Onaopemipo ‘Pepo’ Dara is the CEO at Doja Culinary, a catering, training and food delivery company and Lux Gifts and Crafts, a personalized gifting service. She has an MBA from Lagos Business School (LBS) and recently concluded the African Women Entrepreneurship Cooperative with the Center for Global Enterprise. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Pepo talks about her brand Doja Culinary, how it’s filling the skills gaps through trainings and creating employment and her plans to have up to 3 physical locations in Nigeria. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about Doja Culinary and the role you play?
Onaopemipo: Doja Culinary Company is a Catering, Food delivery and Training company that specializes in Finger foods, African and Continental dishes, Barbecue and Cocktails.
We love creating dishes with hand-selected ingredients, beautiful interpretations of indigenous and continental dishes and beverages, custom made to your taste, event, guests, company and preferences.
We are also into social venture #OneByOne that partners with existing NGOs to raise awareness, donations and volunteers for causes and projects especially in Youth Empowerment, Girl Child Education and Poverty Alleviation.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Onaopemipo: I had no startup capital. My savings were tied in another business and the timing was right to start the business. I started in my home kitchen, so that helped save on utilities and equipment. My first order was worth N10,000, after delivery I saved whatever was left over after each order. When I saved enough, I would buy the things we needed according to priority. I had to be very frugal and didn’t pay myself a salary for the first year and a half.
Alaba: What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Onaopemipo: Challenges come in different shapes and forms and you have to roll with the punches. I can categorize the challenges into 2 major categories: Staffing and Logistics.
Staffing: The food industry globally has relatively high employee turnover rates as high as 60% and culinary jobs are typically deemed as transitional jobs that you do for a short while as a means to an end – the end being another job. The case in Nigeria in particular is dire as there are not many culinary professionals for hire. You have to hire blue collar workers and train them yourselves. Professional Chefs’ remuneration is way above the budget of an SME.
We try our best to have pools of temp staffing options and often use ad-hoc staff. There are informal temp staffing agencies with staff that are experienced in the food service industry. We also depend on referrals of former and current staff with satisfactory records to recommend potential staff. We then train the staff to our quality levels. Even if they do not work with us for long or full time, it is one more person with basic food, health and safety training in circulation.
Logistics: This we can blame on the lack of infrastructure in Nigeria, so seemingly basic tasks like transportation, courier/delivery services, telephone and internet communication as well as any tasks involving basic amenities like electricity or water can put a lot of strain, require a lot of planning and contingency budgets.
We deal with this by planning, planning, planning. You have to have plans A to Z and foresee several scenarios and ways in which your plans might fall through. For example if you are going to be cooking at a venue for a client, even if the venue claims to have water, we often would take our water along just in case. For logistics we have multiple dispatch companies in our contacts, as well as local cab and bike drivers, our staff might also need to step in and make deliveries in person sometimes. You just have to anticipate and be ready to make last minute decisions to solve issues as they come.
Alaba: What advice would you give prospecting entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Onaopemipo: Two things come to mind…
- You have to know your market and industry intimately. The Nigerian market is very peculiar and is often not as straightforward as global markets or business textbooks. So don’t be surprised if a middle income target market exhibit buying preferences like high income earners and vice versa in your particular sector.
- Never make the same mistake twice. Failures and set backs are opportunities to grow, and they will occur in their numbers. Reputation is important, make sure that even in event of setbacks, you are known for coming up with resolutions as best as you can, going above and beyond for clients.
Alaba: What’s the future for your business and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Onaopemipo: One of our 5 year goals is that we hope to have up to 3 physical locations in Nigeria. We are doing a lot of planning and research to find the best way to create value in this space. We are also training and in discuss with industry mentors to see where our skill gaps lie and the best way to fill them.
Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of Africa?
Onaopemipo: We are contributing by filling skills gaps through trainings and creating employment. We hope to contribute more by creating competitive concepts that add to the existing food value chain. We also contribute through our social venture #OneByOne: we have partnered with 3 NGOs since 2016, 7 projects with over 2,700 beneficiaries since inception.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa’s business ecosystem?
Onaopemipo: The African Business Ecosystem is so dynamic and has so much potential. It has grown a lot in recent times but we have barely scratched the surface. We have grown from focus on creating businesses out of necessity for survival to creating businesses to solve problems and create value.
I think as we lean into fostering co-creation and collaborations, breaking gender, ethnic, and geographical boundaries, we will tap into a new level of growth for the ecosystem.
Alaba: What inspires you and keeps you going?
Onaopemipo: Inspiration comes from various sources and from the little things – family, experiences, memories, people you meet, other businesses, books, television etc.
My faith as a Christian is also a big source of inspiration and a way to meditate and recharge.
When I find myself low on inspiration or motivation, I turn taking a break to recharge, spending time with friends and family, spending time with fellow entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs who have achieved what you plan to in the short or long term, my social media – I follow a lot of business publications and influencers, inspirational people and accounts based on my hobbies, interest and aspirations.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Onaopemipo: I love hanging out with family or catching up with friends over foods and drinks at home. Once in a while I find something new and adventurous to do, a break from my normal routine from traveling or hiking to attending social events. I also love a good book or movie. Sleep! I love a good nap. Business can be physically and mentally draining and sometimes you trade off on nights of sleep to meet up with deadlines, so when its time to recharge, nothing better than sleeping and waking up refreshed.
I try to read wide and I am often curious about an array of topics. I read fiction and non-fiction. I particularly like Christian fiction, I recently read Ted Dekker’s Adam and Francine River’s Masterpiece.
My favourite non-fiction of 2019 is Steven Levitt’s Freaknomics. It was an amazing read I plan to read again. I also recommend Gbolahan Fagbure’s Working on a Dream and Ibukun Awosika’s Girl Entrepreneurs for the African Entrepreneur.
Her Short Bio:
Onaopemipo ‘Pepo’ Dara has worked in different sectors including fashion, management consulting, culinary, public service and NGOs. Pepo currently runs Doja Culinary (@dojaculinary), a catering, training and food delivery company and Lux Gifts and Crafts (@luxgiftsncrafts), a personalized gifting service. She has an MBA from Lagos Business School (LBS) and recently concluded the African Women Entrepreneurship Cooperative with the Center for Global Enterprise. When she takes time off, you can find her deep inside a book, spending time with loved ones or ‘pretending’ to be an adventurer.
Interview with Insure Africa Founder, Judith Pila On Driving Insurance Inclusion
Judith Pila, Founder Insure Africa (Image: Supplied)
Judith Pila is the Founder of Insure Africa, a company whose main goal is to drive insurance inclusion in Africa through literacy, education, and awareness. Aside being an insurance professional, Judith is a contributing writer to Insuranceopedia, an online insurance information platform focused on Canada and US markets. She is the Content Director for Ladies Corner Canada Magazine, a Board Director for LCC Media Foundation. She volunteers with various organizations like, Insurance Institute of Canada, Career Education Council, SoGal Foundation. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, she speaks on her entrepreneurship journey into the insurance ecosystem and why she is driving insurance inclusion with Insure Africa. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and how you end up building in the insurance space?
Judith: My name is Judith Pila, born and raised in Nigeria, I now live in Canada. My journey to the insurance industry was purposive and one inspired by the need to do something different in an environment where it seemed everyone else wanted regular careers. Shortly after I moved to Canada, I already knew the industry was where I needed to be. In 2015, I began my career in insurance.
Alaba: For those who don’t know, what does Insure Africa do?
Judith: Insure Africa is a company that is, focused on driving insurance inclusion in Africa through literacy, education and awareness. We also provide consulting services to individuals and small businesses, we help them make smart and informed insurance decisions to help meet their personal and business goals.
Alaba: What makes Insure Africa special from other startups driving insurance inclusion?
Judith: While other startups are driving insurance inclusion through Artificial Intelligence and Technology, Insure Africa is doing same through literacy, awareness, making sure that Africans are well informed about insurance, so that when they decide to take on any insurance products, they are equipped with the knowledge they need.
Alaba: What have been the biggest challenges and successes in building Insure Africa till date?
Judith: I think I would have less to say in this regard, considering that Insure Africa has been actively operating as a company for only about four months. I think the biggest challenge has been trying to convince people that we are not insurance salespeople. I think the moment you mention insurance to someone in Africa, they feel like you are trying to sell them a product. People that we have been able to reach, see value in the services we offer and have given us positive feedbacks, I would consider that a success.
Alaba: How has the insurance industry evolved?
Judith: Unlike before, when most people thought insurance was only for the rich and large corporations, more and more people are now seeing the need for insurance. The Covid-19 pandemic has also proved the importance of insurance. And with the use of technology, insurance companies are now offering insurance products through different channels making it more accessible to consumers like never before.
Alaba: Kindly share the most difficult part of being a CEO of a startup?
Judith: I think one of the most difficult part is the unpredictability, that what you are trying to build will either fail or be a success.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Judith: I feel great and inspired by other African entrepreneurs who have made it to the top.
Alaba: What are Insure Africa’s expansion plans in terms of product, tech & markets in the next 5 years?
Judith: We are more of a service company and have plans of reaching as many people as possible that might need our services. We do have tech plans but are not ready to share those plans yet. We already have representatives in about 5 African countries and think that the opportunities are endless, and the future is looking bright.
Alaba: Finally, what piece of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Judith: Keep building, there are going to be tough days, but hold on to the vision and hope for a better end.
Edith Njage: My Letter to fellow Female CEOs
Edith Njage, Co-Founder and current CEO of Arielle for Africa (Image: Supplied)
Edith Njage is a Social and Serial Entrepreneur based in Africa. She is the Co-Founder and current CEO of Arielle for Africa, which aims to create over 100,000 jobs in Africa through empowering, training, coaching and connecting and funding entrepreneurs. Edith is the Country Representative for Invicta Ventures on a mission to fund social impact ventures with up to $10 billion in developing markets. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration with a major in Finance and a Bachelor in Business Management with a major in Economics. A Master of Science in International Business with a major in Disruptive Innovation and a Master of Science in Finance, both from HULT International Business School. Excerpts of her letter below;
There are realities that come with being a woman in leadership that in most cases remain secret.
Realities faced but not communicated.
My journey as a Young, Black and Female CEO has been nothing short of rough, tough and everything in-between. The hardest truth is that the journey has been lonely with no-one to turn to, until I decided to make changes to not only my leadership, but my circles as well. I began my journey as a serial entrepreneur at 18, relatively young in the books of most but when a problem in your continent calls, age is never a factor. I became a CEO at 24 and to date I wish someone explained the realities of being a woman in leadership. Especially a young and black woman in leadership.
I wish I knew the bias that I would face each time I walked into a room and sat on the table when most expected me to just bring the coffee,
I wish I knew that fundraising would be more about my gender and race than the value my companies brought to the table,
I wish I knew that the most powerful weapon a female CEO can wield is a network of other female CEOs,
I wish I didn’t do it all alone.
Dear Female CEOs,
You are powerful. You are graceful, You are beautiful in leadership. I know that the world has taught you to blend in, I know you have been told to use your position or title to protect your vulnerability and I know most days it feels like no-one in the world can understand what it is like to be you. I want you to know the key to our strength is each other. I want you to know that rather than face the bias alone, rather than rise to the top alone, we can band together and not only rise but build a system for the next generation of female CEOs to struggle less than we did.
Where the world has called us bossy, let’s exude grit and relentless pursuit of our dreams,
Where they have called us soft, we can preach emotional intelligence and finally,
Where they have prevented our progress, we can build paths for the progress of other women after us.
This is our time, but we cannot go at it alone. We must band together and begin talking about these realities, not in secret but for the world to see. It is for this reason that I decided about a month ago that enough was enough and that it was important for me to begin sharing the truth behind my journey as a Young, Black and Female CEO. I started a podcast!
Since beginning this journey I am in awe of how many women in leadership, in business, in politics and in corporate have reached out sharing their stories!
The Latest Episode is available below (streamed to Spotify and Apple Podcast). Adding onto that I have decided to be intentional about building a Female CEO Global Board. A space for Female CEOs to share their stories, struggles, plans for growth of their businesses and so much more!
If this is something that interests you and you would like to join us next week or maybe just find a safe space and community of women who understand, book a coffee chat with me here; https://calendly.com/edith-njage-alpha-group/one-on-one
I became intentional about building circles with fellow female CEOs and investing into those circles so that as a tribe we would all rise! Rise in business, rise in our purposes and pursuits and rise in who we are as people in the world.
As always, I hope that unashamedly sharing my truth will help you know that you are never alone.
Interview with a Polyglot: Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo, Founder Empress Linguistics Services
Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo, Founder Empress Linguistics Services (Image: Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo)
Favour Chisimdi Nwobodo is a polyglot who speaks nine (9) foreign languages. She is the Founder of Empress Linguistics Services (ELS) creating new ways for businesses to interact with consumers across borders. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola spoke with Favour about what it means to be a polyglot, her journey in entrepreneurship and much more. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your journey into entrepreneurship?
Favour: Becoming the Solution! Oh yes, I proffer Solutions. My name is Favour Chisimdi Emerald Nwobodo from Enugu state in Nigeria. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to be the Solution to people’s problems. Growing up, I got to witness the high rates of unemployment/poverty in the country, and the urge to put an end to this problem started growing.
At first, I started EMPRESS LINGUISTICS SERVICES (my brand) as a Linguistics brand – just Translations and Language Tutorials. I was the only one handling it but at some point, I did quit. During those bad moments, I was aimlessly searching on google when I saw the current finance situation. I felt bad – Nigeria is slowly losing “NAIRA”. I went on to search for ways to strengthen the economy of the country and I saw “Promotion of international trade” That struck!. But we’ve got machines and interpreters, why is yours different?
But then machines would be machines and sometimes those Interpreters might Interpret wrong stuff and scam people. I left the site and went into proper thinking, I thought about it and came up with ” LINGUISTICS IN FINANCE ”- when Linguistics meets Finance, it doubles it, it revives the currency etc.
I went on to propound the “LINGUISTICS IN BUSINESS SYSTEM”. I tried my hypothesis with a client’s job and it worked- I was convinced! So I came back stronger at Empress Linguistics Services and we’ve been able to help companies, businesses, and all thrive.
So far, we have been able to pull off a lot of deals. And from the comfort of our client’s home they are able to run their Businesses with ease, learn and attain fluency in foreign languages with ease. Our peer to peer service makes it so easy for Companies that most of them stick to it as their Linguistics needs (Translations and all) are attended to in 24 hours.
Also , seeing the way non English speakers are marginalized in various countries- they can’t access lots of things (products, companies etc) as they can’t understand English. With this, Empress Linguistics Services is working hard to eliminate Linguistics barriers and give them accessibility to various opportunities with LINGUIS-NESS (LINGUISTICS AND BUSINESS) a news platform in various languages that enables non English speakers access lots of information in various languages.
Alaba: Empress Linguistics is creating new ways for businesses to interact with consumers across borders. How did it all start?
Favour: My manager “Barr Chijioke Ojukwu” told me about opening a brand, and the brand “Empress Linguistics Services” was founded. At first, I had no vision. I just wanted to tutor languages and that’s all. I wanted it as a side hustle but then, REDIRECTION happened.
During the trying times, I went off and did some research and founded “Linguistics in Business”- How Linguistics helps to make businesses thrive, it was a great module. I also did some case studies with our client’s business and it thrived. It was a sell out, this prompted me to seek for “Linguistics in Finances” to help companies, firms and organizations meet their target companies and stabilize their finance goal by thriving in non english sectors.
Currently, we’re about entering the TECH and HEALTH sector to create products/services to serve everyone and make life easy. Just like our slogan says, “With ELS, lives are made easier”.
Alaba: Can you describe in detail what your company does and the response from your target market?
Favour: Empress Linguistics Services is a Linguistics Service aimed at profering Linguistics solutions to Businesses and the world at large. We’re in to make the world a better place with Linguistics and so far we’ve been good. Reaching the target market hasn’t been as I just entered the niche but I’m damn enjoying my growth. It’s worth it.
EMPRESS LINGUISTICS SERVICES is currently working on the Health sector with another product “DIGITAL HEAVEN”. I am sure you can wait for it. Some of our services are;
- Translations Services
- Interpretation services
- Proofreading Services
- Language tutorial Services
- Transcription services
- Advertisement in various languages
- Jingles in various languages
- Website Translations
- App Translations
- Movie Subtitlings
- Lyrics Translations, etc.
Alaba: What makes your brand different from the rest of the language translation startups in Africa?
Favour: What makes ELS stand out is ELS would always be ELS. The goal of ELS is to solve the Linguistics needs of Man. We are here to proffer solutions to man’s needs. Also at ELS, we have the peer to peer services that enables companies to get their Linguistics needs in less than 24 hours and from their own comfort.
We’re not a Translation startup, we’re a Linguistics startup as we offer both translations, tutorials and more. We’re in for TECH, HEALTH , EDUCATION and FINANCE and we’re working on making things easier in those sectors.
Alaba: You seem to really enjoy learning languages. What would you recommend to people who don’t like language learning but still want to speak in a new language?
Favour: When people say “Languages are hard” I tell them everything is easy once you understand the methodology but unfortunately some school’s methodology are so bad that people struggle to learn foreign languages and that’s why ELS was born to make it easier for MAN. At ELS, we make language learning easy and fun.
Alaba: What did you find to be the biggest myth when it comes to language learning?
Favour: Mmmmm, the myth I got to find out is “elimination of FEAR” and knowing the grammar rules.
Most language speakers don’t try to learn the grammar rules as they feel it’s a waste of time and it makes it hard for them to attain fluency easier and faster. Some of them find it hard to read and speak because of this.
This is the secret to the faster fluency in our students . Some get to make sentences and speak in their 2nd month. Once the rules are understood, you’re good to go.
Alaba: Who are some of the modern polyglots you are impressed with, and why?
Favour: Jaindersingh , my friend on LinkedIn is a Polyglot speaking nine Languages and I’m impressed. They’re good. But for now, I’m yet to see people proffering solutions with Businesses and that’s why I’m in to make all that happen with ELS.
Alaba: Where do you see ELS in the next 5 years?
Favour: In the next 5 years, I see ELS as the No1 Linguistics company in the world creating solutions in various sectors of the world.
Alaba: As a student-preneur, what is your advice to students who are aspiring to make an impact through entrepreneurship?
Favour: My advice is that they shouldn’t give up as nothing good comes easy, it might take time but it’s gonna be worth it. They were days when I was laughed at for learning foreign languages, days when I was looked down on.
But look at it now? That’s life!! Just keep doing what you’re doing. and like I’ve always said it’s “Quality consistency” or nothing.
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