My Business Story

Entrepreneur Brings Innovation To Construction Industry

An entrepreneur's patience and resilience pay off as his start up creates ingenious solution within the industry.

Before Edmund Oshioke earned his first degree in 2008, he already had a growing reputation as a “serial entrepreneur”. The Delta State University, Abraka, graduate of Accounting and Finance had made up his mind to be an entrepreneur right from secondary school. He was still a freshman when he registered his first business.

Business sense 

Reflecting on his early adventure into business, the father-of-two said: “My interest in entrepreneurship was so definite that it affected my grades in my second year. I was doing stuff while studying under my registered company name to augment whatever I was getting from my parents.”

However, Edmund admitted that the strong urge to go into business might also have come from peer pressure, especially from friends who felt it was cool to “do your own thing”, instead of working for people. “I registered my first company without proper guidance,” Edmund admitted, “The narrative was to register a business and start doing stuff around it. Although I did some transactions, it wasn’t much of a success for obvious reasons.” 

However, the life lessons he took from it proved valuable in Edmund’s future business pursuits.

Deliberate action

Upon graduation in 2008, Edmund resolved to be more focused on what he wanted for himself, “After university, decisions were deliberate and tailored along the line I wanted to follow. During NYSC in Abuja, I chose a firm where I could gain relevant management skills in the sector I wanted to focus on in life,” he stated. 


Business brief:
Started 2015
Social media contact:
Twitter @OshiokeE
Instagram - 2iamedaustin

The Edo State-born management entrepreneur worked as general manager at a mining and quarry firm called Triumph, where he said he was practically responsible for running the company’s day-to-day affairs. 

He was general manager at Triumph for six years and in-between set up a pharmacy and medical laboratory for his wife. “These experiences were formative and helped in what I am doing now. They helped me to take decisions and learn from mistakes,” he said. 

Next stage

Armed with six years of hands-on management skill and a network of contacts in the construction industry, Edmund went to the London Business School for a second degree in Finance in 2016. He also took a course in Construction Management at the Columbia University all in preparation for his ultimate goal.

Ready to take the industry by storm, he first of all explained what informed his decision: “During my time at Triumph, I met a lot of people in construction and civil engineering. I also learnt a lot about the construction industry. It was what I wanted all along.”

Edmund identified a gap in the construction sector. “From what we have in Nigeria,” he said, “indigenous construction companies are not trusted. So I wanted to set an example of a construction concern indigenously owned but with quality delivery which could match any foreign company.” 

The result was Kamen Aggregates and Construction Company Limited.

Delving into uncharted territory? 

When Edmund started Kamen, he had a challenge with capital in the broad sense of the word – human capital, fixed asset, financial resources and technical know-how.  

Reflecting on that phase of his career, he said: “What helped me was my background as an Accounting and Finance graduate in both first and second degrees. And although it was challenging to convince people to come and put their money in a start-up, I was able to pull seed capital together to start.” 


"I wanted to set an example of a construction concern indigenously owned but with quality delivery which could match any foreign company"

Kamen started three years ago with six staff, but Edmund admitted that it wasn’t as seamless as he expected: “We made some mistakes in the choice of staff at the initial stage. Getting the right persons to fill some key positions was a challenge. So, we had to employ and re-employ.” 

Edging out the competition?

According to Edmund, focusing on quality and integrity have helped his business grow. He said: “It has earned us referrals and the biggest currency in the construction sector – reputation. What people don’t also understand is that working within a specific budget does not necessarily mean that quality should be compromised. That’s the misconception with indigenous construction firms. These are the things we try to correct at Kamen.”

Niche Marketer, Kunle Onime, Reflects On Small Beginnings

One of Nigeria’s leading experiential marketers shares his start-up experience and how he built a leading brand from scratch

It is not exactly clear if Kunle Onime’s success in brand marketing was designed or if it came as an accident. What is certain, however, is how the Edo State-born experiential marketer has carved a niche for himself as a pioneer, trailblazer and marketing disruptor.  

Born in Osogbo, Osun State, Kunle already had a broad worldview and awareness of the diverse cultures around him, having attended schools in Osun and Kogi states while living in Lagos. His broad experience would prove useful later in life.

Experiment and experience

Fifth in a family of seven, Kunle started his working career in the entertainment industry. He was a member of the management team to the late Ras Kimono before joining DP Lekki Ltd, as Promotions and Public Relations Manager. When the 1989 graduate of Philosophy from the University of Lagos left the organisation in 1993, he set up his own outfit, Siomtr Ventures Ltd. 


Business brief:
Started 1999
Social media contact:
Twitter - @kunleonime1
Facebook - @Kunle Onime

Kunle narrated how he came about experiential marketing: “I was sitting with Ali Baba and an idea popped into my head. I remember Ali Baba telling me to give it a shot. I didn’t have access to the Internet and knew little about what I was thinking. A lot of people thought I was mad because my idea was not only impossible, it won’t fly in Nigeria.”

And that was what many thought, until a leading beverage company reluctantly decided, out of Kunle’s persistence, to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

Kunle recalled: “Almost a year after my ‘crazy idea’ first came up, my friends at the beverage company felt I was giving them too much stress; so to ‘get rid of me’ they just gave me something to do. We were supposed to go to the market and talk to end users about their products, to make consumers feel the brand.” 

When Kunle’s idea became a success, the management decided to expand his experiential marketing idea. 

Teaming up with like minds

Unknown to Kunle, his brand of marketing and promotion hadn’t gone unnoticed. Soon, he had a life-changing encounter with unfamiliar people from an unexpected place.

“One day, we were at Oko Oba (a suburb of Lagos) when some expatriates drove in. I thought they were from the beverage company and had come to evaluate what we were doing,” he narrated. “Apparently they were businessmen from South Africa who wanted to set up an experimental marketing business in Nigeria and they said everywhere they went they were told there was this young man who was doing exactly what you guys are proposing.”



"Although they didn’t obviously understand my vision, they were interested in funding. It is a very familiar Nigerian business model. I quickly realised that and jumped out of that relationship and started doing it myself."


The men from South Africa thought they were going to pioneer experiential marketing in Nigeria. “We talked and before I knew what was happening, I was in South Africa for training. That was in 1996. I came back and we launched in Nigeria on March 5, 1997,” Kunle explained. 

When Kunle left the company as the Director of Operations in 1999 to start Marketing & Promotions Concept (MPC) Ltd, six staff members left with him. Such was the influence and quality he had in the industry. MPC started off with 10 staff.

Start-up Capital 

According to Kunle, financial requirements weren’t the biggest challenge in starting an experiential marketing firm. 

He said: “It wasn’t much of financial requirements but more on brands believing and trusting you to deliver. Of course, we needed some funding, and what I did then was to go into partnership with some gentlemen. Although they didn’t obviously understand my vision, they were interested in funding. It is a very familiar Nigerian business model. I quickly realised that and jumped out of that relationship and started doing it myself.”

That does not mean there are no challenges. One particular challenge continues to rear its head, 19 years after he set up MPC: “Government regulation is one of the biggest challenges in this industry. We have issues with government not giving us recognition. Having scaled the hurdles of government, you’ll be faced with the challenge of having to settle area boys. Worse still, you can’t get the support of the same government you have paid to operate against the excesses of area boys and local market authorities.”

In plain language, Kunle said everybody wants to extort an experiential marketer. However, he has something working for him – his vast experience and knowledge of his areas of operation. 

“The experience we have gathered over the years comes in. The relationships we have built over the years come to play and it is something you can’t just gain over a short period of time. To be modest, I have been to over 700 of the 774 local governments in Nigeria,” he stated.

With his vast network stretching to Guinea, Ghana and Sierra Leone, Kunle said MPC has the connection and relationship advantage. The company has 40 permanent staff and over a thousand ad-hoc staff, but it is the talents that Kunle has mentored that gives him the more excitement.

“I am proud to say if there are 100 agencies in this country, there will be 90 per cent of people who passed through me, maybe not as owners of businesses but as management members of strong agencies,” he mentioned. 

Kunle said this could only be achieved when one is able to deliver value greatly by understanding the people, their cultures and values. “We make sure that we under-promise and over-deliver. That’s the way to wow your clients,” he concluded.

Entrepreneur Gives Local Snack New Life

After musing for years about what to do with his favourite local snack, Tolu gives kokoro new lease of life

Entrepreneurship was hardly Tolu Fashanu’s immediate dream. His father wanted him to study Business Administration, but he opted for Mass Communication because of his love for broadcasting and ICT. As fate would have it, the 2010 graduate of The Redeemer’s University, Mowe, Ogun State, got off to a great start career-wise, during his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) year.

He reflected on his service year: “I did my youth service in Imo State and that was where I started my career in mass communication. I served at Heart FM, Owerri. Everything was going fine and there was no reason to complain.”

“Opportunity with interest”

After completing his NYSC, Tolu returned to Lagos where he took up freelance broadcasting at the University of Lagos radio station. It was a far cry from what he hoped for. It was during that period that he took advantage of what he called “an opportunity with interest”.


Business brief:
Started 2015
Social media contact:
Twitter: @teescrunchykokoro
Facebook: Tees crunchy cornmeal snack

“I have been a fan of the local cornmeal snack called kokoro since childhood. I grew up eating it and I loved it. I used to get my supply from Abeokuta, from where it originated,” he narrated. “I kept indulging in eating kokoro and one day, for the first time, I bought it in Lagos and the taste was different.”

Upon investigation, Tolu realised that the variety of his favourite cornmeal snack sold in Lagos had short shelf life because it had to be freighted in from Abeokuta. Lagos was eating stale kokoro. “I decided to deliver kokoro that will not lose its original taste to Lagosians ,” he said. 

Stiff resistance…

If it was tough to raise capital for the business, convincing potential financiers that the capital was going into the production of some not-so-popular local snack was daunting for Tolu especially when his parents had not recovered from the financial burden of sending him to a private university.

Tolu narrated his dilemma: “When I told my parents I wanted to do kokoro business, they asked if I was out of my mind. My mum was particularly stunned. My dad was more open-minded but they both said I should think of something else.”

Unhappy but not deterred, Tolu was convinced that his idea was worth a try. He enlisted the assistance of a neighbour who helped out with a business plan and encouraged him. “She actually projected my dream, but I knew if I wanted to follow her business plan to the letter, I wouldn’t start at all because it involved millions of naira. I convinced myself that I could start small,” he stated. 

Peculiar business, peculiar challenges

Starting small was not without its own challenges. He decided to woo sceptics by giving away free sample packs of kokoro, and it cost him a bit.



"She (my neighbor) actually projected my dream, but I knew if I wanted to follow her business plan to the letter, I wouldn’t start at all because it involved millions of naira. I convinced myself that I could start small."


“It was the price I had to pay. I didn’t take advantage of social media until later and the free samples went on for three months out of the little I had,” he explained. 

However, the reception was encouraging. Tolu said it was what even kept him going in the early days of his business. He recalled: “I remember giving some to an aunt who encouraged me greatly. She opened my eyes to the fact that once it goes round and people like it, I’ll start having competitors.”

There were other challenges too, such as distribution and the linguistic barrier, especially for a product that appeared to be a hyper-local brand.   

“I approached a distributor who deals in plantain chips to help me distribute thekokoro along with his plantain chips,” Tolu recalled. “After some time, he told me that street hawkers were mostly Igbo who could not pronounce kokoro. Some of them even called it cockroach! I immediately recalled the products because I didn’t want them to get stale in the distributor’s warehouse.” 

He had to employ support staff to reach consumers directly, apart from using friends and family who also sell the snack in offices.

Next level

With three part-time staff whom he trained himself, Tolu intends to take kokoro to as many retail outlets as possible: “I am still growing. I am still learning but I can assure you that it is not a bad business. My destination is to have kokoro in different flavours. You know, Pringles is made out of potatoes and you can see its reception everywhere. That is my vision – to put the local snack in every major supermarket and home.”

Entrepreneur's Unusual Textile Design Puts Her On The Map

After years of study and pursuing her dream, Oyidiya finally takes top spot in competitive textile design market

One thing that thrilled Oyidiya Ajike when she was growing up was how her father, a civil engineer, designed things. Her father, she said, always left his engineering signature and ingenuity on any project he handled. His most obvious signature was on their house, and it was where Oyidiya’s love for design took hold and began to blossom.

In the beginning… 

She recalled: “My father is a retired civil engineer. I grew up around design. Obviously, having my father as a civil engineer exposed me early to design. He was quite good at it and you could see the extra creativity and aesthetics that went into the design of the house we lived in and the décor.”

Despite her love for design, Oyidiya’s parents steered her towards a different path; but even on this path, the seed of creativity already sowed in her childhood years would still find expression.  


Business brief:
Started 2008
Social media contact:
@ivo_luxurytextiles @hudayyabycoutureliving

“My father’s colourful and dramatic designs influenced my attraction but that didn’t necessarily mean I was going to study civil engineering,” the Abia State-born entrepreneur stated. 

Oyidiya initially started studying medicine in Nigeria before opting to move to the United Kingdom, where she eventually earned a degree in Pharmacology and Physiology. 

But her passion was still somewhere else. She had the fire of entrepreneurship burning in her and she indulged it by registering her first business in 2008, even before completing her studies in the UK. 

She explained: “When I finished my first degree I went back to school to study interior design, and then went on to the Imperial College Business School, where I studied business management in 2011.”

Returning home to do business

The Managing Director of IVO Textile said she started with the seed capital saved from working in the UK. She got some support in the form of work space from an architect friend who bought into her concept and vision.  

However, Oyidiya knew that passion for design alone would not break her into the flooded interior décor market in Nigeria. She decided to specialize in textile design, where she would have more freedom to express her creativity. 

“Textile design takes a slightly different angle to interior design because for my own personal aesthetics I love beautiful and luxury-looking textiles. I knew that even though I wanted to be an interior designer, I wanted to focus more on fabrics and textiles for the interior design industry,” she said.  

In retrospect, it was a strategy that worked. But Oyidiya confessed that it took some experimenting and improvisation to make her brand what it is today.



"Building the capacity of the people I worked with was difficult. I found it difficult to convey and translate my ideas to people. Having people to see the vision and see it through the way I wanted things done was a challenge."


“Although I had to think about how to create my niche in the market, I still had to start as an interior designer and source for jobs and all that,” the CEO of IVO Textile said. “However, it wasn’t fulfilling for me because I wanted to be a textile designer able to create and sell my own collection,” she added. 

When Oyidiya didn’t immediately have the means to achieve her aim, she decided to start stocking other people’s brands. She supplemented her décor with investing in the catalogues of upmarket internal brands, while bidding her time. 

“It was two, three years ago that I decided I had tested the market enough to start producing and pushing out my own collection,” said.

Challenges, Lessons and breakthrough 

A disruptor, Oyidiya was confronted with a peculiar challenge when she started IVO Textile.  “Building the capacity of the people I worked with was difficult. I found it difficult to convey and translate my ideas to people. Having people to see the vision and see it through the way I wanted things done was a challenge,” she said.

Being a high-end brand, Oyidiya also faced some challenges when foreign exchange rates started to fluctuate in 2015. And there are the usual challenges faced like all other small and medium scale businesses run in Nigeria. 

However, there was a specific encounter which tested Oyidiya’s resolve in 2015: “We had six projects all at the same time in Kano, Bauchi, Anambra, Imo and Abuja. We were shipping goods every week and my goods were seized by the Customs Service, but our clients showed understanding and we were able to resolve the snag and deliver.”

Oyidiya started IVO Textile with one tailor and a secretary/assistant but had to learn a basic business lesson along the way as her business grew.

“At some point when we were growing, I had too many staff and was struggling with keeping them on permanent terms,” she said. “We had about six sales assistants, about eight installers, there were customer service assistants, tailors, personal assistant and all of that. I had to restructure my business to make access to staff more flexible.” 

Oyidiya said although her business has grown, her definition of success is when progress is continuous and sustained and lessons learnt along the way are used to improve the business.

Fadoul-Abacha; Lifestyle Entrepreneur Builds Empire Through Sheer Persistence

An entrepreneur who knew she didn't want a white-collar job but wasn't quite sure what she wanted, digs deep into herself to find an answer and launch a dream

Huda Fadoul-Abacha is a nonconformist. No one needed to tell her that she was not cut out for any form of regimented 9-to-5 career. However, an opportunity came up that would test her conviction.

After studying Microbiology at the University of Abuja, the 2008 graduate got a chance to do her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) at the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation in Abuja in 2009.

Huda narrated how that experience reinforced her belief about white-collar job: “I was just going through the motions. Everything seemed predictable and boring. I wanted to experience life my way and didn’t want to be living life with a schedule. So I decided to go into business.”

However, there was a setback. Huda didn’t have sufficient entrepreneurial skills and a business plan. So she randomly picked a trade and started at it.

She recalled: “I started with interior décor. From there I tried my hands at making chairs and doing minor renovations for people. It was growing and I was doing relatively well but I realised that I wasn’t passionate about it.”

Business brief:
Started 2012
Social media contact: fb.com/hudayyacouture

What next?

Huda told us she realised later that she was more passionate about fashion than interior décor and decided to go into it. But this time, experience had taught her to first test the waters.

“Although I registered my business in 2012, I didn’t take off immediately because I had to be sure of what I was going into and I didn’t have the finances and capacity to start off immediately,” she said.

The chief executive officer (CEO) of Hudayya Couture Limited said because of her lack of capacity, she couldn’t immediately seek funding for fear of failure. This limitation made her device a means of survival.

She said, “I was doing fashion delivery service, because I just get specifications and design them and take to the clients who are mostly family and friends. I was doing that until a year later when I felt I had gained enough experience to approach my parents with a business plan for their support. I also showed them what I had saved to show seriousness.”

Funding

With interior décor, Huda said she didn’t really need much to start. But when she moved into fashion, it required more capital. “I needed a place but couldn’t afford one immediately so I started from home. I had an aunt living in Gwarinpa (Abuja) who had a spare room so I worked from there with one machine,” Huda said.

Once she was certain she had enough drive in her to survive in the fashion business, she approached her parents for support.

“They supported me but it wasn’t to the extent I was expecting. They encouraged me to start small. I got a small place in an estate and started from there. Luckily, I was already making for friends and family and they kept patronising me. I started there with three machines. From there, three tailors became four and then five.”

Challenges

Huda’s business story sounds easy, only that it isn’t. The co-partner of Hudayya by Couture Living explained that it took some resolve and tenacity for her to take on and excel in the fashion business.


"I realised that a lot of things tailors told me were impossible were actually possible. They just didn’t want to do complex and detailed designs. I had to fire those who weren’t ready to adapt to my signature style."



She narrated some of her challenges: “When I started, I didn’t have any training. I just knew I was passionate about it and there were not many fashion schools that could deliver what I wanted. I was just learning on the job and making mistakes and learning from my experiences.”

Her lack of capacity in the fashion business put her at the mercy of the tailors she worked with. She later travelled to Dubai, UAE, to study fashion and returned better equipped.

Her time in Dubai exposed Huda to the solution to another challenge she was facing: “I realised that a lot of things tailors told me were impossible were actually possible. They just didn’t want to do complex and detailed designs. I had to fire those who weren’t ready to adapt to my signature style. In the process, I lost many tailors and clients because we were unable to meet up with demands. But in the long run, it was a good decision.”

Hudayya also said electricity was a challenge which increased her overhead tremendously, making it longer to break even.

Hudayya niche market

Huda has created a niche market for herself in bridal fashion. She said social media has helped to push her products.

Looking back, she said: “Your work has to stand out and speak for itself and for you. Social media has been one of our veritable marketing tools. We’ve had clients calling from the US, UK and Guinea who got to know us through social media.”

Huda now has a fashion school, Hudaya Fashion Academy, where would-be fashion entrepreneurs are trained to save them from learning the hard way.

She advised aspiring fashion entrepreneurs not to use their capital to fund their personal lifestyle and they should be sure it is actually what they want to do because the market is quite competitive.

She added: “I will also advise that they go to fashion school first and get entrepreneurial education. They should also intern in a fashion house for a while in order to be well positioned to compete.”


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