Zainab Ashadu is the creative force behind and founder of Zashadu, a Lagos-based luxury handbag maker.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
In year four of Zashadu, we found ourselves in a position where if we didn’t raise some healthy capital faster than we had envisioned, our business would plateau.
It was tough employing the right balance of aggressiveness and patience in securing the right type of investor. After months of back and forth, we formed a seamless connection with a wonderful, intelligent and astute investor who has proved to be a blessing to Zashadu.
I decided to select an investor from a pool of wealthy friends. When I found the right one I just knew, I trusted my gut. We got along easily, shared the same sense of humour, travelled together (I think this is one of the fastest ways to learn someone’s character) and both shared a passion for Zashadu. Apart from the investment, he brought along years of leadership experience in his field.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
I’m always proud of the practical things: opening a flagship store, providing employment for 20-plus people, building and retaining our client base. It’s also nice to gain recognition for what you do, and we are the recipients of awards like Best Accessories Brand 2016 at the Heineken Lagos Fashion and Design Week, and a special recognition for entrepreneurship at the West African Youth Awards 2017.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
Naturally I’m curious and interested in everything, from neuroscience and psychology, to the latest hairstyle Beyoncé is wearing. Wonderful as that may be, I’ve had to work hard to allow my interests to guide me in a structured and intelligent way, so that I finish every project I embark on, or [that I] not start it at all. Doing everything, all the time, is not sustainable.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
I never had any interest in going to business school, nor do I automatically pay business school graduates reverence. Business acumen is intuitive to me, but what can kill that gift faster than anything is a lack of self-belief. I stay away from any cookie-cutter business advice that doesn’t necessarily take individuality into consideration.
The pieces of advice I’ve always found strange are ones that attempt to separate business from everyday life – things like “business is business”. On the contrary, I’ve found business to be deeply personal.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
The thing I find most fascinating about being an entrepreneur is how limitless it is. Once you embrace a certain mindset – thinking fearlessly, leading with innovation and a willingness to do whatever it takes to carve out your desired result – it’s impossible to go back and opportunities present themselves to you everywhere.
It’s like creativity or love, the more you use, the more you have to use – the supply is endless. If I had known this, I would have taken myself seriously much earlier.