Balanced Hustler: Meet Naa-Sakle Akuete, CEO of Eu’Genia Shea
Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle.
The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.
When I first spoke with Naa-Sakle Akuete, I was enthralled by the way she talks about her business, Eu’Genia Shea. She founded the company with her mother, Eugenia, in 2016, with the goal of creating a social enterprise dedicated to empowering women through the sale of raw, all-natural, 100 percent pure shea butter. Hearing the Ghanaian native speak about how important it is to recraft the U.S. cultural perspective on what shea butter is was just part of her incredible story. She started in finance, attended Harvard Business School and is now the CEO of a company that sells in Credo Beauty and Anthropologie. Her ability to create her own narrative and her drive to change how people think about raw shea butter makes her our next Balanced Hustler.
Fast Facts: Naa-Sakle Akuete
When did you launch Eu-Genia Shea?
2016 was my first full time year.
In one sentence, tell us why you started Eu-Genia Shea.
To support my mother when she became sick, to support as many women in Ghana as holistically as possible, and to give consumers access to high-quality, highly concentrated and all natural products that they’ve had limited access to prior.
How much did you invest to get the business started?
I’ve stopped counting. All the money.
How did you get capital to start?
Before this, I worked in finance so I used my savings that start the business.
Are you growing Eu’Genia Shea to sell? Or this is your dream job and you want to be doing this in 10 years?
I’m still deciding, I think this could be a hundred million dollar company, but as my life changes and adjusts, I’m not sure if I’d like to run it forever or sell once I’ve hit those goals.
How many hours a week do you work when you started verses now?
I’d say a consistent 60-hour work week, though when I first started I was doing this along side my full-time job, so probably closer to 75 hours total.
How many employees do you have?
About 20, all in Ghana.
What two business goals do you have for 2019?
- Successfully launch Mother’s Shea, a line of products targeted towards mass retailers.
- Increase direct-to-consumer sales for our bulk business.
How Naa-Sakle Balances the Hustle
You left a career in finance to start Eu’Genia. What was that transition like and how did you deal with the change in atmosphere (I assume there’s a big difference between a JP Morgan office and working on your own skincare line)?
There is almost nothing similar about my time in finance and my current work! I think the biggest positive gut reactions were not having to wear a suit every day and not having to wake up before 6 a.m.
There have been a few negatives—I made some of my best friends on the job and it’s difficult to keep in touch when I’m so far removed from the equities world, but I’m managing. And I’ve found a really great network of entrepreneurs who have been integral to me maintaining my sanity.
What skills transferred from your first career? What did you have to learn when you started Eu’Genia Shea?
I’m not sure where I got this, but (for better or worse) I am capable of working for 12 hours without moving (save for the occasional bathroom break!). That has definitely come in handy as when you run your own business, work is never over and there is always more to do.
I had some experience with marketing in school, but theories are a lot different than spending your own money and expecting (slash desperately hoping for) results, so that’s definitely something I had to learn on the job as well.
Why is the shea industry important to you?
There are so many reasons…
Shea butter has been the bridge that has connected me to my familial roots and the lens that has informed my understanding of myself. As a Ghanaian woman born in the United States, I have never been fully American (I grew up pronouncing the “l” in salmon), but also not fully Ghanaian (I’ve been asked who I was in my own home in Ghana).
Shea butter is an extremely rich, nourishing and valuable substance from Africa that is perfect on its own. We have taken that beautiful ingredient and adapted it for U.S. consumer needs. Maybe I’m hammering this point in too hard and the genius of the metaphor is just in my head, but this feels like it’s me: made by a wonderful Ghanaian foundation and molded by American culture. Plus I get to see my Ghana-based family more often, which has been huge.
Also, there are about 16 million women across sub-Saharan African who support their families through the shea industry. These women are mothers and grandmothers and represent the bedrock of their communities, as do women everywhere. I am lucky enough to know them and work for them.
Why do you think it’s important to fail fast?
Oh man, it’s way more painful to drag it out… so many tears, so little sleep, so much stress. And often times, more expensive. And, by definition, the alternative takes longer for you to reach success.
You work out of your home. How do you achieve that coveted work/life balance?
It’s been hard. I went from waking up, pulling my computer onto my lap in bed, and working until it was time to go to bed again (skipping breakfast, then eating lunch and dinner in bed). Then I managed to move operations to my couch. At my peak, I was working out and sleeping like a lamb.
More recently, I regressed back to my bedworkbench, recovered, and now focus on being “present” with other people—my husband and I have just instituted a no-phone rule at meals (I’m looking forward to a day when we don’t need the rule).
Naa-Sakle’s Advice for Entrepreneurs
What do you want to leave our readers with?
This advice is mostly for
What is your number one piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
Ask for help.
What failure have you learned most from?
Any time I lose money, it’s a result of either not trusting my instincts or reacting too quickly to a situation. It’s a constant battle, but trying to find that balance is a lesson I’m still learning.
How did you overcome that failure?
It’s all about breathing and moving forward, trying to put the mistake out of my mind while internalizing the message.
What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?
Focusing on business while remembering to support the struggles of my friends & family, as well as celebrating their successes.
Want more inspiro and tactical advice from female entrepreneurs? Check out our full #BalancedHustler series. Or, join us in Boston on June 22 for our Balanced Hustle Summit and learn from incredible female entrepreneurs in person.
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