Achenyo Helen Asimegbe is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Stylemark Mall, a retailer of quality children’s clothing and accessories. She is also the CEO of Stylemark Pro Enterprise Hub, a capacity development centre that trains small business owners and start-ups. In this interview she tells us why she quit her job as a banker and how fulfilled she is as an entrepreneur.
At what point did you decide to quit your job as a banker and become an entrepreneur?
I worked at Heritage Bank and Spring Bank but I had a goal – I wanted to be my own boss before I turned 30. So as I turned 29, I reminded myself of the goal I had set for myself – to remain in paid employment or be my own employer. So I handed in my resignation letter. Everybody thought I was nuts and asked why I was resigning from a well paying job.
At that point, I did not have anything to fall back on; I just had to take the first step of quitting but I knew somehow, I will cross the bridge. I took time to know what I was passionate about. I knew I was going to build a career there. So I realised that I loved to see children looking very great. I loved when children dress well so, I started out with selling children’s cloths.
How did you get funds to start?
I had some personal funds. I started with something really small because I was testing the waters. I started with N20,000. I saw how well it went and the impact that had on me. That gave me more courage to see that the business was lucrative. So, I put in more of my savings and then my husband supported me. That was in 2015.
I have an online store in Konga, one of Nigerians e-commerce companies. I had to do that because getting a store in a city like Abuja was very pricey. So I said I’ll use an online platform where I am not paying for a space; and the space is accessible from anywhere in Nigeria; and then on my social media handles like Facebook and Instagram handle. People see the pictures of the children’s clothes on my status and they ask about the prices? And then they place their orders. This is working for me and I’m making profit.
Did you acquire any skill to enable you start your business?
It’s a different ball game when you are in a corporate world and then you want to start your own business; you have to have a level of expertise that will guide you. For me, as soon as I resigned to start my business, there was an opportunity that came up. The World Bank was rolling out scholarship for women entrepreneurs in Nigeria to take a course with Enterprise Development Centre (EDC), that is Pan African University, Lagos. Fortunately, I applied and I was selected. For that programme, if you were to pay the tuition, you would be paying over a million naira. That was a very good start for me.
You cannot go into business as a lay person; you will get your fingers burnt faster than the person that has knowledge or has been trained. Everything I learnt at the Enterprise Development Centre has helped me till today.
What are the structures an entrepreneur should put in place before starting a business?
When starting a business, start from a place of passion; know what business you want to do. Also, how do you want to raise funds. Do you have family members who are willing to support you?
Then the place: Where is the business going to be located? Is it a physical store or an online store? If it is a physical store, are you going to be there or are you going to get employees. If they are employees, are they people that are knowledgeable and buy into the vision, so the business does not collapse?
Then look at book keeping: Keep your books clean and have records. Separate your expenditure from your expenses, also have saving and invest in the business. Then , if it is an online store, which of the online platforms do you belong to. Are you willing to commit time to it so you will put one product or the other every day. And will you be prompt enough to respond to people’s enquiries? These are the things that will make you thrive and succeed ahead the other person.
Then there are legal structures you should put in place to protect your business. You have to register a business name or register a limited liability company. Your business needs to be registered so people can trust you.
Does your background in banking help you in the business?
There are skills I have learnt that will live with me forever. There are things I learnt as a customer service officer that have stayed with me. I spent over five years in the banking sector before I resigned.
You are also a mentor at the Cherie Blair and Tony Elumelu Foundation, tell us more about it?
There are many platforms I mentor. I am a mentor at Tony Elumelu Foundation, Cherie Blair foundation for women in business, Ventures Capital for Africa and the United Nations youth readiness programme. I started mentoring from the place of passion because I know there are people who will leave their well paid jobs to start businesses but they will not be able to gain the balance that I am able to get over a period of time. Some people are even giving up on their dreams. So , I decided to be a shoulder to SMEs, and I do it out of passion. Doing this gives me fulfilment.
Are you fulfilled as an entrepreneur?
These three years that I have been in business have been the best three years of my life. I have met people whom I never thought I would meet as a result of being an entrepreneur. And then, the scholarship I benefitted from would not have happened to me as a customer care officer. I have had opportunity to attend summit at the UN. I have broken even in business. It’s a lucrative and profitable business one should do.
How do you juggle your role as mother, wife, mentor and entrepreneur?
I would not say I do all these by my own strength. God has been faithful. One of the approaches I use is that I try to be as organised as possible. You cannot get it right if you are not organised as a lady. You have to have a schedule. Knowing what to do at the time it ought to be done.
My definition of success is being able to write a goal with a date and time frame and then being able to achieve that. Success means being able to see lots of people look at you and say because of you, I did not give up. Be an inspiration to others. Have something going for you which you are able to leave as a legacy.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is for brave minds; it’s not something you should dare if you cannot surmount the challenges. There are nights you will stay up and feel like giving up. But put your eye on the ultimate goal. Deafen your ears to distractions – the people you surround yourself with will make or mar your destiny. Surround yourself with people with positive energy and are happy to see you succeed. Have mentors. In entrepreneurship, you need someone to hold your hand as you journey.
Again, your passion may be what will keep you at the end of the day. Believe and trust in God who is able to keep you.
I have a dream to start manufacturing my own line of children clothing. There is a lot to do in trying to achieve such goals. But it is possible to launch our own children’s clothing.