These days young people are proving that they do not need the government to save them; they are creating solutions to problems of their generation, the ones before and even the future generations. To this end, SME100 Nigeria, a youth-driven platform is seeking to stimulate entrepreneurship amongst young Nigerians by incubating them in an environment that has the right resources, mentorship and support they need to transform their lives and those who are in business with them.
ThisDay Style, in their most recent issue, profiled five of those female entrepreneurs who are under the age of 30 and started their businesses before they were 25. They are successful in their fields and are actively playing a part to solving issues the United Nations has identified as key for youth development and are doing so fearlessly, unstoppably, gloriously while being female.
See excerpts from their interview and be inspired!
Theodora Mogo – Make-Up Artist & Entrepreneur/C.E.O. Doranne Beauty: “The major key is to find your own and keep improving on it”.
You work in a saturated industry and have been able to build a business from the scratch. Share with us a few things that have kept you in the game this far.
Passion- I am always in the know of beauty trends ad techniques, the latest makeup products. I am forever singing this to my trainees. If you do not have passion for what you do you will never be successful. Some people think it’s just YouTube eyebrows, contour , baking and tada, there’s money in your bank account! The shock is when you have to deal with over four kinds of characters in less than six hours and all you want to do is run away. What keeps you from walking away is passion.
Customer Service and satisfaction – Thinking that working with over a hundred clients gives you a degree in interpersonal skills; it only takes that one appointment to make you realize that customer service is the real work here. I have learnt to build a relationship with my clients. I don’t see them as customers of the business but friends in a professional manner.
Skill – I’m always looking for new techniques. I try my best despite my crazy schedule to stay on top of my game or create my own game. The major key is to find your own and keep improving on it.
Vision – Let’s just say without a vision there wouldn’t be any more ‘tough times’ for your passion to sustain. Nearly four years ago, I had the vision to start a makeup company that will focus on making women look beautiful and feel beautiful and then some years down the line, I found that I could train others to make women feel beautiful. From the monthly training, I graduated to interstate trainings and now I’ve found myself partnering with global and international brands to train women. That’s what the vision does for you.
What are your challenges and how have you been able to overcome them?
At every stage of the business, there are different challenges. There is dealing with clients and punctuality, the challenge that comes with running a studio, the general cost of running any business at all even more in this region and even photography. But funnily enough, there is one challenge that amazes me – managing staff! It is very interesting to know that no matter how much you think you’ve got it right with staff, they throw a new hurdle for you to jump over. But I have learnt that one can show as much commitment to your business as you do.
How has the SME100 and the other women-run businesses inspired you in your work?
I am generally a ‘Power to women’ person, so seeing a woman in business holding it down excited me, it makes me feel like I can do it all. It gives some form of satisfaction, like people are being touched all over the world by what I do. That I even have women come all the way from South Africa, Ghana that follow my work to learnt the Doranne technique #beatbydoranne #theodorannefinish is inspiring.
Eseoghene Odiete – Fashion Designer, Creative Director/C.E.O. Hesey Designs: “I passionately believe that trade, not aid, is key for Africa’s development”
I have always been intrigued by the fashion industry, even as a child I have always wanted to build a fashion brand that would promote the Nigerian economy, I passionately believe that trade, not aid, is key for Africa’s development. So after my university degree, I decided to set up an ethical fashion brand with a mission to promote Nigeria and Africa, I started casually in 2012 and by 2013, Hesey Designs was officially a business entity.
What has been the greatest challenge running your business in general AND as a woman? How have you overcome or are overcoming these challenges?
As a young female entrepreneur, starting up was quite difficult. My first main challenge was sourcing for funds. I had to make do with the little savings I had and grew up from there. Also getting products out. I couldn’t afford a store so I made use of the internet. The internet doesn’t know my age or my gender so I was able to use that to my benefit. I also started with little experience of running a business, so I had to school myself by reading a lot of management books and stories of people who have started businesses. I also experienced a bit of discrimination especially in a business where majority of the artisans are male.
Your designs have been worn and you’ve been mentored by Richard Branson. How did this come about and what key lessons did you take away from that experience?
I always look out for opportunities to take my brand to the next level. I took part in the British Council enterprise challenge in partnership with Virgin Atlantic and Zenith bank and I won the challenge. It was huge for me because I never really thought I would win. This provides me with the platform for me to be mentored by Sir Richard Branson and to design shoes for the Virgin Atlantic 30th Anniversary.
How has the SME100 Nigeria and the other women-run businesses inspired you in your work?
First, I must applaud the SME100 Nigeria for their awesome contribution to empowering women entrepreneurs in Nigeria. They have not only provided more platforms for women to express themselves but the motivation to do more and to inspire other young women.
Bidemi Zakariyau -Public Relations Professional & Founder | LSF PR: The stats are clear, there are less women in the work place in Nigeria and fewer opportunities are available to women than men. I’m doing my part to change the numbers.
You represent and speak for a diverse range of businesses in different fields from corporate brands to technology and lifestyle brands? How do you source expertise to cater to such brands, taking the Nigerian unique media landscape into consideration?
We recruit different; the character check is first on our list because skills can easily be acquired through learning, training,and experience but unfortunately you can’t teach someone character. We target a broader, more diverse range of people, taking a risk on hiring candidates not only from journalism, but from marketing and research and academia and a range of other disciplines that may seem completely unrelated to PR as we currently know it.
Reportedly, you have a hiring policy where you employ only women, what inspired this decision?
The stats are clear, there are less women in the work place in Nigeria and fewer opportunities are available to women than men. I’m doing my part to change the numbers. Women for so long have been marginalized in the work field – women, who in all likelihood, had what it took; who were diligent and competent. There is also evidence that shows that promoting women’s access to employment can unleash a strong force for innovation, productivity and economic growth. And I believe this is my own little way of writing a new narrative, of saying that women who are competent and hardworking must be given a chance. It is something everyone should be conscious about.
Your work flies in the face of the belief that women don’t help other women grow, in what instances has a woman helped or contributed to your personal/professional development?
Before I go on about support, the most important thing is self-belief. A woman that believes in herself can do anything and cannot be stopped. Support is just the icing on the cake. Often it may seem like the “Women Supporting Women” movement is just social media propaganda because sometimes it can be. however, there are so many women out there that genuinely support each other.
Two of my biggest supporters are Muni Shonibare CEO of IO Furniture andAngela Gordon who is the Head of Sales and Marketing at Ledrop Nigeria. I also have a network of amazing young women I surround myself with, the company you keep also plays a very important role – its always better when you can all add value to each other.
How has the SME100 and the other women-run businesses inspired you in your work?
It’s so great and encouraging to see women who have established successful long-lasting businesses. Especially those who have had to balance everything from work, to family and their personal life. It’s also very inspiring to see young women who are working their way to build something for themselves. We’re in a time where it is very important for very woman to invest in herself and what better inspiration does one need than seeing who are taking control of their own lives?
Yasmin Belo-Osagie – Education Manager/Co-Founder SheLeadsAfrica: We’re putting forward the message that African women are more than micro-entrepreneurs rather they are credible business leaders
What have been the notable success stories of the women and businesses that have passed through SLA this far?
So far our pitch competition finalists have gone on to raise over $1,00,000 throughout network of investors. It’s just so exciting to see our ladies like Cherae Robinson (TastemakersAfrica), Taffi Ayodele (Thando’s Shoes) and Mira Mehat(Tomato Jos) raising a good amount of funding to grow their businesses and continue the amazing work they do.
I also get really excited from the feedback we get about various SheHives. I’m always surprised by the number of attendees who tell us that the program literally changed their lives. As young women we rarely get the chance to come together as a group, network, have fun, learn, build relationships and get inspired.
SLA is increasingly a global community and one would presume from the outside looking in, a profitable one, how did this idea start and how does it operate?
We started SLA as a side hustle and then transitioned into it being a full-time endeavour. Afua (co-founder) and I worked together at McKinsey & Co. One weekend we ran into each other at some women’s leadership conference and started talking about how we wished they had organizations for slightly older women and then lots of organizations for rural/subsistence/micro-entrepreneurs, but we saw hardly any organizations for young millennials who wanted to grow scalable businesses and be bosses.
Afua then mentioned that she’d been bouncing around the idea of a pitch competition for African female entrepreneurs that would showcase just how ambitious and innovative young women on the continent were. I loved the idea and SLA was formed. A week later we put up a website promising $10,000 (which we didn’t have) to the winning entrepreneur and that was that. The first pitch competition was a labour of love – we had to beg and hustle so many people for free stuff.
SLA is a Social Enterprise and definitely not a charity or NGO. This was a very deliberate choice. We’re putting forward the message that African women are more than micro-entrepreneurs rather they are credible business leaders who can create jobs and generate millions in revenue, they are a profitable demographic that all organizations should take seriously.
What has been the greatest challenge to running a business in general AND as a woman and so far how have you overcome it/are you overcoming it?
Finding the right people. We’ve overcome that by taking a hire slow, fire fast approach. We leverage our network to get recommendations of good people. We conduct interviews and require all applicants to do a series of exercises. When we bring people in we try as best as we can to onboard them, coach time and give feedback as needed. However, if the person is not meeting our standards after their first few months we’re very quick to part ways.
Orode Okpu – Restauranteur/Philanthropist/Women’s Development Advocate; C.E.O., Otres Restaurant, Founder, Pink Pearl Foundation: My motto really is not customer first; I put my team first because a happy team always equals happy service and in turn happy customers.
The restaurant business is reportedly difficult to break a profit in, but your annual turnover would apparently beg to differ. What is the secret ingredient to Otres being such a success?
It’s all on God. It hasn’t been easy but every day I wake up and just say God we are here again. On the other hand, I work really hard; I wouldn’t say I am highly successful because I know I have the potential to be event better. At the end of the day, I remind myself that one way or the other I have to get it done. The business has a staff strength of 122 and although I do not have to manage them physically every day, it takes a lot of patience and determination to make sure 122 adults are on your side. I also try to invest in my team as much as I can.
The company is focused on improving the well-being of each team member and has adopted well being of each team member and has adopted weekly training systems for every staff and monthly/weekly training systems for every staff and monthly/quarterly training for management staff. I believe that for any business to succeed you first have to make the people who run the business with you happy. My motto really is not customer first; I put my team first because a happy team always equals happy service and in turn happy customers.
What has been the greatest challenge to running business in general AND as a woman and so far how have you overcome it/are you overcoming it?
One key issue Otres faces is Nigeria’s food security challenges. both crop and livestock production remains below proper quality due to inadequate high quality seeds, low fertilizer use and general inefficient production system. As a result businesses in the food sector are forced to buy imported food products at these high rates, making the production and eventual sales of meals expensive. With the determination to sustain food production and sell meals at an affordable rate, the company is looking to invest in its own farm that will produce solely for the various outlets making the chain of production easier and end product cheaper.
Another common issue affecting the food industry and our company is the ability to attract and retain qualified manpower. The food industry relies 40% on the food that is sold but 0% on the services rendered to clients. With Nigeria’s literacy rate at 61.3% and 60% of that bracket wanting a white-collar job, it is difficult to find literate individuals in the service industry. As a result of the growing skill deficit faced, the company addressed the issue head on by constant training of each and every staff member.
How has the SME100 and the other women-run businesses inspired you in your work?
It is amazing to see many women doing one business or the other and helping each other figure it out. My mother is the business person in our family, she runs four successful businesses and she is my No. 1 inspiration. I have three major businesses with four subs under one conglomerate and Mum is the Chairperson of course. It brings a lot of joy when I see women who run businesses or are in charge of something.
Aside from my Businesses, the Breast cancer foundation and the children trust fund, I also run a women empowerment school (Rubies Vocational school, established in 2013) where we train women to become female entrepreneurs. Most of these women are widows, who go through training and eventually become their own boss. We have partnered with SME100 to broaden our reach because Charles Odii, Executive Director, SME100 Nigeria has a strong passion for empowering the Nigerian women.
For more, pick up a copy of ThisDay Style!
Photo Credit: ThisDay Style