24 February 2018

Nigeria: Seyi Banigbe

interview

Seyi Banigbe describes herself as a multi-faceted woman who is passionate about Nigerian women being financially empowered alongside living their dreams. A trained lawyer with an MBA from the Imperial College, London, she worked in several capacities before venturing into the entrepreneurial world. Now the owner of three thriving start-ups, she is wearing another hat, this time as a producer and host of a TV Talkshow- Binging With GameChangers. She tells Tobi Awodipe of her move from Law to business, her new talk show, running three businesses at the same time and her secret to staying successful

Tell us about yourself and your professional background

I am a trained lawyer with an MBA from the Imperial College London. I obtained my Law degree (LLB) from the University of Lagos (Unilag) and was thereafter called to the Nigerian Bar. I am a certified member of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) UK and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) UK. I started my legal career working for many years in the Tax and Corporate Advisory unit of PricewaterHouseCoopers Nigeria and thereafter became Company Secretary/Head, Legal of an indigenous oil and gas firm. I have always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit and, as a result, I started and currently oversee three businesses in Nigeria. The first and most popular being Bland2Glam, a jewellery brand that I believe has revolutionised jewellery design and retail across Nigeria. The second business is Nibo&Tac, a corporate/commercial law firm that provides legal advisory & support services to large companies and SMEs; third business is Deterge Nigeria Limited, an organization that specializes in creating awareness about the resulting hazards of using dirty water dispensers alongside providing professional dispenser cleaning/repair services to homes and corporate organisations across Nigeria. I've recently delved into television, producing and hosting a talk show called Binging with GameChangers, which delves into the minds and perspectives of people with celebrated brands and careers to enable people learn from their journey and be inspired to do likewise. The Talkshow airs on Africa Magic Family and on YouTube @B2Gnetwork.

You started out with law. When and why did you decide to go into entrepreneurship?

I still practice law but I actually started my entrepreneurial journey right from the university where I sold clothes, shoes and accessories to my hall mates. I honestly can't remember a time since I graduated from the university when I have not been busy exploring a business idea or growing a business. I'll ascribe my knack for entrepreneurship first to my mum, seeing her juggle her job and businesses while growing definitely stirred up something in me. It told me that if at anytime, I wasn't comfortable with my earning power, I have all it takes to turn things around. I'll also say that my desire to cause change in my society and in people's lives, has also made me venture into a whole lot of things that I may have never ventured into.

You now have three successful businesses. Take us through your journey starting the first and how did you raise capital to start out?

The first 'structured' business I started was Deterge, a company that specializes in cleaning and disinfecting water dispensers for homes and offices while raising awareness on the dangers of using dirty water dispensers. I started this company due to my inability to easily find a company that was willing to come over to my house to professionally clean my water dispenser. I was very eager to get my dispenser cleaned because I had just delivered my first baby and I was instructed at the hospital not to ingest anything unhealthy, as this would affect my baby's health. You can then imagine the rage I felt as a "first-time-mum" trying to save her newborn from ingesting bad water from our dirty dispenser at home and not being able to find any firm to help. Manufacturers of water dispensers always state in the manual that water dispensers must be cleaned every quarter to eliminate the presence of bacteria in the water being dispensed from the dispensers. Being mindful of this, I went ahead to get trained on how to clean and disinfect a water dispenser; hired one staff and we started servicing our clients together. We now have about 500 clients ranging from offices, churches, schools and residential apartments. I started Deterge and Bland2Glam while I worked my 9 to 5 job so I simply used my salary to start these businesses.

What is the worst moment you have faced business-wise, what are the challenges you face and how are you overcoming them?

I'll say my worst moment in business would be being lied to and stolen from by staff, especially when such acts are perpetrated by staff that you like and have been very good to. I can't say my challenges with staff have been fully overcome but things are definitely getting better every day. I'm overcoming these issues by creating processes, procedure and structure around every company activity, most especially with my unskilled staff. I endeavour to remain good to people, no matter what; and I ensure to hire people with their job description in view as I believe work is a lot easier when people are naturally inclined or trained to fit a certain role.

What has been the highlight for you so far?

There have been so many highlights for me in business but one that stands out is the process of establishing a full-fledged legal practice in Nigeria. Considering the weight of importance ascribed to legal advice/support provided on transactions and/or to organisations, an unusual level of care and professionalism had to go into selecting my partners and the legal team that would effectively support the firm's vision which is to provide premium and affordable corporate/commercial law services to SMEs and high net-worth firms alike. Merging the vision with the right people, location and structure was sort of a herculean task for me at the time, but I'm thankful we are now established with several happy clients and retainerships.

Jewellery wearing is not new to Nigerian women, so what edge has Bland2Glam brought into this industry?

Bland2Glam's edge has to be our ability to design jewellery that is specific to the needs/feedback from our clients, also bearing in mind the peculiar fashion inclinations of the African woman. We're proud to not just retail jewellery but to also create our own exclusive jewellery designs which we have found to do exceptionally well across Nigeria and even in foreign countries. I almost passed out the first time we got an order from a white British person. We're pretty used to that now though. Designing our own jewellery gives us the opportunity to specify the type of material used to produce them and this helps to ensure our products come out beautiful yet strong enough to withstand the harsh weather conditions in Nigeria. Another edge might also be our fast-growing network of retail partners. Even though we're primarily an online store, we have formed partnerships with key premium brands such as SPAR, Grey Velvet, Elan Red and 41 Luxe who jointly have footprint across many states in Nigeria. These partnerships enable us to reach folks who are not online so they can also get to enjoy and experience our products.

What do you enjoy most about being a business owner?

The flexibility it affords me to live my dreams and add value to my society is what I love most about being a business owner.

How does your background in law help with your business building?

My legal background enables me stay mindful of terms and conditions surrounding relationships/transactions entered into by any of my companies and this helps minimize loss/failure in such instances.

In your opinion, do you think enough women are going down the entrepreneurial path and how can more women become successful entrepreneurs?

A lot of women are taking the entrepreneurial path but I don't think it is a path made for only women. I believe that if anyone, male or female, has a passion to start a business or earn extra income, he/she should embrace entrepreneurship and get enough knowledge to enable him/her succeed at it. Women and even men can become successful entrepreneurs by learning to persevere. Most businesses have cycles and grow at different rates. It is important that entrepreneurs are able to quickly determine the viability of a business and thereafter build the business patiently and consistently till the desired growth level is reached.

Do you think the government is doing enough in terms of supporting start-ups? What more can they do to support start-ups and SMEs especially fashion related ones?

I think the government can do a lot more to support start-ups. Providing better access to interest-free loans alongside providing proper business education and supervision to recipients of such loans, will help give a lot of people a good start in business, this also includes fashion related businesses. Selling fashion consistently can be one of the hardest things to do, so a lot of education is needed in this area as well as other business areas.

How do you juggle running several businesses at the same time?

I have a good team of staff and partners that I work with; this makes all the difference because there is only so much one person can do. I will only take credit for creating and sustaining a great team.

What is your secret to staying successful?

I have to say God first and also my ability to consistently innovate, research and ask for help.

What would you tell other women that intend to have successful businesses like yours, especially in these difficult financial times?

I'll say stop dreaming and talking and just start with whatever you have.

Who do you look up to and what keeps you going?

I look up to a lot of people and I won't have enough space if I started listing names. I'll just say I like Joyce Meyer a lot. The love and passion for what I do keep me going. The fact that the livelihood of people and families are dependent on the success of what I do, also inspires me to keep going, no matter what.

Where do you see yourself personally and professionally in the next couple years?

I see myself solving more national problems and possibly global problems as well.

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