BN Making It!: From Side Hustle to Big Business – Isoken Ogiemwonyi & Wonuola Odunsi of Le Petit Marché & L’EspacePosted on Thursday, December 8th, 2011 at 2:41 PM
By Nkechi Eze
BN Making It! is a BN feature focused on young entrepreneurs.
BellaNaija.com launched BN Making It! in 2009 and we are hoping to spotlight more upcoming entrepreneurs in 2011 and beyond. We will feature young African entrepreneurs both at home and in diaspora who are making an impact in their chosen fields. Technology, Non-Profit, Fashion, Media, PR, Music and everything else. From those who are just starting their first company to young Africans who have their companies listed on the stock market. The purpose of this feature is to promote and encourage entrepreneurship among young Africans. We aim to inspire the next generation to be enterprise builders.
For this special edition of BN Making It!, we met up with two young entrepreneurs who have taken a simple concept and transformed it into a phenomenon. 24 year old Isoken Ogiemwonyi and 27 year old Wonuola Odunsi are the dynamic duo behind Le Petit Marché, popularly known as LPM.
The monthly market has been in operation for over 2 and a half years. During that time, LPM has hosted 31 editions, giving vendors a low-cost avenue to interact with customers, promote their brands and generate revenue. Wonu (representing LPM) was chosen as one of the Top 12 finalists for the prestigious MTN British Council Young Creative Entrepreneur of The Year in 2011. The LPM story doesn’t end there, Isoken and Wonuola are expending their business via a new venture christened L’Espace. L’Espace which will be launching in a few weeks is a department store which will retail the best of African fashion and lifestyle products. Once again, the ladies of LPM are moving the Nigerian retail sector especially emerging indigenous brands forward. Read their inspiring story below.
Isoken and Wonu coincidentally attended the same university, though, at different times and studied different courses.
Wonu holds BSc in Chemical Engineering from University of Nottingham and an MSc in Biochemical Engineering from the University of Birmingham. She worked as an investment banker with leading finance companies in the UK and in Nigeria. For 3 of the 5 years, she was in paid employment, Wonu launched and managed LPM simultaneously during this time, she also worked on her vintage label, the Lagos Look. While Wonu worked in the finance world, Isoken, a graduate of Law (LLB Law – Hons.) from the University of Nottingham with a PGD in Hospitality Administration from GIHE, Switzerland and an MSc in Management from BPP London has worked within her family business as well as launched her fashion label Obsidian and LPM.
LPM – The Idea & Kickoff…
Isoken: It was Wonu’s idea (to launch LPM), we had been thinking of different ways to expand the market and gain exposure for both our individual brands (Lagos Look and Obsidian) and it evolved naturally.
How did you come up with the name? Why the French twist, why not Yoruba, English or in Pidgin, since Le Petit Marche is based in Lagos?
Wonu: Isoken and I both share a love for the French language so it was intuitive to name it just that…that’s not to say we don’t share love for our indigenous languages! We do…but Le Petit Marche sounded (and still sounds) apt for the concept and ideas we had at the time.
Starting off – ‘cold feet’ or ‘smooth sailing’?
Isoken: To be honest, we just kind of ran with it and didn’t even envisage ‘failing’. It was a little scary at first obviously, but I think the enthusiasm far outweighed any misgivings on our part. We made a few mistakes and had some teething problems, but I think we just focused on being consistent and it all worked out in the end. It was definitely a sharp learning curve, as neither of us had done anything like that before, but it was very rewarding.
Wonu: With every new business, there’s always a small element of trepidation as to how it’s going to be received and if it will be successful. However, with LPM we had identified the distribution chasm in the Nigerian retail industry. So although we knew there was a need, we couldn’t be certain that the Nigerian market was ready for it. So it wasn’t always smooth sailing, infact, there were many days we wanted to give up and close up shop entirely! But we persevered and pushed and continued to make an impact.
Fortunately, we did have a few friends who were retailers and participated in the first LPM, we offered a huge incentive for them by making it free because we were confident that they would see the value and continue to participate.
Did you have anyone to look up to as a mentor or role model?
Wonu: At inception, we had a huge support from our friends and family who constantly encouraged us and of course still do.
Now, Phillip Green, CEO of Topshop is someone who we look up to because of what he’s done with the Topshop brand from it’s birth till today and elements of the LPM /L’Espace model have been drawn from that.
Isoken: As cliched as it sounds, my parents are definitely my driving force. I also draw inspiration from several thought leaders, particularly Jeremy Gutsche, Jeff Bezos and Phillip Green.
Creating a Brand
The “market” concept is not unique and there were similar events before LPM and since LPM started, many others have emerged. What sets LPM apart?
Wonu: The LPM culture is totally cool and can’t be replicated! Plus we are SUPER dedicated and SUPER determined to actually bridge the distribution gap and create entrepreneurs! From the onset, it was never about money and all about making an impact.
Isoken: I can’t say there is one tangible thing per se, but what I know is – the only way anyone can catch up with you is if you stay still. We don’t stand still. We keep trying to add value and actually improve the commercial end of the industry.
What sort of feedback have you gotten from LPM vendors over the years?
Isoken: Feedback runs the gamut from irate emails to profusely thankful ones. It is impossible for everyone to have a uniformly positive experience, but I think we can safely say (especially with the number of repeat vendors) that we are doing something right.
A large percentage of vendors consistently participate in LPM, why?
Isoken: I think its because we are reliable and we try to make I as experiential as possible.
What do you feel about the socializing and networking element that has emerged with LPM, with people sometimes attending to “see and be seen”?
Wonu: It has its ups and downs I suppose! The right mix is what we are after.
Isoken: The ‘4 o clock’ people! Initially, we worried that it was damaging our brand – i.e. lumping us with all the myriad ‘fashion happenings’ in Lagos, as opposed to a serious commercial concern, but I think ultimately our vendors know the value we provide and even the ‘scenesters’ inevitably see something they like and BUY!
The Money Question!
How did you source for capital?
Wonu & Isoken: For LPM, our major costs were venue and advertising, which we funded on our own. L’Espace on the other hand, which is far more capital intensive we got from angel investors.
Managing Costs & Generating Revenue – How did you approach vendors, secure a venue etc…?
Wonu: For LPM, we relied 70% on online media and 30% on word of mouth! We look out for a venue that we can work with symbiotically so there’s mutual benefit and is conducive in terms of size and aesthetics.
Isoken: Surprisingly, finding vendors wasn’t terribly hard as we knew quite a few people who sold/designed/manufactured goods and were perfect for our platform. I also think we are a naturally entrepreneurial nation, everyone does something or the other as a ‘side-hustle’.
Venue scouting on the other hand, was definitely a big headache starting out. We found out what worked and what didn’t by iteration, but as Wonu said there has to be a mutual benefit on both sides, especially because ambience of the market is one of its biggest selling points and the venue is the largest single contributor to this.
Partnership! 2 brains are better than 1
What do you think makes you a perfect match as business partners and as friends?
Wonu: Isoken and I work well together because we both recognize that we have individual strengths that we play on and use to the advantage of LPM.
Our synergy is MEGA! I think we are very lucky to have a “Thelma & Louise”-esque friendship too!
Isoken: Honestly? No idea. We’ve been asked how we work together because of our personalities, but so far we rarely, if ever, clash. We’ve been even accused of playing ‘good cop, bad cop’ several times, but the irony is depending on who you’re speaking to, the roles differ! I guess it’s just one of those things you just have to thank God for continuously. It probably also helps that we communicate often and tend to work.
What does each partner bring to the table?
Isoken: Anyone who’s worked with us knows we can be .. Well – Odd. We finish each other’s thoughts and it’s easy to feel like you’re shut out if you aren’t following very closely. We have a very natural dynamic, where one person slacks off the other picks up.
We don’t actually have defined roles per se, we play to our strengths and I guess it helps that we have been educated so thoroughly, so there aren’t many ‘gaps’ to speak of. Wonu is obsessed with financial models and I have an understandable fascination with branding, communication concept execution and the business of fashion in general.
Wonu: I’m pretty sure it’s obvious by now that Isoken is the eloquent writer! All I can say is that we are blessed with a special kind of compatibility! Where she stops I pick up from and vice versa…however I can say that Isoken has general knowledge for days! She spends half her time reading and researching fashion and lifestyle news and information so she has a well rounded understanding of the business of fashion. Due to my investment banking experience, I enjoy number crunching and building financial models and forecasts for fun!
It’s the amalgamation of our unique strengths that I believe has brought us this far and what makes our businesses successful!
Balancing the “Side Hustle” – Transforming it to the “Main Business”
How did you balance a demanding full-time job with running LPM?
Wonu: When there’s a will there’s a way! As simple as the concept of LPM seems, it may come as a surprise that it requires a lot of ground work and preparation towards the event and even more physically and mentally draining work on the market day.
I found that no matter how much you try to juggle, one of your hustles would suffer. With such a demanding job it was occasionally hard for me to keep up with the workload, but those were the times Isoken would put in overtime. I was very open about LPM in the workplace which, fortunately made it easier for me.
Isoken: Well, as originally stated we play off each others strengths so balancing the LPM workload was considerably easier than with other first time startups. I think if you have to make it work you will. However, it was a bit of a struggle balancing it all at first especially because they have equal priority status in my mind, so at some points one of the three ‘balls’ (Family Business, fashion label – Obsidian and LPM) I was juggling faltered mid-air/dropped. At one point Obsidian took a back seat, and LPM and the hotels were more of a priority. I have found my rhythm now and with more than capable staff to help with the day to day, I can safely say we don’t feel like it’s so much of a ‘balancing’ act anymore.
Advice for people in full-time jobs who want to take start a business while maintaining their 9 to 5 roles
Wonu: My advice is remain in full-time employment until your side hustle starts to generate more income than your main hustle! I gained a world of experience from being in full time employment, I learned discipline and diligence and a lot of other invaluable tips that I now apply to LPM.
Isoken: Advice wise, as clichéd as it may sound, never give up. Our first few LPMs didn’t go so great, but we persevered, went back to the drawing board and tried to fix whatever problems we identified. Secondly (and this is by no means applicable to everyone) don’t listen to everyone. I find that an idea that was a certainty in your mind, can quickly become garbled and distorted if you take on too many opinions, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. It’s hard to ascertain what constitutes too much though, and that is largely a personal thing. I tend to concentrate on successful people I know, or people who I know can give me an objective viewpoint – sometimes you can’t figure out all the angles on your own, but I don’t bother asking consistently negative people or ones who really can’t contribute anything useful. You and God are the only two parties privy to the details of your trajectory.
Finally, educate yourself. Constantly. And I’m not talking only about a full on degree, not everyone can do that. Short courses, reading articles or stories pertinent to your side hustle can only enhance you and your business. Most people jump into a ‘side-hustle’ without understanding the ramifications on your time (and wellbeing lol). And while enthusiasm is an essential ingredient, not knowing your craft extensively is detrimental, and stimulating your mind ensures you never get bored with whatever it is you choose to do.
With all the success LPM has attained. Have you done anything to “give back”?
Wonu: LPM held a special edition event in February 2011 where all profits were donated to the Freedom Foundation (The Freedom Foundation is a non-governmental organization established in 2001 to carry out the mandate of pioneering social reformation within our communities. Their target populations are the socially and economically disadvantaged and vulnerable men, women and children. Initiatives include drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, education and empowerment initiatives for underaged prostitutes.)
The Freedom Foundation is an organization that was very dear to me because I used to attend This Present House and have had a relationship with the founders and all the people that make the charity what it is today so it was intuitive to want to give back majorly to them. We truly believe in their cause and have seen the immense work that they’ve done and are still doing.
Though it was really spurred on by Damilola Amolegbe and Mrs Deola Bali who are extremely close to me and are a big part of the organization.
What other non-profit initiatives do you have in the pipeline?
Isoken: We have embarked on a new project - Fashion, Incorporated, where we help mentor, empower and advice Nigerian entrepreneurs about how to run their businesses and be successful in the industry. We want to be known as the entrepreneurs that generate entrepreneurs.
Keys to Success
Some people may say, Isoken & Wonu are both well educated and have supportive families so they have no choice but to be successful. I dont have those things, how can I make it?
Wonu: Everyone has God, he will make it happen!
Isoken: Neither (Education nor Family Support) are guarantees for success, I wouldn’t even say we are there yet. My two cents? Drive and a ‘make it happen’ mindset go a long way, identify what you see as a lack in yourself or your plan . Don’t see obstacles, aim for solutions instead. An idea is just an idea until it is executed. And of course, never stop praying.
Did you ever get to the point that you wanted to call it quits? Your greatest challenge so far…
Isoken: Yes and no. I entertained fleeting thoughts of closing up shop with Obsidian and concentrating on LPM and vice versa, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do without one or the other. Greatest challenge? Launching L’Espace and relinquishing the day-to-day running of LPM to our staff..I may have a teeny control issue
Advice for young entrepreneurs with a dream
Isoken: There’s no surefire formula for success but be very clear on what you want to do /achieve, if you don’t have a goal it’s easy to lose focus. Read other success stories, add to your skillset (short courses, interning or watching people work and practicing constantly).
Wonu: Act as though it is impossible to fail! I can’t stress that enough. Your attitude towards your goals is 80% responsible for whether you actually achieve them! Be positive, listen to people that know better and don’t get way in over yourself trying to start something new and ingenious before you’ve actually been a part of other things.
The Future of LPM & L’Espace | Making a Global Impact
Why did you decide to set up a store? Does this mean it’s the end of our beloved LPM?
Isoken: LPM isn’t going anywhere! It’ll still run every month.
Look at LPM as the first step and L’Espace as the incubator, where fashion businesses who are ready for the next step go! L’Espace was my dream. It’s basically just an expansion of the LPM idea. If you understand where LPM fits in the value chain it’s a logical progression really.
As a designer, I know how difficult raising the financing for a project like this can be as well as juggling overheads and production issues, all on your lonesome. With L’Espace we ameliorate the burden of finding ways to distribute your product to your target audience, in a space with complementary goods and services in a location most young fashion entrepreneurs would find it difficult to get or sustain. Quite frankly, it’s a win- win situation!
Where do you see the store in 5 years?
W: Once we are done pushing African brands in Africa (LPM & L’Espace in Abuja, Accra & Port Harcourt very soon) We see L’Espace on New Bond street in London or Avenue des champs élysées in Paris as the first stores to retail only African brands so continuing the push of African brands internationally…we dream BIG!
More Exclusive Images from the L’Espace campaign featuring Ebuka Obi-Uchendu, Beverly Naya, Oreka Godis and Lynxxx
We are definitely inspired, just goes to show that you do not have to reinvent the wheel to be successful. Consistency and branding goes a long way.
Look out for more information on L’Espace and LPM this Christmas!
For more information, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Photographer: Lakin Ogunbanwo
Cast: Oreka ‘Rhecks’ Godis, Beverly Naya, Chukie ‘Lynxxx’ Edozien and Ebuka Obi-Uchendu
Makeup + Hair: Renique for Sacred Artistry
Stylist: Bolaji Animashaun
Styling Assistant: Ifeoma Odogwu
Alali Boutique *
Eclectic by Sasha
Didi Rose (Jewelry)
Ivie’s Art and Wine
Special Thanks to The Coral Apartments at 1004