Why I left banking job for my business despite COVID-19 – CEO, Imanah | Dailytrust

Why I left banking job for my business despite COVID-19 – CEO, Imanah

Usman Imanah, the CEO of Friska Farms Ltd
Usman Imanah, the CEO of Friska Farms Ltd

Usman Imanah, the CEO of Friska Farms Ltd, worked in the corporate world for 15 years before starting his tea company. From an investment banker, Usman was a PR manager in Samsung and head of Communications at Stanbic IBTC before leaving to start his firm. The biochemist-turned-entrepreneur speaks about his venture in this interview.

Companies found it hard during the COVID-19 period, why did chose to start then?

We started during that time because COVID-19 gave us a rare opportunity. Many were falling sick, hospitalized and deaths were being recorded every now and then.

The thing about COVID is that it requires individuals to boost their immune system and those who have underlying health conditions, like diabetes and blood pressure, are said to be the worst hit if not well managed. The fact that we sell tea that boosts the immune system, regulates blood pressure and manages diabetes makes people patronize us. COVID was a good time to push those products and for people to take their health seriously.

What brought about the idea for this business?

In 2013/2014, when I was at Samsung, I had a colleague who was selling juice and fruit salad to us and we could tell from his lifestyle that he was doing well. He had a new 2012 model car in 2014. We knew he was neither stealing money nor was he from a wealthy family. I confronted him and he told me he was making his money from agriculture. 

He said he travelled to Benue State on Fridays and went to the farms where he bought a truckload of fruits which he transported to Lagos, and at Mile 12, he would sell it for N70,000 to N80,000. What he was unable to sell was what he used in making juice and fruit salad which he also sold. After his explanation, I got interested in agriculture.

Despite my busy schedule and the thought of stopping at one time, I discovered that there were people dependent on tea for managing their health. At a point, I knew my side hustle needed more attention in terms of operations and marketing. I had to make a decision to either continue with my job at Stanbic or resign and pursue my dream.

Last year, we decided to expand to other products which will be for everybody. We now have cereal for babies and another product in the pipeline.

What lessons have you learnt managing your own business?

In the first five years of doing this business, I was deeply in debt. There were lots of mistakes that I made so much that, if I didn’t have a paid job, maybe I would have committed suicide because I lost a lot of money. It was a learning process and I cannot make that mistake anymore. 

The business is seven years old. Anyone that sees us will feel because I left a paid employment last year and it’s flourishing, I have been running it for years.

Where do you get most of your raw materials?

We have a farm and we only grow moringa. It is in everything we sell. We also have some other raw materials that we source from other parts of the country. For our baby food, the first batch of raw materials that we had was from Borno. We went to the state, met with the Commissioner for Women Affairs, she gave us 100 women from IDPs, we trained them on how to grow corn and soya beans, they grew and we bought it all. 

That was the model we wanted to use but the insecurity and distance made us change our mind. Now, we buy from farmers in Jos and other parts of the country. All our raw materials are sourced locally except the packs for our products and the filter paper for our tea.

Are your products only sold in Nigeria?

We plan to export but we haven’t been able to meet the demand for Nigeria. Our plan is to improve our operations and capacity, and then we can start exporting. Meanwhile, people order the tea abroad and we ship it to them but no distributors yet.

What are the challenges you face in the business?

For a business to thrive, it is important that challenges should not be focused on as they will not allow someone to move from a spot.

Power is expensive. We use diesel often, even when we want to use the power from the electric company, it is quite expensive and not stable. We have ended up working with an independent power company and they are giving us a solar solution that makes us work off-grid and we pay for it. Logistics is a challenge we experience many times. This is linked to the attitude of drivers, insecurity in the country, infrastructure and many other circumstances.

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