Ifeoluwa Olatayo has been through fire! She has survived a fire accident, survived a warehouse plunder, survived deferment of National Service (NYSC) twice and has survived as a student entrepreneur. She graduated second best in her class studying English and Literary Studies at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university and employs 5 other Nigerian Youths.
In the Beginning
Ifeoluwa popularly called Ife, had an entrepreneurship prospect at a very tender age sneaking into her CEO father’s office and roleplaying on his office seat. She even assured her high school classmates that she will one day employ them.
She saw a need
One day while in the second year just before her 20th Birthday, as she walked through the veranda of one of the female hostels, Beatrice Ife’s friend said in a voice audible enough for her roommates and those in two adjacent rooms to hear ‘I am going to the market o.’
Almost immediately, about 6 girls came from both rooms pleading with Beatrice to purchase foodstuffs from the market on their behalf. Ifeoluwa saw a need, ‘students want convenience in the delivery of foodstuffs’ and she plugged into it.
She sold her laptop and used the funds to purchase a bicycle, bags of rice, beans, and garri. Her first company, Mama Foods was born. A foodstuffs delivery company for university students. Her delivery truck was her bicycle and a basket of foodstuffs attached to the rear.
But Ife was wrong, she thought that the real need of the students was a convenient supply of foodstuffs. The students had developed a way around this challenge, they will now bring sufficient foodstuffs that will last the entire semester while resuming.
Completely on your own
Her parents were angry with her for selling her laptop, the number one tool in the digital age for an English and literary studies prospective graduate. Sad enough, she sold her laptop to purchase a bicycle and descended from a highly placed white collar training to an informal sector commerce. Yet, her mum remained her inspiration.
One day as she complained about a relative who had defaulted a delivery deadline for her staggering business while her mother was cooking soup, her mother replied rather annoyingly ‘Ife I am busy, leave me alone for now, or do you want to sell soups too?’
That was the Eureka moment, the moment of discovery where she realized that there was no circumventing around soups and perishable items. University students, her customers are denied possession of refrigerators in their hostels but actually want comfort and convenience around soups and other perishables. Her new company was born, Mama Soups, and she was 22 already.
Unfortunately at the registration point of her business with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Nigeria’s Bureau for Business registration, the name Mama Soups had been taken. Unlike Kunmi Otitoju who wrote over 200 names and arrived at Minku Designs, Ifeoluwa impulsively picked the name that first came to her mind, SOUPAH KITCHEN ( a super kitchen of soups) a legal entity was born.
Good Story Gone Bad
Barely three months after the lunch of Soupah Kitchen as a graduating student, calamity struck! Her store was robbed and the booty of the robbers were her goods, stored in her warehouse. It happened on the night of a Thursday and threatened the survival of her business.
And something else happened
She managed to overcome the robbery incident because of a proper banking culture, ‘Every funds had to be deposited in the bank on a weekly basis.’ Coupled with support from friends, family and customers, she was back to business. Not long after, a greater catastrophe struck, this was hellhole.
‘I just returned from class and one of my staff was chopping vegetables outside our kitchen. I struck the matchstick and the next thing I heard was Bwoom! It was an explosion and I was engulfed in the fire. The gas line had leaked without my knowing’ narrated Ifeoluwa.
She was placed under life support with a respirator for three days. She had to remain in the hospital in what seemed like the most trying challenge of her life.
Never saying never
“The two workers I had then were quite new to the business because I had just laid off the previous ones due to dishonesty. On the fourth day when the respirator was removed, I got hold of my phone and despite the risk of getting infected as my fire burns were fresh; I started making calls and giving instructions to my staff” explains Ife. Although she was in excruciating pains, business had to continue and it did.
“I knew if I died then, I died as a general. I died doing what I loved the most.” Ife further states. Yet the nurses who were tending to her didn’t find her bravely and passion comprehensible, to them it was plain folly. “When the nurses reported me to the doctor, the doctor understood the passion that flowed between me and my business and let me continue on the grounds that since I have lost my beauty, maybe my passion could heal me emotionally,” she says.
It had been two years since the fire accident, her hands and legs are still evidences of the damage, yet her heart is stronger and her face is completely healed (almost so).
Skill is not the problem, character is
Ife had employed several employees over the course of her years in business. Probably one of the most frequent things she had done second to innovating and growth is ‘hiring and firing.’ The most recent case being her firing of two employees just one week before our interview.
Ifeoluwa’s experience has taught her the importance of delegation and the beauty of employment, especially for those in the food business. She laments that part of the challenges that skilled people have is that they are usually not as passionate about the business as the entrepreneur.
She emphatically states that “Not all of them are trust worthy and 9 of every 10 just want to come around and steal as much as they can from the business.”
“Skill has never been the problem, attitude is the challenge. If you have 10 employees who have a rare blend of attitude and skills, you’re one of the world’s best small businesses” concludes ifeoluwa.
The making of an outstanding Student Entrepreneur
There are only a few persons who are in a better position to answer the question on the making of a successful student entrepreneur than Ifeoluwa Olatayo, having graduated the second best student in her department.
Ife believes that the making of a successful student entrepreneur is first above all else dependent on passion. “You must be passionate about the business you’re starting or else you’ll run out of energy and give up” says Ife. “Passion is what you need to start your business not money. The last thing I want to hear is that business start-up is hampered because of absence of funds, that’s babble! Even if you want to start a business of making cars, you can first sell sachet water to get the needed capital. I sold Etisalat SIM cards on the street during vacations to get money to start and expand my business.”
Then you’ll have to schedule your time more effectively. “Being a campus entrepreneur for me also meant that I had little time for friends. There is no time for peddling rumours, gossiping. In fact, I have just two friends till date.”
‘Get ready for copycats’ was her concluding advice for campus entrepreneurs. “If you’re doing something different and relatively new like I’m doing, you should be prepared for copycats who you would just like to replicate exactly what you’re doing because they have some idle funds. But keep innovating, growing and staying ahead of your game; soon enough, they’ll realize they are just copycats.”
In the Future
Ifeoluwa is already drawing up a structure of a global business that will not only serve students but also serve working mothers, bachelors, busy executives and those who do not want to spend too much time in the kitchen.
“I see Soupah Kitchen as a global business, particularly for the developing economies. People should be able to pick up pre-cooked foods offs the shelf, microwave it and serve. We will start by serving the 36 states of Nigeria with cultural delicacies that are almost ready to be served” utters Ifeoluwa.
Having already won N1, 000, 000 from the First Bank of Nigeria Business Smart competition, she says ”When we are ready, investors will know.”
Ifeoluwa Olatayo can be reached at
SU Building, University of Ibadan,