Today, there are many initiatives globally aimed at increasing gender parity, though gender inequality still exists around the world. The World Economic Forum estimates that the overall global gender gap won’t close for at least another 100+ years. While this inequality presents itself in a variety of ways, female entrepreneurs particularly struggle with access to capital, being taken seriously by their male counterparts and general bias.
In honour of Women’s History Month, we’ve been speaking with female entrepreneurs and founders about their experience running a business in today’s environment, including their challenges and missions to uplift, invest in and empower women around the world. For this interview, we spoke with Funlayo Alabi, Founder and CEO of Shea Radiance.
Bill Ready: When did you start your business, and how did you come up with the idea?
Funlayo Alabi: The inspiration for our business came from solving our family’s skin problems in 2006. Our kids had very dry, eczema-prone skin, and when our youngest was born, he had eczema all over. To provide relief, we first used prescribed steroids, but my husband and I didn’t think it was the best way to manage the problem. When my mother visited from Nigeria, we asked her to bring shea butter. Being from Nigeria, we knew every West African home has shea butter, and it’s used for everything, from cooking to healing to relieving eczema symptoms.
After using it on our kids, we saw their skin transform within just a few days. My family already focused on using natural ingredients, and we wanted to share this effective, natural solution to dry skin with the world.
We officially began our business in 2008. I worked as a software developer in Washington D.C at the time. On the weekends, we would go to farmers markets to sell our shea butter. In 2009, a year after registering the business, I resigned from my job and made Shea Radiance my full priority.
BR: Have you faced challenges you feel you wouldn’t have faced if you weren’t female?
FA: As a woman and a woman of colour, I am keenly aware of the impact of bias and its effect on being able to access capital to grow our business. At times, people believe you “aren’t thinking big enough” or make assumptions about how far you can go. Shea Radiance officially started when the recession hit, and banks didn’t give many small business loans. If they did, they certainly weren’t to women. We were lucky to be able to turn to PayPal Working Capital to get access to the capital we needed. But for a while, I thought opportunities weren’t coming my way because I needed to do more, but when data surfaced indicating women get much less attention and investment than men, it made sense.
BR: How does Shea Radiance give back and empower women?
FA: We empower women by sourcing directly from women-run shea collectives so that more of the value of the transaction goes back to the women. There are cheaper ways to source shea butter, but locally produced butter has more natural, active nutrients because of the way it’s processed, delivering the best results for skin and hair care.
In our early years, our top priority was securing a steady supply of shea butter for our products. When we started traveling to rural communities in West Africa where shea butter is produced, it became evident that the women harvesting the nuts and processing the butter needed training and education about how to increase production capacity. To support these women, we helped them with training and provided them pre-financing for production purposes.
I started working on the ground in West Africa, and now, work remotely with other female entrepreneurs who work with the women co-ops where we source the butter. Now, we can empower women both on the co-op level and through small-to-medium-sized female enterprises in West Africa.
BR: You spoke a bit about PayPal Working Capital and how PayPal has helped your business. How has PayPal helped your business grow?
FA: PayPal delivers products that recognize and meet the needs of small, growing, indie businesses. Specifically, PayPal Working Capital has been an accessible option that gives us the stepping stones to access the crucial cash needed to reach the next level of our business. For example, we launched a new product line last summer across all mid-Atlantic region Whole Foods stores and used PayPal Working Capital to push the products into the stores. Without access to capital, we would have struggled. We’ve taken out seven loans so far.
We also use PayPal Here at pop-up events, which conveniently helps us avoid missing sales from customers not carrying cash. For processing, we originally used platforms that took 2-3 days to process payments before receiving the money. With PayPal, payment is near-instantaneous.
BR: Do you have advice for other female entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
FA: Do it, and make sure you are solving a problem that people will pay for. Be comfortable with your own unique voice and know you don’t have to sound like anyone else or run your business like anyone else. Bring all of yourself into your business and find your own group of people. It really does take a village.
Bill Ready, EVP and Chief Operating Officer, PayPal