Metrowoman entrepreneur of the week: Tolulope Giwa-Sowande
Tolulope is a graduate of University of Ibadan where she studied medicine and surgery. She graduated as a medical doctor. She recently completed her Master’s program in International Public Health at University of Liverpool, where she did 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 a healthy lifestyle company that incorporates a lifestyle clinic and a healthy food outlet, Healthy Bar.
How did you come up with your brand Healthy Bar?
Many people would love to eat clean and healthy as they carry out their day-to-day activities. However, the reality is that there are few food outlets that serve healthy meals. Healthy Bar is positioned to fill the obvious gap in the market and to make healthy eating an easily realisable goal for all, and a normal part of everyday life. Obesity, diabetes and hypertension are health challenges that can be prevented through lifestyle modification. At Healthy Bar we offer consultation and follow-up services for healthy weight loss, customized meal plans and exercise routines.
What motivated you to set up the company?
I grew as an obese child into an obese adult, In October 2013, I decided to challenge the age-long myth that some people are born to be fat. I combined personally designed meals and exercise routines. By June 2014, eight months after I had lost 28kg from a weight of 91kg to 63kg. It felt good to be strong, light and healthy. It occurred to me that I had to go through some stress getting myself something as simple as a plate of salad, a smoothie or even a plate of bulgur wheat stir-fry. These foods were not readily available anywhere near me in Benin City. Whenever I told people about how I lost weight, they were always quick to mention how difficult it was to make healthy meals. I identified a need immediately and started making smoothies and salads from my kitchen. Patronage was encouraging, and within 18months, Healthy Bar was born.
What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur?
To be a successful entrepreneur you must be resilient through difficult times, focused on your vision, you must also possess excellent selling skills, you must also have the ability to see far into the future and keep dreaming of your venture in the long time. Lastly, you will always need people to achieve your vision, so get human resource management skills. That uncanny ability to find your money, make profits, create constant cash flow, and continuous access to capital must never be underscored.
Have you recorded any failures along the line?
None specifically. Starting the business was challenging in itself, but I cannot recall a moment of failure. Every time something does not work out as desired, I review, restrategise and do it better until I get it right. Once I’m fully convinced that it is an idea I am to work on, I stick with it until I get the desired results. I don’t give up. It may take time for me to realise my goal, but I never give up. I keep pushing against barriers and challenges until I get a breakthrough.
How many hours do you spend working in a day?
An average of 18 hours. My day usually starts at 5.00am and I don’t retire to bed until about 12.00am. Sometimes I also have to stay up through the night to pray, work on a project unrelated to my business or read.
What’s your vision for this business?
My vision to see a healthy generation and the desire to leave this legacy for generations to come is very critical. Also, in a developing economy like Nigeria, I seek to join that pool of entrepreneurs who will create ventures that will employ people. You really must understand the joy of paying salaries to staff, who in turn support their dependants. The chain reaction is the link between entrepreneurship and the economy.
What major challenges did you face in starting up?
My Greatest challenge is financing and staffing. With regards financing, there’s a next phase that requires more capital than cannot be easily generated from the business at our current level of operation. Overcoming that challenge for now means continuous access to my husband’s finance options. We believe with a little patience all funds required would be available. Staffing has been a major challenge that we had to overcome patiently as well. The pool of unemployed young persons is not particularly skilled, and sometimes not ready to work for small companies like ours. We keep putting out advertisements until we get what want. We have grown to current staff strength of 8, and that number will continue to increase as we expand.
Your advice for start-ups
. Whatever you have been called to do, do it excellently with all your heart. Love everybody you come in contact with and be a person of integrity
. Success is being fulfilled in all areas of life and seeing your vision coming to life and blessing others.
. Do not focus on the physical rewards, such as money. Focus on building a brand, that will last a generation and beyond.
How did you raise your initial capital?
Through personal finance; from my husband and some borrowed funds. When I shared my dream with my husband, he was excited because he is also about the healthy life (healthy eating and keeping fit). We prayed about it and we were sure this was what God will have us do at this time and we decided to invest in the business
What has kept the business going?
By offering quality products to our customers, being consistent, showing you truly care about them and not just about their money. We are gaining traction on social media, especially Instagram where we get about 40% of our daily orders. That in itself is fantastic, as the barrier of location is easily demystified as long as we can keep getting orders to customers in a timely fashion.
Why did you start off from Benin-City?
Benin-City was natural. First because that is where we live. Secondly, because we discovered we will be the first healthy meal options outlet in the city. Within the city itself it took us over six months of searching for a suitable location. We had to turn a shop in a complex into what many of our customers had never seen before. We engaged the services of an interior decorator who created a space that marvels a lot of our customers.