Abisola Tolu-Odutola is the founder/CEO of Mumspring, a healthtech startup that is on a mission to transform maternal and neonatal health in Africa. The Mumspring pregnancy tracker app provides African mothers with resources and guidance during and after pregnancy.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
I recently faced one of my toughest situations as a business owner. In my business, it can be difficult to stay focused because I’m constantly testing how I can best serve my customer segment. African moms are incredibly underserved. As a company, there’s so much we can do to help them but we need to know what’s going to move the needle in order to allocate resources appropriately.
With that in mind, I decided to close my brick and mortar store. When I first started Mumspring, I heard from customers that they wanted a retail location to touch and feel the products.
But, as I grew the business, I realised that I can help more moms at scale by focusing on our app. It was tough to close the store because it was a part of our story but it was the right decision.
2. What business achievement are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of attracting members of my senior team who have stuck with me – even when cash flow is tight. We had a month this year where revenues were 10% of the entire year’s average. We had tested a new marketing strategy which clearly failed and resulted in low sales.
Four of my senior staff didn’t blink an eye. They acknowledged that salaries might be late this month because sales were lower than expected. But they understood.
I’m proud that I was able to attract that type of employee. For me, it shows that I’m not crazy; it shows there’s an opportunity in serving expectant moms in Nigeria. That I’ve been able to get people to buy into my vision and go through the ups and downs with me – I’m really proud of that.
3. Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
One of my personal strengths has been a weakness at work.
I tend to be a warm and empathetic person. When an employee is underperforming, rather than point the finger, I try to see if the company hasn’t given the resources to enable her best work.
Empathy can be perceived as a weakness because in Nigeria people are used to a controlling and extremely hierarchical environment – not a warm and congenial environment. Nigerians know the stick, not the carrot.
Because of this, people have tried to take advantage of my kindness.
In the end, I had to adopt a more balanced management style and moved to an incentive-based pay structure. I tie salary and benefits to employee and company performance because I want employees who can take ownership of their work. That way we’re all on the same page – we’re all moving the same levers.
4. What conventional business wisdom do you disagree with?
In Nigeria, there’s a common belief that you control your own destiny as an entrepreneur. You get to be your own boss. That boggles my mind because as an entrepreneur everyone is your boss. Your employees. Your investors. Your customers. You now have multiple bosses. You have great responsibility to a number of people.
No one talks about how exhausted you feel all the time. Rather everyone seems to put on a brave face.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?
I wish I knew the financing requirement when I first started in 2016. It’s probably good that I didn’t because I would have never started a business. I naively thought I could bootstrap it all the way. But then I got to a point where I exhausted my savings.
Now that I believe in the business more than I did back then, I’m able to fundraise. But, in the beginning, I was too scared to take other people’s money because I didn’t know if it was going to work.
If I were starting over today, I would develop an app immediately because it’s an easier way to acquire customers. I’d also apply to an incubator programme in the US or UK since they help fast track your growth and your customer acquisition.