“Don’t go into any business just because of money” – How Ifeyinwa Ojekwe built the brilliant AJALI skincare

Ifeyinwa Ojekwe
Ifeyinwa Ojekwe: If I didn’t give it my all I’d never know how big it could be Click To Tweet

With businesses I admire I always wonder, how did they start? How did they figure out the right products and how the heck did they get a storefront so early? Catching up with Ifeyinwa Ojekwe, founder of AJALI answered these questions.

AJALI is an all-natural, completely handmade cosmetics brand established in 2013 to promote local industry and create awareness for living a healthy life. I tried their products at She Hive London and fell in love, I’ve not looked back since.

How did AJALI start?

AJALI was founded in 2013. I got really sick when I moved back to Nigeria and made the decision to live a cleaner life. I went natural and started doing research into natural cosmetics. At the time, there was body shop in Nigeria, and when I did more research it wasn’t as natural as I expected, so I kept looking for an alternative but didn’t find something I liked, so I did some DIY.

The first thing I tried to make was my body souffles, and my family started to ask about it. So I began making it for friends and family, and then my church had an exhibition and the rest was history. It started off really organic (no pun intended!), it started as a hobby and four years later here we are.

How did you make the transition from employee to entrepreneur?

I worked at Chevron and Ernst & Young when I moved back to Nigeria, and then I landed my dream job at Today’s Woman. I only quit my job in 2015 – 2 years after AJALI started. Throughout all those job changes, I found that AJALI was the only constant, the only passion throughout that time. If felt like if I didn’t give it my all I’d never know how big it could be.

It got to a point where I couldn’t manage both, I couldn’t handle the business coming in. I was a one-person operation at that time, I was doing absolutely everything myself and I needed to give it 100%. Several times along the journey, I was frustrated and wanted to quit but I was surrounded by so many good people to encourage me and give me pep talks when I needed one.

A major turning point for me was when I was on holiday in London and EbonyLife reached out and said they wanted to give me an award. I thought it was a scam – so I sent them to my mom’s office and a whole camera crew turned up! That was in 2014, I won the Best Nigeria Made Product of the Year and something told me to keep pushing on, to give it my best and keep on keeping on.

At first, my family was sceptical, they questioned whether I really thought it through, especially with the recession in Nigeria. But I resolved that this was what I truly wanted to do, and I’d give it my best shot.

What were your biggest investments in AJALI?

When I decided to be full time, I decided that I needed a physical store to take me where I wanted to go. I had success with my online store and going to trade shows, but people really wanted to come and pick up our products.

So I started looking for a space to make things look more professional. Luckily from my job at Today’s Woman, I had some media and press contacts so was able to get buzz around my the launch of my store on 1 November 2015. At the time, it was a 2 bedroom BQ (boy’s quarters) where I did everything – the office, production, and the selling. I hired a beautician to do treatments as I had some extra space and we were off. On the launch day, we had nearly 200 people and I sold more that night that I had sold in the two years prior.

That was the first time I believe it could actually work. I hired my first sales assistant around December 2016. I’ve taken my time, it’s all privately funded by myself, family and friends along the way, so I have to be very careful with resources. Everything goes back to be being invested in the business.

I also focused on improving the quality of the business, the logistics, the operations for shipping, and delivery. I’ve also expanded my product range as time went on and invested in serious marketing to legitimise the brand. Before I started, I took a year to educate myself on various ingredients and test products with real users, friends, and family. I’m always looking for new things we could do, and because my passion is living a naturally healthy life, it is second nature.

Do something that you are passionate about but make sure it makes business sense Click To Tweet

What advice would you give to help someone build a successful business?

1. Do something that you are passionate about but make sure it makes business sense. You need to test whether you’re actually going to make money – is this something you’re going to live off of? If you’re going to have a sustainable business you need to have that research.

2. You don’t have to do everything yourself, though. I use freelance websites to make logos, improve my website and do other graphic design. Make sure you have mentors around you, people who can support you – someone you look up to who you can pick their brain and get their advice from. So try to build up your network, if you don’t know where to start, start in places like SLA and educate yourself

3. Be ready for the journey. Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur, be a risk taker, willing to work later, and pay less until you reach that sweet-spot in your enterprise.

4. Have a plan. I always feel like a hypocrite but it’s worth taking the time to plan for your business. Having learned from my experience with AJALI, all my future ventures will be clearly planned from day one. Going forward, all my future ventures I see the value in having a business plan and actually doing the planning from day one.

5. You need to invest in the right team of people. The biggest thing young entrepreneurs struggle with is talent because we can’t always afford the talent we need. If you are going to invest in anything invest in the right people. Empower your team with responsibility so that they can focus on the strategic work. Do not expect to do everything yourself, learn to delegate.

6. Don’t go into any business just because of money. For most entrepreneurs, it takes a while before you are really making anything. I didn’t pay myself a salary until January 2016 – nearly 3 years after we launched. This is why you need to have passion, it’s the only thing that will keep you going. Luckily, I had a few other side hustles to supplement my income, but all my savings went into having the physical store and updating the website. Ultimately, I have a lot of faith in God that everything I need will be provided for, so I try not to worry about it too much.

What’s next for AJALI?

Right now we’re expanding into home fragrances and products for men, two key areas that people have been asking for and looking for. So by the end of this quarter, we should have a few new products.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Find out more about AJALI on Instagram and on their website.

Giving it 110%: How to be a fitness entrepreneur and slay in your tech job at Google

bami bam bam boogie fitness entrepreneur
Bami, founder of Bam Bam Boogie has created a global operation from a ‘side hustle’ Click To Tweet

Imagine working at Google and trailblazing your very own dance fitness sensation. That’s what founder of Bam Bam Boogie, Bami is doing.

In less than a year, this Google marketing specialist and fitness entrepreneur has run fitness classes in Brazil, London, Vegas, Texas, Toronto, and Dublin. Talk about major multi-tasking and creating a global operation from a ‘side hustle’.

SLA contributor Abiola caught up with Bami to find out just how the heck she has achieved all of this in such a short space of time, and how this is only just the beginning.

Tell us about Bam Bam Boogie (BBB) and how you got started

Bam Bam Boogie is an Afro-Caribbean-inspired dance workout that pairs traditional fitness movements with authentic Afro-Caribbean dance styles to the beat of contemporary afrobeats, dancehall, reggaeton, soca, and hip-hop. We foster an environment of diversity and inclusivity: anyone and everyone is welcome at Bam Bam Boogie.

It all started following a rough time I was going through at the end of 2015. I’d just returned to the UK after my first ever trip back to my ‘homeland’ Nigeria, and although it was an amazing experience, I had a strong sense of emptiness. While ‘going back’ helped me see where I came from, there was still something missing and I couldn’t work out what. Something felt like it just didn’t fit. So after some soul-searching, and that took the form of working out. But being at the gym was so mundane, and it felt like you needed to look a certain way to fit in.

And that’s how BBB was born. I wanted to create a space where people who may not feel 100% confident in the gym, can workout, be free and have fun while doing it. So that’s what I did, and very quickly, it became the most popular Googler-led class at my work gym. (Googler is Google-speak for someone who works at the firm!).

Afro-Caribbean dance at Google? Find out how this woman makes it all work #TeamBoogie Click To Tweet

How did you get your firm to support the BBB movement, and keep supporting it even a year later?

We started as a diversity initiative to generate awareness, celebrate cultures and break down stereotypes in the workplace. That was our USP and it helped me to get buy-in and continued support from my firm. I only had to convince a handful of important people and from there the news spread like wildfire. There’s nothing like word of mouth. Very soon other teams and managers were asking for Bam Bam Boogie conferences and team events!

It’s a fun and easily accessible way to start an important conversation and I think that’s why the firm is so supportive. It strongly reflects their “bring your whole self to work” perspective.

What have been the highlights in taking BBB from some classes in Ireland to around the world?

It’s always amazing when I take BBB to other countries and people find out that I live in Ireland. They look puzzled, first they think, ‘where is that?’ and second, ‘there are African people there?’ It makes me proud to be able to represent the diaspora through BBB.

I loved taking the class to Toronto because that’s where I grew up and become heavily involved in Afro-Carribean culture. Everyone back home was super proud and supporting, and #TeamBoogie Toronto wish they could do classes weekly! I also loved doing it in Vegas because – it’s Vegas right? Everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas so I guess that’s all I can say about that workshop!

Finally, Sao Paulo was a major highlight because it was my first time in Brazil. The energy was amazing Brazilians can really move – they even taught me a move or two! I loved explaining the concept to Afro-Brazilians because they were so impressed to see someone who looked like them bringing their passions to the corporate world and thriving in both aspects. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

How do you get so many diverse collaborations and how have they helped your brand?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with lots of different growing brands around the world such as blktckt concept online magazine (USA), u-wantit.com (Nigeria), Organo (USA), Kemetic Knowledge (USA) and Put Power (Canada).

I’ve been able to do this mainly through my network and very open personality. Yes, BBB is a brand, but it is an extension of my personality. I have made this very clear from the start, so within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone, I have already told them about BBB. This helps a lot with word of mouth because it means I’ll always be top of mind. I also I seek out opportunities for myself using social media. I’ll search up relevant hashtags for example “#ukurbanwear” and I will slide into their DMs to see how we can add value to each other’s brands. I like to support brands I believe in especially if they have an ethos that supports Afro-Caribbean Culture.

These collaborations have helped add credibility to my brand as when people see these interviews, blogs, and videos they get to see the entrepreneurial side of BBB. The fact that it’s not just a dance fitness movement but a community used for empowerment and support.

How do you balance a high-powered corporate career with entrepreneurship?

Calculate how many hours you have in a day and break it up according to daily/weekly priorities. #productivity Click To Tweet

Balancing the two is never easy, and some weeks it feels like a 50/50 split in dedication, other times it feels like 110/110 and I’m burning out at both ends. But if you’re passionate you just have to keep pushing. My top 3 tips would be:

  1. Calculate how many hours you have in a day and break it up according to daily/weekly priorities. For example, I know that from the second I wake up I have 16 hours in my day (8 for work hours, 2 for travel time, 3 for eating). That leaves me with 3 hours so then I assign myself a 3 hour task of 3 x 1 hour blocks throughout my day to get it done.
  2. Use your “spare time” to listen to relevant audiobooks. During my lunch and daily commutes I try my best to listen to an audiobook or podcast related to personal-development, whether it be the latest of #AskGaryVee Podcast or an Inspirational Audiobook. This gives you the drive and knowledge you need to get through the toughest of times.
  3. Share your passion with your peers but don’t overshare. Let your colleagues know what you’re up to so they can support you in your endeavours. Bear in mind that they are a key part of your network and will be understand when you can’t make team events because you’re working on something. But be careful not to overshare, though, because not everyone has the same entrepreneurial passion and they could find it overbearing.

What’s most challenging about being an entrepreneur?

The most challenging thing and what most people won’t tell you about is the loneliness. Because social media is so carefully curated to only show the glamorous parts of our lives, it’s easy to forget the grit and elbow grease that it takes to make things a success.

There are periods of time where you need to isolate yourself from friends and family to get work done. I’ve missed out on countless social events and vacations in order to save money or work on a particular project that needed to be completed by the deadline. A wise woman once told me that “there is a price to pay for everything in life” and as an entrepreneur, you pay that price many times to make your vision a reality.

The most challenging thing and what most people won’t tell you about is the loneliness. Click To Tweet

What would you say to someone who has an idea but isn’t sure where to start?

Do a bit of market research (but not too much that it demotivates you), the easiest way is to do this is to use your network to find someone who is in the industry you want to get into. Ask them relevant questions about their journey and any advice they would give their former self.

Listen attentively, take notes, set yourself one actionable goal from this meeting and achieve it within the next 7 days. It sounds cliche but “just do it”. Let go of what people may think of you, 9/10 times they are just projecting their own fears onto you. You’ve got this!

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Follow Bam Bam Boogie on Instagram and look out for an event in your city.