VENTURES AFRICA – At the 10th Anniversary dinner and awards of The Global Professional Achievers Award (GPA) held in Accra, Ghana, a certain Tonyi Senayah, a young Ghanaian businessman in his late 20′s and CEO of Horseman Shoes, was awarded the YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR 2011. Receiving the award Tonyi said, “I believe in Ghana and also believe there are a lot of opportunities in Ghana and pray the youth take advantage. The vision of Horseman Shoes is to be the biggest footwear manufacturing company in Ghana and beyond in terms of employment and brand preference.”
Today, Horseman shoes is a footwear manufacturing company that makes quality and fashionable footwear with the finest leather. Some of the company’s products are men’s dress shoes, Unisex sandals and slippers, School sandals and Security boots. But just how did this young entrepreneur get into the business of shoemaking? The shoemaking entrepreneur has also undergone series of training programs some which include leadership, business management and financial management. In his chat with Ventures Africa, Tonyi tells us about his passage into entrepreneurship, his shoe making business, challenges, aspiration and hope for his business. As a young entrepreneur himself, Tonyi advise young entrepreneurs to step out of their comfort zone and not let the fear of failure hold them back.
When asked if he had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, Tonyi said: “I would not say I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur but I had always wanted to drive change. I had always wanted to be part of a solution to our challenges instead of sit and complain. And it so happened that I found the opportunity to start with the unemployment situation among the Ghanaian youth.”
Starting his business
Tonyi started his business, Horseman shoe, while he was an undergraduate at the University. He started by buying from manufacturers in November 2009 and by August 2010, he had opened his own workshop and employed artisans.
“The business idea came when I first bought a locally made shoe for myself and anytime I put them on I had unending compliments. Friends became interested in owning pairs. It then dawned on me that there’s an opportunity to make a viable venture out of it for myself and the craftsmen who usually operate on very small and informal scale. The whole idea was to migrate these guys from their corner shops into a factory”
“I also wanted us (Ghanaians) to move away from the patronage of second hand products. I believe we deserved something new and decent for our souls rather than pre-owned stuffs imported from Europe. So we have to create something by us and for us”, he added.
Migrating shoe makers from their corner shops into a factory
Horseman CEO explained that “It was just a matter of identifying these young people who had the desire and passion for it. I scouted for them and got others through recommendation. I’m still on the search for more young artisans.”
Horseman Shoes, its target audience and distinguishing factor from its counterpart in the African market
“We have a range of products and each range has its targeted audience. Our products include men’s dress shoes targeted at the young professionals and the working class. We also have female flat shoes made from leather, our unique local fabrics: GTP and Kente. We manufacture school sandals for senior high schools and we do also safety boots for industries and the security.
What set us apart from other manufacturers is that, our shoes especially for the men and women are handcrafted with genuine materials. Our shoes are a blend of quality, comfort and style. We also make bespoke shoes.”
Why the name Horseman Shoes?
“Horseman represents the unique features of horses. They are fast, strong; they have stamina and are beautiful. These are what our brand stands for. We want to associate with the young people who aspire greater heights in their various fields of endeavor. It takes determination and focus to achieve. So like the horse, they have to keep running in horseman shoes,” Tonyi explains.
Sourcing for materials internationally?
Currently we source raw materials from local importers who import from Europe and Asia. But very soon there are certain materials we will be sourcing directly from suppliers.
Creativity in the shoe making business
Business has certain principles that must be followed if you want to be successful, regardless the industry you find yourself in. Creativity is the fulcrum of the industry (fashion) I operate. If you don’t have it you cannot stay in business.
Challenges starting the business + lesson learnt managing the challenge(s).
The challenges we face as an infant enterprise are numerous but are however surmountable. One of the challenges is the availability quality human resource. Getting young people with the right attitudes and the willingness to start small is very difficult. Easy access to finance is also another great challenge we face as young enterprises.
Experience of failure as an entrepreneur?
Tonyi says “Whoever has not experienced failure probably has not tried anything before. I encountered a lot of failures and challenges. I think that’s one of advantages of starting small. You make small mistakes and you learn from them. I had no business background in terms of academic or experience starting my business. So I obviously had difficulties in managing certain aspects, especially finance. I’ve lost some money before due to poor management. And I’ve learnt a great deal of lesson from it.”
Doing business in Ghana?
Doing business is Ghana is not easy I’m sure just like many other developing countries. But generally there’s condusive atmosphere in terms of political stability, security and macro economic growth that facilitate business. There are however some institutional challenges young enterprises encounter such as taxation among others which we hope to sort out through advocacy.
Most significant and exciting experience since venturing into the business world
I have had quite some few high points but what comes readily to mind is having the rare opportunity to represent Ghana in the US President’s Young African Leaders Initiative 2012. I had the opportunity to network with sixty (60) other participants from all over Africa.
Experience as the representative of Ghana in the US President’s Young African Leaders Initiative 2012
It was such a huge and varied set of experiences I had being part of the US President Young African Leaders Initiative. To start with, the recognition by the US embassy in Ghana in nominating me indicated that somebody is watching whatever you are doing. Because it is not a program one applies to attend but they rather identify you.
Pitching Horseman Shoe to investors and buyers
There were several platforms where I pitched my business to investors, buyers and many other groups.
Meeting other 60 young people from the continent was a networking opportunity to expand social, political and business ties. It also created a platform to network and share ideas with American businesses. I did an internship with an American Branding and Advertising for two weeks which gave me a lot of insights for my brand building.
Minimum start-up capital for shoe making Business
Using his case as an example, Tonyi said although he cannot say there’s a stated minimum capital requirement for shoe making and for that matter many other businesses. But he started his shoe business with only 100USD.
Company’s worth today
Will he say Horseman shoe business is successful and why?
It depends on what indices you are using to measure success. Unfortunately success is often measured in materiality. But in my own small way, I would say Horseman Shoes has been a success so far. It is a business I created out of nothing and today I am known for Horseman Shoes. There has always been the perception that made in Ghana products are of inferior quality but I’m very happy to see that my shoes defeated that misconception. I think it is a feat to be proud of. We can also measure our success in the creation of employment for other young people. Although it’s not a significant number, putting food on the tables of 10 people is a starting point.
Horseman shoes in the near future
The vision of Horseman Shoes is to build the biggest footwear manufacturing company in Africa in terms of employment and brand preference. In line with our vision, we hope to create employment for several hundreds and thousands of the Ghanaian youths. We also hope to expand our product line to include belts, wallets, bags and other fashion accessories. In pursuance of all these we seek to build a world class brand.
Business outside Ghana?
“Currently I don’t have any business outside Ghana,” he says.
Of course there are plans to expand within the sub region and other parts of the world. But it’s a step at a time. We want to grow organically.
Other venture apart from the shoe business
Currently all my time and resources are devoted to the nurture of my infant business – Horseman Shoes.
If he is not into shoe making business, what else?
Very interesting question. I believe God has a purpose and a role for every individual and I think he would have used me in some other way.
Mentors in the business industry
I have quite a few people I look up to as mentors – both local and international entrepreneurs. One of such people is Prince Kofi Amoabeng, CEO of UT Holdings in Ghana. He’s a very real and practical person but highly principled. Another person whose story inspired me is Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic. I got encouraged when I read his book – “Loosing My Virginity.”
Advice to budding entrepreneurs
What I will say is there are a lot of opportunities around us. It is often not the biggest of ideas that works but rather the small ones. The most important step is the beginning. Young people should step out of their comfort zone and try. They should not let the fear of failure hold them back. With the right attitude and determination; nothing cannot be achieved.