Today on BeInspired Show, we have a passionate entrepreneur who for years have raised millions funding businesses.. I’m sure you like to know more about him! Meet our business mogul for the week.
My name is Babatunde Hakeem Lawal, fondly referred to as BHL, which happens to be the first letters of my name. I’m a full time business person, we run two firms, Simio J Premium Company and Smart Agro. Sumio J is the first company I started in 2016, first registered company. But then I have been in business since when I was nine because I was raised by a trader, a single mother. My dad, perhaps, he had too much money married two wives, my mum couldn’t cope with the polygamy, so she left the house. She left my father’s house and then she had to raise us all alone. She knew that her office job will not make her the necessary money that would finance us, because it was on a condition that ‘if you are leaving my house, you will leave with your kids and take care of them”. But maybe because of the love of a father to a son, my dad still choose to pay my school fees. But my mum was in charge of making sure that we are ok in terms of co-funding our feeding, accommodation, dressing, a lot of burden was on her neck. I have a younger sister.
She was into trading, buying clothes from Lagos and coming down to Ibadan to sell. I grew up at Ibadan. It was really very hectic. But then one gainful thing my mum use to do for me, which is quite good in business maths, any time she goes to buy, she comes down, in the middle of the night, she will have to list all the item she bought with their cost prices, then she will call me and say; “see, I bought this maybe for #600, I’m going to sell it for #1,800”, I will shout “Mum that’s too much, why don’t you just sell for #700”, she will say “you don’t know business, shut up, see what I’m going to do”. And then I watch her, as she begins to negotiate in the market, she will even say #2000 and say she is just making small profit, and I will be like ‘mum is lieing’, at the end of the day she will sell that product for #1600, making a profit of #1000. She tells me that it is business, it’s not personal, it’s just business.
If I don’t sell, I won’t be able to raise the money I need to fund what you want. She sees us as the passion for her being in business, we were her driving force, and that’s one thing I have learnt in business. “Have something driving you for what you do and make sure it’s a noble course”. So I have my own driving force in business today, which is the fact that people that trust me so much, I don’t want to let them down. So even when the ships are down, I keep moving on just because of that. So Semio J is into food snacks, we are also into agro processing for food companies, we also have our own food brand too like garri and plaintian chips.
Our other company is smart Agro, smart Agro was actually incorporated as a limited liability company in 2017, it’s an age-tech company. And so we have been trying to see which problem we really want to solve. One of our culture is that we don’t just follow the badwagone effect. We have to ask ourselves ‘why’, severally? until we are convinced that this is something we need to do. And that’s because we’ve suffered huge setback initially because we were trying to do what others are doing. Now, we have a process we are developing which will be launch soon where people can actually invest in poultry farms. You will be the owner to the poultry farm without you actually running it. We help you run it, your money works for you. So smart Agro is a farm management service company.
So should we say your mum inspired you to go into entrepreneurship?
Yes. Infact, she is the reason why I went for business. This was how I started, at the initial stage, I saved four thousand naira from transport fare, because she always gives me money to go to school. I was like, I want to be like mum, let me be making crazy profit like she is making. That was in 1980s, I will save all the money I was given, I will even borrow money from friends, so I saved four thousand naira, big money at that time.
I gathered all the money one day, there was a particular fast selling product from her shelve, ibagele, that’s what we call it in Youruba. A folded scalf. I gave mum my four thousand naira to help me buy some, and she did. Four thousand naira each. Guess who were my customers? My mum close friends that loved me so much. I knew even if they wouldn’t buy because they have money, they would buy just to encourage me. So I was leveraging on my influence indirectly on them. I sold each of the gele for #2,500. But then the profit ended in my mum’s pocket.
I later went to school, started selling credit, I noticed most of my friends wants to play video game and I don’t play because I had creative toys at home. My friends will always complain they don’t have money, they have used all thier money to play game but still want to play more. So I said ok, I will give you #50 and you will pay me back #100 in two weeks. Deal! And it worked. Though some persons will carry my money and tell me to go and report to principal. But I can’t report. All these were key to my business acumen, knowing that there are profits and they are losses. Which is one understanding every business person should have. That there are profit and loss. Once you understand that concept, you will know how to work along the line.
Following your journey so far, how would you define entrepreneurship?
I would say entrepreneurship is about seeing a problem that you know you have the power to fix. It’s not just about seeing problems. You can see a problem and not have the power to fix it. You are not in business, because you will be frustrated. But entrepreneurship is seeing a problem that you can fix and going ahead and fixing it, getting the reward and facing the challenges involve because every opportunity has its own challenge.
What do you do when you see a problem you cannot fix but can be fixed?
If you see a problem that can be fixed, but you cannot fix, then call on somebody that can fix it. It’s as simple as that. Because if you venture into it, you will be frustrated because you don’t have the resources. You are not meant to solve all the problems in the world. Jesus Christ had only one mission, despite the fact that he is so Powerful. The reason why many persons want to solve all the problems sometimes is because they want to take all the glory. And who are you not to share the glory? It’s only God that deserves all the glory.
What are some of the challenges you have encountered and how do you cope with them?
One of the earliest challange I faced in my business was trying to satisfy my mum’s vision for me as regards schooling and at the same time my passion for business. This is what I mean. My mum actually groomed me in business, but she wanted me to end up as a medical doctor. I’m still wondering how that would have worked out. *laughs.. She actually groomed me literally in business but told me her dream for me was to be a medical doctor. And I told her “If I am going to be a medical doctor, I’m going to run the largest hospital in Nigeria, and my hospital is going to be as big as UCH, just like UBTH”, and she said, “God forbid o” not something so big like that, government and different people will be on you. And I said “mum, that is what I can see.” That was my initial challenge, though I perfectly understood her ambition, she wanted me to become a successful person.
So having ventured into entrepreneurship, this is the path you have chosen, what has been the challenge?
Yeah.. The challenge has been, you always have to raise more money everytime. You cannot raise enough money in business. In fact, Dangote is still raising more money. It’s a challenge but at the same time one of the most interesting path of my journey in business. I have raised thousands of dollars by God’s grace, both as grants, as loans, as investment. It has been challenging and interesting.
Beautiful! Obviously you’ve been very successful in raising funds. Maybe you can briefly tell us how you go about raising funds.
Like I said, it’s not peculiar to me, it’s one of the major challenge every entrepreneur face, Trying to raise funds for their ideas. The truth is, that’s one of the greatest keys I learnt from Tony Elumelu Foundation 2016. I was awarded by the foundation, and they put us through an intensive training on how to pitch and raise money, that year I raised $40,000 for my business and that was when I began to understand how to raise money, especially from organizations that would ask you some crazy questions. And also from individuals that are already successful and are looking for where to invest thier money.
You need to understand that some of the people giving you money want you to solve a problem with that money. Don’t be surprise that some of these persons even know more than you. For instance, I have raised funds from world bank, that was the money I raised 2016/2017, while they were asking about the problems I want to solve, I discovered that they have an insider who was an expert in what I was talking about. Immediately I discovered that, I became humble. You need to be humble and at the same time very deep on what you are talking about. That discovery drove me into research. And that’s one of the major thing. For instance, I have invested in some businesses before in my own little way, and you see some persons coming to you to pitch and you ask them, “Do you know about this?” And they are like, “No, I don’t have an idea” that kills it for me, and I just walk away. A lot of entrepreneurs trying to raise money don’t know exactly what they are doing. Make deep research on what you are doing, not analysis paralysis please. Know everything you need to know and more. So by the time you are talking, you have your facts and figures at your finger tips.
What would you suggest to the Nigeria Government in terms of making Nigeria friendly for entrepreneurs?
My suggestions is always the same; Develop an enabling environment. The reason why the US or Chinese businesses are doing well is because they have an enabling environment. You talk about power. Infact, can you really do much without power? You talk about internet facilities. In today’s world, anybody can start a business, all you need is a smart phone, access to internet and your crazy idea, and you are already in business. How did Facebook start? If our government can work on an enabling environment, we are good to go.
How would you advice young aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t try to solve so many problems at the same time. One of my famous serial entrepreneur is Richard Branson, this man has lots of companies, but he didn’t start all at the same time. Even Facebook has over 15 companies presently, including WhatsApp and Instagram, but he started with just one, Facebook. You just have to start from somewhere, You don’t even need a base, just have a story. Steve Jobs started from his carriage. Have a Startup story, follow the process and grow. And in a matter of time, you are there.
What are some of the things you’ve done personally that has brought you were you are today?
The first one, if you fail, cry, it’s very important for you to cry, because when you cry, it frees you up from that emotional trauma. But then, learn from your mistake and start again! The second, fail, cry then get back and start again and the third, fail, cry and Get Back! *laughs… The reason why it’s just the three like that is because that is the only route I know to a successful business career. A lot of my mentors have said that to me and I have witness it too. What has brought me here as an entrepreneur is not even money, it’s because of the fact that I keep learning by the day. And the more I learn, the more I get better at what I do and in few years to come, it will be better off.
Any other thing you would like to say?
Yeah.. I would like to thank you for this platform because it’s a great thing! And generally, I would like to say to persons who are already in business, and are passing through certain stage in their business that is not favourable, do not give up. If you are consistent and persistent enough, and you keep learning, because that’s another thing. You can be persistent enough, but you are not learning. Learn, then outgrow what is limiting you. Most of the problems in entrepreneurship, you actually outgrow them. And one way to outgrown these problems is learning what is keeping you bound, get to understand it and outgrown it. Try as much as possible to fasten your growth, by that you do better.
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