Welcome to another edition of the Unusual Entrepreneur Interviews and today I am very honoured to have gotten this Unusual Entrepreneur in question. He’s been one of my friends online since 2008, we met when he was still an employee and he shared his entrepreneurial dream with me. Today, I am glad he is making that dream a reality!
If you are just joining us for the first time, this is the unusual entrepreneur interview series. It is a parade of unusual entrepreneurs who are changing the world and profiting from purpose. Profiting from purpose by changing the world isn’t an impossible dream as many tend to think of it, but a realistic one as many unusual entrepreneurs have extraordinarily proven. Click here to read more unusual entrepreneur interviews.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
Interview Questions Part One
ENTREPRENEURSHIP – Awakening the Spirit of business
1. Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your business? What do you do? How do you do it? Why do you do it and who do you do it for?
I am Babatunde Oladele. I am a native of Usi Ekiti, Ido-Osi LGA of Ekiti State, Nigeria. I’m a graduate of English Literature. I also have a Master degree in Communications & Language Arts, both from the University of Ibadan. In addition, I am an alumnus of the School of Media & Communications (SMC) as well as Enterprise Development Centre (EDC), both of the Pan African University, where I did a certificate course in Advanced Writing & Reporting Skills (AWAReS) and Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management (CEM) programme respectively.
I am the Chief Responsibility Officer at The Ready Writers Consult, a company that provides professional Research, Writing, Editing, Publishing, Training and Consultancy services to corporate and individuals.
The Ready Writers Consult was set up to offer convenience to individuals and corporate concerns by taking up their research, writing, and editorial inconveniences, so that they could have time to do more in the areas of their core competence. We also aspire to curb the rate of ideas mortality and increase the rate of structured expressions in the society. The truth is, ideas and insights come to us all in a flicker of seconds, but if not documented, they disappear into oblivion with greater speed than they came.
Worse, still, if not documented with apposite words or presented in the right way, they end up communicating an entirely wrong message, rather than what the writer meant to say, to the audience; thus alienating the readers from the writer – a very sad phenomenon. These are the problems we set out to solve for individuals and corporate organisations in Nigeria and beyond.
2. How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey into the world of business? Where there any key incidents or life changing events that inspired your decision to become an entrepreneur?
Actually, while I was an undergraduate, I had always fancied that I would run my own business some day. I was what you would call a high-flyer while on campus. I was involved in several extra-curricular activities right from my 100 Level. At a time, I was the President of my Department’s students association, Editor-in-Chief of my hostel’s press club (IndyPress Organisation), PRO of the Union of Campus Journalists (UCJ), as well as Chairman of the Organising Committee of National Association of Students of English & Literary Studies; all of these were in a particular academic session!
There were times I wondered if I wasn’t being stupid getting involved in so many extra-curricular stuff. But I love being active and I was having fun doing all I was doing. These engagements really stretched me and afforded me a lot of exposures that I wouldn’t have if I had been a triangular student, who only does the round of lectures, library and fellowship. I thank God that I still graduated with a 2:1 at the end of the day. English is a course that is very demanding, as you get to read a lot of books. Particularly in the Literature courses, you have to read several prose, drama and poetry for comparative analysis. But all of these have proved really invaluable to me in what I do now.
I graduated from University of Ibadan (UI) brimming with confidence. I wanted to start a writing and publishing company then. But I didn’t have the funding required to start up. So I accepted an appointment and worked as PA to Mrs Ibukun Awosika of The Chair Centre Group for some years, whilst not taking my eyes off my aspiration. After about seven years of working, I became tired of the rat race of shuttling to and from Lekki every day. I told my principal that I wanted to resign and start out on my own. But she would not have it. She encouraged me instead to continue at my job and pursue my dream by the side.
Since I didn’t want to leave on a negative note, I decided to heed her counsel and continued with the job. I talked to a number of my friends who had a flair for writing and we started The Ready Writers Consult in my sitting room in May 2009. Eventually, two of them came aboard as fulltime staff, whilst the rest of us worked part time. But, as the demands for our services continued to grow through the months, I couldn’t cope with holding down two jobs again. So I had to inform my boss again that I needed to leave. That was in mid-2010. By this time, we had an office on CMD Road, Magodo, Lagos, and we were growing a comfortable list of clientele. After the formality of resignation and handing over, I eventually left my salary job in July 2010 and resumed full-time at TRW Consult in August 2010.
3. When you started out in business, what specific idea, purpose or vision was your key driving force?
The idea of starting a writing and editing company actually came to me in 2003. And I already had the name, The Ready Writers, since then. But, it was not incorporated until 2009. And, as I mentioned earlier, I did not have the wherewithal to start a business then, so it remained a burning idea through the years.
Now, to what led to it, I love writing and I love to read good pieces of writing too. But, these days, almost every page you open you see reveals a lot of substandard usage and improperly written expressions there. Those naturally get to me. And I wanted to do something about it. Besides, I also realised that many people have ideas that they would love to capture into books, but they do not have either the time to sit and write or the literary prowess to do it. I felt I could be of help. Those are major considerations for starting The Ready Writers Consult.
Our mission is to;
- (1) Bridge the gap between thoughts and prints; conception and organised expression,
- (2) Reduce the rate of idea mortality (that is ideas that come to mind and filter away unwritten, unshared or unpublished); and
- (3) Upgrade the standard of written communication in our public space.
4. What is your take on the general notion that entrepreneurs should build a business around what they naturally love to do?
It’s the best way to go really. Businesses founded outside of passion may not stand the test of time. The same applies to career; pursuing a career in any field that does not touch a core within you will always leave you with a hollow feeling, regardless of how mega the take-home is. However, once you are doing something you absolutely love to do or you are functioning in a field you are specifically endowed to operate in, it makes the journey easier and the vicissitudes of commerce more bearable.
5. What is your personal life mission as an entrepreneur? That is; what contributions do you want to make with your life or what would you like to be remembered for as an entrepreneur through the businesses you create when you die?
I am privileged to be revealed my life purpose by God in the book of Isaiah 61:3, ‘to give them beauty for ashes.’ I was created to give a better exchange, and this forms the basis of what we do at The Ready Writers Consult. When people come to us with their idea, we help them to convert it into a book, an essay, a blog, a presentation, or a multimedia product. When they come to us with their manuscript or other written materials, we help them to edit or rewrite it altogether to make it publish-worthy and more appealing to readers.
I would like to be remembered as someone who has helped innumerable people to fulfill their dreams, give expressions to their ideas and attain immortality by having their thoughts excellently documented and published.
6. What would you describe as the purpose of entrepreneurship? That is; what role do entrepreneurs play in the world?
I think entrepreneurship is all about offering value. Some people may launch out just to make money. But if the product or service you are offering is not perceived as valuable by the market, then your chances of making money will be limited. It is to the extent that the market attributes value to your output that your bottom line would increase.
Entrepreneurship is meeting identified needs and plugging holes for people for various reasons. It may be so that they can live longer and better, that they can make more money or not lose money, that they might look good or be perceived in a positive light in the society, and so on.
Interview Questions Part Two
STRATEGY – The unusual execution of business best practices
7. How do you identify business opportunities and what metrics do you use to measure their viability?
As I have mentioned, entrepreneurship is all about plugging holes. But not every hole is worth plugging, you have to do a risk analysis on each business opportunity you identify and on each prospect that beckons at you. Otherwise, one will just be busy working round the clock and not break even at the end of the day.
8. Do you have mentors, business coach or external consultants that you work closely with to grow yourself and your business? If yes, to what extent would you describe their impact on your business? If no, are there any particular reasons?
Books are my foremost business coaches and mentors. I learn a lot reading about the experiences of those who have built successful enterprises, how they overcome challenges and handled certain situations. I have also been privileged to attend the Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management (CEM) programme at the Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) of Lagos Business School, thanks to Diamond Bank for that scholarship. The programme was an eye-opener for me in enterprise management and sustenance. And having worked as PA to Mrs Awosika for about seven years, I guess I can say I had a firsthand apprenticeship in entrepreneurship whilst in that posting as well.
9. How do you strategically use your time as an entrepreneur? What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs use their time for?
I think time management is a personal thing. What works for someone may not work for the next person. But it is essential to have a list of daily imperatives to input into your 24 hours on a daily basis. I, for instance, don’t joke with my daily devotion of prayer and Bible studies. I also take time out to read and do some core tasks I consider germane for my self-development and our corporate success. Family time is another very important chunk of my daily time expenditure.
10. How do you generate profitable customers for your business? What unusual approaches do you adopt for marketing your products/services?
The major marketing strategy we have been deploying so far is bulk SMS and distribution of flyers. We also get a lot of referrals from satisfied clients and those who know what we do.
11. Many entrepreneurs complain about not succeeding in business due to lack of adequate funding, what is your take on this matter and how do you cope with funding issues in your business?
I used to be in that shoe. But there is something I learnt from Mrs Awosika. She always says whatever business you want to do that you require millions of naira to start, you should note the amount you have at hand, be it N5,000 or N10,000, and start the N5,000/N10,000 version of that business. One of the reasons I couldn’t start The Ready Writers Consult since 2003 when I conceived the idea was because of funds. Funny enough, when we eventually started in 2009 I didn’t even have up to N50,000. But I knew better then and I was more prepared on all fronts to start.
Concerning the challenges of operational funding, I subscribed to the discipline of budgeting from an early stage of my life. I think I learnt that discipline from my mum really. Even till now, you see her with little pads with things to buy/do written on them, some cancelled, some retained. The art of budgeting has helped me to prioritise in terms of funding. Simple economics counsel that you do a scale of preference when you have many things contending for limited resources. For the first 12 months that I started working fulltime at TRW Consult, I didn’t collect salary, as there were several things we needed to do with money. I also didn’t buy a car until much later when we could afford it. So, I think budgeting, basic economics and personal discipline have been my own way of dealing with funding challenges. Very importantly too, I always cry out to God when funds are not coming in as they should. The Psalmist says He is my Shepherd, and I know the shepherd has the responsibility of providing for His flock, amongst other things. So, I also pray for His supply.
12. When starting out a new business, who are the likely possible partners or professional service providers you would recommend every entrepreneur work with?
The CEM programme at the EDC opened my eyes to a lot of things really. Firstly, I think every entrepreneur would require the services of an accountant, if even on a part time basis. As the saying goes, cash is the blood of every business concern. And the (mis)management of it principally is what determines how long the business would last. You also need the services of a human resource expert to help with the so-called greatest capital of the business. If there is no in-house marketing staff, then one will definitely need to engage the expertise of a marketing consultant. Once these three expertise are secured, I think every other one can follow in sequence based on your peculiar operational requirements.
13. The pricing of products/services is always an issue for entrepreneurs, what unusual approach do you take when it comes to pricing?
I must confess that is one of the major concerns I had when we started. Since we offer professional services, I spent days ruminating on, how do we price our services? How much do we charge for a particular service? Thank God, I got an eBook on Pricing around that time that I took time to digest. In that book, I learnt that pricing is foremost an individual thing; then you also consider a number of metrics to help you arrive at a reasonable price. At the end of deliberations with other members of the team, we concluded on pricing for sustainability and growth.
We realized that we cannot work for everybody, and we don’t even try to do it. We work only for those who value time and would rather outsource their research, writing and editing tasks to us to do whilst they devote their time to doing what they do best. And knowing that time is money, they are willing to pay for the convenience they derive from outsourcing their inconvenience to us.
Interview Questions Part Three
MISCELLANEOUS – Resourceful Recommendations, tools, books, and ideas for unusual entrepreneurs
14. Since you became an entrepreneur – someone who solves problems for people profitably; what has been your most outstanding accomplishments in the context of business?
I think the height of our fulfilment came when IBM honoured us with an Outstanding Enterprise Award in June 2011, whilst they were marking their own 100th year anniversary in Lagos, Nigeria. Another high for us was when Diamond Bank awarded us a scholarship to go for a 4-month enterprise management training at the EDC. We are still very young; we will be three in July 2012. So those laurels mean a lot to us.
Another accomplishment is our clientele. We work for a number of influential people who would prefer to remain anonymous. We respect our clients’ privacy and keep the work we do for them confidential. That’s why you don’t see the names of our clients displayed anywhere. We have worked for banks and corporate institutions, government officials, clergies, top professionals, and so forth. We also facilitate business communications, with emphasis on written communication, in the MBA classes of Lagos Business School.
The major high for us is when our clients call or email us to commend us for jobs well and professionally done. That gives us the greatest delight.
15. What would you describe as your major setbacks and what lessons did you pick from them?
What I consider our major setback was when one of our pioneer operatives pulled a fast one on us and was doing what is generally called PP with our structures and resources. He eventually left us and is still owing us a large sum. Another challenge we have is labour turnover. People come in and go when we can’t pay them what the banks and other big institutions pay. The funny thing is, at the point of application or interview, they tell us all sort of things; they were born to write, all they wanted to do is just to be given an opportunity to fulfil their passion, and all sorts. But, a few weeks down the line, you see them applying for jobs online or they tell you that their families are against what they are doing. Eventually, they leave.
We are trying our best to run with the resources at our disposal and to get our staff to buy into the vision and see the big picture, rather than focus on immediate gratification. We have instituted a structure where a staff can rise to becoming a shareholder in the company if they stay long enough and fulfil certain performance metrics. We have also put some incentives mechanism in place to help staff earn more than their take-home and give their utmost best on the job.
16. Where there any particular questions you expected me to ask that is beneficial to entrepreneurs and I didn’t? Kindly share with us such questions and their relevant answers here.
None for now. Thanks for the honour of your time and space.
What more would you like to know about the Unusual Babatunde Oladele? You can ask him further questions below in the comment section and I will be sure that you will get an answer directly from him.
Also, what did you learn from this unusual entrepreneur? What lessons, what philosophy of his strike you the most?
Babatunde has shared his unusual story with you, now is time to hear from you. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say