Hi, I'm Sudeshna from The Abundance Psyche, and you are listening to the Not-so-Corporate podcast. Here we talk about all of the not-so-corporate things that we corporate entrepreneurs do within and outside our work.
And today's episode is really, really special because I have with me one of my best friends Sarah Agbantou. We met in Strategy&, PwC, and the moment I met Sarah, we hit off, and she remains a good friend. And she is the true corporate entrepreneur if you will.
Sarah is a senior manager in product and tech innovation at PwC. She founded Design Thinking for Good, a volunteer-based community, which helps social enterprises to scale with design thinking techniques. Prior to joining PwC, this time around, she was the head of expansion at City Pantry, a food-tech startup that was bought by Just Eat, and a consultant for the private equity firm called HG Capital in London. She has recently launched 54Sud, which focuses on helping aspiring entrepreneurs build sustainable ventures in Francophone Africa with practical masterclasses. I'm so excited to have you Sarah, welcome.
Haa, thank you for having me, it is a pleasure to be able to finally have a catch-up, actually, you know, we've our busy schedules.
Yeah, I know. So do you want to tell us a bit more about yourself, Sarah? We met at Strategy& even when we met you were already thinking of 15 entrepreneurship ideas, and then you left Strategy& the new started your own thing? So give us a bit of Sarah, who is Sarah? And why is she doing what she's doing? Why has she taken this path?
I'm originally from the Republic of Benin in West Africa. And this is where I grew up, I grew up in an ecosystem and environment, which is very different from the UK. I came here for higher education. And then never left till starting my first work experience, which was with PwC.
I realized that we were able to have access to resources and the ability to do things at a much faster pace than perhaps the environment I grew up. It made me aware of an imbalance in terms of resources, ambitions,l and objectives. And what I really wanted to do was to be able to leverage all of the learnings, the skills, and somehow put that to the service of developing a company on the African continent, which is a passion of mine.
So as always kept that in mind. And I think London is such a buzzing hub, when it comes to thinking about how to improve our society. Or what are some of the different models that we already have. Just like thinking about bringing skills together and reimagining the possible.
So you were in PwC- actually Strategy& in PwC! That's quite a prestigious career. You went to one of the top universities here. So why did you then leave PwC and want to do your own thing? Because people would have thought you have it sorted?
Yes, actually, I think, yeah, you might think that. My father didn't speak to me for six to eight months when I decided to take a sabbatical for these exact reasons- you know, after attending one of the top universities in the UK, and then already having potentially your career path already written for you, why would you decide to do you live at all and, and pursue an entrepreneurial adventure?
This is back to a problem-solving. There are different type of evils in the world. And I'm one of those who are really interested in solving problems I see, when they haven't been as sufficiently identified.
The other thing is that you can tell I'm a woman, and I'm also black.So I was really, very early on exposed to potential challenges that groups and communities like mine face in the UK. So I wanted to find solutions to these challenges with the venture that I launched during the sabbatical year.
I really want to say that, you know, consulting firms are great and I am forever grateful for that. They give us the flexibility to explore and also pursue other initiatives, personal interests of ours. With that, and with the guarantee of going back as well. That's a gift as well, that shouldn't be taken for granted.
So I really measured the chance that I had to be able to take a sabbatical, and explore, and try to fix a problem. The problem at the time was, as you can see that I have natural hair. And it was the first time that I decided to shave my hair and to explore, what would grow and letting my natural hair look like itself. And this was the first time that I noticed that it was a market, which was potentially at the time underserved.
It was back in 2016 when the market was nascent. As women, we've seen our friends looking for how products which would suit the hair types. So there is a lot of time spent trying the product or process that was super inefficient. And, I'm sure you remember the hours in, in consulting- the hours are quite long. And I still wanted to like look really stylish with my hair, but not spend as much time. I just didn't have the time. The frustration grew into essentially a business opportunity.
As a classic strategy consultant I was looking a little bit into the market size, what are the opportunities. I realized that there was a huge market available to be able to like, potentially fix this issue. So our solution was meant to help women find hair products, personalized and tailored to their needs and their hair profiles. We were matching them with women who had the same hair profiles as theirs, and then suggested recommended products, which already worked on females with similar hair attributes. I came from an analytical background. I was building an algorithm behind the matching process.
So all of that sounded really exciting and got to a point where I really wanted to focus full time on it and it ended up being a great learning experience. And redefined me as well, in my personal life and my career.
what were the learnings of that? Because you did that, and then you are back at PwC... So what happened, tell us a bit more about that journey.