Tope Akintayo. When I first met you, you used to be very much into journalism but recently I spoke with you and you said you were not really into that any longer. How did you transition from journalism into business and social entrepreneurship?
Temitope Awelewa. I believe that my primary school experience influenced my passion for journalism. I was a member of the press club, would be a part of the guys to read news on the assembly ground on Fridays… and immediately I gained admission into the university, the only thing that came to my mind was the press club. By giving my best service in the press club from day one I was able to become not just the Editor-in-Chief but the most popular Editor-in-Chief ever in the institution.
From the onset, I’ve had this ability to give my best to whatever I am doing. Then finishing school, I discovered my passion for community development. And to actually be successful in this field there’s a need for exposure, for people to know who you are.
So my game plan was to get on radio and through presenting I get to achieve that. My name began to sound familiar to people wherever it’s being mentioned. I was never interested in TV or I could have been on TV.
So now you use journalism as a fuel for the things you are doing, a means to an end. Is there a way that your background in journalism has helped you cope or get leverage in your other fields?
Journalism has helped me to learn the art of dealing with people. I’ve been able to deal with people that other people would have found difficult to deal with. And one of the people management insights I gained then was that you should learn to accept and respect people as they are. You can hardly change people, you can only learn to manage them and be able to cope with them for as long as you can both get whatever it is you needed from the relationship.
I believe this is something that my years as a journalist has taught me. I don’t think I can ever have issues dealing with people.
On Rising Above Limiting Realities
When I heard about Just Foody the first thing that came to my mind was the popular belief that the people of Ekiti are not cut out for or open to such systems, that there’s no market for this kind of technology yet…
Well, sometimes it’s the ideas that expose people. I can assure you that when the likes of Uber started, people weren’t exposed to the idea that you can be at the comfort of your house and still get a taxi. If you’ll just work on your idea, and with proper planning and the right techniques, the idea will sell itself and attract even the people that were initially either sceptical or indifferent.
Since we started Just Foody, we’ve had the people of this undermined State get used to ordering food in the comfort of their houses. By starting the company against all odds of scepticism we’ve been able to prove a point–that there’s a market in Ekiti in as much as you’re ready to sell. With the right mindset and skills, you can make a market of any place.
Of course, it used to be an accepted reality that Ekiti doesn’t have a market for certain setups, but we can’t always allow realities to set us back. If we’re always permitting negative realities to convince or compel us we won’t do anything. We have to always press on even in the face of those realities.
I don’t believe anything is impossible. Around the time we started working on the Ekiti Social Media Hangout, some guys came up with Ekiti Twitter Party. It became like a competition, people see it like that but I knew I wasn’t in competition with anybody.
By the way, Twitter is only a part of the social media world. The Twitter Party guys focused their attention on government officials for sponsorship. And some of the people working with me saw it as a challenge because they believed that the only way you can successfully pull any stunt of that magnitude in Ekiti is by getting the support of a number of government officials.
I never believed in any such thing, so it was never in my plan to meet any government official or politician to sponsor the Social Media Hangout because it will be hijacked as a political program.
So I told my team that there are a lot of ways we can go about this and eventually we had a successful event without the backing of any such sponsorship. At a point the Chief Press Secretary called me himself to offer support–it was totally unsolicited but still greatly appreciated.
So if your mind can achieve it and you believe you’re not in competition with anybody and you diligently work towards it, you’ll definitely get it done.
A way is always there that demands to be discovered. Until you discover this way it will remain dormant.
So the idea is that even though the reality cannot be taken away, it should still not stop you–
–The reality will always be there. Before and after you’ve either successfully gotten it done or failed to get it done. The reality was there when Uber stated that there’s a National Association of Transport Workers that wouldn’t allow you to run an independent transport system but the Uber guys found a way to break that barrier and now even the guys initially working for the public transport system are struggling to upgrade their cars so they can become Uber drivers.
Every idea is going to get met by a reality that needs to be broken into. I discovered that there is always a way around everything. It’s left for you to think about it and find it.
We were to pay ₦250,000 to Airboy and we’re charging ₦1000 for ticket sales. The event venue can contain a maximum of 150 people which means that we can only make a total of ₦150,000 of which not everyone will pay and even if everybody pays there’s still lightening, feeding and so many other things including the venue.
So I thought about the best way around it and I came upon the realization that being the festive December period, we could liaise with an hotel to package an event around Airboy–an even that would serve as both an after-party for our Social Media Hangout and an exclusive artiste night party for the hotel.
In return the hotel would pay us part of Airboy’s fee as well as accommodation for the artiste. We pitched it to three hotels and, mind you, we’ve already sent out an invite to Airboy and we kept following-up on the invite, even though we’ve not gotten an affirmative response from the hotels. Eventually one of the hotels jumped at the offer.
The point is that a way is always there that demands to be discovered. Until you discover this way it will remain dormant.
On Living the Dreams Others Cannot
You were talking about self-belief before we started recording. You said faith and belief in yourself is the strongest supporting force for achievement. I want you to talk a little bit more about that.
If nobody believed in you and you believe in yourself you’ll still achieve greatly but if the whole world believes in you and you don’t believe in yourself then you’ll get nowhere. If your belief system is strong then there’s nothing you won’t be able to achieve.
I like to think that the reason why so many people are not doing great things is not really that the great things are not possible but that a lot of people are just being limited by the belief that the things are impossible so that so few people are actually taking steps to do something.
That is it. A guy came to me immediately we launched Just Foody, he stared at me awkwardly for several seconds and eventually said, “Tope, you are living my dreams.” I asked what he meant and he said he had been thinking about and dreaming about online food delivery in Ekiti for many years. I’ve seen many more persons say the same thing and the common denominator of them all is inaction. They never took actions towards their thoughts and dreams.
One habit I love about myself is that whenever I have a new idea, I immediately design a graphic representation of it and put it on Facebook.
Yes yes. I remember you once advised me to do something like that for one of my ideas.
Yeah. The point is that by putting it on Facebook you automatically attract at least one person that is interested in the idea wanting to know more about it. In the process of telling the person more, you experience clarity and you become assured and motivated to do more. So, I don’t procrastinate.
When I first told people about the Ekiti Social Media Hangout idea, they came up with objections that it’s already close to the end of the year, that it would be better to have the event early next year. I replied, “No, we’ll have it this year.” And I fed them in all the plans I’ve already made.
That same night, I contacted the graphics designer to design fliers. Again, they were surprised and they suggested that we wait for next week when everyone must have thought through about the idea before proceeding to the graphics.
However, that same day, after they left, I got the graphics done and I started sending messages to prospective stakeholders, influential social media users. And one of them immediately sent the stunned emoji ???? to me, saying that he’s actually just getting involved in an exact idea and they are currently in the team building stage. But since we already started and he saw the graphics which means that my own idea is already stable, he agreed to join my train.
If I’d given in to any procrastinating suggestions I wouldn’t have been able to do anything. If an idea runs through your mind, be assured that there are hundreds of other people with that same idea. Maybe even with a better concept.
So you should always know that no idea comes full formed. If you’re thinking, “I have this idea and I have to bring everything together before I start.” Even if you have everything together before you start you’ll discover that there are still many things you are yet to consider. Therefore the best thing is whenever an idea comes, take action and everything will fall in life as time goes on.
On the Downside of Costing Ideas
One other thing. If you’re always thinking of how much your idea will cost you… I’m not a fan of you costing your ideas. If you cost your idea you may not start at all because if I had made a cost of how much it would take to have an online delivery food system, I won’t ever start because I’ll be very afraid.
Till now, we have spent an aggregate of 2.5 million on establishing Just Foody–from the radio publicity to the logistics and everything–but this 2.5 million is not a money I had when I started out.
We started with what we had and everything fell in place as we moved on. I realized that if I started costing the idea, if I was waiting for the money to be complete before I start, I won’t get to do anything.
In the process of looking for the money, someone else might start and the person will end up living your dream. You don’t need to have everything in place before taking the first step. In fact in the course of taking that step you might find other people who are interested in the idea and might join you in achieving it.
So many people have ideas they would like to implement but they never got the time to do it, they might find your platform as an avenue to do somethings.
On Shutting Down Negative Energies
One of the best things I have been able to achieve this year is shutting down the door on negative people. This is what negative people do: they look at the reasons why this thing cannot be done, they’ll tell you, “bros this thing, ah, don’t you think there is a challenge…” they make you see challenges and not opportunities. I shut the door against such people. But I have drawn myself closer to people with positive energy.
You talk about negative individuals but in any meaningful endeavour there are always one or two challenges. Do you ever visualize challenges, how do you deal with the visualized challenges, and do you ever feel fear at the beginning of any project?
I feel fear. But the fear I have is the fear of the project failing because I did not put in my best. So the fear actually pushes me to do more not to run away from doing.
I think this is what we should learn to do, to get used to the kind of fear that pushes you to do your best and not the kind that pulls you out of action.
I told you about my deal with Airboy, he’s yet to agree but I’m already we’re already pushing the publicity. So, the only reality now is this whole Airboy thing is already out there and people are expectant, and I don’t want to disappoint people, and I have to do everything I need to do to make sure that Airboy eventually shows up.
So, my only fear is always that of not being able to put in my own part. I don’t exactly fear that the business will fail because of some external realities, but that the business might fail because I haven’t put in my best.
About the obstacle and challenges, of course I know that in every idea, there are probable obstacles. So, I actually make a list of all the possibilities and impossibilities and I try to find ways to work around them and turn them into possibilities. I know that when you think about the possibilities long enough in a creative and not destructive ways, the possibilities hidden in them would be unmasked.
Apart from this helping you achieve what you want to achieve it will also bring out your uniqueness. For while people are seeing and being discouraged by the impossible, you’ve already seen it and worked around it to bring out the possible.
You mentioned that you have spent up to 2.5 million on Just Foody till date, and I’m sure you might not have made up to that in profit or revenue yet. How were you able to stomach the fact that for the first few months and perhaps years of the business you might not make up to what you have spent on it?
Well, I already had that in mind before the start of the business. We already set our mind on the fact that we’re investing and we have a time limit for it. I did not set my mind to make millions in the first year. It’s a strange idea in a strange land, and I’m pleased with the turn out so far but I have never expected a quick return on investment. It’s only gradual growth.
I was told the story of a man who started an eatery and for the first year they did not sell more that a few plates of food per day. Which means their foods were always wasting. The period of low turn-out is your trying time, it’s only for a while and it will never come back again. Many businesses fold up during this period but if you’re able to push through that period with persistence and consistency, you’ll hit the gold.
The man did not stop making meals for his eatery, he ensured that any time the few people that buys from him comes they always have something to eat. He did not want to give a negative impression to people.
Reminds me of what someone once told me. He said, “Temitope, we have only been giving you little support and you’re doing all these great things. Imagine what you’ll do with great support.” That made me realize that people want to be sure you can deliver with only a little support. Once they see that you can deliver with just a few support, they’ll then go all in to support you, because they know you won’t waste their support. People want to be sure that their support are well utilized and not wasted.
What would you say has been your most profitable personal attribute?
I work with and help people to achieve their dreams because I realized that the more I help people the more I help myself. Without me asking for it, the people I help are usually indebted to me and are always ready to help when I have my own things to do.
I have developed this kind of relationship with my employees that if there ever come a month that there is little revenue to satisfy the payroll, and I have to tell them to walk home with nothing, these guys will actually be okay with that and they’ll still put in their best. This is because of the relationship I have built with them, and the value I offer them besides the monthly pay.
I also do not allow people’s actions to affect my reactions to them. Even if you have offended me, I won’t act negatively toward you. I try as much as possible to wish everyone the best, I don’t see myself as competing with anyone. I don’t run in anybody’s space, I run in my own space.