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Making Up For Millions

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While a growing number of influencers are dictating what brands sell, beauty entrepreneur Jackie Aina is of the view they have the duty to use their platforms responsibly.

Mixing up the inspirational with informative, the thought-provoking with tongue-in-cheek, and sarcasm with calling out brands for not being inclusive, Jackie Aina is influencing the beauty industry one product at a time.

With over three million YouTube followers and 1.2 million on Instagram, Aina is one of the stand-out digital influencers cashing in on online followings to broadcast messages to millennials, lifestyle brands and billion-dollar cosmetic conglomerates.

Although Aina does all of this with a dose of humor, the journey to YouTube stardom started some 10 years ago for the 31-year-old beauty entrepreneur, when she was desperately searching for a way to escape loneliness and unfulfillment.

READ MORE | Her Brush With Business

“I had gone on to marry the guy who inspired me to join the military. We were stationed in Hawaii and we were very unhappily married. I didn’t have a job and YouTube was buzzing in 2009. We had a lot of Asian faces who were really the faces of beauty on YouTube and I didn’t really see anyone like me. So, my best friend, literally every day, said ‘why don’t you put your makeup looks on YouTube’ and I always said no.”

Her friend’s unrelenting pursuit finally paid off.

“So, one day, I decided I wasn’t doing anything, and being bored and not being fulfilled emotionally and I didn’t have a lot of positive things going on for me at the time, so that left me a lot of time to consume content and then I started creating it.

“I truly tapped into something that I needed at the time mentally and that was great. People didn’t know me but they would just gas me up; they were so nice and would always give me positive encouragement which I really needed at the time,” Aina says.

That was a lifetime ago. These days, the Los Angeles-born influencer, who was called ‘beauty influencer of the year’ by Women’s Wear Daily last year, is short-listed among the top beauty influencers in the United States, with lucrative brand collaborations behind her.

Most notably is her collaboration with the Estée Lauder-owned brand, Too Faced, as part of the Born This Way foundation range, which she helped to create.

Celebrities and influencers are increasingly being paid several thousands of dollars per tweet or Instagram post to promote products, services and even social causes.

With most millennials avoiding posts that look like sponsored ads, brands are now increasingly interested in ads that appear organic. And that is where influencers come in.

Remuneration for such posts is usually decided after considering factors like number of followers, popularity, engagement, frequency of posts, as well as the format of the post.

Furthermore, influencer accounts with massive follower counts can leverage their social media clout to showcase brands to their followers and perhaps, most importantly, use their brand voice to fight against injustice in the industry, something Aina is passionate about.

“A lot of years on YouTube were spent seeing comments from people who say things. It is easy to sit and complain but what are you doing to change the industry?”

In response, Aina decided to use her platform to fight for the change she wanted to see in the industry. She holds other influencers accountable for offensive remarks and joins controversial and tough discussions about issues like colorism in the beauty industry. And brands are starting to listen.

It was her outspoken voice in the beauty space that caught the attention of the beauty conglomerate, Too Faced, which short-listed Aina to help expand its foundation range and ensure the makeup undertones would also compliment women of color.

READ MORE | At 21, Kylie Jenner Becomes The Youngest Self-Made Billionaire Ever

“That was a testament to brands actually listening. Just because you think someone is not watching, doesn’t mean they are not watching. They are definitely watching. Sometimes all you really need is that one opportunity and that can be leveraged over and over again,” Aina says.

As brands increasingly turn away from traditional marketing, towards social influencers, young, connected digital natives like Aina, will continue to play an important role in the success of beauty brands for the foreseeable trend-obsessed digital future.

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How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires

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One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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#MyWorstDay: A Demolished Shop That Built A Success Story

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Ada Osakwe’s business growth in Nigeria was fraught with struggle, but she is now fighting the injustice meted out to her as a female entrepreneur in the early days.

Most democratic societies consider themselves – on the surface at least – to be gender equal. But while legislation may not discriminate against women outright, real equality is still a long way off. The answer to greater empowerment and more profitable leadership may lie within women themselves.

Ada Osakwe, founder of Nuli Juice, a healthy ‘fast food’ company based in Lagos, Nigeria, believes the time for women to act is now. Osakwe catapulted Nuli Juice from a single-brand organization to a multi-category, multi-brand beverage giant. But that story almost didn’t materialize.

On September 1, 2016, Osakwe was celebrating the highlight of what was a journey that had taken almost four years in the making. Her juice company had just opened its first flagship shop in the cosmopolitan hub of Ikoyi, Lagos, and the young female agripreneur was the talk of town for her innovative approach to empowering local farmers by sourcing raw materials locally.

The next day, disaster struck.

“I was lying in bed and I get a call from one of my guys who said there are people here at the shop with bulldozers and I need to come. I got in my car and the streets were blocked off. There were police officers with guns all over the place,” recalls Osakwe.

Her shop was part of a group of four female-owned businesses being ransacked by the Nigerian police over the landlord’s alleged failure to pay taxes due to the Lagos State government.

“This was like 8AM and I said to them ‘we are tenants’ and they didn’t listen to us. We couldn’t reach out to the landlord. I made some calls to the relevant people in Lagos State and nothing happened. I said ‘don’t do this’. We are employing people, even squatters have rights and I pleaded with them to stop.”

Her cries for help went unheard and in that one morning, all her hard work came crashing down.

Ironically, a week before the demolishing of her shop, Facebook founder and American internet billionaire Mark Zuckerberg was in Lagos with the government celebrating the trip as a testament to their support for the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Lagos.

“It was really tough. A woman-owned business in agriculture, which was the focus of the government for youth job creation with over 15 youths employed in the store, was destroyed that morning,” says Osakwe.

For her, the experience was a bitter pill to swallow. She had turned down a lucrative position to follow her mentor, Akinwumi Adesina, as he made the transition from agriculture minister to the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), in pursuit of making her mark on the world.

After graduating with a first-class honors degree in economics from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom (UK), Osakwe began her career by working in investment banking in London. After two years on the trading floor, she was introduced to the AfDB where she secured an opportunity in France at the age of 24.

“I think I was the youngest person to be ever employed by a development institution and it was such a transformational path and it really set me on the path for who I am today. I worked hard, took minutes and people began to notice the effort I put in.”

Osakwe was right in the heart of what she felt was her calling at the time, driving Africa’s development, but she started to question whether there was more she could do.

Her goal was on making more of a direct impact on the African continent and the people she knew.

“It’s so easy to be in these institutions and you are traveling business class meeting different ministers in different countries and it is tempting to stay in that position but I had this burning feeling to do more,” recalls Osakwe.

After working in the infrastructure team where she was a part of the financing of the Lekki Toll Gate project, a multibillion-naira infrastructure project in the heart of Lagos, Osakwe decided to do an MBA in the United States (US) and transitioned into the private equity space.

“At that time, the African government was investing into private equity because I felt it was a way to truly support entrepreneurs. I worked with a company called Actis which was the biggest private equity firm for emerging private equity funds and ended up in New York with an African-focused fund.”

Osakwe was beginning to feel more at home making an impact with local entrepreneurs. A chance encounter with the team from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, a nonprofit organization pushing the advancement of youth entrepreneurship in Nigeria, brought her attention to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I met with the minister of agriculture at the time, Dr. Adesina and I took a flight to New York and what was supposed to be a 30-minute conversation, lasted three hours. We talked about plans for the youth in agriculture and it was a fun conversation. I was like ‘this is a minister’ and he was talking about the private sector and funds for the agriculture sector and when I left, I knew I would be working with the firm,” says Osakwe.

That was a lifetime ago. After working with the AfDB for four years, she knew it was time to venture out on her own. That eureka moment was sparked by two startling statistics Osakwe came across.

Firstly, Africa was spending about $40 billion on food imports that could be grown locally. Furthermore, Nigeria’s total importation amounted to about $11 billion on fish and tomatoes.

“I was like what is happening to our farmers? So, the wheat farmers in the US are getting richer and our farmers are only small-scale farmers and struggling. Something had to be done,” she says.

After making a series of small investments in two startups as an angel investor, Nuli Juice was born. Today, the company has 10 stores across Nigeria with a further expansion in its product portfolio to include homegrown coffee. Her brand is also stocked in all major retail outlets including Spar and Shoprite.

“The food industry is a $3 trillion industry and Africa is not on the map. You don’t go to Tesco in the UK and pick up a spaghetti that says ‘made in Nigeria’ or ‘made in Togo’; you see ‘made in Spain’. We have to change this.”

Osakwe is deliberate about changing the narrative of how agriculture is seen in Nigeria. Her goal is to use her platform to fight the injustice she suffered as a female entrepreneur in the early days of her business.

“It has been a struggle. The gender issue is a real thing for a woman in Nigeria and I see it when I am raising money. Women have to be resilient. As an entrepreneur, you will get the nos and sometimes your store will be demolished and you will get the police threatening to shut you down because they want a bribe, but you have to believe in that bigger plan and vision for where you want to see yourself,” says Osakwe.

And for her, that vision is to see Nuly Juice, an indigenous Nigerian brand, on the shelves of all major international retailers across the world.

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New Billionaire Ghost Writer: The Mystery Around MacKenzie Bezos

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MacKenzie Bezos is an author, an early Amazon employee, a billionaire — and isn’t talking.

MacKenzie Bezos was not fussy, which was helpful, as there was no time for fussiness at Amazon headquarters in early 1996. She shared her office with a junior employee in a space that doubled as the company kitchen. For 12 hours a day, as workers squeezed by to use the microwave, she presided over the accounting. At night she headed to the warehouse to pack orders. She “was a huge contributor,” says Mike Hanlon, Amazon’s seventh employee. “She really is a talented person in a way that I think gets lost when you’re the billionaire’s wife.”

The mystery around MacKenzie, 49, seems carefully cultivated. She largely slipped into anonymity after Amazon’s early years and has granted no interviews since January 2019, when her split from husband Jeff became public.

The couple finalized their divorce in July, with MacKenzie getting 25% of his Amazon stock. That stake is currently worth $36.1 billion, enough to put her 15th on 2019’s Forbes 400. “She should have gotten 50% of the company,” says Nick Hanauer, one of Amazon’s first investors. “MacKenzie was an equal partner to Jeff in the early days.”

NEW YORK CITY, NY – NOVEMBER 5: Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Bezos attend The Aspen Institute 26th Annual Awards Dinner at The Plaza Hotel on November 5, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by MAX RAPP/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

In keeping with character, MacKenzie wouldn’t talk for this story. To shed some light on her, we spent weeks contacting more than 100 friends and former classmates and coworkers; even that yielded only a hazy picture, one of an intensely private but talented woman who has, quietly, excelled at every stage of her life.

MacKenzie grew up in San Francisco, a middle child with two siblings. At six, she wrote a 142-page book called The Book Worm. Her parents, a homemaker and a financial planner, sent her to Hotchkiss, the Connecticut boarding school, where she graduated a year early. She studied at Cambridge, then Princeton, where she majored in English; Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison was her thesis advisor. “She was generally a very poised and a quiet and brilliant presence,” says Jeff Nunokawa, one of her English professors.

After graduating, she took a job at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw, where she began dating Jeff Bezos, who left to found Amazon in 1994. From the outset, MacKenzie was heavily involved. “No one really had job titles . . . so she did just about everything,” says Tod Nelson, another early employee.

READ MORE: MacKenzie Bezos Will Donate Half Her Fortune To Charity

MacKenzie pulled back around the time Amazon went public, in 1997, to focus on fiction writing. She kept a low profile until 2005, when HarperCollins published her first novel, The Testing of Luther Albright.

Morrison deemed it “a rarity.” MacKenzie followed it in 2013 with Traps. The more recent chapters of her life are largely unknown. In 2018 she and Jeff committed $2 billion to fight homelessness and support nonprofit preschools. In May, as their divorce neared completion, she signed the Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half her wealth. True to form, she hasn’t said a word about where those billions will go.

Noah Kirsch, Forbes Staff, Media

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