Fanta Conteh is one of our Firestarter project’s biggest success stories. Fanta had started her business Welbodi Gari with an NGO known as Planting Promise before joining Firestarter and it was gaining some traction but she had some marketing issues. The training that Fanta received through the 12 weeks programme, she took her food brand from a little known local product that was often mistaken for rat poisoning to a national favorite that’s stocked in supermarkets across the capital and can sell thousands of packets a month. In her own words Fanta told us her entrepreneurial story.

“Welbodi Gari is a local processed cassava product. We fortify the ground cassava with milk, sugar and different fruit flavours. We have five flavours and one that contains roasted groundnuts (peanuts). To eat regular gari (processed cassava) on it’s own. It is only carbohydrate you can get from it. So the attraction of Welbodi Gari is nutrition as the milk is a protein. In Sierra Leone it is our second staple food. If you don’t have rice you can choose cassava instead, it’s cheaper too. You can eat it with cassava leaf, potato leaf or even stew.

The idea to start the business came from a British man in 2008 when he was handing over his NGO. At the time we were working for community based organisation. We found the market through children because children often like to mix gari with milk and sugar for the taste. To sell it we started with local plastic packaging but sometimes it will get spoiled because it wasn’t sealed properly and the presentation wasn’t good so we updated our packaging. We also had to think of a fixed price because the price of gari tends to fluctuate here.

There are so many people around who don’t have anything to do and some young people have dropped out of school because they don’t have any money. so I try to create something beneficiary for them too. I do connection and recruitment around the slum areas with people who are out selling things but they are not making much profit. You can imagine that sometimes they have to pay for their transport and they have to eat on that money, but if they are selling Welbodi Gari for the day they can make a profit which will cover all that comfortably plus more, which will even help them to pay their rent or for school fees. I train sales agents who deal with contracts and agreements for the sellers and restock them weekly. They get paid at the end of the month and if they reach their target they will get commission. Everyday when they sell about 50 packets they will also get a small transport allowance.

Before Firestarter, I had been struggling to market Welbodi Gari when I was working with Planting Promise. I met a woman called Mimi by networking through Sensi Tech Hub and i told her that people had been mistaking the product for rat poisoning because of the basic packaging, and she helped me think of some marketing strategies to create brand awareness. I ended up doing a radio jingle that went ‘Welbodi Gari na gari fo Gari pas gari. Weh yu see em yu de lik em, weh yu taste em yu no go lef em.’ which means this gari is not just an ordinary cassava product, it has more nutritional value and flavour. And when you taste it you’re not going to leave it. Because of the new packaging I had that was the new message I was sending out. I tried to do research to see which flavours were selling best, we had coconut , vanilla, pineapple, strawberry, chocolate and banana. Chocolate and banana were not selling so we decided to drop those ones.

I then met Morris and decided to start the Firestarter course. During the training they taught us about product diversification so I decided to do more research and I then thought of selling Welbodi with groundnuts (peanuts) after seeing a man who mixed peanut powder with the gari mix. We started off with a trial period and market research, we targeted 40 people who completed questionnaires about the product. I also learned marketing skills, previously I was marketing to lots of supermarkets and hardly any even responded to me let alone take my product to them. A few said ‘ah, this is just gari, we don’t want this.’ so Firestarter recommended that I did face-to-face communication to give the supermarket managers a sales pitch. After that eight supermarkets took on my product, Adnan’s, Freetown Supermarket, Monoprix and others. I was happy, it was a very proud time when I got the news. The Firestarter course helped me a lot and they pushed me to reach my potential. All the ideas I got is from the training i tried to do it as soon as possible — sale agents, sales points, I even created tables on the streets to sell and also carrying around packets myself every day. And I did it all when I was pregnant!

In the three months during the course I ended up selling over 12,000 packets of Welbodi Gari. I was really excited and when the day for the Firestarter grant decision came I found out that I was to be awarded a $1000 grant to boost up my business. A female Nigerian investor was present during the ceremony and she was so impressed with my business plan that she decided to award me another $1000 dollars.

The usual protocol for the Firestarter grant is that businesses will give Sensi Hub 5% of future profits but I negotiated with them because Welbodi Gari is a social enterprise as our profits goes to a school. In the end we decided that the full amount would go to the school.

My advice to budding entrepreneurs is that not just go ahead and do it, make sure that other people benefit from your idea.

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