FROM MULTIPLE BUSINESS FAILURES TO PRESIDENT, AFRICA’S YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS – SUMMY SMART FRANCIS
Summy Smart Francis is the Founder and President of Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs, (A.Y.E) which is the World’s largest entrepreneurship network with over 12.9 million members in various African Countries. He was introduced to entrepreneurship at the age of 14, and from there he has continued to shape his skills and has become a serial entrepreneur, and a role model to many.
He is the Executive producer of Africa’s Biggest Entrepreneurship Reality TV Show. The A.Y.E Reality TV show. Mr. Francis is also the Director General of the Empower Borno Project that focuses on the economic redevelopment and empowerment of the internally displaced people of Borno State, Nigeria a project that is gradually receiving Continental and Global recognition as a catalyst for a lasting solution to their economic challenges caused by the insurgency.
He is the Creative Director of MegaMindz Creation, Chairman and Chief Investor of SSF Investments and he sits on the board of several companies as a Non-executive Director.
He is a recipient of several awards and certifications both in Nigeria and Globally. Some of which are : Entrepreneur of the year 2015 (SA Business awards South Africa), Innovative personality of the year 2016 (Nigeria Innovations award), Most Inspiring Nigerian Personality (Nigeria Community Excellence Award 2017 South Africa) A devoted Christian, Visionary, Writer and Philanthropist(1).
DA: You were introduced to entrepreneurship at a very young age, how has that shaped your perspective and what major principles did you learn?
Summy Smart: Introduction to entrepreneurship at a very young age was not something I found funny; I saw it like a punishment. In my house it was a family routine, become a teenager and work for my dad, I believed I should be able to play games after school and not just finish from school and go to an hotel to work.
But I must also say that it shaped me a lot, both in my leadership and managerial skills. It has also helped me to make very active and sound decision in businesses, and most importantly it created my entrepreneurship hunger and appetite. Seeing my dad make profit, well, I didn’t know he was making loss at that time because I was counting money every day, and all I saw was money; I then decided that I wanted to live that kind of life, where I would make profit daily.
DA: What inspired ‘African Young Entrepreneurs’?
Summy Smart: Like I always say, AYE was born out of business frustration, so it was because of the challenges in business I personally encountered that made me think to myself that there has to be a platform that can help other entrepreneurs, there is one common thing among entrepreneurs, When you cannot pay salaries or seem to get the business right, you feel so lonely, and you feel the world is crumbling down, but you are not alone, there are many other people going through similar situations, so I said that there should be a network that brings people together.
Then I remember going through one of my biggest business challenges, and I told God that if he sees me through this challenge, I would create a platform to help other entrepreneurs, so they do not have to go through the same thing, fortunately for me, God came through for me and I fulfilled my own part of the bargain, so AYE to me is a calling.
DA: When you got the vision, what was the first step you took?
Summy Smart: When God calls you, He either changes your name or He gives you a new name. I believe there is power in a name, which was why God changed Abrahams’ name from Abram to Abraham. If you want to talk to me about business, honestly, I start with your name, what is your business called?
When God gave me the idea, He also gave me the name ‘Africa’s young Entrepreneurs’. I remember this being one of the very clear conversations I had with the Supreme Being. Sometimes we say we hear things or we listen to our own conscience, but we really don’t. I remember vividly, having this conversation with God because I was arguing with Him that why not ‘African young entrepreneurs’ and He said the name was ‘Africa’s Young Entrepreneurs’.
Now I realise that African Young entrepreneurs would have been limited to entrepreneurs in Africa, but if it is Africa’s, then it encompasses entrepreneurs both inside and outside Africa.
It was very clear, I wrote down the name precisely at 2:15am on the 1st of March 2010, and while I was writing down the idea, I wrote down the slogan ‘If we can achieve this much alone, how much more can we achieve together?’ I equally saw the logo clearly, and I understood the colours of the logo – Yellowish Gold signifies our wealth and Black signifies the colour of our skin.
So I put everything down on a piece of paper. Till today I believe AYE has given me the discipline of sleeping with a pen and paper by my bed-side.
DA: How much did you raise to start-up and how much did you raise?
Summy Smart: I wouldn’t say I started by raising funds, but I tried to raise money and that was when I wrote one of the quotes that is in my collection which says ‘funders and sponsors do exist, but they are not at the origin of your business’.
I really tried, so much, and everybody would be like ‘what do you do?’And I would tell them, they would be like ooh it sound great, but what have you guys done? And I would not be able to tell what I have done so I realised that I was doing things the wrong way.
The voice came back to me, most times when you are sent on an errand, the Holy Spirit is always there to guide you and tell you when you are doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, so instead I focused on building the network, building the database, building the brand power, brand image and of course funders and sponsors started coming, because then there was something to leverage on, they wanted the members, our network, our buying power, loyalty, patronage, etc.
DA: What major challenges did you face and how were you able to overcome them?
Summy Smart: Major challenge for AYE has been finding the right team, you sit down with a bunch of people that know why we should liberate Africa out of poverty, explain to them how entrepreneurship is the way out for this continent, we have the population, and we are strong.
An African man can stand under the sun selling gala from morning till night; if you put a white man to do that, he would break down before noon. Most people would want to be part of the team for the wrong reasons, majorly because what is in it for them, sometimes you set up a board meeting and you would find out that you are the only of packing the chairs, and you would be wondering – where is everybody?
Another challenging thing is after pouring the vision into someone, having the person work with you for some years, and then because the person needs more money, they would leave for a better paying job. But of course we have been able to combat this, the organisation doesn’t work with staffs, we work with volunteers, and we don’t pay salaries, we pay allowances, we look for people who can seethe vision, who have a passion for Africa and people who are willing to work hard to liberate this Continent.
DA: What extra education did you have to gain along the way?
Summy Smart: You see, the most interesting thing about a vision, andthis is how it is different from business, when you get a business idea, you have to acquire skills and knowledge, but when you get a vision, it is not something you give yourself, it was given to you by God.
Like in the scripture, when God chose Moses to bring the people out of Egypt, he had already seen the qualities he needed in Him, so you would be surprised because you will find yourself doing things that you never knew you could do.
I would say that I was God’s Chosen candidate and he must have seen that ‘this guy is stubborn, he doesn’t give up easily, he can talk, he is bold, he has gone through entrepreneurship at the age of 14, he ran away from home at an early age, he knows what life in the Diaspora is like, he has suffered abroad, so therefore this is the person that the vision is going to go upon his head’ so I didn’t choose myself, God chose me, and that made it easy for everything I needed to accomplish.
DA: How were you able to come out from the trauma of December 26, 2017 and still stand strong? (find the story attached at the end of the interview)
Summy Smart:December 26, 2017 was the day I was leaving this earth, and I had a conversation with God telling him that,’ Lord, if I am still useful, kindlyspare my life’!And immediately I uttered those words, I remember jumping off the bed and taking a walk, telling my brother that I needed a bible, and I just took a walk.
DA: What in your opinion is the major challenge facing entrepreneur in Africa that prevents them from rising to great heights?
Summy Smart: I think it is ignorance. We don’t know that ignorance does a lot to us, the fact that you are even ignorant to knowledge, it is a huge problem. If you are well informed and you seek for knowledge, you would know that funding is not the problem.
You would know where to find money and how to find money. So I think ignorance plays a huge role in setting us back in Africa and I pray that someday we get over this virus because it is actually spreading.
DA: What is your advice to entrepreneurs that would like to start a business but do not have the resources?
Summy Smart:People say that when you want to start up abusiness, you should just start. I am not sure I am going to agree with that school of thought, I am going to say that if you want to start a business, you should learn moreabout the business, know more, study more, and once you feel like you have enough in your mind, then you just might have enough in your pocket.
DA: What does it take to be the President of AYE?
Summy Smart: You have to be Smart! That is the major criteria, sincerely speaking; you have to have passion for Africa, love Africa, and be generous.
I’ve been asked in interviews that what am I looking for in my next successor, and I would answer ‘A generous person’, you have to be able to give, and give selflessly for you to be Summy Smart Francis.
THE EMOTIONAL STORY OF PRESIDENT SUMMY SMART
December 26th, 2017 was a day I narrowly escaped death because I saw death face to face. In that moment I bid my siblings and family farewell, while I laid on that bed feeling lifeless with tears rolling down my face. It may shock you to know what I cared and worried most about at that point, was the A.Y.E vision, YOU and other A.Y.E members. I look back today and know for a fact that God spared my life for this Vision, it was clear that I had not finished my assignment.
December 2017 started with me on the sick bed with a list of debts accumulated from the AYEEN 2017 conference when all sponsors and donors failed on their financial obligations. As if that was not enough, as it is our culture, we had just announced the AYEEN 2017 beneficiaries which meant we had to find other ways to raise funds to empower all. While all this burdened me on the sick bed which had lasted till May 2018, I got a pile of medical bills that kept increasing into 9 solid figures. This covered for 2 Major Surgeries and over 6 months in 6 different hospitals (Home & Abroad).
My fellow Entrepreneur, please bear in mind that despite all this, the accumulated debts and empowerment of beneficiaries didn’t go away. It was then that I told God once again that He has to come through for A.Y.E as I am tired of exhausting personal funds and tirelessly seeking for sponsorship/donations for such a noble cause, “if it is His VISION, then He must fund it “.
Guess the most amazing part of this story? He responded and gave me an idea…This idea was born while on the sick bed battling to stay alive. The idea which was birth from months in the hospital yet struggling to empower beneficiaries, the disappointments and frustrations A.Y.E was facing, the eagerness to see African entrepreneurs start up and expand their businesses… is one that will empower YOU and other African entrepreneurs regardless of where you find yourself in the World, it is called THE A.Y.E TRUST FUND.
This idea which was launched on the 25th of November, 2018 at the AYEEN2018 Convention will long be remembered as a Historical Milestone for the African Continent.
You too can become part of THE A.Y.E TRUSTFUND by visiting www.ayetrustfund.org