triumphed over seemingly overwhelming obstacles to succeed in their own businesses. It creates a success ripple effect when women seek acquaintances with mentors who can encourage their ambition and help them grow confidence in themselves. They can in turn impact and inspire others and this way, a society of successful women is fostered.

Where do you see yourself and business in the next 5 years?

Agriculture is the present and the future. We project that in five years Madam Sabi would have successfully set the standard for people to obtain their food staples and would be adequately positioned to become the preferred food distribution company nationwide.

Madam Sabi’s logo is a market woman with a laptop in her hand; what does that symbolize?

Our logo has a twist to it. Most African cultures can identify with the image of a typical market woman with a basket of wares balanced on her head. It is the way we shop locally. It is an image engrained in our culture. Although the “Madam Sabi woman” in the logo is in the market buying food items the same way many women before her have done, she is not the average stereotype. She is confident, literate, tech savvy, and in tune with contemporary methods. She is shopping with her computer and knows how to use technology to her advantage. In a nutshell…she Sabi! That woman represents our activity as an organization and in the same vein represents our savvy customers.

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What are some of the important factors that have contributed to the growth of your business?

Honesty – We are not driven by the short-term reward but are in business for the long haul and therefore focus on building a life-long relationship with our customers.

Hardwork and continuous improvement – In every area of our operations, we implement strategies to push ourselves to do better than our last job. We are in constant competition with ourselves.

Customer oriented – It’s always about the customer at Madam Sabi. We must continuously prove to them that an alliance with us is worthwhile.

For entrepreneurs who may want to toe this line of business, what three things would you say to them?

Be patient. Focus first on giving value. Maintain your standards. Listen to your customers.

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