How I went from TV presenter to Marketing Entrepreneur in West Africa
“You can’t get rich on a salary!” - That very simple statement read online the year I graduated from college was the first time I ever thought about the benefits of entrepreneurship. Up until then my idea of success was a good job and working for the likes
of the United Nations to travel around the world. I grew up in a middle class family in the West end of Freetown, my mother and father both worked for the government.
The only woman I knew in business as a child was my grandmother, a seamstress who was forced into her education. Mummy K sold everything. By the time I was old enough to understand, Karams, the bar she owned, situated across the road from the Connaught Hospital, had already closed. When I was in class 3 she was renting a property at Henry Street. There she ran a tailoring shop next door to Aunty Mus’s hair salon.
At home Mummy K sold frozen ice, bread and provisions. In the 90s during the war she tried her hand at rearing chickens, and importing fruit juice. And even when she was dying from cancer in 2010, Mummy K would spend whatever energy she had running a day care for children. I pleaded with her to close the school several times. But she refused. Karams Daycare and Nursery continues to serve children from Banana Water and Murray Town.
“ Vickie, bo make ah able buy bread for mi sef na morning”, she’d say. Mummy K’s commitment to being in business for herself came from a desire to maintain her independence. She once said to me in the Creole vernacular that her goal is to be able to buy bread for herself in the morning. All her children were overseas, and until he retired, her husband was well capable of providing for the family but still Mummy K bought and she sold. However, I never had any respect for what she did as a businesswoman until very recently. In school, the emphasis was put on career jobs and many of us grow up respecting those in down on others. Business is what you do if you are uneducated and can’t support yourself in any other way. In the famous grade school composition either of your parents was a trader, everyone assumed that you were poor. We were never taught the values of entrepreneurship. It was never a part of our vocabulary.
I schooled in Sierra Leone until my mom’s job took us to Ethiopia. Then I went to the United States for high school and college. In high school
one of my friends wrote in my year book that I’d be the one most likely to marry rich. Kim was the class valedictorian and
she understood me well. I couldn’t really understand my friends’ obsession with being independent and wanting to buy everything for themselves. As an okay looking African girl, I had been told repeatedly and I was convinced that I was going to marry a rich husband. What fun is there really Surely it’s better when the man pays, I would convince myself. I was going to marry rich. Maybe a Nigerian oil baron, or a doctor, but certainly a man with lots of money. I intended to work, of-course, but it was my rich husband who would pay for everything. My relatives would joke about how my husband was going to pay a lot of money for my bride price. “Di man way get foh cam pull yu na wi an e get for pay oh”, was a constant remark from my male relatives especially. Even though I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to marry, I knew for certain that he would be rich.
Years passed and I went through college. Majored in Political Science and graduated with a B average. I got a job before I graduated and moved to New York City where I worked for the State Department of Health. Back then I was so worried about the condition of maternal health in Sierra Leone that I thought I wanted to get into Public Health. I hated that job. In my capacity as research intern I felt that I was wasting my time. Three months into the job and I was convinced that I had to move to Sierra Leone. Dreams of home and the contributions I could make there consumed me. By June 2007, just over a year after I graduated, I packed my bags and moved back home intending to stay there for a year.
In Sierra Leone I met rich and powerful men all over the place. Both as Sales and Marketing Director for a friend’s for a friend’s IT startup and later when I started my own production company. Rich men offered me trips to London, jobs, watches and everything in between. But the more offers I got the more repulsed I became. I hadn’t realized that those things were meant to take the place of real affection. Apparently even if you’re not attracted to these rich men you’re still supposed to want them. But to me sex for gifts is nothing short of high class prostitution. In one instance a Managing Director of a local bank who I had gone to see for sponsorship of my TV show said that all I had to do to have a successful show was to be his girlfriend. In fact he said, he could get me on DSTV’s MNet. He probably would have but I didn’t think that I should have to sell myself for success or fame. I struggled to grow my production company funding several seasons primarily from donations from my mother and my best friend Conrad’s support.
When I was running my production company, I never considered myself to be a businesswoman. I just wanted to tell stories that people would for the cost of production. It didn’t even occur to me that I was running a startup until my best friend pointed it out to me. I often complained about being overwhelmed by the lack of quality videographers. Everyone in business in Sierra Leone will complain about the lack of talent in the local work force at some point or the other. My turn had come. The eureka moment came when I realized that I was in business and my whole life changed as did my approach to the way I worked. Before, I didn’t mind putting my own money into making the show, but suddenly I knew that I had to develop alternative revenue streams to fund it. A business must be viable. I no longer wanted to spend money on clothes, or time doing my hair. Everything I earned I wanted to invest into equipment. I changed my production company’s focus to advertising and corporate communications. The earning potential of independently produced original television content in Sierra Leone was low. With constant blackouts and no data from the national broadcaster to tabulate TV viewership, making the case for corporate sponsorship was challenging. And worse there was no precedence for what I was trying to do with the Vickie Remoe Show. There had been shows on TV before but I was the first woman to independently produce show content independent of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBS). SLBS didn’t even know how to bill for the airtime for my show when it first started. And every year they would increase pricing for airtime because they believed that I was making lots of money. The truth was I wasn’t.
When a Managing Director there at the time said I had to pay for each additional advert that ran during my show I didn’t argue. I substituted advertising with product placement. When he saw the show, he was livid. He tried to squeeze more money out of me and I refused. So the next season he gave orders for my show not to be aired until I had cleared what he said was my balance. The show had to go on so I paid. By then I had given up on looking for sponsors. There was a market for communications. Small businesses could afford to pay $500 or $1000 for an advert to be made and later pay SLBS independently to air it. We had production equipment already for the show and we could use the same to make the television commercials. So that is what I did for Africanus Hotel, Mother Shop, City Plaza, and Ayoub International.
With this new found business acumen, I made a pitch to the manager of an agricultural project that was about to be launched in the Tonkolili district, in Northern Sierra Leone. The call to work for Addax Bioenergy didn’t come overnight but it when it did I traveled up country regularly to provide written and audio visual support of the project’s development in affected communities. So four years after moving to Sierra Leone, and I had become a businesswoman much like my grandmother and to my mother’s chagrin. She still wanted me to get a stable job, working for the government or like I had dreamed as a child, the United Nations. To this day, maybe less so now, my mother worries that I should probably get a job so I would have the same kind of security she has enjoyed all of her professional career. Working a traditional 9-5 is not for me, as my mother now sees, and my work hours often exceed 8 hours a day.
The fact is now I work really hard so I don’t have to worry about marrying rich. I want to be rich, I will be rich. So these days I’ve left Sierra Leone for Ghana where since 2012 I registered my own limited liability company.
Today I operate a marketing communication company in with clients and staff both in Sierra Leone and in Ghana while I work on my dream of becoming a young GoWoman millionaire.