Abiodun Folawiyo, 37 is a graduate of Accounting from the University of Lagos. His love for shoemaking started over 15 years ago and he is today the CEO of Shoespeed Interglobal Services Limited. He has trained many people and hopes to start an academy for shoemakers. He is one of the winners of the Build Entrepreneurs Today 5(BET5) programme sponsored by Diamond Bank. He speaks about growing business from the scratch. Excerpt:
What spurred you into shoemaking?
My love for shoemaking was born out of three major reasons. One is to solve the problem of not getting good shoes in Nigeria. About 15 years ago when I started, it was tough to find a company or individual that made good shoes in Nigeria. That raised my curiosity and I kept telling myself, as long as these things did not grow from the soil and they did not come from the sky, human beings made them, I will go all out to build the skill to make good shoes.
The second reason is the drive to be independent early in life. I kept hearing of no jobs and unemployment and I did not want to fall into that. The people I shared my vision with at the onset laughed at me. Some asked, ‘you want to be a shoemaker’? They said it was for people that can’t afford education or the less-privileged. I also could not let my father know about it because he wanted me to be a professor like him. When I decided to go on with my dream, it was top secret.
So, I started learning from a roadside shoemaker. While in my first year in University of Lagos, whenever I got home at weekends, I am with this road-side shoemaker. He once asked me ‘why do you bring yourself so low’? And I told him the people I look up to have a humble beginning like that. So whereas my father wanted me to be a professor, I was working towards being a ‘professor’ in shoemaking. So far, I have trained not less than 500 people in the last seven years.
Did you get more skills apart from the one from the shoemaker?
The little I learnt from the roadside shoemaker, I built on it. I learnt more through trial and error. I also got a young man that was into shoemaking but did not have any formal education to work with me.
I also travelled to Italy were I had some informal training and internships in some shoemaking companies there. Most materiel we use for making the shoes are sourced in Nigeria but the machines we use for production are from China.
How did you get funds as a young entrepreneur?
It was tough raising my start-up capital because I could not share my dream with members of my family, but I was able to start with N12,500 about 15 years ago. The business is worth millions of naira today.
Can your shoes compete with international brands?
A young man called me some time ago and said ‘I know how you do this. ‘You buy shoes from international brands and you change the label to your brand name, ‘Shoespeed’. I asked why? He said “because these shoes cannot be made by any Nigerian”. I simply laughed.
Recently, too, I supplied some shoes to some people in the USA and I got feedback from one of them who said, he had to shop for new clothes to wear with the shoes.
What is you educational qualification?
I graduated with a second class lower (2.2) from University of Lagos and I studied Accounting.
I bought my first car as an undergraduate and started paying my rent as an undergraduate.
What advice do you have for people who lack finance to start their business?
Your start-up capital is not money. That is where we usually get it very wrong. Your capital is your passion. I define passion as an entity that lives in you. When you have passion for whatever you do, be it dress-making, make-up artistry, hair-dressing, it now becomes your driving force. The passion in me will give me creative ideas. That passion will lead me to the resources I need per time that will take my business from one level to the other. That is the passion that people will see in the future and will invest in you.
Where do you see your business in the next five years?
I see my business as one of the household brands that will be celebrated in Nigeria and major parts of Africa. I see my company as one of the companies that retailers of shoes will feel comfortable ordering shoes from. I look forward to the day, some retailers will say ‘why go to Italy to import shoes, why can’t I buy here’. Because they will get it cheaper and its made in Nigeria.
I see a situation where we will have a standard academy where we have our courses registered with the Federal Ministry of Education where people who have passion of being shoemakers will enroll at a very stage in life and understand the rudiments and technical aspects of shoemaking. With this we can create more jobs and build more industries and we will take our youth off the streets.
At present, I have 12 people working with me and I have six interns. We have our office at Ikeja, off Allen Avenue, Lagos.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt as an entrepreneur?
To build a structure for my business. Don’t be carried away by survival. A good business should have a structure because when you have a structure, that will guarantee the future of your business. Even when you are not around, it will outlive you.
Also, build your staying power. Avoid distractions. You may want to do 10 things. But always remind yourself that you have to start with one and do one at a time.
What other things do you do?
I am 37 years old. The other thing I do now is teach.I get invitations from organisations and corporate bodies to speak to their youths.
How do you feel being one of Diamond Bank’s BET5 winner?
It’s a reminder that I still have a lot of work to do. Because if an organisation finds me worthy and they decide to invest in me, to whom much is given, much is expected.It shows that the decision I made years ago to be a shoemaker was a good one. Now, when I introduce myself, I tell people my name and say I am a shoemaker.
What is your advice to young people?
Putting you resources into your investment is a great thing which if you do not reap now, you will reap in the future. For me, I separate assets from liabilities. I see my business as an asset and I am willing to invest all I have into it per time. So, put in your financial resources, passion, emotion, creativity all into your business and in years to come you will reap from it.