Building a business empire one idea at a time: Akinwande Durojaye on his success

Akinwande Durojaye

Nigerian serial entrepreneur, Akinwande Durojaye is the founder and co-founder of six thriving businesses – JustBrandIt, FixMyRide Limited, ShomoluErrands and Logistics, LashBells Foods, and 708. These businesses were started out of Durojaye’s quest for financial independence and employment creation.

How did it all start?

Durojaye’s journey in business began in 2005 when he was an undergraduate of Information and Communications Engineering at the Covenant University, Nigeria.

He started out as an intermediary – looking for people that need printing services.

“For example, if there was someone that wanted to print a complimentary card, I would tell them I can do it and then sub-contract the project to a printing company in Shomolu – which is the printing hub in Lagos, to get it done,” Durojaye explains. “When I got a printing job, I would find out the original cost and add a mark-up of about 10-20%.”

For the next ten years, Durojaye traded under his father’s company name. He did this until he was able to get his own office and printing press machine. In 2015, he decided to formalise his business and register it under its own name. That year, he established and registered JustBrandIt, a branding and advertising agency that handles digital and corporate marketing in Nigeria. The company also has a printing press and graphics hub where it does all its creative designs for marketing. JustBrandIt clients now include schools, SMEs, MSMEs, banks, and also multinationals like Oracle, Microsoft, and British Council.

When JustBrandIt became self-sufficient, Durojaye scaled up. In 2016, he established and co-founded five other businesses – ShomoluErrands and Logistics, a dispatch courier company that does logistics solely within the Shomolu area of Lagos state; LashBells Food Company, a snacks production and packaging company that packages traditional local snacks and ingredients like KuliKuli, Kokoro, and bleached palm oil for sale locally as well as for export within and outside Africa; FueledUp, a technology-driven Uber-modelled company that dispatches fuel for personal and business use; and 708, a service delivery and consulting company with special focus on general merchandise supply. The same year, Durojaye co-founded FixMyRide Limited, a fleet management company that deals in auto sales, short lease, servicing, maintenance, and repairs.

According to Durojaye, all the companies he built, co-founded, or managed have always been self-sufficient. “JustBrandIt started from the scratch with zero funding. The company was built with the profits made over the years. We didn’t need money to start FixMyRide because we started from leasing vehicles on a contract basis and we made our profits from the commission we added.” Today, his businesses employ about 300 staff, of which 210 are drivers.

Durojaye plans to open a quick shop in key business clusters around Lagos to cater for branding and printing needs of every business. With FixMyRide, he intends to set up an auto workshop for “people who cannot afford the service of authorised car dealers but also do not want to take their vehicle to a roadside mechanic”.

Surely it couldn’t have been easy?

Erratic power supply, people management, and not having the right organisational structure were some of the challenges Durojaye faced in the early years of his businesses. His inability to say “no” to some projects was also a weakness he battled with.

“I was willing to take every order. I found it hard to say no to a job because I didn’t want to lose the money or a client. Sometimes, these jobs have limited and strict deadlines,” he recalls.

“You know, it takes a level of grace for an entrepreneur to hand over his or her business to structure. When you start your business, there is this tendency to want to do things by yourself. Over time, I developed the ability to say no and was able to submit to a structure which guides how we operate.”

Despite the fact that Durojaye started his company with no capital, he confessed that at a point, funding the business was a challenge.

“Funding is a major challenge for businesses in Nigeria,” he says. “It is difficult to access loans even from the commercial bank you have banked with for years. And when a bulk of your business is based on purchasing orders, you need a reserve on finance.

“Sometimes, we work with multinational firms whose payment term is between 20-60 days after delivery. These projects often run into millions so we have to look for funding to do the work before we are paid. There could also be a factory error and we may not notice it until maybe a thousand copies has been printed. So we have to print it all over again because our watchword is to produce quality product.”

As for people management, the challenge is to instil a mind-set to produce quality products (at all times) with the artisans who are working for the company. “It was quite difficult to build that quality mentality and culture into each and every staff member. But we have enjoyed the grace of hiring the right staff and managers who are helping to manage different areas of the company. We have a proper structure in all the companies – so it’s not a one-man business.”

What can we learn from his experience?

Over the years, Durojaye (who is one of the 30 young individuals listed in Forbes Africa’s 30 Under 30 for Business in 2018), credits the successes achieved with his businesses to word-of-mouth referrals.

“We hardly do any adverts. Based on the trust we have built with our customers, they are able to refer us to other people and this trust is something that money cannot buy. Trust is very significant to business growth and success.”

For budding entrepreneurs, Durojaye believes passion and emotional intelligence will help them move their business forward.

“Passion is very key. As cliché as that sounds, passion is very important because it will keep you going no matter the challenges – passion first, and money follows. Don’t force yourself to turn your business into passion. You can even be in the 9 to 5 workspace and still have your own business.”