Oluwabukola Bosede Ajayi, a graduate of English from the University of Abuja, Abuja is the CEO of Naija Bakers and Becky’s Events Limited. She has over 12 years experience in baking, events planning and catering services. In the interview with NIYI OYEDEJI, she speaks about her voyage in the entrepreneurial world.
What’s the story behind your entrepreneurship career?
I can call myself a prophet on this, because it was as if I saw the future that being an entrepreneur was going to be the future of the African market. I remember in 2001 when I started working with an insurance company, as a marketer, selling life and third party insurance. A job my mum linked me with. I loved the thrill of marketing because I grew up with a mother whom I always accompanied to Idumota, almost every week to buy goods for her store, but I knew something was missing. So, in 2002, I just walked away. Then my mum came again, with another job at AIT and I stood my ground and said no. She wanted her beautiful and well-spoken daughter in a white-collar job on television, but I knew I wanted more. So, in 2003, during my struggles to study mass communication, I started selling makeup products and jewelries in class, went for ushering gigs and events planning came as a calling during that process. I saw myself help event managers’ plan with so much ease and I loved it.
My mum again said I should go and get a job, before I moved to Abuja. When she saw how determined I was and after getting promotional jobs from big brands like Guinness, MTN, Nigerian Breweries, she supported me and in 2008, I registered my events company. Then I started blogging in 2008 on blogspot, left it to pursue events planning and baking before I finally came up with Naija Bakers.
Building a business such as Naija Bakers can be quite daunting, especially with the challenges of logistics management in the African business environment. What then informed your decision to venture into this line of industry?
The African business climate is not encouraging for entrepreneurs, especially in terms of organising and implementing ideas that birth wealth creation. These issues and more are the reasons why I decided to start Naija Bakers, as an enabling vehicle for small business owners, using the baking industry, to ride on and thereby make their entrepreneurial journey less tedious and stressful. I noticed lots of bakers were not heard or seen especially on a borderless platform such as the internet. Whether we like it or not, social media is the new market and if the bakers, especially the young ones are not given a platform to showcase what they can do and what they have to offer, how then do we build a sustainable economy in Africa?
Also, I saw a wide gap between the government and the baking industry in terms of government policies, import tariffs on baking equipment, products and taxes without considering the effects on baking item vendors and bakers. Let me cite an example, when the government organises empowerment programs and decides to give equipment for skill acquisition, we see lots of hairdryers, motorcycles, sewing machines, but we rarely see oven, mixers and other baking equipment. Is it safe to say that the government forgets the baking industry in Nigeria, multibillion naira industry that is an employer of labour to hundreds of thousands of Nigerians. Also, on the issue of grant, we literally need to most times source for funds from private individuals in order to give grants to bakers who have done exemplarily well, but how many can we fund among ourselves, when we don’t have the full support of the government and corporate bodies? So, aside using Naija Bakers as an online vehicle to help showcase bakers to the world, solicit for grants, giveaways, free online and offline business master class in an attempt to teach them the business of baking, I also created the empowerment, free to enter, Naija Bakers Cake Exhibition and Hall of Fame Awards, as an offline platform for bakers to come and display and showcase their talents, empower bakers through cake decorating classes, giving them an opportunity to network and collaborate with their colleagues, so as to help strengthen ties and also have a symposium/awards segment, where we reward the efforts of legends in the industry, learn from them and also use that as a medium to further encourage the young ones, that hard work will always be rewarded.
What were the challenges you faced when you started out in business?
So many but finance is the major one. How to source for customers and reliable vendors is another issue. Getting sponsors for events, gaining the trust of customers, gaining acceptability, lack of in-depth knowledge of pricing, selling on credit and not getting paid forever, just everything an entrepreneur goes through in Africa. I can say I experienced and am still experiencing some.
Who inspired your entrepreneurship skill and to whom do you owe the success story?
Yes, and that should be my mum, Mrs Dorcas Adura Ariyo, a true Benin princess. She taught my siblings and I the power of exchange from an early age. She directly gave us the secret of trade and how to create something from nothing. I practically started all my business ventures with zero capital. And most importantly, she taught me how to apply wisdom in business. She is a success story. Anyone who acquires land and property from being an entrepreneur is a success story and also trains her children to the highest form of education, quality education and has three graduates should be applauded. Also, my maternal grandma, who was also from the royal family in Okitipupa, Ondo State was a baker; she owned a bakery in Lagos. So, I can say entrepreneurship is innate for me.
What was the reaction of your family and friends towards your decision to be an entrepreneur?
My mum wasn’t shocked or against it, she just felt she was giving me stability which I know was the mindset for most Nigerian parents. So, I had a good support system, I should say. For friends, they call me business woman. I started working at a very young age, so, my very few friends met me as an entrepreneur.
What are your achievements so far in terms of award or recognition for your innovation?
With Naija Bakers, we have achieved a lot, the annual Naija Bakers Cake Exhibition & Hall of Fame Awards holds in Lagos every January and next year it will be held again by God’s grace. The exhibition is, by the way, one of the most popular cake exhibitions in Nigeria and Africa, also the first, free entry, popular cake exhibition. We also have a cake decorating event called the Naija Bakers Cake Fairy Day that takes places nationwide. For this year, we were in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Ibadan and next year we will be touring more states. This is an empowerment program where bakers come to learn different cake decorating and baking skills.
The annual Naija Bakers Magazine, infact just launched and we have contributions from both International and Nigerian Cake legends. We also have the International Bakers Tour in November, we will be touring the baking facilities in Dubai to learn more about Middle East bakes and how it can influence ours. Our Youtube channel is up at Naija Bakers Tv and so much more. On the awards, we are still waiting on bodies to recognise the good works we do.
What is the big picture? Where do you see your brand in the next few years?
Hopefully in 10 years, we would have had the capacity and opportunity of sponsoring a bill that will help bakers get grants and loans easily. I pray Naija Bakers become a household name and a force in the industry. I also look forward to having the backings of more companies sponsoring our baking events. I have been privileged to influence three reputable companies so far, and I am looking to more working experiences. I plan to sponsor bakers abroad for international courses, invite a few legends around the world to Nigeria, give ovens and mixers to at least 500 bakers through government, companies and cooperate bodies. Finally, in 10 years, I hope bakers will say Naija Bakers is a part of my success story.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing startups in Nigeria and Africa especially in your industry?
Most people think entrepreneurship is a walk in the park. They are not mentally and academically prepared for the challenges ahead. They think once they birth their ideas, it becomes an automatic sensation and they quickly realise they have no concrete understanding of the business world. So, the first challenge will be the error in our educational system. Another challenge is the lack of access to low interest rate bank loans and grants. Finally, should be the lack of basic amenities
How best can these challenges be tackled?
Entrepreneurship should be taught as a compulsory subject from primary four till tertiary institution at all level. We need more certified business schools, that are government funded, where aspiring entrepreneurs can sit with seasoned business tutors and understand the rudiments of business.
Government needs to reduce import tariff and taxes, especially in Nigeria, a country where we subsidise everything for the government. Bakers buy their own generating sets, fuel and maintain it, drill their boreholes, get their cakes and baked goods damaged due to bad roads during delivery.
We are pleading on the government to give bakers grants. We need ovens, mixers, sheeters, galvanised tables and so on and also an enabling environment to produce our own cake decorating tools like they do in China. That way, the overhead cost for our products will reduce and our products will become cheaper and more affordable.
What advice do you have for young Africans still contemplating about embracing entrepreneurship?
I will say go for it, you are definitely on the right track, just remember it is not a magical world filled with wishes and wands. Being an entrepreneur is being African. Our forefathers owned their own lands and were farmers and fishermen. So, nothing should stop you. The future of Africa is now, so be intentional about it.