Nwamaka Okoye is the co-founder and managing director of Housessories, a Nigerian furniture manufacturing and interior design company.
1. Describe one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
When I first started business in Nigeria, I started as an interior design consultant and fit-out professional. One of my toughest situations was on one of my first projects in 2007. I outsourced the production of the furniture and renovation to various sub-contractors and paid large deposits upfront.
I was new in Nigeria and did not have a see-finish mentality. Though I followed up with the various subcontractors, I could not get them to deliver on time. As soon as I left their premises, they just moved on to other projects they had. I remember calls from the client asking me to confess if I had used the money for other pursuits, so they could know how to proceed and cut their losses.
It was a very demoralising and debilitating experience. We eventually delivered, and the client was pleased with the quality. However, after that experience, I did some backward integration, and started my own furniture production factory, and also co-founded a construction business. Now I am more in control of outcomes.
Our furniture production company Housessories works with interior architects to produce office furniture through our brand Eezy Office. We are a reliable backend for the interior architects, or work directly with both strong and emerging brands, providing reliable high-quality office furniture and fit-out services: something I wish I had when I started.
2. What business achievement are you most proud of?
Seeing people who have worked with me and been groomed by me move on to be strong and successful entrepreneurs or professionals. I am committed to building individuals not just business, because I believe you need people to run any business.
Seeing them grow, fly the coop and still maintaining a relationship with them gives me great joy. I am able to collaborate with them on projects and I am amazed at their skill level and maturity.
3. Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I am a recovering perfectionist. This means we go through several iterations before we launch things. I am learning to recognise that most people cannot see the flaws that are so blatant to me, and to let them go and launch that initiative, product or project.
I first started breaking free from perfectionism when I learned about a decision heuristic called satisficing. I was both fascinated and liberated by this concept. Satisficing is when you do not necessarily go for the best, but make the best decision or take the best action given the current circumstances. It is making an optimum decision based on information available to you at any particular time.
4. What conventional business wisdom do you disagree with?
Diversify. I believe that diversification is a two-edged sword. The depth of your market penetration is often inversely proportional to the extent of your diversification, unless you are awash with cash.
However, even cash does not always buy competence. At some point, diversification is good, but if you do so too early, you could kill a good idea because of a lack of focus. I believe the power of focusing is so underrated.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?
That you can raise money with your idea and fancy presentations, solid education and a lot of conviction. I went about things by bootstrapping all the way, and even though I have seen many people that raised funds crash and burn, I think if one is careful, after a brief period, or even from the scratch, it’s easier to scale with funding.
I believe entrepreneurship is one of the surest ways to build character. A call to entrepreneurship is a call to leadership. Many times, everyone is relying on you and you have no one to lean on. I rely on God for strength, and talk to a group of like-minded individuals for counsel.
Many times you have to draw from deep within. You get tested and learn about who you are through your decisions. It’s a deeply satisfying walk, because you have a chance to create your ideal world, and then change the rest of the world.