My Business Story

We're Using Creative Arts to Redefine Business And Country - Entrepreneur

A passionate, young artist is exploring the creative arts not only as a viable business option, but also for what it can do to change the country

As long as Nduwhite Ndubuisi Ahanonu can remember, he has only wanted one thing: to make a career from creative arts. Not for him the indecision and game of chance which many young people go through. 

Reminiscing on his early years, Nduwhite narrated how the Arts had always been a part of him. “If I can remember, I have always been artistic. Back in my primary school days, I remember drawing things like the map of Nigeria and the digestive system on the walls of our classroom. The funny part is that other teachers also wanted me to draw on the walls of their classrooms too and I saw it as a burden at first. When I grew older, I discovered that it was the most important part of my life. It is like everything I am and the reason that I am.”

It was therefore not surprising when Nduwhite chose to study Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.  Upon graduation in 2000 and having completed his National Youth Service Corps year in 2001, he decided to settle down and do arts in Abuja, a rather awkward decision considering the derisive perception of Abuja as an uninspiring city of politics and government contracts.

Business brief:
Started 2012
Instagram: nduwhite

However, Nduwhite had a clearly different impression about the nation’s capital.

He said, “Actually, I visualised a city where women could spend $500 on a scarf as advised by Napoleon Hills in his book, Think and grow rich, and I realised that the closest city to that description was Abuja. I have never looked at the city from a government contract or political perspective. What I see is a city with a lot of opportunities if you understand how it works and you are honest about what you do.”

In 2012, Nduwhite registered the International Institute for Creative Development (IICD) with the aim to train, promote and present creative persons and works for worldwide visibility and to ensure that Nigeria’s arts and culture community effectively meets the global demand for art and creativity.

According to him, the challenges he faced were enormous. “Finding art and cultural workers and funding were a huge challenge,” he revealed, “Although we tried to train workers, they were random persons who were seeking employment and not passionate about the industry. Funding was a challenge because it depended on me selling my works.”

The IICD’s chief executive officer’s faith in Abuja soon paid off when in October 2013, he moved to his current location at 4 Oguda Close, off Lake Chad Crescent, Maitama.  

Nduwhite had just sold an art for around N500,000 and spent about N450,000 of it on purchasing a framing machine. Since then, his centre has attracted art trainees, individual artists, exhibitors, individual and corporate clients and the general public. With performing art, book reading, music, movies and fashion to go with it, the IICD could be said to be Abuja’s one-stop shop for creativity.

Asked if he considered his centre elitist, he said, “Creative arts are not only visual arts, it comprises other forms of art as well, including music, drama, dance and even functional arts like fashion. We are creating new citizenry for creative arts, that way we get to inspire new interests and take advantage of the fluidity of today's social citizens. Creative arts don’t necessarily have to be elitist.”   

With embassies, big hotels, foreign cultural institutes and wealthy individual art collectors topping his clients list, the IICD could be said to have conquered Abuja.

Nduwhite believes now is the time to take his business to other parts of the country.  “We have plans, first to own our permanent art space and build a strong corporate team. Then we intend to begin to replicate what we are doing in Abuja in other parts of Nigeria.”

“I have never looked at the city (Abuja) from a government contract or political perspective. What I see is a city with a lot of opportunities if you understand how it works and you are honest about what you do”

There are many things which inspire Nduwhite, but nothing gives him more joy than the fact that his “dream is someone else’s need” and the platform he has created for up-and-coming artists to flourish. He foresees the emergence of creative arts disruptors on a scale never experienced before in Nigeria.

His words: “I have always admired the roles of people like Bisi Sliva, Victor Ehikhamenor, Bruce Onobrapkeya, Tantua Diseye, Bishop T.D Jakes and Olu Tayo, but I see new players coming; I see great artists emerging and a higher interest in the industry.”

How I Defeated Stereotypes To Achieve Business Success – Entrepreneur’s Moving Story

This week, we bring the remarkable story of a persistent entrepreneur who had to surmount negative mindsets and stereotypes to become one of the most sought-after high-end confectioners in Abuja

Shoppers in Abuja who frequent the Dunes Centre, an upmarket shopping mall at the highbrow Maitama District of the city, can’t but notice Waffle Stop, a confectionery outlet, which was opened in March 2017. Its founder, 26-year-old Aisha Shuaibu, narrated how the establishment of Waffle Stop came to be, against all odds. 

Aisha fetched a chair from the corner of her shop and sat down to tell her story: “The idea for the business came in 2015, but at that point we were still trying to figure out the execution process. It came from when I was doing my postgraduate studies in Turkey. The programme was not engaging me enough because I had classes only on weekends. I thought about this business but wondered if it would work in Nigeria. It took some time to convert the idea to business.”

When it was time to start the business proper, Aisha, who also holds a degree in Business Studies from a United Kingdom university, was confronted with a peculiar kind of challenge – her upper middle-class background and social stereotypes. 

Business brief:
Started 2016
Instagram: wafflestopabuja

She recalled how those factors came to play: “I come from the North, from a conservative background. To come back home after a long time in school and start talking about business was not an easy thing at all.”

She smiled: “Between 2015 and 2016 when Waffle Stop started, I was attending events to promote it. It was a trial and error period; I used to invite my friends over to tell me what they thought. I converted my dining area at home to a workspace and started out as a home delivery business. My plan was to leave the house for a befitting location by 2017, and that is exactly what happened.”
Judging by her fairly well-off background, one could wrongly assume that funding wouldn’t constitute a challenge for Aisha. But it did, no thanks to people around her who tried to talk her out of her idea. 

After working as a research analyst for a Swiss energy company and as an assistant manager for an Asian fusion restaurant, a few of her friends wondered why Aisha wanted to start making waffles. It didn’t look – or sound – like a bankable business.

She narrated her dilemma: “I struggled to raise the funds for my business because people told me what I was doing was not likely to sell. This almost created self-doubt along the line, and I wasted a lot of time before starting.  I later realised that it was my responsibility to sell the dream and when it is sold, the support would come. And it came.”

Registered in 2016, Waffle Stop moved from Aisha’s dining area to a small place offered to her by friends as an interim intervention before finally moving to its current location at Dunes Centre, a mall Aisha had provided media consultancy services for. 

“I struggled to raise the funds for my business because people told me what I was doing was not likely to sell. I later realized that it was my responsibility to sell the dream and when it is sold, the support would come. And it came”

According to her, she broke even in a matter of months by adopting a marketing strategy almost unique to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

“In Abuja, there is no marketing tool more powerful than word of mouth. In fact, one of our strongest assets is our network. I have been in Abuja since 1999 and know a lot of people here, including those I went to school with. Your network is your most important asset especially when you are starting out; they will be the ones to support you and give you feedback. We believe that by satisfying our closest friends and associates, we encourage them to promote what we do.”

Aisha goes the extra mile to satisfy her customers, even if it takes importing some exotic fruits needed to keep her confections delightful and unbeatable. “Most of our ingredients are sourced from local suppliers. However, exotic fruits such as kiwi fruit and blueberries are not available locally so we order them from abroad, as well as other rare ingredients,” she said.

'Life Lessons Taught By My Parents Made Me A Serial Entrepreneur'

A young bilingual graduate armed with courage and life lessons from his parents launches a start-up that may change the Abuja fashion and transport landscape very soon.

Upon graduation from the Fatih University, Istanbul, Turkey, Shehu Usman Yakubu already had a life other youths would envy. He had seen many countries and was bilingual – he speaks English and Turkish, which landed him an immediate employment as an international correspondent with Ebru TV (a privately owned Turkish broadcast company with branches in the US and Kenya).  That was shortly after completing his NYSC in 2013. However, Yakubu was driven by an entirely different passion.

The 2012 graduate of business management narrated how he kept his eyes on his dream even while he was on a paid job: “I started working with Ebru TV as an international correspondent but two years later I resigned and started working in a Turkish construction company. My desire to start my own business, especially a fashion company, was always there.  I had started doing business even when I was working and during my last year in the university. I registered the business in 2012 and organized a fashion show in 2013.”

According to Yakubu, his desire to be an entrepreneur stemmed from wanting more from life, which, as his parents taught him, could only be achieved through giving a little extra. “I was brought up in an independent way and my parents always made me feel that if I wanted more from life I had to do more. I was already into producing shoes when I was in Turkey. I sold them to clients here in Nigeria, some in Mozambique.”

Business brief:
Started 2012

The Kogi State-born General Manager of Sabali Global Synergy showed early signs of being a serial entrepreneur when he switched from making shoes to designing clothes. He remembered how, despite not making profits from his fashion business, he kept on going and pumping his wages into it.

He said, “For the first three years of my business, I was not making any profit. I was using my salary to supplement the business because I had the vision and knew that you will need to struggle hard for anything before you achieve it. I stayed focused on the brand name, because my belief is that when you have a brand name, it becomes easier for you to breakthrough.”

It was this obsession with branding that deepened Yakubu’s urge for business, leading him to venture into branding and outdoor advertising. He had seen how advertising is creatively deployed in other countries, wanted to move away from the conventional media and billboard advertising.

"There are 180 million people in Nigeria, and I believe there are not enough designers or advertisers to meet our needs. If the whole of Abuja came to me, I wouldn't be able to cater to them for lack of capacity"

“The taxi advert caught my eyes. I felt that it’s something my company can also do in Nigeria, something we can do in Abuja,” he told us, “Although I had the dream for almost three years, we only opened the office for business in February doing ground work. We launched just weeks ago,” he continued.

Spotting taxis with wrap-around ads is not new, but Abuja residents might have observed around 30 taxis with LED displays on their roofs. 

Yakubu explained why it took long to launch and why for now the number of cabs carrying them are limited: “In Nigeria there is no one-stop centre where one can push their ideas, this makes it difficult for people with ideas cross all sorts of hurdles. We are dealing with the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) to get licenses for the cabs we are engaging. We get regulatory clearance from the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) and approval from the taxi union. Between now and next year, majority of the green cabs in Abuja will have the LED displays atop.”

With over N5 million of his savings and financial support from family invested in his fashion house and slightly more in funds in the outdoor advertising, Yakubu believes that there are enough opportunities to go round, depending on one’s creative imagination and determination to succeed.

“There are a few things that will make you stand out in anything you do: quality is one, another is creativity and the third is your clientele. There are 180 million people in Nigeria, and I believe there are not enough designers or advertisers to meet our needs. If the whole of Abuja came to me, I wouldn't be able to cater to them for lack of capacity. There is room for all, just do your thing right. My designs and branding and style, constant reinventing, creativity and clientele base are what stand me out in the fashion and advertising worlds.”

Talking about reinventing, Yakubu is already fixated on his next move: “I want to set up a standard underwear company that can export to every part of the world. I also want to make standardized baby clothes; I see this businesses in other countries and believe they can contribute foreign exchange to Nigeria.”

I Built My Multi-Million Business From My First Profit Of N2,000 - Entrepreneur

This week, we bring you the inspiring story of an entrepreneur who set his eyes on lofty dreams; he started by humbling himself as an apprentice to a friend who didn’t even have shop at the beginning

As a Banking and Finance graduate from the Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin, Kabir Giwa had lofty dreams for the future. Given his academic background, he fancied a white-collar job at a reputable financial institution.
After graduation in 2000 he returned to Lagos, the country’s business and financial capital and home to the headquarters of the big banks. His search for a job in a bank was long, harrowing and fruitless.
Kabir recalled an encounter with one of his friends during one of his job-hunting days: “I went to Ikeja to window shop.  In fact, I had N20,000 in my bank account but to get a GSM phone at that time, one needed around N40,000 to N45,000. As I was going round, I ran into an old schoolmate, Afolabi, we both graduated from the Polytechnic at the same time. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was still in search of a job. He then asked me if I could join him at the GSM Village (in the Computer Village Ikeja, Lagos) where he was selling in phones on the street. I didn’t initially like the idea of working in that very chaotic environment. But Afolabi told me that there were graduates working there too.”
Kabir didn’t give his friend’s offer much thought, especially because his friend didn’t have a shop in the market.

Business brief:
Started 2000

If he joined him, he asked himself, in what capacity would he function?
Two weeks after their first meeting, Kabir went back to the Computer Village, just to catch up with his friend.  The Iwo, Osun State-born entrepreneur narrated how that second meeting changed his life forever: “Afolabi asked why I had not come to join him and I told him I hadn’t made up my mind yet. Then he said the reason I hadn’t made up my mind was because I was a lazy man. I told him that I wasn’t a lazy person but I didn’t want to do it because it wasn’t my dream. That he called me lazy challenged me.  I needed to prove to him that I am not a lazy person. 

I decided that I needed money to start selling phones by myself. I discussed it with my younger brother who said somebody kept some money with him and wasn’t ready to use the money immediately. My brother suggested that I sound out the owner of the money

Therefore, I started work that same day, at the close of work, he gave me transport fare.  When I got home, I thought over what had happened again and decided to resume fully with him the next day.”
For several weeks, Kabir ran did whatever needed to be done including running errands for his friend. He wanted to quit but with his transport fare and a meal a day guaranteed, that little comfort was better than doing nothing. Most importantly, he was fast building his trading and marketing skills and expanding his network.  
He recalled: “I decided that I needed money to start selling phones by myself. I discussed it with my younger brother who said somebody kept some money with him and wasn’t ready to use the money immediately. My brother suggested that I sound out the owner of the money. I spoke with the person and he agreed to borrow me the money. It was either N25,000 or N30,000 – I can’t remember exactly.”
Supplemented with his life savings of N20,000 Kabir  bought and sold his first merchandise, a Samsung R220. The glow on his face as he narrated his story revealed how much it meant to him to have made N2,000 profit from that sale. He became encouraged to increase his daily profit by putting back all the profits he made back into the phone business. This paid off as his finances began to grow gradually. In 2006, six years after his first sale, he secured his own shop in the market.
However, his breakthrough came three years after, in 2009.  He explained: “In 2009, I registered my company as Kaybec Technology Limited, that same year, I secured a UK visa to meet with my suppliers in England. We were able to form a partnership and they agreed to supply me goods on credit. That was how we grew from one small shop to acquiring another bigger space where we diversified and began to sell laptops. Interestingly, although I started with phones, people rarely know me for phones now. I’m better known for being one of the largest computer sales outlets in the computer Village, Ikeja.”
Kabir sold his car to stock up his shop with his new products, but that transition from phone sales to computers didn’t come easily. There were months when he made very little sales and yet he had a staff to pay.
Exchange rate fluctuation has also proved to be a major headache for him: “My business was and is still affected by the exchange rate. We are still battling price fluctuations because I have goods bought at the old high exchange rates yet I have to sell them at current lower rates. Price fluctuation is one of the main challenges in importation business.”
He is, however, confident that the day would come when he would become one of the largest computer suppliers on the continent. That dream, he said, would be easier to achieve if the government created a more stable exchange rate environment in the country.

Encounter Transforms Graduate From Small Beginning Into An Accomplished Businesswoman

A young woman's encounter with her visiting aunt opened her eyes to a new opportunity that gave birth to a thriving business.

When Nkenchor Blessing Ogorchuckwu graduated in 1996, she had already braced up for a bleak labour market. After her National Youth Service Corps she got married and relocated to Lagos with her husband. 

While she was still looking for her dream job, her favourite aunt visited the family – the visit opened a new chapter in her life.

Nkechi remembered vividly how it all began: “My aunt told us about a new Business brief:
Started 1997

flourishing business of sachet water production, popularly known as pure water. You know, we used to buy water tied in unbranded nylons in those days. My aunt suggested that I should go and learn how to package water. She said if I learnt it, I could also teach her so that she could produce it for her big restaurant in Umunede, Delta State. To show me she was serious, she left some money for me to buy the machine and nylon to start.”

A graduate of Geology from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nkenchor and her husband, Kenneth decided to give the business a try.  The following day, they set out to meet the woman her aunt directed them to see who had been in the business of sachet water.

“I remember how we sealed four bags and my husband packed them into his car and said we should go and sell them. We drove from FESTAC to Apapa Sunrise (in Lagos) and supplied to a woman selling food there…only to collect the proceeds two days later”

Nkenchor recalled: “The woman directed us to Ojo Barracks’ Mammy Market (in Lagos) to source for the nylon.  We got there and saw how the nylon was cut in a roller; it usually comes in a tube. We bought a kilo at N400 and bought the sealing machine she told us to buy for N2,650. They also printed on the nylon for us for N400. Everything we spent was less than N3,500.” 

After several failed attempts at sealing water with the manual machine, Nkenchor and her husband decided to return to their business adviser for more guidance. The woman asked her son to go with the Ogorchukwus to demonstrate to them how pure water was sealed. It was like magic. 

She recalled her first sachet water ‘production’: “I remember how my cousin and I sealed the first four bags in one of our rooms and my husband packed them into his car and went to sell them. We would drive from Apapa Sunrise (in Lagos) and supply to a woman selling food there. She complained that there were some sachets leaking, and we told her to sell the ones that weren’t leaking and keep the leaking satchets. We didn’t collect money from her. Two days later we returned to her and she gave us money for the sachets she sold.”

From sealing and supplying four bags of sachet water, Nkenchor moved up to 10 bags, then 20, 50 and 100. She converted one of the rooms in their two-bedroom apartment to her factory and was assisted by her husband, his cousin and her brother. A few months later, she made her first expansion plan.

“At some point a few months later I thought we should expand the business,” she mentioned, “So we went to Ojo Mammy Market, rented a shop, bought another machine and employed two more hands. The business grew very rapidly.”

It was at Ojo Barracks that Nkenchor met her first major challenge. Sachet water was beginning to gain popularity and the then Director General of the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof Dora Akunyili, started to enforce the registration of sachet water businesses.

She narrated: “They closed down every sachet water business at Ojoo Barracks, so we moved the business to FESTAC but NAFDAC soon came there too. My husband consulted with some other producers to register with NAFDAC as one entity. So, about five of us came together under the name Silco Water. We were producing under the same name before we later registered our own separately.”

“The hand-sealing machine was phasing out. People started buying the automatic sealing machine known then as self-seal machine; it is a multipurpose machine called FFS – Fix, Fill and Seal. We were able to buy one initially and kept buying as we made more profits. When we got about five of the machines in 2009 and saw that the business still had potential to grow even further, we approached our account officer in a defunct commercial bank, who helped facilitate a loan repayable in three years.”

The business Nkenchor started in one of her rooms at home in 1997 is known today as Snowflakes Table Water, a well established and highly successful drinking water production factory located on a large expanse of land inside Festac town in Lagos with 30 permanent staff and 30 other casual workers, about 10 drivers and close to 40 marketers. They have also expanded their production line, adding table water and water dispenser to their brand.

Among the day-to-day challenges the business faces in running are funding for expansion, irregular power supply, human resource management and dealing with marketers. 

However, she remains focused and determined. Her next plan is to add fruit drink production to a business she made a success of from knowing absolutely nothing about.

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