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‘Effective, wholesome play has the potential to teach children that which can’t be taught in schools’

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Layal Jade Tinubu was born in London, England but spent her childhood between Lagos, New Jersey and London. She studied Politics and African Studies from SOAS University of London and received an MSc in Entrepreneurship and Business Management from the University of Surrey in 2012 and 2013 respectively. After that, she worked as a Senior Consultant at PwC. Currently, she’s the founder of Tots Toys Limited which was established in 2018. Tots Toys is an educational learning space and toyshop for children. She’s also a co-founder of a Foundation. She talks about her foundation, essence of play in children’s education and how to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Befor we talk about Tots Toys, can you tell us about your Foundation? Yes. In 2018, I co-founded a Foundation known as Noella Foundation. Basically, it is a non-profit private organization with the aim to contribute to the economic sector of Nigeria by fostering entrepreneurship, building rapid innovations and advancing economic growth and development. Noella Foundation helps the youth to identify and use their passion to create solutions that drive economic growth. I’m glad the Foundation is doing well and achieving its goals.

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What inspired Tots Toys and what’s your mission for the company?
I had always been passionate about the learning process of children and their development. I learned very early about the pivotal role that play has in shaping children and the impact it can have on their future.

Effective and wholesome play for children has the potential to teach children that which can’t be taught in schools. After conducting extensive research and speaking to various mothers and dads, I also noticed a huge gap in the educational/creative play resource sector in Nigeria when it comes to accessibility and affordability. When I became a mother, I found it challenging to get the toys, educational books and general learning resources, I found myself constantly searching for resources in the UK or US. I didn’t want parents like myself to go through that struggle and deny their children the right access to the effective learning toys, books and resources that stimulates creativity, problem-solving and much more for their kids. I believe the culture around children playing in Africa needs to be redefined. And Tots Toys was born!

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My mission for Tots Toys is to create an accessible learning experience through play for children and contribute to the availability of educational resources in Nigeria.

Your company is almost two years? How is it going so far, I mean you are very qualified and worked as a senior consultant in PwC before becoming a businesswoman, would you change back the clock if you could? Especially as many say running a business in Lagos is not easy.

Despite the challenges faced during starting this venture, the growth of the company has so far surpassed expectations. I began this journey in April 2018, now in February 2020, we have acquired our own property and moved to a bigger location to be able to offer more to our customers. We have also expanded to develop an interactive children’s library- the first of it’s kind here in Nigeria. I enjoy the flexibility running my own business allows me. Something that my role at PwC didn’t accommodate. Based on the current trajectory in the economy, we set ourselves a relatively modest monthly target which has been passed month after month. We are steady on the right path to continued exponential growth.

As founder and acting CEO of a fast-growing innovative startup in Nigeria that is solving a problem and creating jobs, what is one thing you had challenges within the early days.

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When I started, I wanted to do everything by myself. I would work long hours sorting things out by myself. It soon became tiresome although I enjoyed it. I am very excellence- driven and an ardent problem solver. I don’t like to put things off and I believe in focused working. While those qualities helped me, it made me want to do everything myself as I wanted to control the outcome to ensure it is as exactly as I want. I had to remind myself that the vision is way bigger than me and therefore I can’t do all things by myself. I had to learn more on the art of delegation. I started unlearning yet ensuring everyone who was coming on board could easily assimilate and champion my vision. Now I don’t try to control any outcome, as I simply cannot especially in the ecosystem I am running a business in. Delegation can be hard, but when you are strict on the type of staff you hire, the advisors you have around you, and you keep in view the long-term vision, it can be a tool to propel any organization.

You must have learnt so many techniques since inception of your organisation. Kindly share one entrepreneurial technique you have discovered to keep you focused and productive in your daily schedule?
Being an entrepreneur can be all-encompassing. You can easily get distracted with other activities and, before you know it, the day is over. Personally, I try to stay focused by choosing tasks that fit the amount of time I have. I create a to-do list and streamline each task I have on the list by focusing on the important tasks that need to be done. I have strict work hours, and I have a Job description- I try to adhere by this and I have a team that when I am not abiding by this frequently, they can draw me back. This allows me to be productive as opposed to being busy.

Entrepreneurship can be a tough road. In the difficult moments, how do you stay focused on moving forward and making progress?
Of course! The truth is, as an entrepreneur, there will be challenges in your business, but these challenges are essential to the growth of your company. However, you must stay focused and unwavering. Policies are important, consistent strategising, acting with tact rather making leadership decision with emotions and, like I said, always have the long-term vision in view.

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Like any entrepreneur, uncertainty plays a big role when starting your venture. Even though I knew I was offering a service that was needed in the market, I made sure I had a lot of conversations with the right people. These days, entrepreneurs have access to unlimited information about their target audience and how to use it to continuously improve services. I made sure I listened and followed feedback- this helped me understand customer consumption trends and needs. It’s vital to anticipate these trends as it allows you to tailor your service accordingly. The moment I began to understand what customers wanted, I felt more secure in my venture.

Do you have any important lessons you have learned in the course of this journey?
I have learned to believe in myself and my brand because self-doubt can hold you back and prevent you from achieving your full potential. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from starting my venture is that I can’t build a successful company on my own. I would spend long periods of time ironing out the fine details and managing day-to-day tasks. I learnt that this is counterproductive and in fact while worrying about the small details, I was losing sight of the overall picture. This is where having a good network and support is important as essentially, they will help grow.

Why should people choose your brand?
People should choose our products because we understand that play is an essential part of learning in children. The resources that we stock encourage their involvement in the learning process and enhances individual areas of development – cognitive, emotional, and social development.

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What does the future hold for Tots Toys?
I’m grateful to God and my team for the growth this business has incurred since it started. There is still a lot more to come in terms of our offerings for children. There are also a number of small organizations in Nigeria doing great things for children who we plan to collaborate with in the near future. There are plans for us to expand especially to other Nigerian states. This will ultimately allow us to broaden our reach. In the long run, there is great potential for a range of our branded educational resources.

If you could advice any aspiring or existing entrepreneur, what would it be?
Success is not for the lazy. There is a great amount of research, preparation, planning and strategy that goes into starting and running a business. Aside from resources, a good team that shares your vision can unlock high potential with many opportunities. You also need to be prepared for failures and challenges, however it’s how you react to these challenges and adjust that makes a good entrepreneur.

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In this article:
Layal Jade Tinubu
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