Entrepreneurship thrives better when you fulfil a need – Oyindamola Ogundeyi
She is not one of those who believe that life is all about staying put in your “dream job”, else she would have remained at Google or Ericsson.
For Oyindamola Honey Ogundeyi, it’s about providing solutions even in areas like the right quality clothes or accessories to wear for an occasion, and
she has won many accolades for her hard work. Honey, as she is called, is a Management Consultant, and the Chief Executive Officer/Founder of Fashion Parade (Fashpa.com), which debuted because of her passion to make fashion more accessible for Africans. She tells Wole Oyebade that her trade is not borne out of a whim, as Fashpa.com has evolved into an innovative business model and fast-growing premier online fashion retailer across Africa. Excerpts:
Tell us about your growing up, education, and professional background?
I grew up in Lagos. I was educated primarily in Lagos. I did my primary education and half of my secondary education at Queens College Yaba, Lagos. I finished up secondary school in Alexandra College, Dublin, Ireland, and then headed to the University of Birmingham to study Public Policy and Management. By profession, I would call myself a Management Consultant with experience across different industries ranging from Banking, Brand Management, Internet and Telecoms. I am glad to have gained invaluable work experience from fantastic companies like UBA, Google, Mckinsey, and Ericsson.
Why did you “abandon” your technology job for fashion, or what is the link between technology and fashion?
I have always had a passion for technology and fashion; in 2014, I eventually decided to work on an idea that I had for a very long time and that I was passionate about. The idea was how to make Fashion more accessible for Africans. Fashpa started out of my frustration with the experience of shopping for Fashion in Nigeria, and has now evolved into an innovative business model, and the creation of a pioneer online fashion brand that has revolutionised the Nigerian and indeed African Fashion industry.
Is there an experience from your career that stands out as one that helped you develop the person you are today?
Thirteen years ago, I came back to Nigeria after university to complete my NYSC before starting out at Mckinsey & Co. It was definitely not the most popular path back then but I had a fantastic year. I worked for one of Mr Tony Elumelu’s companies, which was the consulting arm for Standard Trust Bank. The work experience, the discipline, the networks and the access to the best in class work practices that I gained as an intern were second to none. That year really shaped my career going forward, and I was eager to move back to Nigeria and contribute to the growth of the Economy.
Listening to you on your blog, you said Fashpa.com was borne from your frustration of being unable to find the right pair of shoes you wanted at a particular point in time. Don’t you find it strange, if everyone started an enterprise because they couldn’t satisfy a need or want at a point in time?
The best way to get business ideas is not to try to think of business ideas. It’s to look for solutions to problems, preferably problems you have yourself. The very best start-up ideas I know tend to have three things in common: they are something the founders want to see exist in the world — Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Facebook all began this way. I always tell people interested in entrepreneurship to work on problems they have. Firstly because it ensures the problem really exists, because the far more difficult thing is to work on an idea and solve a problem with a business that no one has. That is the easiest way to fail in business.
In my case, I started Fashpa (meaning Fashion Parade), out of a frustration of not being able to access quality fashion following my move back to Nigeria after several years living abroad. I set out to bridge that gap by building an online fashion platform targeted at style conscious consumers who wanted quality, variety and convenience, at affordable prices. I built the first version myself and started the site from the bedroom of my flat in Lagos. Fashpa, was one of the very first fashion ecommerce stores in Nigeria, and has grown quickly to be the country’s leading online fashion brand.
Since the debut of Fashpa.com, do you now feel fulfilled better than you were in the previous places you’ve worked?
I really enjoyed working in all the places I worked prior to starting Fashpa.com, and I was very happy being part of a team and contributing to work that I felt made a difference. However, building something from scratch is a completely different experience, and the fulfillment comes from working hard to see it succeed.
If you were not working in fashion retail what would you be doing instead?
There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur from and working on the continent. The next growth opportunity in many sectors will come from Africa, and I see so many opportunities especially in non-traditional sectors for example Entertainment, Retail, Agriculture, and Technology sectors. So I would be working still in the technology sector, trying to change the status quo in another vertical I’m sure.
What would you say is different about Fashpa.com compared to other fashion enterprises? What value addition are you bringing on board?
Fashpa is an e-commerce driven, vertically-integrated women’s wear retailer that combines technology, modern design, and local manufacturing to deliver fast fashion within Nigeria and the world. Fashpa is at the forefront of transformative retail in Africa, the more scale and data we have, the more sophisticated and accurate we can become across all areas of application-fit and product development, to on demand production, to understanding and predicting consumer wants, to delivery efficiency. We are building the future of global fast fashion right here in Nigeria.
Starting an enterprise is one of the hardest decisions an entrepreneur takes. How easy was it for you taking that first step to leave a plum job to make it on your own?
That was a very difficult decision to make, Google in many ways was my dream job, and as the Industry Manager I had an entrepreneurial role starting the commercial business in Nigeria. However, I was also very driven by the idea of what I was building at Fashpa, and how the company could really change the face of retail in Africa. In the end, I decided that it was worth the risk to venture out on my own, but I must say it was a difficult decision.
Online retail fashion is noveau, what are the challenges you face running this kind of enterprise considering the limited access to the Internet and other network issues associated with it in a country like Nigeria, and other developing countries?
There are many challenges notably access to finance, consumer trust in online shopping, and general infrastructure problems that come with trying to build a venture in Africa. In Nigeria and across most of Africa, infrastructural challenges such as lack of power, high cost and quality of Internet, lack of good road network/access, low penetration of online payments, and poor logistics network make it more expensive for ecommerce companies to operate. However, these infrastructural challenges have also increased the innovation.
Given these challenges, is there anything the government can do to boost entrepreneurship in Nigeria?
Yes, the Government has a key role to play in boosting not only the ecommerce space but the whole Internet ecosystem. I would say their support lies around four main buckets:
Increasing access — to unleash the potential of the ecommerce industry in Nigeria, we first need to ensure that people are able to have access to the Internet, and also have access at an affordable price.
Building ICT capabilities — availability of technology expertise and a skilled job pool is another issue. This is a new industry and many of the roles we are creating did not exist two years ago. We need Government’s support to work with the private sector, and invest in educational system to better integrate technology skills into every level of the education system. In the shorter term, the government needs to work with the private sector to expand training programmes to meet more immediate workforce needs as they seek to build local industries.
Investment — there is huge gap in funding for technology companies in Nigeria, and setting up a technology company requires a lot of investment. We need more support from the Government in terms of facilitating initiatives and encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI) in technology to close this gap. Nigeria has the potential to become the key hub for ICT in Africa, but lack of funding remains an issue. For example, the telecom industry at its early stages in Nigeria was supported through investments incentives, tax grants etc, more can be done to support and foster the growth of ecommerce in Nigeria.
Education — we need Nigerians to be aware of the advantages and the opportunities that the Internet can bring. The Internet has the power to transform lives, create business opportunities and provide employment opportunities for our youth. However, the population needs to be aware. Together with the private sector more can be done around making sure that this information is widely spread and available
On Fashpa.com the prices of most of your items appear to be on the high side. Are you targeting only the high end customers or do you have something for everyone?
We are a fashion destination for all women. Our prices start from N7,000 in our diffusion line MEL, so I think you will find something to suit most occasions, sizes and budgets.
Fashpa.com is said to be recording over 200 per cent per quarter. How are you able to achieve this in a period of economic downturn?
By a relentless focus on serving our customer and our continued focus on innovation.
Since its debut in 2013, you have recorded many milestones and recognitions. How do you feel about these achievements within such a short period of your entry into the market? Do they make you feel relaxed and comfortable, or spur you to further actions?
Achievements and recognition for my work, pioneering online fashion in Nigeria is great. However, I still very much feel like it’s day one, and there is still so much I want to achieve in the world.
Part of your plans is to expand to other countries as well, but in the area of fashion like most other enterprises, everybody is copying everyone else. Are you not afraid others might beat you to your game?
We are a fashion technology company so we are always innovating, but perhaps more strongly, I believe it is always about execution, ideas may be easily copied, but your personal understanding of the market, the consumer, and your ability to execute cannot be so easily replicated.
Looking back to where you were before and where you are now, do you feel any regret doing what you are doing now?
None at all.
Are there specific advantages/disadvantages to being a woman business owner?
Being a woman has its advantages and its disadvantages, but when it comes to female entrepreneurship, I think there has never been a better time to be a female entrepreneurship.
What specific advice do you have for young female entrepreneurs?
Regarding advice for young female entrepreneurs, there are way too many to document here. What I do make sure to do is to document my lessons and my experiences as an entrepreneur in Nigeria on my video blogs #sidehustletoempire available on Youtube. I think we as Africans don’t document our business journey’s enough, and so it was really important for me to do this as my way of sharing my tips, tricks and failures.
With the challenges of the current economic environment, what cost savings tips do you have for a new entrepreneur?
Start small and dream big. The initial funds to start Fashpa.com came from myself. We started from my bedroom, expanded to the living room and eventually we got an office. If you have an idea, especially in Nigeria, the easiest way is to smart small with funding from yourself and family/ friends. Bootstrapping in the early days of business gives you discipline especially as you refine the model and better understand the business. The key is to, with as little as possible, be able to show traction and a track record of execution.
Finally, where do you see Fashpa in the next 10 to 20 years, and what are your succession or wind down plans?
The vision is to build out a global fashion tech company. With $50 billion fashion retail market in Africa, the major growth driver is going to be online, and more specifically, mobile. There is an undeniably huge opportunity for the market leader in online fashion retail in Africa. Leveraging on our first mover advantage and our innovative business model and our relentless focus on the customer experience, with the access to the right funding, I believe we will have a majority market share in African retail, making us market leaders in global online fashion, and the first fashion unicorn to emerge from Africa.
In 10 years, we would have established Fashpa as Africa’s premier online fashion retailer. We will be serving a global customer base, offering a wider product assortment and category offering and have further built out our technology capabilities to provide exceptional customer experience, the best. The success of our business will be enabled by big data, mobile commerce and facilitating fast-growing cross-Africa and global commerce.