From Renewable Energy Expert To Serial Entrepreneur: The Many Hats Of Bolusope Ogboye
Mar 10, 2022·
7 min read
For Bolusope Ogboye, becoming an entrepreneur was more a question of when than if. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Her grandfather owned an accounting firm that he later passed down to her father. Her mother runs a confectionery business from their family home in Surulere, her storage refrigerators side by side with Bolusope's.
Fresh Food Factory is not Bolusope’s first entrepreneurial rodeo. She takes us on her journey of trying her hand at everything from a logistics business to underwear retail and finally finding her way home to fresh food.
“My first real-life attempt at business was an aso ebi delivery business I started during my NYSC. I called it Asoebi Express. A friend of mine needed me to drop off asoebi. I don’t like stress or Lagos traffic and I was like, “why can’t a company just deliver this?”, and that’s how the business started.
After my NYSC, I got a job in an international bank. The pay wasn’t great and the work was monotonous so I decided to try entrepreneurship again: this time selling underwear. I brought in underwear from the UK to retail at Hubmart and another supermarket. In 2015, due to a dollar crisis, I had to switch to getting my supply from China. Things were good for a while until the price of the dollar skyrocketed again and I had to start thinking about producing in Nigeria. We attempted that but we ran into several problems from poor fabric, to lack of skilled workers. So that effectively put a stop to the business.
In 2016, my friend and I decided to start a shawarma business after we attended an event and had shawarma that was subpar. We did a market scoping and discovered that we didn’t have nearly enough seed money. The rotating rotisserie cost about 250, 000 Naira and we had only a 100, 000 Naira total to kick off the business. So we started to rethink. Then I watched this YouTube video by SisiYemmie where she made shawarma with Suya and it was a lightbulb moment. We decided to start making shawarma with suya until we could afford the rotisserie. By the time we could afford it, people already knew us as the people who did suya shawarma. We’re still in business today.
Around 2017, I started a grilled chicken business. I sort of stumbled into that one because I used to make this grilled chicken that people loved. Then I started getting referrals and people began ordering in bulk. I had left the bank at this point and transitioned into renewable energy so I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands but I made use of my weekends to run the business. I moved to Abuja in 2018 and this business suffered a bit because I wasn’t present and I had a lot to juggle between my job, the business and my master’s program. When the pandemic hit in 2020, we shut it down.
In that time, I’d made an investment in a chicken farm and was supporting their efforts. They delivered wholesale and one time, they came to deliver and discovered that the wholesaler had gotten some contraband chicken from across the border so they couldn’t offtake. I realized then that we couldn’t solely rely on wholesale. So we built the chicken business again, this time to supply fresh chicken to business owners. Because of the shawarma business, I knew how hard it was to get fresh ingredients at a great price so I knew there was a market for it. That’s what Fresh Food Factory is, today.”
It was a long, winding road but Bolusope believes every turn has led her to where she is today. She speaks of Fresh Food Factory as a fulfilment of a lifelong dream and shares what has kept her going through the journey to get there as well as what keeps her productive even as she functions in many roles.
“From a young age, I’ve always been interested in agriculture. I visited Songhai Farms in Benin Republic when I was 16 and absolutely fell in love. It was an integrated farm and they used their waste for bio-gas so it was like a dream for me. When COVID-19 hit, I had time to sit and think about building sustainably, about what could last and make a lasting impact beyond me and still potentially sell. Fresh Food Factory operates in an ecosystem I understand and I truly believe it is the starting point of something much bigger than me. Our endgame is real
I've arrived here by sheer persistence. When things aren't working out, I like to see it as a bend rather than the end. Also, I've had to become very comfortable hearing 'no". I take them as rejections of things I say or present, rather than rejections of me as a person. So, when I hear a no or encounter a problem, I go back to the drawing board to see if my ideas need formatting. Sometimes, it’s not that your idea is bad. Maybe the market just isn’t ready for it. There's nothing wrong with sticking it out or even shelving it until the market is ready.
In focusing on her strengths and trying to mitigate her weaknesses, Bolusope came across the LIFT program.
"The business environment is always changing so you’re going to have to learn new skills to stay relevant. One skill I haven’t been able to pick up successfully is sales. I’m naturally reserved. But with this business, I knew it was a skill I had to pick it up. So when I came across the LIFT program, it seemed right up my alley. I’m a learner and I saw this as an opportunity to learn and I took it.
The mentor sessions have been great. Bouncing ideas off someone and having them provide clarity and suggest ways to achieve what you want has been such a valuable part of the program for me."
Bolusope has a wealth of knowledge to offer young entrepreneurs, as is expected because of her track record.
“Just do it. Even if you start small, the important thing is that you start. The worst that can happen is you ‘fail’ but every failure is a lesson. Every business that I’ve done and failed at has taught me a valuable lesson about doing business.
Be flexible and don't be afraid to pivot. Try to think outside the box of traditional entrepreneurship. Maybe what you're made for is entrepreneurship within organisations, growing businesses from within as an employee with unique ideas and a knack for getting things done.”
Ultimately, Bolusope values finding self and self-expression. This has influenced her winding journey in career and in business.
"I think life is a journey. Try everything that you enjoy and find expression in it. I like to say I’m building a portfolio career. I see my food businesses as actual careers rather than side hustles. I think a great thing about our generation is that we understand that we have multiple sides and they all can and should find expression. For our parents, it was mostly “I studied accounting so I have to be an accountant”. But for us, there’s that understanding that these things can find expression, whether side-by-side or finishing one chapter and opening another afterwards."