The Question of Success is Subjective: An interview with Kimberly Ofori, a social entrepreneur and philanthropist
CAN WE MEET YOU?
My name is Kimberly Ofori. I was born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands by my Ghanaian father and Surname mother. I have had a wide range of experiences over the past twenty years professionally and career-wise which started off in the banking and insurance industry. I founded my first company in Spain where I lived for nearly a year, also resided in Dubai for three years where I worked as a business development manager. I’m currently in the Netherlands. Also working with different institutes like Femstart and Founder Institute in the field of entrepreneurship, helping early stage & established startups, and scaleups.
AS A SUCCESSSFUL SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR, WHAT CAN YOU SAY PROPELLED YOU THUS FAR?
I believe the question of being successful is subjective. It’s all about what you have defined for yourself to be a success. I will say I have had some ventures as an entrepreneur in my entrepreneurial journey that I consider successful even though they didn’t launch or become very big as I wanted them to be. Nevertheless, the experiences and the journey made them successful. I believe everything as to do with ones mindset, what you have set out to do is very important. Some start-up founders begin with a vision that is not entirely clear to them which makes it difficult to have clearly defined business objectives. Understanding where you are headed and steps to be taken is crucial if you desire the continued existence of your company. Your mindsets and vision are critical to the success or failure of any startup.
WHAT ARE YOUR PROUDEST MOMENTS?
About my proudest moments, they are moments I went out and did the things I wanted to do. What I mean by that is many people walk around with great ideas for starting a business or contributing to co-founding a business, people dream it, they talk about it but majority will never venture to do it. That is why my proudest moments were premised upon steps I took recognizing my dream and writing it down, doing my research and how I can make it happen, lastly, taking steps to build. Sometimes, a lot of ideas you have in your head aren’t going to work out, and it’s just fine but it’s all about stepping out of your comfort zones and trying different things so that you can learn. With this, there are so much value and experience in the journey as you learn, and of course, finding out whether you are the next unicorn when it comes to business.
HAS YOUR CAREER AS A SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR AFFECTED YOUR PERSONAL LIFESTYLE IN ANY WAY?
I’ll say patience. I have developed an incredible amount of patience. It’s something that as an entrepreneur you learn to appreciate being patient as well as when it’s okay to be impatient. A great example is understanding that whatever you sow now, be it money or time or knocking on doors and receiving all the rejections are part of the process and journey; it is a skill and muscle you’ve to train every day – to be patient by trusting the process and be clear about where you are going because that will spur you to waking every day and keep trying.
WHAT VALUES HAVE BEEN ADDED TO YOU BY VIRTUE OF BEING A SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR?
I have founded officially five companies. I’ve tried many different ventures outside of that scope. But for the five companies, one of them was sold to a US investor in 2019 and the others in Europe. I believe that in as much as that is a great experience, to learn and understand how this works and also know that there are possibilities out there, I dont think anyone should just build to sell and I dont think anyone actually does that. There is always an intrinsic motivation, even though you are building and looking for an exit in the next few years, the motivation to try to make something out of nothing or to solve a particular problem and be successful at it, that is where the true value lies and I think that was the same for me. I have never actually started my businesses thinking I was going to exit or sell but even if that is how you start off, I don’t believe there are many people that actually found a company and are successful solely for the purpose of selling it off.
HOW MANY START-UPS HAVE YOU FOUNDED OR SOLD? HAS ANY START-UP OF YOURS FAILED?
As stated earlier, I founded five companies that are officially registered but three sold to a US investor. Yes, I’ve sold companies. Those are not even my proudest moment. It is all about what I was able to achieve while I was still part of those businesses.
WHEN IT SEEMS AS IF A BUSINESS IS NOT PROGRESSING, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR BUSINESS OWNERS WHO FEEL IT IS AS A RESULT OF THEIR INEFFICIENCY/INADEQUACY?
My advice is that they do their research on what it is exactly, it could be that you are not possessing the knowledge or not having access to the tools or where to find the resources required for the business to grow. There are different elements that need to work together/co-exist in order for a business to be successful. We know that most companies may fail and for your company to be one of those that don’t, it requires a lot of work. The best thing you can do is to find out -if you will identify yourself as the problem, it’s probably not because you are not smart enough but you just don’t know how. Thus, you can hire people who do or better yet hire people who do know how and also educate yourself on the know-how enough to direct people too.
FOR START-UP BUSINESSES, CAN YOU GIVE TIPS THAT CAN MAKE SUCH A BUSINESS GO GLOBAL?
If you are looking to go international with your business or company, it probably has been the goal or something youve seen as a possibility from the beginning. Either way, it needs to become part of your strategy. You need to be intentional about your efforts to get international. You’ve to research the market you are trying to penetrate: Who are your competitors? What are they doing? Who are your customers? How are they responding to your competitors? Where do they find their products? How do they buy? What is their behavior? It’s all about research and then playing to that. Well, in business, one of the top reasons why companies or start-ups fail is because of assumptions, not basing their actions and steps on data and proving statistics. If you are going international, it’s very important to understand the market you venture into, get people underground, understand and have a network/connection. And also, dont announce that you are going there without having tested the waters. Try to see if people are that interested in you that you can have word to mouth growth – organic growth. Don’t start investing a lot of money in reaching a certain market. If it’s not going to organically grow, your money is not going to help it grow either.
WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE AND RELEVANCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA TO WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT AND BUILDING SUSTAINABLE SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS?
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool that we have access to in this day and age. Especially for women, it has given us the unique platform for us to have a voice where we have to fight to be heard. Whether it’s in boardrooms that we cannot get into because we are not provided with the necessary promotions or we don’t have the right networks or we’re just not being seen, whether it’s in business where we are being overlooked in terms of investments and opportunities. Social media allows you to build your network, to have a platform and to grow your following thereby reaching a wider audience. For women especially, it is a powerful tool that I think we should be leveraging even more because unlike boardrooms or hiring managers, social media is a platform that if you understand how it works, it can work in your favor and it will be in some ways unbiased because algorithm looks at what is your behavior, what you are sending out and how are people responding and if the algorithm likes what you are saying, you could reach millions and that is the power of social media. For women, understanding that is crucial for your growth.
AROUND THE WORLD, WOMEN ARE ACTIVELY ENGAGED IN THE INFORMAL ECONOMY, DO YOU SEE A TIME WHEN WOMEN CAN GROW THIS ECONOMY INTO A UNIFIED MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY?
When it comes to the informal economy, I believe it is not about how to build or transform that into a multi-billion industry, rather, it is more about how we are going to build an ecosystem out of that. What I mean is that it is only called informal because somebody decided that one thing is formal and the other isn’t. If you look at the history of trading and even money, everything about that is made up, someone just decided they will accept certain symbol or trade or currency for a service or product and then call it a formal/informal transaction.
It is more about what we are going to do to make sure that the environment we are actively involved with favours us. So it is not only that we are working in it, but it is working for us and it is working together for our good and that of our communities. It is more about building ecosystems and leveraging the power that we have which is making things grow as women. Then building on our own type of formalisation, empowering and making sure the money we make circles back in our community and in our lives that will be the great win.
SHARE WITH US SOME TIPS ON HOW ORGANIZATIONS CAN BE MORE INCLUSIVE IN RACE AND GENDER IN THEIR HIRING PROCESS
On the topic of inclusivity in gender and race, inasmuch as we could over-complicate it at the core, human psychology works this way you are most likely to hire people that look like you and if your company does not have any diverse people in hiring positions or power, you are not going to be able to meet the realistic mirroring of how the world looks like. The first thing that needs to happen is to understand who you have as staff, who have you hired and how will you change that statistics. If you are in an all-white middle-aged company and you are looking to change that because you understand the value of having different perspectives and having different backgrounds to enrich your company or to have a stronger position then you are going to need external help from people who don’t look like you. The first step is recognising and acknowledging the position that youre in now, probably that you don’t have the means or the right people within the company to change anything, get external help through bi-cultural experts to help you to temporarily reframe and change the culture and then gradually bringing in people you were not able to hire. You will see that gradually the culture will change if that is the way you’ve set up your company to be transformed. In all, the first step is really genuinely wanting to be different because you understand the benefits of it all. Businesses are significantly more successful with a diverse board and there’s a reason for that because you have different perspectives and you can fill different gaps with that and you have different insights that are valuable. You’ve comprehensive or complete angles to a problem that you can solve and that is the true value of embracing diversity in your company. Once you understand that it translates to increased revenues, growth, and repositioning, I think a lot of companies are going to start looking at adding more diverse capital to their businesses.