Yesterday, I was in my office trying to figure out how best to structure a couple of ideas that I had into one single flow when a call came in. It was from a close friend of mine – Orighoye or OY for short. A close friend and fellow entrepreneur. She is not just any type of entrepreneur, she is the “never say die” type. I had sent a link to her to apply for a “women-only” program in December. I actually sent it to a couple of female entrepreneurs. Many of them foot dragged and spent weeks over processing it. OY applied immediately. She didn’t procrastinate, she didn’t overanalyze, she just applied. The call was to inform me that she had won a pitch competition on the program. It came with a cash prize of one thousand five hundred dollars.
I was very happy.
She was grateful.
We couldn’t really talk for long because she was still on the zoom call. She just wanted me to be the first to know.
In 2009, OY left her budding 8 years Nuclear Weapons Specialist career with the United States Airforce to come pursue her dreams – To run a catering business in Nigeria. A typical Nigerian family will blame village people for this switch but luckily, hers was a supportive one. She had gone to culinary school in the US, mastered the art and relocated to Abuja to set up the business. Business didn’t quite pick up as expected in Abuja so she moved to Lagos where the population and parties were. Lagos was better. She quickly established herself and started catering for multinationals and corporate organizations. Then she set up a restaurant at the heart of Yaba serving fresh – order to eat meals and the struggle started. Customers weren’t pouring in as expected.
The food was good
The ambience was on-point.
The Menu was rich.
But the customers weren’t pouring in and for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what to do. Business was bad.
One day, I visited the restaurant to try it out for myself. It took 20 minutes for me to get my meal. When I complained, I was told that it was being prepared fresh from scratch. It was very easy to see what business wasn’t picking up. It was the location.
Yaba is a middle-income part of Lagos. People in Yaba will drive to the highbrow Victoria Island and Ikoyi for such services. But in Yaba, what they wanted was an affordable QSR (Quick Service Restaurant). They were not ready to pay premium in Yaba. I looked at all the successful food businesses in Yaba- they all have one thing common – They serve it As e dey hot
It can be very difficult to see the flaw in your business model if that business is something you are passionate about. As smart as OY was, she was blind sided by this fact. I quickly called her and told her what the problem was but as expected, her coconut head will not allow her to see reason over the phone.
I remember the heated argument when we had a face to face to discuss the matter. I was still in paid employment then. I told her that the location is a miss match for model. And that she will not make the kind of money that she was looking for with the approach. It was like a strategy session. She was adamant. Understandably – seeing that she had invested money to set up the place, was in debt and could not even dream of relocating to any other location – especially if it was highbrow. I couldn’t even suggest the regular QSR model to her. She would have bitten my head off.
One thing she was clear about was the vision she had for her brand. She wanted her business – Nylah’s to be a household name. She wasn’t doing all this to be a pop and mum shop. She wanted to scale at some point.I told her that as long as her income was tied to her time, in this business, it will be difficult to make a lot of money or to scale. She was furious. We ended that session without any headway.
I am of the opinion that if the value that a business creates is dependent on the availability and time of its driver, then it is not full-blown entrepreneurship. It is Self-employment or Employment 2.0 because it becomes very difficult or expensive to scale.
One year down the line things were worse. She asked that we have another session and I agreed. I made it clear that I still wasn’t convinced that the model (Catering and QSR) would make her the type of entrepreneur that she wanted to be. This time, she agreed. At this point things had gone from bad to worse and she was almost contemplating packing up and relocating to the US. I told her that I saw her as an entrepreneur that had a food product.
Luckily, by that time, she was already producing bread, granola, and lemode to augment her income at the restaurant. So we agreed to package the bread and granola properly and apply for NAFDAC approval. This was in March 2019. We started the process and by August 2019, she got the approval and NAFDAC numbers. We processed her barcodes and repackaged the products and she was in business – skeptical but hopeful. She was still in the food business, but not just how she had envisioned it.
I remember telling her that once she gets her NAFDAC, she would stop accepting catering jobs. She smiled and told me that catering is her passion. She would always cater when the opportunity comes.
In late February 2020, just before the lockdown Orighoye called, and with tears of joy, told me that Shoprite had agreed to stock her granola and bread in all of their outlets. The Shoprite order opened a flood gate of outlets that reached out and started retailing her products. The next time we spoke, her problem was different – money to fund the orders and buy bigger equipment to scale.
If she hadn’t pivoted before the lockdown, she would have seen pepper!
Today her products are in more than a hundred outlets and her business is profitable. Her products were featured on CNN through one of the outlets that stock her products. She has been invited to speak on Radio, TV, and at Entrepreneurship events.
If you are an entrepreneur reading this piece, there are 3 things I want you to take from this write up
- Ideas are a dime a dozen. Anybody can have ideas. You can get ideas online. What really matters is the tenacity that you put into execution.
- You need to separate passion for the business and the business of the business. You can be in the right industry but with the wrong model. If you cannot be objective, seek other people’s opinions. It’s not about what you love doing – it is about what the customer is willing to pay for
- Great businesses don’t always start out perfect. Stay focused but do not be afraid to pivot when the need arises.