Tolulope is a medical doctor who graduated from the University of Ibadan where she studied medicine and surgery. She recently completed her Master’s program in International Public Health at University of Liverpool, where she carried out a study on cervical vaccine use amongst female university undergraduates.
She has always been interested in public health issues bordering around obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. She carried out studies on these issues as a medical student and as an intern at the University College Hospital. Currently, she runs Healthy Bar; a healthy lifestyle company that incorporates a healthy food outlet and a lifestyle clinic.
FROM HAVING AN IDEA TO STARTING YOUR BUSINESS, SHARE YOUR JOURNEY WITH US
My journey started in October 2013. I was 91kg and decided to challenge myself to lose some weight. I had always been on the big side, so undergoing a weight loss program looked daunting to me. Eight months after I started, I had lost 28kg combining only my own designed weight loss formula which was basically diet based and exercises to firm up loose, hanging skin. While undergoing my personal meal plans I realized there was no single outlet where I could buy very simple meals like salad, smoothies, juices, and so on. As far as I was concerned there was a gap in the Healthy food market.
I left my employment at a clinic as a medical officer in Benin to pursue what had become a passion. I started by making smoothies and salad from my kitchen, selling to only friends. The response was interesting. Some of my friends ordered for smoothies for a week. Some would order plates of salad and I’d drive down to deliver in their houses.
In July 2016, I rented a shop in a complex and from then on it has been one level of growth to the other. I had my fears, and there were a lot of challenges with pioneering something of this nature in Benin-city. I could not tell if it will be successful or not, I was just driven. And as my husband told me, “If the venture failed, we will pack up and go home! At least we would have learnt lessons”.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WHAT YOU DO? THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER BUSINESSES YOU COULD HAVE EXPLORED, WHY THIS?
I was never a business kind of person, so I did not have many ideas in my head. Besides, as a medical doctor specializing in public health and disease prevention, it was only natural to think of something that was going to help people live healthier lives. I had done this for myself. Why not for others? So this came naturally to me. In the first instance I never thought I would go into business as it were.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU KNOW BEYOND ALL DOUBT THAT THIS IS GOING TO WORK?
Initially it was not obvious. The only thing we could do was pay salaries, and restock. In the month of June 2017, we had to increase prices because the market price of virtually all stock had gone up. We expected demand to worsen, but to my utmost surprise demand started increasing at that time. We had an increase in demand for all our products and we had repeat purchases.
HOW DID YOU RAISE THE CAPITAL TO START YOUR BUSINESS, ESPECIALLY WITH THE HIGH COST OF RUNNING BUSINESSES IN NIGERIA?
Raising capital was not very easy. My husband and I used up all our savings and we had to borrow from friends and family as well. One major cost we had to contend with when we opened was the cost of energy. The outlet had to be powered as long as we were opened, and it did not matter if we had customers or not.
HOW SOON DID YOU START MAKING PROFITS?
With continuous reinvestment, we cannot say we are making profits yet. At the moment, the revenue sufficiently covers all running costs.
BRILLIANT IDEAS DON’T ALWAYS MEAN GREAT SALES, HOW HAS IT BEEN MARKETING YOUR SERVICES?
We started by taking our products through direct marketing to corporate organizations in the city. This method was rather costly, and since I could not be on the field to market the products as my passion, I had to depend on marketers we hired. As time went on we leveraged on Instagram as a major marketing tool, from where we get many of our customers. Word of mouth and referrals have also worked a great deal for us.
AS A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER YOU CAN’T DO EVERYTHING, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE HIRING STAFF AND BUILDING YOUR TEAM?
Hiring staff was a major challenge initially. As a new business, job seekers do not have any reference, so some of them who came for interviews expressed doubts over whether they will be paid or not. As we gained traction in the market we had more people willing to work with us and our current team are very committed to the company and its vision. However, there is still always the challenge of getting skilled staff with existing experience.
YOUR GREATEST SKILL/STRENGTHS THAT HAVE BEEN PARTICULARLY BEEN OF HELP IN STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS
Naturally, I have great planning and organizational skills. These skills have been very useful even as I had to learn a lot of management skills on the job. Perseverance, diligence, consistency and resilience are the strengths that have kept me going.
DID YOU HAVE TO GET A FORMAL TRAINING OR QUALIFICATION TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS?
I guess I had been trained before I knew I would do this….*smile* However, my background as a medical doctor with a Masters in Public Health helped define processes and appreciate the use of purely healthy ingredients in making all our products.
YOU HAVE BEEN RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS FOR SOME TIME NOW, WHAT DO YOU KNOW NOW THAT YOU WISHED YOU HAD KNOWN BEFORE YOU STARTED?
I wish I had known it was going to be as stressful as this and also wish I knew the level of acceptance would have been as high as it is now. Possibly, I would have taken bigger financial risk while setting up.
ANY LIFE EXPERIENCE THAT HAS PARTICULARLY PREPARED YOU DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY FOR WHAT YOU DO NOW?
My training as a medical doctor was stressful and definitely prepared me for moments like this; you needed to have the ability to think on your feet, and come up with immediate and accurate diagnosis and treatment for patients. In this case, I am presented with new challenges every day at work. All these issues must be resolved with minimal error rates in order for the business to keep growing and at the same time ensure customer satisfaction.
CHANGE CAN BRING OUT A PART OF US WE NEVER KNEW EXISTED, WHAT NEW THINGS HAVE YOU DISCOVERED ABOUT YOURSELF IN THE COURSE OF STARTING AND RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS?
I knew I had good interpersonal skills but I had no idea I could manage a team of people to deliver a common goal consistently. I also have very excellent culinary skills. What is surprising is that I could come up with recipes that will be in demand on a daily basis from a diverse customer base.
THE GREATEST BUSINESS ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED AND BY WHO?
Do not be distracted or discouraged by the naysayers and negative words and emotions from friends and families. You are the only one with the vision of the business. Let that constantly motivate you, and watch the business grow and the world celebrate you. That was from my husband. It came at a time I was greatly discouraged and it spurred me on. So it means a lot to me and I can never forget it.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE MOST ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS ESPECIALLY IN NIGERIA?
I believe every woman entrepreneur should have a vision that is big enough to take on the world, not just a vision for subsistence. Resilience, perseverance, human and financial management skills are very essential to running a business.