Here on Whoot Africa, we not only showcase brands, but we also talk to the people behind those brands and have them share with us their back stories as well as give tips on how to successfully start and run a business.
Welcome to Whoot Africa’s – 15 Questions with the CEO.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and Madlyn Cazalis as a brand you represent?
My name is Christian Ngan. I am the founder of a bio cosmetic brand for ethnic skins called Madlyn Cazalis. I have a background in Finance. I worked for many years in Mergers and Acquisitions and in Private Equity in France before I decided to leave Europe and return to Cameroon to create and develop my company.
2. How did you get started in Business and what did it take you to get to where you are today?
With my knowledge in management, I started doing some research and studying the different factors related to the launch of my business. I had some savings and I wanted to be my own boss. I decided with a partner to work on the development of a product, a natural anti-spot lotion. The first product became a success and then we started working on more products. Today we offer more than 20 products. All that required a lot of courage but I had to take on the challenge. I encourage young Africans to do the same and take the leap and launch their businesses as well.
3. Did you know you were going to be an Entrepreneur all along, or did it happen by chance?
I always knew I would become an entrepreneur. I pursued my studies to get skills, I worked as an employee to gain experience but I wanted to be an entrepreneur to reach my full potential and unleash my creativity. At some point when you have a lot of ideas while working for others you tend to feel like a bird in a cage. I am that bird that opened the cage and decided to fly away.
4. The Cosmetic/beauty industry is not exactly an easy one for small businesses owners, as more people prefer to patronize already known foreign brands flooding the African market every day. How has it been so far playing against the major beauty companies?
I believe that nothing is easy in life. Although it is true that there are already many cosmetic brands and a lot of concurrence, I wanted to create a brand 100% African that would make Africans proud. There are few purely African bio cosmetic brands, but the market is flooded by skin-bleaching products that are not appropriate for the skin of the majority of people living in sub-Saharan Africa. We are in a niche market that is very important because the awareness of the side effects of those skin-bleaching products is growing on the continent. Also, Africans should be encouraged to buy African products because that is how we will be able to develop our continent.
5. You started your business with your savings ($3,000), was that enough for you to bootstrap along with or did you get further seed funding and what advise do you have for entrepreneurs who have great ideas yet have no funding?
For us, money does not make a project; it is the project that makes the money. A lot of people are waiting for millions of dollars to start. Madlyn Cazalis is less than 2 years old. An entrepreneur needs to show his abilities without resources before investors or banks put their trust in him. Learning to start small is very important. The mistake some entrepreneurs make is to expect everything right away. Everything is a process that progresses step by step. Trust me; investors will knock at your door faster than you think. First, you have to do the work.
6. Moving back to Cameroon from France to start up your business, despite years of living in France must have been one big step; what would you say to those in the Diaspora who are interested in moving back to Africa to do business?
I would suggest them to deeply think about their project and to know exactly why they want to return home. Is it to do like others? Is it for a better lifestyle? Is it to be with family? The return itself is not the answer to everything. Each person should know exactly what they aspire to do. Finally, they should also face the local realities. Talking about Africa behind a desk in London, Paris or New York is easier than living in it. Theories are often very different than practice.
7. Madlyn Cazalis not only sells in Cameroon, but has also expanded into the Central African markets, how has it been with the market development into these other markets?
Currently, our products are mostly distributed in Cameroon (Yaounde and Douala). We often have partners that purchase large stocks for countries like Chad or Gabon but we are looking for local partners interested in our products and ready to bring the brand to their region. The biggest problem in the CEMAC zone (Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa) is our lack of regional integration. It is still a big obstacle for the development of the brand because the transport costs are still high. West Africa is a bit ahead in this area. The heavy procedure at customs inside of a zone that is supposed to promote regional integration does not make much sense. If we were in Ivory Coast or in Nigeria, we would probably already be present in Ghana, in Senegal or in Benin for example.
8. You were recently recognized by Forbes Africa as one of 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa 2014, what does that feel like? Plus do you feel pressured in any way getting such recognition at such an early stage of your business journey?
It is always a pleasure to be recognized by a magazine that is well-known in the business world, especially at my age. We work very hard to make sure people recognize the value of our brand and the effectiveness of our products. Being on that list was a great source of motivation but also a way to remind ourselves that we are still at the beginning of our journey and that we should not give up. My whole team and I try to work harder everyday to provide products and a service of quality.
9. What do you love most about your business and your life as an Entrepreneur?
I have more time for myself and I can organize my schedule better. I can work, visit friends, enjoy time with my close ones, exercise or sit down and watch a good movie. All those things were almost impossible to do while working for an investment bank. I am not richer, but the quality of my life has tremendously improved. For example, I do not have to squeeze myself into the subway every morning to go to the office in Paris. What I like the most is the daily challenge. Every day, every week, every month is a new adventure. I learn every day, I face new situations and meet new people and that is very stimulating.
10. What keeps you and the Madlyn Cazalis team motivated? How do you envision Madlyn Cazalis in 5-10years from now?
The things that motivate us the most are the people who write to us or meet me in the street sharing how much they like what we are doing. Whether it is because they appreciate my journey or like our products, it is still very heart-warming. Some of them are motivated by the history of Madlyn Cazalis and want to pursue their own dreams. One of the reasons why I returned home was to encourage young people to achieve something similar if not better in their own industry. In 5 – 10 years from now, Madlyn Cazalis will be the leader bio cosmetics in Africa, I am certain. On top of that, Goldsky Partners will extend its activities in other sectors of the economy; Madlyn Cazalis is just the beginning of a beautiful adventure.
11. What do you think are the most important personal skills someone must have to be successful in business?
In a nutshell, I would say patience, perseverance, humility, thirst for knowledge and eagerness to learn, interpersonal skills (it is essential to know how to communicate and develop your network), organization and discipline.
12. Who was the most influential person or mentor in your life?
It is very hard to say and it might be a surprise but I do not really have just one person in mind. For me, anybody inspiring success is an influence. I am a big fan of Hip Hop, so I can name people like Sean Combs (Diddy) or Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) for their business acumen and their ability to expand their activities. On the other side, I admire people like Warren Buffet, Bernard Arnault, Francois Pinault, Aliko Dangote or Armenio Ortega for their discretion and humility. All those inspiring abnegation and success tend to be mentors for me.
13. What was the BIGGEST risk you’ve taken?
I do not have one in particular. Life itself is a big risk, Action is a risk. What we often call risk is in fact fear. When you learn to manage fear, what most people call “risk” simply becomes an exciting adventure. For example, leaving my job in Paris was not a risk for me but an opportunity to change my life. Other examples, when buying a gift for someone, there is a risk that the person at the other hand might not appreciate it or when starting a new relationship, there is a risk that it does not work out, or when going on the road, there is a risk that you may be involved in an accident…. Life itself is a risk. It is not necessarily me taking risks but me simply living my life.
14. What do you think about college education? Should kids go to college now or get into business if they feel it’s a better choice? Considering some of the world’s greatest never had college education, your thoughts?
College education is very important and I would always encourage the youth to stay in school and to push themselves to the maximum in their studies. While in school, you learn a lot theoretically but also at the human level. You have to work in groups, manage pressure, competition, rewards and punishments. All those experiences develop some mechanisms and the ability to analyze and solve some problems with a certain methodology. That said, you do not need to pursue long studies to become an entrepreneur because the entrepreneurial spirit often fall on us without any warning. It can happen one afternoon while you are practicing one of your hobbies and then you ask yourself ” why don’t I do it this way?”, “Why don’t I try to create this?”,”What if I try this?”, and the next day there is a new idea and the world of entrepreneurship opens its door to you. Personally, I stayed in school for many years and all the things that I learnt really helped me and provided a serious advantage when I launched my company. School is important but education is broader than that.
15. What would be the most important piece of advice you could give to young entrepreneurs and why?
The mistake that a lot of young people make, especially those from the diaspora, is coming home and patronizing those who stayed home and live the daily realities on the continent. It is important to be receptive to the new environment and to “Start Small, Think Big”. I keep telling everyone how Madlyn Cazalis started. Do you see a factory sitting on 10 hectares of land with hundreds of truck parked outside? No. Another mistake that a lot of entrepreneurs around the world make as well is to think that their product is not ready and to keep postponing their launch. The more time you take to launch a product, the more it could be detrimental for your activities. Someone younger, more hardworking, more alert and courageous will take your spot because an idea is only valuable when it is implemented. Stop the theories behind your computer and take the leap.