‘Pet culture in Nigeria still far behind international standards’

Bolanle Hassan is the Chief Executive Officer of Petmi (formerly Woofline Pets), a digital startup and community for pet owners in Nigeria and beyond. The Lagos-born marketing expert, who has worked with the likes of Jumia and Paga, speaks on her entrepreneurial journey and how she is giving back to the society with her business in this interview by KOLA MUHAMMED.


Having worked with the likes of Jumia and Paga, with a defined career growth, what inspired you to go into entrepreneurship? 

I have always considered myself a woman of many interests and when you have many interests, you have to have enough time on your hands to explore them. The initial motivation for going into entrepreneurship for me, like many others, was simply freedom. I strongly desired to own my time, so that I could pursue the things I’m passionate about. This got me to start thinking of ways I could solve problems in certain areas.


You have experienced both sides of being an employee and being an employer. How do you compare the two experiences and would you pick one over the other?

It’s interesting, when one is an employee, it can be difficult to see things from the perspective of your employer. You see yourself sometimes as playing only a tiny role in a business achieving its overall objective. However, as an employer (especially in a start-up), you are involved in every aspect of the business. I’d definitely pick being a business owner, simply because work doesn’t feel like work, and there are new challenges to explore every now and again. Although I believe starting off as an employee has an impact on the kind of employer you become


What are the lessons you learnt being a digital marketing expert who worked with top brands?

In digital marketing, implementing and executing are very important. If your desire is to build a career in digital marketing, you’ll need to dabble your hand into many things as it’s a very broad field. I’ve learned that it’s important for businesses and digital marketing agencies to give individuals the chance to learn, make mistakes and grow, so that expertise and knowledge can be passed on. On the other hand, if as an individual you are not directly given such an opportunity, then you must get your hands dirty and self-learn; go online, take as many courses as possible, some of which are free like Google Academy or Facebook Blueprint. Learn to build free websites with CMS tools like WordPress and explore as many aspects of the field as possible.


Having come this far in entrepreneurship, what lessons have you learnt in that capacity?

Tenacity would be top on the list. I have learned the importance of being determined and focused on achieving set goals regardless of any challenge(s) faced. Consistency would be next, it can be tough to stay motivated and keep at things especially when there isn’t immediate gratification, but being consistent is very important in order to forge forward.

Another lesson I have learned is the importance of surrounding yourself with people who have positive mindsets, who can serve as support systems for you when things aren’t going as planned. These could be family members or friends. Having a support system certainly helps.


In the wake of a pandemic which has left many businesses struggling to stay afloat, you have grown considerably, and even improved some aspects of your business. What’s the secret?

One of the few positives of the lockdown and the pandemic is that human interaction on social media platforms was forever impacted. Social media became the only way to keep in touch with friends and family, and also a means of keeping abreast of new information. On the other hand, people who owned pets were lucky enough to be in the company of their pets during these times.

We felt it was more important than ever for us to set up an app community for pet lovers. Petmi app allows users to connect and network for various purposes. Users are able to post the special moments they share with their pet on the app, post pet health questions or concerns they have with the hope of getting a response, find pet service providers and so on. The marketplace feature on the app also allows pet owners to do business through buying and selling.


You must surely have some plans on the drawing board to expand your business. How are you looking to do that in the coming months or years?

We currently have people on our platform who reside outside the country, we hope to reach them on a larger scale and expand outside Nigeria in the future. We intend to continue to improve the Petmi app to keep creating the best experience. There are a few other things up our sleeves which will be discussed later.


What has been the biggest challenge you faced running Petmi? 

Like many other startups across the globe, one of the challenges that we have faced has been a limitation of funds. To create Petmi, I have had to bootstrap from inception till date and that has not been easy, especially for a tech-oriented company. It has caused a limit to the rate to which we have grown and scaled. Also, maintaining an app that is both available on the iOS and Androids app stores is challenging, sometimes codes break, bugs crop up, and other tech related issues which must be immediately addressed so that users are not lost or their experience greatly impacted.


Compared to European and American countries, would you say we have an impressive animal care and pet raising culture in Nigeria and Africa at large? 

I’d say we are on the path to getting there, but we are still a long way away from acquiring the sort of pet culture practised in Europe and America. First, the industry is still in its infancy. There are limited veterinary hospitals available, there aren’t any pet insurance companies in Nigeria, and because pet supplies are largely imported, they’re extremely costly.

Second, there’s still a lack of awareness and knowledge gap when it comes to appropriate animal care. Animal cruelty is still a norm, and extra care isn’t given to the manner in which animals in general (not just pets) are treated.

On a positive note, though, we have more people who are getting involved in positive animal care practices. There are also non-profit animal rescue organisations like Saint Marks Animal Shelter and Greenfingers Wildlife that are doing an amazing job caring for animals that have been victims of abuse. Petmi is also trying to bridge this gap by creating a space where people can learn more about how to take the best care of their pets, network and share experiences with the mission to move the industry steps further.


There are ladies looking to have a succeeding startup as you. What would your advice be to them? 

Borrowing the words from Nike, I’d say ‘Just Do It!’. When starting out, it’s easy to focus on all the reasons why your business idea might not work out or all the challenges that might be faced. But you need to make progress by starting, even if it means starting small.


In what ways are you looking to give back to society?

The very nature of our business is built on giving back. Animals are a big part of our world, taking care of them matters. We created the Petmi App not only with the vision to help deepen the connection between humans and their pets, but also to create and promote the importance of animal care as a whole. We are also aware of some of the challenges that pet business owners face in Nigeria. So, we have made the marketplace on Petmi App free. This means that if you run a pet business you can sell pets, pet products or services for free.


How did your growing up and academic background affect your decision to go into the pet business?

We always had pets growing up, at some point we had rabbits, and a monkey. My brother bought me a Lhasa Apso dog called Nikki 11 years ago, which cemented my love for dogs in particular. Owning a dog made me understand some of the challenges that dog owners in Nigeria face, this was a contributing factor in creating Petmi. Having a career in digital marketing gave me the right skills to start and grow the business.



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