The coin was flipped on Florence Chikezie today. Florence Chikezie has always enjoyed putting people on the spot with her Facebook live sessions. So today Ayodeji Agboola and the ReDahlia team decided to plan a ‘coup’ against her.
Florence Chikezie is experienced with building businesses from ground up and has enjoyed her behind the scene moments but it is time for people to know the face behind the brand ReDahlia and other products. Her story is one of inspiration, a typical example of building your passion into enterprise.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Florence Chikezie.
What inspired you to start your business journey?
While growing up, I had wanted to be a medical doctor. When that didn’t work out for me because of personal reasons, I had to turn to the only other thing I know I do well – business. I had to go do a PGD in management and went ahead to get a master’s in international business from Hult.
Was becoming a doctor ‘Florence Chikezie’ desire or your parents’?
My desire to become a doctor was because I did so well in secondary school both in the arts and in the sciences. We also always had that misconception that intelligent people did sciences. So I majored in the sciences. And, of course, what else would one like to become than a doctor?
Didn’t you find it hard to leave that dream behind to go into a postgraduate degree in business?
This is one of the best things that happened to me because I am happy. I really was blindly pursuing being a doctor. When I got into school, it was to read veterinary science. From that first year till I graduated, I wrote JAMB just to get into medical school. I got admissions into two schools but they weren’t the ones I wanted.
While in veterinary science, I did an internship. I found out that whenever we were in the operating room, the chemicals used in the procedures were off-putting to me, so much so that I wouldn’t breathe properly. There was no way I was going to be a medical doctor if I couldn’t stand the smell of drugs. When I came back to school, I didn’t know what to do next. I kept asking myself, Florence Chikezie, what are you going to do with your life?
I was in class one day, and a pathology lecturer mentioned that a certain former schoolmate of ours was now a bank manager. That was curious. How could someone go from veterinary science to the bank? I had to wait all day in front of his office to get more information about what he said. He told me that a switch is possible with a PGD in arts. From then on till graduation, I made sure never to get a B in any course I took. I studied so hard just so I would get out.
Business came naturally because right from childhood, I had always been helping my father out in his own business.
Tell us about your masters programme
I never joked with the PGD programme when I got admitted into the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus. Nothing else mattered to me apart from my studies. I was actually the smallest in my class (I think I was 22 or 23). In the end, I had a very good result – 4.87 GPA. That’s part of the reasons Hult accepted me. From then, I already had it in mind that I wanted to do business, though I didn’t know exactly what business it would be. But it propelled me to keep saving.
My masters was in London; some modules I did in the US. Apart from the studies, I learnt culture. I learnt how to relate to people and more. I learnt how to stretch myself and what I could do and couldn’t. Going to a place where I had no one, I toughened up.
What was the hardest experience while in business school?
Well, firstly, I lived far away from school. Then I had to mingle and understand how things worked. Also, understanding their style of teaching and learning was a challenge. The experience improved my writing too. I remember the first assignment I did, only to be included in the list of students who plagiarised their work. The problem was that I didn’t give credit to my sources. From then on, I took plagiarism seriously for redahlia.com and entrepreneurs.ng.
After business school and before you started ReDahlia, what did you do?
I went for a lot of interviews, even while in school. I sent out a lot of CVs, contacted a lot of people for opportunities. One thing the exposure did for me was to take away fear. If I imagined it, I went out to get it done. If I thought a Tony Elumelu was a possibility to work with, I’d google him, find a way and contact him. I got a lot of interview opportunities that way. When I came back to Nigeria, my father convinced me to work with him. It was good to use the knowledge acquired to improve the family business in terms of structure.
How was the separation when you moved away from your father’s business?
I still go from time to time to my father’s company to intervene when needed. But I didn’t plan on leaving. I wasn’t supposed to run ReDahlia full-time. Circumstances demanded that I did. Coming to Lagos in 2016 was that I packed a bag to stay in Lagos for two weeks. I ended up staying for one year. Because of this, I became easily recognised on the streets because I was wearing the same clothes and hair for a long time.
In running a business, you have to take ownership. My plan was to have someone to take charge of the project, finish it and eventually run it. But the lesson that I learnt when I came for two weeks was that to succeed in business, you need to take ownership of it at the starting stage. This is to be able to input things that would resonate with your brand. For us, we weren’t setting up just a buying-and-selling business. We were setting up a brand, and the brand initiator needs to be there to ensure things work properly and infuse the culture you want for the brand.
I was supposed to go back home after two weeks. In fact, I received a lot of calls from home to come back. I really wanted to go back especially since it hadn’t been planned for me to be away for more than two weeks. But I kept explaining knowing that I had invested so much into building ReDahlia Workspaces. Eventually, I felt it was time for me to build my own identity. There was a lot of structure in place that the business can work well if I step back. My dad is a shrewd businessman. Most of the things I employ in running ReDahlia I learnt from him. I knew things would be fine.
What can people who want to start a business do to turn their passion into an enterprise?
The first thing is to recognise that thing that you can do effortlessly. It may be braiding hair, cooking, writing, drawing. Think about it and develop it – you can’t do things haphazardly, you need to be good at it. There are a lot of tools to help you grow; free online resources to learn with. Examples are Udemy, learner.com.ng (this is a platform where people can learn the skills they need. It can be website building or how to sew in 30 days). There are tons of other resources online that you can learn from.
Passion is important but passion is not enough. Passion keeps you moving because you are in love with what you are doing. Even when you hit bottom, you can still stand up. Once you identify your passion, look at your network and tap into them. Look at your daily activities; they should be geared toward this passion. Most times, people complain of a lack of capital. But this is not the biggest problem in starting a business. You can start with little capital (depending on the kind of business you want to venture into) and play into your network – family and friends.
After starting, make sure to put a structure to it. Don’t just make it a side hustle that doesn’t matter. Build a brand that people will be willing to pay for. For example, do a business registration for your business and if possible trademark your brand. Putting a structure makes you remain in business. There are some contracts that you will need structure and recognition to secure.
The importance of business structure
If you are a business owner, say a hair-maker, get a business name and make sure it is available. Register the name with the Corporate Affairs Commission. In fact, you can do this with ReDahlia.
After registration, work on your business visibility. It doesn’t matter that you are shy. People want to identify with the person behind the brand. Come out and market your brand. Keep learning ways to grow your brand. Social media helps in this aspect.
I remember how shy I used to be but not anymore. We have a valid business that is dedicated to being everything to the entrepreneur. We cannot invest this and I will hide under the umbrella that I am shy. I am my own brand ambassador; for ReDahlia Workspaces, for our virtual office services, For Entrepreneurs.ng and our consulting arm.
Another key thing in building a structure is the separation of personal finance from the business’ finances. I am separate from ReDahlia. You have to put yourself on a salary, otherwise, you will spend the business money buying personal things. The company’s bank account is separate from the business owner’s.
Do with all your heart whatever your hand findeth to do
I’d like to add that not everyone is called to be an entrepreneur. I have to say this always. Don’t let someone shame you with working for another person. Many people cannot thrive in entrepreneurship.
Be happy with the 9-to-5 so long as you enjoy your work. But if you’re an entrepreneur, remember to handle your finances well, structure things, make good use of your network, and bootstrap.
Don’t outsource tasks that can be done in-house. Also, remember to step out there to market your business. The people you are working with need to see how passionate you are to be able to be passionate themselves.
Florence Chikezie Award
Best Nigerian Business Support Platform By Technology Innovator Awards 2020
Most Innovative Entrepreneurial Services Firm Award by Technology Innovator Awards
Thank you Florence Chikezie for telling a bit of your story. Florence Chikezie is one of the ladies that I have great admiration for. You can’t help but fall in love with Florence Chikezie, when you see the way she makes this entrepreneurial journey appear so easy. Another thing I love about Florence Chikezie is that she is so humble and down to earth.