The journey so far: Jibolu Ayodele, co-founder, Thando’s

Jibolu “J.G.” Ayodele

Jibolu “J.G.” Ayodele is the co-founder and the chief exponential officer at Thando’s, a Lagos-based entity specialising in the design and the distribution of African-inspired women’s fashion footwear. All of Thando’s footwear, primarily women’s pumps/flats, are designed, developed and prototyped on the continent.

1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

Without a doubt, overpromising and underdelivering to our Thando’s customers who we fondly refer to as Team Thando’s. Our customers are at the core of everything we do at Thando’s and we pride ourselves on being transparent to them. With this situation, we learned just how important it is to be radically transparent.

Now, here’s what happened. It was the spring of 2017 and we were getting a record amount of orders. We sold out a lot quicker than we thought and were very excited. We planned on replenishing the sold-out styles quickly and so felt confident enough to start taking pre-orders from our customers. Well, things didn’t go according to plan as unforeseen challenges emerged with two of our suppliers that caused major delays.

These delays could have potentially breached the trust we had built with our customers, especially those who had pre-ordered. In embracing our “radical transparency” philosophy, my co-founder and I decided to record a personal video message and shared it with our customers. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The majority of our customers were understanding and willing to wait for their shoes.

2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?

When we started Thando’s it was my vision not only to create a company that provided great products to our customers, but one that also truly made a measurable impact on African communities. Our goal was to establish a process that engaged every one of our stakeholders in an intimate way.

The process starts by first identifying a cause that resonates with my co-founder and I. Once the cause is established, we host a design competition, using the cause as the theme, among African artists. We then have Team Thando’s vote on their favorite design. The winning design is placed on the shoes we put into production.

Finally, we take a portion of our sales proceeds and pay a royalty to the winning artist, as well as make a donation to an NGO that helps victims of the cause that inspired the design in the first place. We like to call this our “virtuous cycle”.

What makes me proud is that we have made this vision a reality. Thus, we have been able to help 600 families through our donations, as well as paid royalties to the winning artist of our current collection that have multiplied the artist’s monthly income seven times.

I believe that you can do good and do well.

3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.

I have learned that it is important not to get stuck in a silo, but rather immerse yourself in all aspects of the business. That is why we encourage our team members to learn about other parts of the business that are not part of their core responsibility.

I, for one, oversee our design, sales and marketing efforts, but I had to get comfortable with also learning our operations. I won’t say that this was easy because we operate a tri-continental business. By immersing myself in our operations, I have become better at executing my core responsibilities. It gives me a holistic perspective that also allows me to ensure that my teammates and I are always aligned.

4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?

I have heard that it is better to learn from the mistakes of others as opposed to your own. I think that in doing the former, one runs the risk of not truly appreciating the lesson learned.

Personal mistakes, I believe, resonate more because of how visceral they could be and so I think they are better teachers. Just don’t make the same mistake twice!

5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?

I wish I knew how much of an emotional rollercoaster the entrepreneurial journey is. I love it because every day brings either new challenges or opportunities. The unpredictability of it all certainly keeps it exciting.

I will say, however, that it helps to have a partner, ideally a co-founder, who you can navigate this with – someone with whom you can celebrate the highs and lows. Yes, I said celebrate the lows because there is always a lesson to be learned with the losses as well.

I also admit that this journey is not for everyone. I feel that the notion of being an entrepreneur has been romanticised quite a bit and, as a result, some people get into it for the wrong reasons. For those who pursue this path genuinely to provide a solution to a problem that they have identified, I tip my hat off to you and send positive vibes for we all need those!

6. Name a business opportunity you would still like to pursue.

I think that gaming is a huge opportunity for Africa, especially e-sports given the continent’s demographic dividend. With a majority young population, e-sports have a big and addressable market to capitalise on.

The business of e-sports is basically broken down into three areas: developing the games, playing the games and broadcasting the games. This industry is projected to be worth US$1.2bn by 2020, which is a tenfold increase from where it was just seven years ago.

‘The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip, and content production by Justin Probyn and Nelly Murungi.