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 challenges 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 realising 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 (fifteen thousand naira).”
She later trained as a makeup artist of Charles Fox. According to Tara, her mother was her major source of inspiration while growing up: “ She was a fantastic woman, very fashionable, so when you looked at her dressing table she had make-up products, she would paint her face in the morning, she never missed her hairdressing appointment, her nail polish was always perfect. 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 peculiarities 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 are dealing with challenges of attracting talent and retaining them; keeping the voice of the vision across multiple branches and across a number of people. We also 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 organisations pay a huge sum to just keep rebranding an over flogged idea or concept. The motivation is to always remian original with your concept, otherwise you’ll get drowned in the crowd of opinions or competitions
For Tara, she believes you should “Stay true to yourself, stay true to what you are trying to achieve, otherwise you get distracted. Side comments, how people think you should do things, and I think that everyone wants to hear their own voice so you need to stay true to yourself. Before you come out of your house you have to decide, yes this is what I want to do. You still need counsel but you should be able to apply counsel to your own decision to be able to take insightful steps.”
Conclusively, The impact her startup organisation has had on the lives of people cannot be waved off. According to Harvey S. Firestone: “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership”. Speaking about the impact her entrepreneurial journey has had in the country, Tara says: “For us it’is the impact we are making that is most rewarding. The jobs… there are many people who are looking for jobs today and the beauty industry has given an opportunity for young people who are very excited about beauty, and you know Nigerians are very fashionable and love beauty. 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 them have had to employ one or two people as well and I think that gives greater joy, for us.”