Asili is an enterprise that is unique from production to distribution due to its the strong community based association and value chain.
Access to quality coffee is, according to John, not a privilege, but a right. It is more than a cup of joy for some, it is a necessity. But the question to ask: how to make coffee more accessible in regions where a coffee culture is barely existing?
John Nana Addo Francois, a born and bred Ghanaian entrepreneur, explains that commodity production and serving the people runs in the family. His grandfather moved from the United Kingdom to Ghana to engage in cocoa business, which still accounts for 30% of Ghana’s export revenue. It came as no surprise to his milieu when he decided to switch from the corporate world to the world of coffee. He developed his own startup, called Asili Coffee Purveyors Limited, the first specialty coffee grade roasters in Ghana. His business touches several SDGs, from partnerships for the goals to innovation and infrastructure, planting the seeds for a sustainable, life-sustaining, and viable job market. OCHQ asked him about the locally grown, harvesting and processing of his coffee brand and his contribution to community development.
When and how did you get into the Orange Corners Programme?
“I was an incubatee during the first cohort of Orange Corners Ghana. I didn’t hesitate for a moment when a friend told me about the programme!
I started Asili Coffee Purveyors Ltd, a licensed coffee dealer and processor in 2015. The support that was offered to us during the Orange Corners programme in 2019 was an absolute game changer for our business. It provided us with the necessary knowledge how to develop a valuable consumer good that is accessible, easy-to-use and affordable to consumers in the Ghanaian market and especially in Akuapem, a state in south-eastern.
For some who do not have such startup mentors or business professionals in their networks, the coaching and programme of Orange Corners is especially beneficial for stimulating the growth trajectory that your startup can follow.
The programme also taught us to overcome the initial production limitations and thus to take our production to its maximum potential. Currently, we are not only able to provide a domestic foothold, we also signed an export contract for our differentiated product line.Take the innovative Asili Steep Coffee medium roast, funded by OCIF, that comes in boxes of ten coffee bags and symbolises the rich heritage and relationships build around Asili Premium Coffee. We believe that everyone should be able to enjoy a cup of coffee.”
What does Asili Coffee aim to achieve for its direct environment?
“Our objective was and is to introduce coffee into the Akuapem area. In the back of my mind, I knew that Asili could be a major contributor to prosperity in the community. Indeed, the coffee value chain we were able to create served as a catalyst for socio-economic change, creating jobs for the youth, mitigate the effects of climate change and increase household income in rural areas.
Our startup also conveys possibility, as our world-class products can be manufactured in areas that are considered rural. Engagement of young people is thus on the frontline of our focus. Asili Coffee is an impactful startup that is a long-term and meaningful project for me and my surroundings.”
Bear in mind: building a startup is not a one size fits all.
Does your startup has a social mission?
“Yes. I join forces with several actors in the Akuapem Coffee Growers Association, a representative body for coffee stakeholders in the Akuapem Coffee value chain. The members of our association is spiking as more individuals are eager to participate in coffee planting and are valuing the work that we are doing. We are also due to have an online presence this month to increase this interest!
There are around thousands of fertile acres of land in the Akuapem area. I for example have more than 100 acres! I elaborate on it in this video. If coffee cultivation grows steadily over the next 20 or 30 years, there could be an increase of farmers in our region, similarly to what happens in cocoa production, which has been the backbone of Ghana’s economy since the 1870s. I hope Akuepem will benefit from the fruitful production and distribution of coffee in the same respect.
I would also like to shed light on the potential for job creation at the distribution side. We have adopted a direct-to-consumer sales model. We have just launched our new product and have already employed permanently two new sales staff, with other part-timers regularly participating. Our aim is to increase permanent sales staff to 20 by the end of the year end. But our ultimate target is to get Asili known as a household name and the Akuapem area being famous as a coffee enclave in West-Africa and around the world!”
The coffee value chain we were able to create served as a catalyst for socio-economic change, creating jobs for the youth, mitigate the effects of climate change and increase household income in rural areas.
How did you choose the name? What does it stand for?
“Asili means Origin or Authentic in Akan. I fully stand behind the name as it reflects what we do, what our team, products and services reflects what we wish to disseminate to the world; an enterprise that is unique from production to distribution due to its the strong community based association.
What struggles did you encounter with starting your own business and how did you overcome it?
“I encounter the same difficulties that other entrepreneurs in Africa face. I strongly believe that the right mentors can elevate you. You need to identify individuals who walked the same path, as they know best which circumstances and challenges you face. For some who do not have such connect startup mentors or business professionals in their networks, the coaching and programme of Orange Corners is especially beneficial for stimulating the growth trajectory that your startup can follow.
Could you give other aspiring entrepreneurs advice for their own business (ideas)?
I can only give advice based on what I have learned and what I am able to see from others entrepreneurs and CEOs who are ahead of my game. I hope it helps but bear in mind: building a startup is not a one size fits all.
In terms of product and service development; It takes time to develop a product, you’ll still have to improve it as you go along. It will also takes years to earn the trust of consumers and therefore for your product to become a household necessity. Also take into consideration to sell your product to the right target group.
In term of mentality: entrepreneurship is stressful, don’t make it even more stressful by working with the wrong people. Surround yourself with people who have done it before, who can inspire you, who are engaged in the sector you are working in and can truthfully help you out. Even though there are some common fundamental principles that help in achieving success. Don’t be afraid to turn down terrible offers or advices. You don’t ask a rocket engineer about kidney diseases. Know your worth and the path you want to go on with your startup. Building a startup is a marathon, not a sprint. Expect that it will likely take years for your product to become a household product. Don’t hesitate to work on your project. It takes time and effort to develop a new skill, similar to creating a start-up from the ground up.”