Originally published on the MEST Blog.
Dziffa Akua Ametam is one of MEST’s new Communications Fellows. She’s also an entrepreneur, founder of Dziffa.com, a social enterprise that increases the global reach of local businesses by providing them with branding, marketing, and distribution services.
Dziffa was awarded the 2014 Entrepreneur of the year by African Youth Excellence, named Top 30 Under 30 rising stars of Ghana by Future of Ghana, and named Top 100 Visionary Women to Watch in 2016 by Innov8tiv. She’s a fellow of the Edward T. Rogowsky Program, the American Economic Summer Training Program, and Yale Global Pre-MBA Program.
I caught up with her last week. Between teaching classes and running her business, she shared how she manages her time and the reason for her endless passion for entrepreneurship in Africa.
Hi Dziffa, so glad to have a moment with you. Please introduce yourself.
My name is Dziffa Akua Ametam. I’m a Ghanaian entrepreneur and teaching fellow at Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST).
You run a startup in addition to your full-time role at MEST, tell us about your startup.
Yes! As I mentioned, I am the founder of Dziffa.com, an online marketplace for authentic African products. We are based in Ghana and we supply authentic African goods to the millions of Blacks in the Diaspora looking to shop directly from African businesses.
We have over 500 products from local businesses in diverse industries (Home Goods, Clothing, Bath and Body, Accessories, Footwear, Bags) with the option of supplying wholesale as well. There is a growing demand for African goods in the diaspora and our goal is to tie global demand to local supply. This way, we grow our businesses and economies with the purchasing power of Blacks in the diaspora while giving them high quality and affordable goods.
I founded Dziffa to make shopping from Africa easy for Blacks in the Diaspora. I left Ghana when I was 12 and always had to rely on relatives to bring me things from home. If I had a marketplace like Dziffa.com, I would have readily shopped from Africa, but I didn’t. As a result, I spent years purchasing ‘African Inspired’ products that were not manufactured by Africans. In purchasing ‘African Inspired’ goods, I was depriving myself of purchasing authentic African goods from African manufacturers which contradicted my intention of ‘Buying Black or Buying African.’
Most local businesses only supply local customers due to the supply chain logistics they have to deal with in addition to manufacturing. We assist most of our partners with branding, marketing, delivery and also provide excellent customer service to all our customers so shopping from Africa becomes as easy as shopping from anywhere else in the world.
Are you a solo founder (by choice or necessity)? What are some challenges you’ve faced starting up?
I have a business partner, Jeffrey-Twum Adu, who complements me perfectly. My drive towards entrepreneurship was born out of a desire to see local African businesses grow so money would circulate within the continent and contribute to transforming us from a consumption-based market to a production-based market. Unfortunately, I had no clue how to run a successful business or even make a profit. I enjoyed meeting with manufacturers, telling their stories and sharing their beautiful products with the world but struggled with monetization.
Jeffrey, on the other hand, was born into entrepreneurship and has a knack for running successful businesses. He holds a finance degree from Long Island University and has more business experience than I do so it was only natural for me to have him as a partner. Aside from Jeffrey, we have a full-time employee, Nicholas Mamiya, and three interns. I chose a business partner because I could not do it alone and Jeff had skills I needed to grow my business and is equally passionate about helping African businesses scale. We complemented each other.
How do you manage to combine both roles successfully?
I love teaching so I spend a lot of time on my lecture materials. We have some of the most brilliant minds on the continent here at MEST so I invest time in making sure I’m giving them all the resources they need to succeed. Fortunately for me, I don’t have much of a life outside MEST and Dziffa.com so I spend every other minute planning and delegating roles to my team.
I use the weekends to plan everything to the smallest detail to make sure whatever I’m doing during the week is just tweaking things here and there. I just clocked one year as an entrepreneur so everything is still a learning process for me. I constantly remind myself that I’m going through a learning process and I made a long-term commitment to this vision which makes it easy to embrace most unforeseen challenges.
If you could give one advice to other women who are struggling with a full-time role and running a business, what would it be?
I would say take your time, do your research, discover your path and find your voice. There is no one road to success. We will all get there so it’s very dangerous to think you may not be on the right path because you are not doing what everyone else is doing. In the end, you may very well fail, but you may also succeed, so take a chance at yourself and embrace failure, but more importantly, learn from them, failure does not equal defeat. It just means you did not get it right and can get it right if you try harder.
I say all this because I was very hard on myself in my early days and that did not necessarily help me become better. It just increased the number of negative feedback I gave myself.
It is important to build your confidence and understand that entrepreneurship is a learning process. Invest in being the best person your company can have and align yourself with people who want to succeed as badly as you.
I grew up at a time when no one had any faith in Africa. I’m young, so that was less than a decade ago by the way. My dad sent me to America as a way to get out of the poverty card and that was it. When I came back to Ghana almost a year ago, not much had changed. There were people who actually thought I might have been deported. They would jokingly say, ‘Why else would you leave America and come suffer with us?’ Truth is, they were right. The hustle was real. There were times when we did not have electricity for 4 straight days. I was paying more for internet and phone than I would have if I were in the States and the infrastructure was just not there to get anything done.
There was a time when I really became very cynical. Then I started mentoring some students from Ashesi on their capstone project and loved the little contribution I made to bring their vision to life. Their optimism about Africa rubbed off on me and refreshed my hope in the continent. I really identified with MEST’s mission of talent being universal and opportunities not being universal and believed I could play a role in helping the next generation of African entrepreneurs find solutions to problems locally and globally.
As a Teaching fellow at MEST, what’s the one thing you’ll like to contribute while you’re here?
The key thing I will like to contribute to the community is to help EITs challenge themselves, take risks, and really enjoy the learning process that comes with entrepreneurship. Far too often, we focus on the end; Will I get funding? Will I not? Am I a failure if I don’t get funding? We place our whole being and self-worth on the end goal rather than saying: this is my vision and I need to invest in the process and achieve these milestones to grow my business.
We place our whole being and self-worth on the end goal rather than saying: this is my vision and I need to invest in the process and achieve these milestones to grow my business.
If I can get EITs to immerse themselves in their entrepreneurship journey and learn a lot more about themselves and their capacity to accomplish whatever task they put their minds to, no matter the limitations of their environment or doubts, I will feel satisfied.
What resource do you need right now in your life and business to make things easier? Eg money, time, human resources, more press…
What I need right now is visibility. The ultimate vision of dziffa.com is to transform Africa from a consumption market to a production market.
The best way to do so is to reach the millions of Blacks in the Diaspora and get them to see Africa not only as a place to send remittances but also a place to shop. A place to shop for high-quality handmade goods from local businesses. This way, they get the best goods from some of the most brilliant manufacturers on the continent and our local businesses get to expand their reach to markets that love their products and have the purchasing power to help them scale. To do this, we need all the help we can get from media. We need the media to get the word out on the work we are doing with African businesses so that when a young man in Brooklyn needs a new eco-friendly bicycle or a young woman from Virginia needs an organic lotion, they can all come to dziffa.com and shop.