MIRA MEHTA’S TOMATO JOS COMPANY
Have you ever felt the need to solve one of the many problems in Nigeria and in the world generally? This feeling seems to be commonplace amongst entrepreneurs—trying to solve a problem and eventually creating a venture from it. The story of Mira Mehta buttresses this fact.
One will ask, Who is Mira Mehta, why does her name pop up in such a conversation? Well for the first, Mira Mehta runs the Tomato Jos company, an agro based company based in Northern Nigeria. She is a Finnish/Indian/American entrepreneur. One thing about her I find interesting is that in 2004, she won the Division I NCAA rowing championship as a member of her school’s rowing team.
She was born in New England, USA, studied at Winsor school. Graduated from Brown University—where she was a part of the women rowing varsity team that won the 2004 Division I NCAA championship— and Havard Business School from 2012 to 2014.
Now, what is Tomato Jos? Tomato Jos, as said earlier, is an African agricultural company based in Northern Nigeria initially grounded in Nasarawa State, now moved to Kaduna State. It has three main parts:
- farming tomatoes (and maize and soy in the rainy season),
- processing tomatoes, and
- selling a branded product.
The idea of of the Tomato Jos company was birthed in 2008, Mira Mehta encountered a tomato market glut in Northern Nigeria. A market glut is a market situation where supply exceeds demand as a result there is a considerable price drop. The roads were littered with farmers trying to dry and preserve their products—the price for tomatoes was at a low. She obviously could not get over this sight as this got her thinking, and further more, asking questions. Apparently, Nigeria produced a chunk of the tomatoes consumed in West Africa, yet was the largest importers of tomato paste in the world. That much fresh tomatoes produced, yet spent a lot importing tomato pastes.
"It just didn’t make any sense – why import all that paste when Nigeria already grew so many tomatoes? This was clearly a huge problem, but it also seemed like a huge opportunity." –TomatoJos. Net writes.
Six years later Mira Mehta teamed up with her co founder, Shane Kiernan to start up the tomato Jos company. That was in 2014, after graduating from Harvard Business School. She got funding from a number of individuals.
She had lived in Nigeria since 2008 but for the two years she spent at Harvard Business school. In a chat on Twitter organized by Nairametrics, she stated that before she moved back to Nigeria after graduating from Havard, her dad asked her why she was moving back, considering that she has lived here before.
Why the name Tomato Jos? Very interesting name. Many Nigerians should be familiar with the Tomato Jos compliment for a beautiful woman. When asked what nessessitated the name, she had this to say,
Tomato Jos is...something you would call your girlfriend...because she’s so fresh, and ripe, and sweet... It seemed like the perfect way to denote: 1) high quality, 2) a local brand, and 3) something fun — Mira Mehta in a chat with Nairametrics
A business started from identifying a problem. According to her, she says it’s a work in progress which is understandable given the environment and everything.
When asked the question, "Have you ever thought of quitting your tomato paste business?" She had this to say,
Of course — I think everyone has hard days and wants to pack it in, and sometimes when I hear about the money my classmates are earning back in the US, I feel jealous. But those days are few and far between, and the same friends whose salaries I envy have told me that they’re proud of and envious of me for trying to do something I believe in. I’m really lucky to have a strong support network of people who want Tomato Jos to succeed, and believe in me. –TomatoJos.net writes
When I first read about the Timato Jos company, what instigated it, and the goal of the company, it caught my eye. Like Mira Mehta, I could not get my mind off it, and I thought it was a nice story to tell. Seeing the state of things in the country, the poverty, the suffering, the problems. Nigeria is replete with problems and well documented they are. I thought reading this could inspire some somewhere.
Maybe the solution is in identifying problems we can solve: solution for us and solution for the society.