Q&A: Cameroonian Ditches Financial Services To Sell Natural Beauty
Christian Ngan could have been content–he had a good job working in financial services sector in France. He worked as an analyst at French investment bank Quilvest Group then as an associate at Findercord in Paris. But Ngan was itching to start his own business and to do something for his homeland of Cameroon.
Disheartened by the trend of skin bleaching in Cameroon he wanted to find a way to encourage Africans to appreciate their skin and to take care of it. He used his own savings to launch Madlyn Cazalis, a hand-made bio cosmetic company that offers body oils, natural lotions, creams, scrubs, masks and soaps.
Currently, Madlyn Cazalis products are sold and distributed through more than 30 chemist stores, beauty institutes and retail outlets in Cameroon and other Central Africa countries. Ngan, 30, also founded GoldskyPartners Advisory, a boutique financial advisory firm.
AFK Insider: What inspired the idea?
Christian Ngan: The inspiration first came from the fact that I studied finance and tried to think as an investor. Africa has a lot of potential and natural resources, and I found it deplorable that we, Africans, did not value enough what we have. The other reason that led me to start a venture in the cosmetic industry is the accrued presence of skin bleaching products on the African market. We are fighting against the skin de-pigmentation on the continent by offering healthy products that contain less chemicals. Madlyn Cazalis products are hand-made and 80 to 100 percent natural.
AFK Insider: How did you fund the startup ?
Ngan: I started Madlyn Cazalis with $3,000 of savings. I wanted to work for myself and to contribute to the development of my country and my continent. I learned that it is possible to start small and to grow with time. A lot of people tend to think that it is necessary to have large figures such as a million dollars to start a business. It is a big misconception. The project makes the money, the money does not make the project.
AFK Insider: What are some of the challenges of doing business in your country and how have you overcome them?
Ngan: The biggest challenge for an entrepreneur is to start. After that, the issues I faced were mostly related to the lack of funds. Developing a business through auto-financing, without the support of investors, banks or subventions, required a lot of financial discipline to avoid unnecessary expenses. It is not easy to do business in Cameroon. The economic initiative of the young population is not encouraged, there is a heavy administrative burden, getting goods through customs is a big hassle and the lack of support from the government are the main challenges most entrepreneurs face in this country.
AFK Insider: Was it hard to get stores to carry the products?
Ngan: I was lucky enough to know a pharmacist in Yaounde who trusted me and accepted to distribute our products. Our first distributor tremendously helped the launch of the product on the Cameroonian market. Customers were reassured to know there was a well-known location where they could find our products. After that, I reached out directly to other pharmacies and beauty institutes to convince them to distribute our products as well. I believe the quality of our products and our level of professionalism were our main selling points. Some distributors who were hesitant, because the brand was not yet well-known, are now trusting us.
AFK Insider: How do you encourage sales?
Ngan: The word of mouth really worked for Madlyn Cazalis. People tried the products and shared the positive results on their skin with their family and friends. On the other hand, we also increased our presence on social media such as Facebook or Twitter. On Facebook, we have more than 5,000 fans who follow our updates and are very much engaged. I also had the opportunity to participate to a lot of local events that received good media coverage (TED Talks, Africa 24, Forbes, Local TV shows, etc). We are also doing some traditional marketing with TV spots, radio ads, Billboards and flyers. We do not have the financial resources of a big multinational company but we are growing everyday.
AFK Insider: What has the consumer response been?
Ngan: Customers are not only buying our products but they are also recommending them to others. Our client base is growing everyday. People seem satisfy to have an alternative to the current products on the market especially the ones promoting skin bleaching. They are glad to have access to lotions, soaps, scrubs, body lotion and serum adapted to their skin and specifically designed for them. A lot of them also appreciate the initiative and are inspired to see young people from the diaspora returning home to invest in the the development of Africa.
AFK Insider: What are your business goals for 2014?
Ngan: Madlyn Cazalis has accomplished a lot in a short amount of time (less than two years). Our goals for 2014 are to extend our activities in the Cameroonian market and to prepare for international expansion. We are projecting to have more than 50 points of distribution by the end of the year. Also, we plan on improving the quality of our products and services and to develop our infrastructures to increase our production.