#ConversationsWith Affiong Williams of ReelFruit

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

We received such amazing feedback from the feature last week. Catch up here. We continue this week, on #AfricanWomenLeaders on #GlossyWhitePumps where we have a fantastic sit down with Affiong Williams. (a.k.a. Affi)

Affi is a spirited entrepreneur. Her energy is strong, and speaking with Affi, you can quickly tell she values consistency, and grit. Two traits i think are amazing to build and are rare in the world today. She is an entrepreneur and a runner at heart with strong ideologies. Without further do, find a comfortable spot and let's get to it!

Maria Ro: Affi, Thank you for agreeing to do this. So, tell us. Who is Affiong Williams and what inspires you?

Affi: Glad to be here. Hmm. I thought this would be an easy question to answer, but it turns out that it is quite difficult to sum myself up in a few words. I think what is at the essence of who I am is someone who is driven, and working hard to unearth the purpose I believe I was put on earth for.

I am an internally motivated person, so I do draw a lot of inspiration from within, but I am most inspired by people- of all walks of life- who are beating whatever odds life threw at them and trying to succeed.

Maria Ro: I see that come through. There is a drive, an aspiration to continue to push the limits that i think colors your ideologies, and it is something that is admirable. Thanks for sharing that. Tell us, what’s your story, how did you become the founder of Reelfruit; a healthy dried fruit snack company. What led you here?

Affi: I was working for an entrepreneurship development organization for four years, and I loved my job. I learned a lot working with entrepreneurs and was most inspired by the fact that they took risks and created prosperity for themselves and more importantly others.

I wanted to have this kind of impact in others. I looked at my own very sheltered life and thought, “I could take the risk given the cushion my family provided me, but If I succeed, I’d create outsized impact in other people’s lives.”

That thinking led me down the rabbit hole to quitting my job, moving back to Nigeria and starting the business.

Maria Ro: Affi, who is one pivotal person, or one pivotal experience that has shaped you as a leader, and why?

Affi: The most pivotal person in my entrepreneurial journey is my husband. My mother comes in a close second for being the best support system and best friend and entrepreneur could ask for.

However, I’ve been very fortunate to have a husband like mine who is a formidable entrepreneur in his own right, and learn from his ability to build and lead a great organization. I have understood what it’s like to be an authentic, yet vulnerable leader from him, and it has greatly influenced the way I see my business and my team. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher.

Maria Ro: That is so cool, to have a strong support system, also a husband who is also a seasoned entrepreneur, as an entrepreneur. Affi, every leader has a strong reason for why they do what they do. What is your "why?"

Affi: My ‘why’ is very much centered around doing what I say I will do. I am a driven person, not only about my entrepreneurial pursuits, but in every facet of my life. I enjoy challenges and doing hard things. I like finishing the things I start, and I want to be a successful entrepreneur.

But grit, willpower, motivation is not full proof to surviving the hardships of entrepreneurship. In difficult times, I am very inspired to continue to build a great organization for the people I work with and the people who believe in me.

Related Post: Finding Purpose

Maria Ro: What would you say to those who really want to be entrepreneurs, and are either still students, in the corporate world, or exploring this path, what’s your advice?

Affi: I am always torn about this question because on days where things are absolutely terrible, i’d never advise anyone to pursue this path. It is by far the hardest thing I have done in my life and I often question if I’d do this again knowing all I know now.

However, humans are not entirely rational (for good and bad) hence why so many people want to become entrepreneurs. As someone who started her business at twenty-six, I’d definitely NOT advise this. I’d say work longer, save up more , diversify income and investment streams and leave entrepreneurship till you’re older , better resourced and better networks (the data supports this).

Although, if you’re consumed by passion (no one will be able to stop you), I’d advise that you research , and reach out to players in the industry- people are more willing to share information than you think.

Maria Ro: I find your honesty on this topic so refreshing. Most times we forget that entrepreneurship is really risky, and the upsides only exist when it actually works. From the data, it is a rarity that it works. Affi, building proficiency to reaching a position of authority on the subject is a key tenet of leadership, how does one go from novice to expert. How have you done it, and what is your advice to anyone looking to build skills in an area of passion, while they are still beginners?

Affi: I don’t have any ‘hacks’ to share but i’d say staying curious and hungry to learn is the most important trait in becoming an expert.

It may seem like an ‘archaic’ skill in today’s world where a lot of people get by on being ‘overnight experts’ But, I think consolidating one’s knowledge is even more advantageous where it has sort of been commoditized.

Maria Ro: ..If you had a time capsule and you could go back to the beginning of your leadership journey, what would you tell yourself, and why did you need to hear that at the time?

Affi: I’d probably tell myself to be more vulnerable, share my vision more frequently and with more boldness. I'll also tell myself to trust that those who believe in me would support me through the good and bad.

Maria Ro: Love that. Affi, how do you handle other people’s biases on you, as a woman in leadership? What is your go-to response to those awkward situations when people might downplay your authority or competency just because you’re a woman?

Affi: This actually doesn’t happen much. I get less ‘pushback’ from men than women in business. Not to say women are unsupportive- not at all the case- but more conservative and less likely to take risk.

I think in general, I have learned to be bold and ‘transactional’- more direct about what I want, and more ambitious.

Maria Ro: If we were to ask your team, what your leadership style is, what would they say, and why did you choose that style?

Affi: They’d probably say I am demanding but jovial. I have the most hardworking team in the game, and everyone shows up to do what it takes to get things done. I am absolutely proud of my team and I think they know it. I am not a hierarchical leader at all, I’m quite informal- which suits my personality. But, I work hard and everyone around me knows it.

Maria Ro: Affi, you’re a mom to an amazing little boy, in a sense every mother is a leader. How do you think being a parent has influenced your leadership style?

Affi: In the past, I’d probably say this question is unnecessary. But since having a child, I am more appreciative of motherhood being brought into the conversation around female entrepreneurs and the tradeoffs with motherhood.

I’d like to say it hasn’t changed my leadership style dramatically as I have a ten month old, but it has definitely made me more intentional about making my company a haven for women with children to thrive.

Maria Ro: Let's go back to entrepreneurship for a bit, and navigating its difficulty. I'm certain you have faced challenges. Especially running a startup. I’m certain there have been times where it might have seemed so rough, quitting was tempting. How have you tackled the rough lows in your leadership journey?

Affi: In the past, I would wallow in self pity because I was very good at articulating why I didn’t deserve things not to go my way. But over time, i learnt how unproductive that was and how empowering it is to be solution-oriented.

I also used to cry a lot and keep my mom on the phone for hours listening to my war stories. However, after a number of years, I’ve learned to become more fixed on solving problems- and I always feel super empowered when I’m thinking about overcoming adversity than wallowing in it.

Maria Ro: I like that you share your vulnerability on the difficulty of leading, of trying to make a business work. Thanks for doing that. So, in those difficult moments, how do you cope? How do you de-stress?

Affi: I am a runner. Running has been the best recreational activity I have imbibed. It has enriched my life in so many ways. I have travelled the world to challenge myself in marathons, I have an amazing running community in Lagos, and in times when business is not going well, challenging myself as an athlete gives me a sense of victory.

Maria Ro: I find themes again around continuing to push your self and the sense of victory of surmounting barriers you thought you never would as something that deeply inspires you. I think it is admirable, Affi. How do you stay you? Authenticity is important, how do you stay centered, and authentic as a leader?

Affi: Hmm. I think i do this by internalizing my ‘why’. Nothing matters to me more than living out my purpose, and that’s the most important metric to me. It hasn’t changed in eight years of being an entrepreneur, and I don’t think it will.

Maria Ro: Okay, we are nearing the end now. Tell us, What is one common misconception about you?

Affi: I struggled with this one, so I asked two of my friends and they said the same thing along the lines of “i’m arrogant because I’m opinionated”

Affiong Williams

Maria Ro: What is your all time favorite book, TVshow and podcast?

Affi: The God of Small Things by Arundathi Roy. A literary masterpiece. That is all! I’m not a big TV junkie- I fall off shows, but in terms of TV show I have watched several times, and still enjoy. It’d be “Sex and the City”.

Currently, I really enjoy watching the show “Hot Ones” on YouTube- the best TV host I’ve seen. I really enjoyed Dotun Olowoporoku’s Podcast “Building The Future

Maria Ro: What will you leave with us as your parting word, a favorite quote or something you find profound?

Affi: I think the current ideology I’m exploring in the age of social media is how easy it is to internalize problems as ‘the norm’ and how disempowering it is. I have been coming back to the notion of “instead of trying to change the world, change yourself.” I think bettering ourselves does more for the world than we think.

Maria Ro: Thank you Affi for sharing your story with us! It was amazing. To catch up with Affi and what she does at Reelfruit you can keep up with her Linkedin here, and her Twitter here.

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Reminder: We have decided to move the series to once a week to give you lovely readers some time to read one post instead of two every week. I'm excited for next week. See you soon!


Maria Ro

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