Interview with Daniel Odonkor, Founder of Ghanaian start-up Chaste Shoes

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Daniel Odonkor begun his business whilst a student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, where he a pursued in a degree in Construction Technology and graduated in 2008.

While in the second year at university, Daniel realised he was not satisfied with the course he was studying: there was a missing link somewhere. He wanted to do something different.

 

Starting a business from the internet

Close to his hostel were some guys who made slippers which he used to patronise very well. One day, he approached the guys and asked if they could make shoes. But the response from them showed they were not really interested in doing so. But one of them was quite level-headed. He agreed to do it for him. Daniel, having no knowledge of shoe-making, took to the Internet for information.

He watched videos on YouTube and other channels to see how shoes are made. He showed the videos to the shoe-maker and they both decided to try their hands on it. The first samples he showed to some classmates and friends from church were appreciated and they were eager to buy them. So, this encouraged him to enter the business full-time. But where would he get money to start?

 

Laptop to the rescue

A laptop is one of the most-prized assets of every student, and it was the only asset Daniel had at the time. Having no other option to raise money for the business, he sold his only laptop and used the GH¢500 (about US$100) proceeds to invest in his new business idea—shoe-making. His first production started with 10 pairs of shoes, which all sold out in no time. This encouraged him that the business would succeed.

Remember, Daniel was still a construction student so his venture into shoe-making surprised many on campus. In his final year in school, his nice shoe designs won him Student Entrepreneur of the Year – an award he has fond memories o,f as it came to him as a surprise.

After graduating, he did his national service with a microfinance institution in Tema, Accra’s industrial hub. Though he had a busy schedule, he didn’t let that kill the shoes dream. Each and every weekend, he would go to Kumasi – a 248.3km distance, where his factory was based, make the shoes with his friend and take the products to Accra and sell. This was his schedule throughout his national service period.

All that while he was also saving his allowance from the national service to purchase a few tools and machines he needed for his business. So, right after the service he was bent on becoming self-employed.

 

From humble beginnings

His decision didn’t go down well with his family, as they felt he should look for a ‘better’ job in the corporate world and not waste his time on making shoes. What even worsened the situation for him was the fact that he was working from home, with his room filled with shoes. In fact, his bedroom was turned into a workshop. It was as if, from his family’s perspective, he was going crazy.

But defiant and determined, Daniel would not allow such perceptions to discourage him. He launched the business and registered it with the name Chaste Shoes – a name he says stems from the quality and distinct nature of his products. Then, with the help of a friend, he got some money to rent a shop in Accra, which is the current location of his business.

From a business that he started with making only ten pairs of shoes, he now is able to produce 80 or more in a month depending on the demand. He is not only producing shoes but has also added other leather accessories like wallets, belts, among others.

He currently employs seven people and hopes to add more as the business expands.

 

Marketing

Social media, of course, has been his main advertising medium. He has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where clients can get to see some of their products and make orders online.

 

Vision

In the next five years, Chaste Shoes wants to make a mark in Ghana and beyond. Daniel wants to push his brand to other African countries and become prominent on the continent.

 

Challenges

As usual, financial challenges are prominent. They have become the main bane of many businesses in Ghana, especially the startups.

“We don’t have financial institutions that are willing to back you as a startup. Most of them want you to grow big before they extend support to you.”

Again, another challenge is having to always depend on imports for raw materials and machines needed for work, especially for leather. With the currency always fluctuating, the price of leather is not stable on the market – and that really affects the business.

“Ghanaians have this mindset that because the products are made here, they are not quality. So, in most cases they want to buy it cheap. But that is why we are changing that status quo with our quality brand.”

 

The role of education

For Daniel, education has been a big influence on him. It has redefined his perception of customer service. He reads books on management, and this has given knowledge on how to drive his business to grow.

 

How government should support entrepreneurs

“Government has a Ministry of Business Development; we should be able to see more of what it is doing to help startups, especially the creative arts sector. So, I feel much attention should be paid to startups in the country.”

 

Advice

“Most graduates should know what they want to do after school if they do not get jobs. I knew what I wanted to do and so didn’t rely on anybody to provide. So, graduates coming out of school should think about alternatives to unemployment and not rely on government after school.”

 

 

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