How Affiong Williams Founded ReelFruit: A Story of Innovation and Persistence

For many, the journey into entrepreneurship starts with a side project that gradually grows into something bigger. But some bold individuals dive in headfirst, committing everything from the outset. Affiong Williams is one such individual. Over the past decade, the fruit-selling business she founded has flourished and expanded internationally.

Her BackStory

Affiong Williams was born on March 9, 1986. She initially aimed to become a medical doctor, earning a degree in Physiology and Psychology. However, by the time she graduated, her interests had shifted. Eager to explore new opportunities, she pursued a postgraduate diploma in Business Administration from Wits Business School in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2006.

Williams’ first job at Endeavour South Africa, an organization supporting SMEs in developing markets, introduced her to the world of entrepreneurship. After four years of working with and admiring entrepreneurs, she was ready to leap herself.

The Start of ReelFruit

Determined to enter the agribusiness sector, Williams initially planned to produce fruit juice to reduce post-harvest losses for farmers. Realizing the high cost of setting up a juice factory, she pivoted to dried fruits—a more affordable and power-independent option that aligned with Nigeria’s infrastructure challenges.

Living in South Africa, where dried fruits were popular, she saw an untapped market in Nigeria. “I figured I could be the first to bring it to Nigeria and make it big. If I had done more research, I might have shelved the idea, but I was convinced Nigerians were open to new tastes. I believed all I needed was to create awareness and demand,” she recalled.

In 2012, she returned to Nigeria, bolstered by a ₦10 million UN grant she had been shortlisted for. However, shortly after her arrival, she learned she had not received the grant. Despite this setback, Williams persisted, determined to prove her idea’s worth.

Overcoming Challenges

Williams began by selling dried fruits she had brought from South Africa, using the feedback to refine her product. Initial sales were encouraging, leading her to produce more from her apartment. Demand soon outstripped her small-scale production capabilities.

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Securing her first angel investor, she invested in an office space, a small van, and additional staff. For the next five years, ReelFruit relied on third-party producers in Ghana while gradually building its own processing capacity.

Innovative Fundraising

Raising large funds for a new business in Nigeria proved challenging. Investors were sceptical about the dried fruit market’s potential. Williams adopted a strategy of raising small amounts to achieve specific milestones, gradually building investors’ trust.

“Investors found it easier to believe we could double sales, hire more people, or launch new products than achieve massive expansion,” Williams explained. This approach paid off, culminating in a successful Series A funding round nine years later.

“We spent the first five years proving our product wasn’t a flash in the pan. Given the challenges of raising funds in Nigeria, it took time, but I’m delighted with the outcome,” she said.

Today, ReelFruit offers a range of dried fruit and nut snacks through various channels, including over 700 stores, airlines, schools, hotels, and exports via Amazon. The company employs over 80 people across three regional offices in Nigeria and has trained 50 rural women to grow export-grade mangoes.

Future Plans and Recognitions

In September 2021, ReelFruit secured $3 million in Series A funding to expand its production capacity fivefold. The company aims to diversify its customer base, focusing on large manufacturers and export markets.

“For the next decade, we’re focusing on processing more inputs for large manufacturers and exporting. These segments will drive our growth,” Williams said.

Williams’ entrepreneurial journey has garnered numerous accolades. She has spoken at forums on agribusiness, investment, and trade, including the Inaugural Intra-African Trade Fair in Cairo (2018) and the AFDB Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg (2019). She won the Village Capital Agriculture Accelerator in Kenya (2020) and the prestigious Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman Award (2022).

An avid runner, Williams has completed over 15 marathons, raising funds for charity. Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs? “Seek knowledge.”

Lessons Learned from Affiong Williams’ Journey

  1. Embrace Change and Be Open to New Paths: Williams initially planned to be a doctor but was open to exploring business, leading her to find her true passion.
  2. Turn Setbacks into Opportunities: When the grant she relied on fell through, Williams didn’t give up. Instead, she found other ways to get her business off the ground.
  3. Start Small and Build Gradually: Williams’ strategy of raising small amounts of capital to meet specific milestones allowed her to prove her business concept and gain investor trust over time.
  4. Persistence Pays Off: It took Williams nine years to secure Series A funding. Her story is a testament to the power of persistence and long-term vision.
  5. Adapt to Your Environment: By choosing dried fruits over juice, Williams adapted her business model to fit Nigeria’s infrastructure challenges, ensuring sustainability from the start.
  6. Empower Others Along the Way: Williams’ commitment to training rural women and creating jobs highlights the importance of giving back and building a supportive community around your business.

Affiong Williams’ story is one of resilience, innovation, and relentless pursuit of a vision—transforming a simple idea into a thriving international brand.

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