Episode 018: Turning Safe Sex into a Business in Nigeria with Florida Uzoaru

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About Florida Uzoaru

Florida Uzoaru is the founder/CEO of Slide Safe, Nigeria’s first STI self-testing kit delivery service.

You can connect with her @dasexlady on Facebook and @slidesafeng on Twitter and Instagram. You can also find her on LinkedIn @Florida Uzoaru.

Despite coming from a commercially minded Nigerian family, Florida grew up hating sales. For her, it was like begging. In her 20s, she entered the public health profession and became passionate about promoting safe sex in Nigeria.

While Nigeria has one of the world’ highest rates of HIV infection, only 10% of the population actually gets tested.  Frustrated with the approach of NGOs, which failed to tackle the problem on the ground, she came up with the idea for Slide Safe –an online service that delivers self-testing kits for HIV, hepatitis B, and other sexually transmitted infections as well as contraceptives.  

But, she was reluctant to publicly promote her business. She thought she could be a behind-the-scene founder. After all, she grew up hating sales. But, she finally told herself to “stop running away” from taking on a public role as founder of Slide Safe.

Since then, Florida has become a fierce and vocal advocate of her business and adopting safe sex practices in Nigeria.    

Florida speaks candidly about her many pivots during her entrepreneurial journey as well as the difficulties she faced while refining the messaging of Slide Safe. (Its original name was Sex in a Box but that didn’t go down well in conservative Nigeria.)  

She also talks about her experiences at the CC Hub and Tony Elumelu accelerator programs, the nuanced challenges of being a female entrepreneur, and why subscription services just don’t work in Nigeria.  

Without further do, here’s my conversation with Florida Uzoaru.

What We Learn from Florida: Focus on your Messaging

Florida shares the importance of positioning and messaging of your business, especially if you’re working in a sensitive area like sexual health. She initially struggled with her company’s communication strategy. After finding that a clinical approach didn’t work, she used storytelling in her communications and sales, which was more effective.

Florida’s Actionable Tips

  1. Know your burn rate and don’t spend all your cash at once. You only improve as long as you're in business.

  2. Don’t chase money, which can distract you from strategy.

  3. Simplify your communication. You want to be able to boil your problem statement down to one sentence.

Florida’s Top Quotes

  • “Don’t spend all your money at once. Really you will think you have the best [idea]. ‘I have this idea and this idea is revolutionary, etc.’ And then you go and sink all your money into it and you'll discover that the market does not react in the way that you thought the market would. So yeah, don't spend all your money all at once. Because the truth is you can only improve as long as you're in business.”

  • “One of the things that women have to, especially African women, which is probably not unique to us, deal with is the fact that we always have to appear to put our family before our business. And you always want to…I wouldn't say pretend but your family may be very important to you, but people want to see how important your family is to you because, for some reason, it makes you an approachable person. And so for a female entrepreneur who may not want to project her family life first and doesn't think that, oh, this doesn't have to play a part in anything, I tell the person to be bold enough to do it."

  • "Another thing that was really key is that [my mentor] told me that I shouldn't focus on what Slide Safe is today. Slide Safe could be a lot more than what it was today. These may be the products you have now, but these may not always be the products you have. Just always think about that.”

Florida’s Links

Florida’s Mentions

  • CC Hub

  • Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program

  • Fledge

  • Jumia

  • Supermart.ng

Key Timestamps

  • Florida never considered herself a natural business person [3:28]
  • Her dissatisfaction working at NGOs [6:15]
  • Being a first mover in sexual health services in Nigeria [9:41]
  • Her first idea [10:30]
  • Pivot to Slide Safe’s current business model [17:40]
  • Payments [22:22]
  • How she refined her messaging for Slide Safe [24:52]
  • Why HIV campaigns in Nigeria had a problematic communication strategy (No dey show for face) [28:52]
  • How she got into the CC Hub and Tony Elumelu accelerator programs on the 2nd try [35:33] 
  • Takeaways from both accelerator programs [28:48]
  • The nuanced challenges of being a female entrepreneur in Nigeria [44:56]
  • The best advice she’s gotten as an entrepreneur [49:51]
  • Why subscription services don’t work in Nigeria [52:41]
  • Her one piece of actionable advice for aspiring African entrepreneurs [1:02:59]