Temitope Mayegun, CEO, Avila: A Divine Call into Entrepreneurship

The belief that God has a hand in the affairs of man has found expression in Temitope Mayegun’s journey in entrepreneurship. It is a belief that has dictated every step she has taken in the course of her rise from obscurity to prominence in a sector that is not only challenging in Nigeria’s inclement economic climate, but one that holds the key to the country’s economic development – manufacturing. She says God told her to quit her job as an investment banker and stock broker to go into an area she knew nothing about. God has also been her business adviser, directing her on every new product she has added to the company’s stable.

Mayegun’s success as a manufacturer of a wide range of products in skin care, food and supplements is nothing short of a phenomenon. It is all the more outstanding because, before her entry into her current vocation, she had no interest in business. In fact, two experiences made her to reach the conclusion that business was not her calling. The first was when a friend gave her some goods to sell at her work place while an employee. She left the goods at the door of her office and forgot them there until it was closing time when she remembered someone had given her something to sell. By the time she went to check for the goods, they had disappeared. She ended up paying for them. On several occasions she would sell goods to people and forget to collect money. Her sister sent her some things to sell and she ended up giving them out. “So, I felt business was not for me”, she recalls. Her success in a highly challenging industry today is proof of what could be achieved with determination, especially when there is divine guidance.

Mayegun took the step of faith to go into what would become a behemoth in 2017, one year after being certified by the Natural Skincare in America. She set up a manufacturing company, Avila Naturalle, to commence operation after securing certifications from relevant regulatory authorities in Nigeria, and put together an efficient team that would help midwife the birth of the first batch of skincare products, precisely 30,000 coconuts oil to experiment her new venture.

Getting started in the business of manufacturing was not a walk in the park, from the point of view raising capital. She had the idea (divinely revealed), but she did not have enough funds to implement the idea as big as it was concieved. “I started asking friends for a loan to expand the business after the first series of production, but all efforts proved abortive”, she said. “I went to microfinance companies looking for a $10,000 loan and they said I needed collateral, which I didn’t have”.

The company she started in a mini-flat with three staffs has today grown to become the largest manufacturer of organic and skincare and beauty products, rubbing shoulders with the best in the world, with over 200 employees. From a very humble beginning, Avila Naturalle has grown to a size and capacity that enable it to place Nigeria on the world map of top skincare and beauty products manufacturing countries. The company has more than 1,000 distributors spread across Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States. From a one-product and one-division company at the time it started, the company has grown into a conglomerate with four divisions manufacturing over 400 products in skincare and beauty, food, water and drinks, as well as fashion.

Mayegun said she was inspired to go into manufacture of skincare products because of the alarming rate at which chemical and synthetic products were flooding the markets, which were sold basically over the counter. These products were having debilitating effects on the health of the users. Of particular note was the fact that there was nothing on beauty. She saw a compelling need to provide much safer alternatives that would not only be good for the skin and enhance beauty, but would be affordable as well. She looks back today with satisfaction at the rate at which the purpose for introducing Avila products into the Nigerian market has been fulfilled. She speaks with joy about the fact that her products have addressed such challenges like stretch marks, pimples, surgery scars, acne, hair loss, and many others. She says nothing gives her joy than bringing smiles back to the faces of people who had lost hopes of having their skins restored from damaged skin and hair.

Mayegun said a major challenge skincare products users face is inability to differentiate between organic beauty products and chemicalized products. While organic beauty products do no work as fast as chemicalized products, they promote general wellbeing of the skin and hair, and prevent aging more than the latter, in the long run. Most of Avila products promote collagen.

The company does not dabble into products without proper research. At almost all times, the company has products that are going through research and development. It is a measure of the belief and faith in the quality of the company’s products that sometimes customers wish they could get a new product delivered in 24 hours which is practically impossible because due diligence which is one of the brand’s core values is always paramount in the process of releasing any new product into the market. Hence, such pressures do not make the company compromise on quality, as it has to, as a matter of policy, subject all its products to research to ensure they do not have long term negative effects on the skin.

The success of Avila Naturalle has been largely dependent on its ability to break new grounds in research and development, to go into areas that have never been tried. And the results have been outstanding. For instance, before its introduction of the common oil that consumers were using, there was coconut oil that was watered down with edible oil, which caused much damage to the skin. There was no pure coconut oil in the market. Mayegun had to embark on aggressive campaigns to educate consumers of skincare products on the need to embrace the use of natural products, presenting Avila pure coconut oil as the alternative they need. She did this against the background of the fact that consumers were not ready to accept natural products. But she pushed on. And in the end, interest in her natural products, like the coconut oil, was such that the company could not meet demand. “When people saw our mustard oil, they were shocked that the oil was available in Nigeria”, she recalls. “They bought the oil in bulk to resell. We were the first to produce essential oils in Nigeria. People asked if we bought them from abroad and diluted with other products. That was the norm at that time. We are the only company that sells 100 per cent pure natural oils from fruits and seeds”.

Mayegun plans to make Avila the leading brand in skincare and beauty products, with eye on controlling the market share. She believes nothing is impossible. “To make this happen, we have created a multi-channel natural body care and household brand with multiple product lines, which combines a dynamic distribution network with retail strategy as well as e-commerce”, she said in an interview. You would expect the beauty routine of a woman in the beauty business to be an elaborate one. Not so for Mayegun. Quite surprisingly, her daily beauty routine is a very simple one. A morning bath with black soap, followed by application of Avila Natural Moisturizer and five essential oils already mixed into one cream completes her routine. As would be expected of someone whose business is about maintaining good health, she drinks a lot of water and eats plenty of vegetables. Weekends provide opportunity for her to extend the routine to Avila Natural Pineapple scrub, something she considers perfect for body glow and enhancement of maintenance of complexion, especially in the tropical harsh weather. Little wonder, she radiates the kind of beauty that can only be found in a manufacturer of products that are meant to enhance skincare.

Mayegun’s definition of beauty is not something that is limited to the superficial, as it is commonly believed. For her, beauty is innate, starting from what one has in the brain. She admits that though appearance is important, which is inclusive of good skin, hair and carriage, addition of brain sums up her definition of beauty.

Mayegun is passionate about development of women, from the foundation stage of education of the girl child. It is something she sees as part of her divine calling. In fact, she would consider it a negation and an erosion of everything she stands for if she did not believe, first, in education of the girl child and empowerment of women. She has made a deliberate policy to make women form the bulk of the distributors of Avila products. It is a policy that has transformed women into millionaires. A unique opportunity was when five women were selected to become distributors without having money to start the business. Part of the efforts in women empowerment is the annual awards for distributors, which provides a platform for appreciation of the company’s distributors, who are mostly women. Distributors outside the country are always made to be part of the awards.

Mayegun, who is married with four children, is well equipped, educationally speaking, for the kind of enterprise she has been in the last few years, the reason she has achieved so much success. A holder of a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from the University of Lagos, she also has an MBA from the Eaton Business School. She attended the Harvard Business School where she undertook an Executive Leadership Course in ‘Leading Different and High-Performance Team’. She is also an alumnus of the Lagos Business School.

Excerpts of The Top10 Magazine’s interview with Temitope Mayegun, President and Founder, Avila Naturalle

Managing a variety of products

We have different factories for each of the divisions. We have factory for our water separately. Avila fashion division has its own factory and other divisions as well. We have different people managing different factories; so, it is not the same set of people that handle everything.

We directly have about 200 staff, if not more than that, and each of the divisions have their own staff; so there is no pressure to manage the divisions, even if we have 10 divisions. It is just applying the right strategy; employing the right set of people with the right skills to manage the operations. Also, part of our strategies is to ensure we employ the best people that will fit in. We don’t just employ people because we need to fill in the gap or we need to start producing. We get resourceful hands; people that are capable, intelligent; people that can fit in and give competitive advantage out there. So, there is no pressure.

People have been asking that question, “How do we do it?” Someone asked me recently how I put people together. The people part matters in business, you know. I am a 21st century leader; I know what I am doing when it comes to leading people. I am not just going to impose what we do; but we have to do it together in the sense that, ‘do it I am going to join you’. We are in it together, we own the business together and somehow, we win together.

Obtaining NAFDAC approval

Yes, when you get the right set of equipment in place, they will approve it. They visited our water factory over and over again. And after their last visit, they gave us a letter. If you lay your hand on it, it was a letter to appreciate us that we have been able to comply with all the regulations. When you have the right factory, NAFDAC will visit and once you meet up with the standard requirement for certification, they will give you certification. We have standard machines, we have the right sets of people and we follow standard procedures; and we met all their requirements.

Divine inspiration

Actually, I was working and I did not have any intention of establishing a business. In fact, I use to be very scared of business. There was a time a friend of mine gave me something to help her to sell and I forgot it. Mainly when it comes to my work, I am a very serious person. I forgot that somebody gave me something so I left it at the door post of the office and they took it. It was at the closing hour that I remembered that I came with someone’s goods to sell. We went looking for the goods and search everywhere but couldn’t find it; I just simply paid her off. Since that time, I felt business wasn’t meant for me. Also, when I sell things to people, I don’t know how to ask for money. (Laugh) I remember my sister sending me some things to sell and I ended up giving those things out. So, I felt business was not meant for me. There was a time I was really depressed.

There was a vacuum that needed to be filled that I don’t really understand. That period I was just unhappy but I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. That time I use to shop a lot, I will go from one place to another shopping, buying things but I was still not happy. I didn’t understand why I was not happy despite everything. Weekends, I will go shopping with my kids and we will just buy and buy things thinking that would fill the vacuum but it wasn’t.

So, I started asking God, what is it? It was not like I needed money or anything but I was still depressed. There was a day a woman of God told me that God said He is going to open my mind to new things that He is going to show me some secretes. She said God told her I should pray and after praying He would show me.

I said okay and I started fasting for three days. It was after that fasting that God showed me a revelation in the night. In the revelation, there was nothing that was not in the big basket, cosmetics, drinks, different kinds of things were in that basket and they wrote Havilla on it. You know Havilla is a Biblical word. Immediately I woke up, being a Christian and spiritual, I knew definitely God has given me another thing to do.

I looked at it and wrote it down and while I was in the office that same week, God showed me clearly and I heard him saying I should start working with natural ingredients and that I should start with skin care. That period skin cancer was looming, that was the era that people were really bleaching. They were selling whitening all over. Everywhere you turn to even on social media, they were selling whitening such as Carribbean whitening and lot of others. That was when God told me and it was very clear, I heard him. I was like, God, how do I go about this?

He said start with coconut oil. I have never sold coconut oil before and as a matter of fact, anything that has to do with y and z, I am not good at it. The only thing I know I was very good at then was, I like baking. I was like, coconut oil? He said yes. I had to obey and I registered the name. We wanted to register Havela as reviewed, it came back not available, and they said it is Avila that was available. I asked God if I can proceed with the name and He said yes go ahead you are still in the land of God. That is just it.

Everything has been about God even when it was time to start Avila foods; it was October 6th, 2019, I didn’t know we would do foods and supplements and that our products would be needed during lockdown because people took a lot of our products during COVID and they came back with positive result.

It was October 6th 2019, very early in the morning that God told me it was time to start Avila foods and that when God is ready, everything must be ready. In fact that was the day he gave me that mantra.

I went to my prayer room and he said yes, I should start Avila foods and supplements. I said but God, I didn’t study science, it was accounting I studied. He said yes, food and supplements. I didn’t even know they have things in supplements because I am not so good with taking things like that. It was God that told me in that revelation, he even specifically told me that the food will contain the flour, the spicies and deodorants that we have and told me how spicies can help the body, how taking tea can help to heal the body and restore health. He explained a lot even some other ingredients that he gave me full insight of. So I was like, God, you asked me to start this, so we set up factory.

Like I told you, we bought the right machines, invited NAFDAC, they came for inspection and February 14th, we launched Avila foods. After that, we were still enjoying the exciting feeling of having food and supplements as a division. We started with 30 products but now we have over 100 products. Within that period, COVID came and that was the division we leveraged on. You know during covid, food was essential. God saw it before he asked me to start. It was during covid that we were up and doing on how to manage the change, the transition and everything, how to adjust to the global impact of covid, the economic meltdown. We were like, what are we going to do? On the 4th of April same year, God told me that we should start Avilla water and drinks and that factory is a very big factory, even when NAFDAC came, they said we have the same plant as Coca-Cola. We spent almost a billion Naira to set up that particular plant because we ensured we put every necessary machine in place to get the best. The machines we use are not those that require the use of chemicals, no. We use technology tools to purify our water and all that. You see what I’m talking about, the God part, because the standard He wants is excellent and because it is God who instructed you does not means you will not do your own part. So, we benchmark with the best plant and to the glory of God, our water is one of the best.

The Avila fashion, we were all together praying and thanking God in one of our top management meetings, (laugh), people that don’t believe in God will have issues with Avila story because we have seen God. Like our head office you are today, to the glory of God, was built without any bank financing it. God told us to go ahead and build our head office and we did. Even when we were like, in this hard economy? He said go ahead and he brought the right people with right mindset, faith, prayers, praise and finance, everything went into it. So, the Avila fashion was launched this February 2022. We have four divisions for now and we are trusting God for more.

Funding challenges

We don’t have funding challenge (laughter), because our source is from Heaven. People don’t like to hear about this in the business world and we are going to change that narrative in Avila. We are going to keep talking about it because God has been there for us. We have people selling for us; we have distributors. We just have to be more interested in creating solutions than making money. When you have the right product, the right people will come and buy and when they do, there will bring money to run the business.

Marketing reach

We span beyond even the shores of Africa, because the strategy we adopted, by the grace of God, is such that allows us to connect the length and breadth of the country through our distribution channels. Practically, we are in all the 36 states of the country and in some other countries of Africa, like Ghana, South Africa and Kenya. We are in some other countries of the world, like the UK, Canada and US. It’s a movement for us in terms of the setup of the company and the spread. It’s a movement; so we are not stopping. It is majorly about creating value. When you create value, people want value and once you give people what they want and it’s beneficial to them, you have created value. Everything we do is in line with the vision of the company, which is to inspire a healthy and happier world. And so, if you look at the two words we are driving, you will realize that there are key things that people want in their lives, to be healthy and to be happy. If you give a product that makes people healthy and happy, they will definitely follow and patronize you, and that is pretty much the ultimate goal. And as long as we stick to that by the leading of God, we realize that more people want to do business with us.

Coping with competition

We don’t see competition because we are not in the business to compete; we are in the business to enrich lives. So, if you are enriching lives, then you are a partner in progress. If we are enriching lives and you are not enriching lives, then we move on our own. The company is a divine mandate. There may be competition as they choose to see themselves; but we do not see competition. We are more focused on the value we want to add to humanity. We try as much as possible to do the right thing; develop the right products and we make sure that we pursue excellence. And as long as we are doing that, people who use our product, they appreciate it and they continue to use it. What is the point paying attention to what other people are doing? Why not focus on the value we add to humanity and ensure that people that come in contact with our brand are happy and healthy? As long as we are doing that, whatsoever any other person is doing is largely immaterial.

Government support on Buy Nigeria campaign

I will start by saying that generally, the government has put forward an advocacy for encouraging the use of made in Nigeria products. I would like to go about answering the question from that end. That much has been done, but I think more can still be done. As a brand, we appreciate what the government has done so far in terms of the “ease of doing business” initiative championed by the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo himself and Mrs. Olajumoke, and quite a number of other initiatives the government has put in place. We appreciate all of these. I think that more needs to be done because from the side of the government, it is beyond just supporting. It also means to help the economy; it is also a way to help the internally generated revenue for the country. So long as they continue to support, I think it will be a step in the right direction. It will be unfair to say they have not done anything. They have done quite a bit; but I think more still needs to be done.

Expansion plans

The vision is not a Nigerian vision; it is a humanity vision. We started and we are growing steadily and rapidly by the grace of God. As we speak, we have four divisions and four factories and there will be more divisions to come. In terms of our reach, like I said earlier, through our distribution channel, we have been able to span across Nigeria and some other African countries. But the truth of the matter is, when it comes to our expansion strategies for us to be able to consolidate the market, we will definitely have to establish more factories in some places outside Lagos, within Nigeria and outside Nigeria. And the way it works is that, we have our growth pattern and strategies. So, looking at the pattern you will realize that there is going to be a point where certain markets will demand your presence so hugely that supplying from Lagos may not be economically feasible. At that point, you begin to consider growth. As a business, we are all looking at that.

We are already poised to establish our factories in some countries of Africa and outside the continent. I wouldn’t want to let the cat out of the bag. But very soon we are going to establish factories in some of the African countries and that is quite imminent. Even beyond that, we are also looking at the other continents of the world, because as we speak, we have our presence in those countries. The market is accepting our products because they appreciate the quality of what we turn out as a company. The market is rapidly growing; the acceptability is high and we are beginning to look at the value chain. Does it make economic sense to move products from Lagos to some of these places? It calls for question; the importance of us setting up factories in those countries. And of course, we have that in plan and we are working towards that. Be ready to read from us in the nearest future that Avila has set up factory in certain countries of the world.