Paul Orajiaka is the CEO of Auldon, a toy trading and manufacturing business in Nigeria. The company is well known for its Unity Girl dolls, which represent the major tribes in Nigeria.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
My greatest challenge as a business owner was shortly after I graduated with my MBA degree from Lagos Business School in 2011. With an MBA in the kitty, I felt I had been theoretically equipped to take on a much bigger challenge than I would have under normal circumstances. Having been tutored by some of the best professors in the country, I felt I have been tooled with the necessary educational skills to take on very mighty business goals that required huge borrowing from banks and finance houses.
I went on a borrowing spree, racking up huge loans with a target to hit a million-dollar profit. I erroneously believed my carefully constructed business plan would play out just like the simulation exercises I have been subjected to during the MBA. Alas, I was very wrong. The unstructured complexity of the business environment in Nigeria, which I operate in, do not follow paper or theoretical logic. The street was too different from the classroom rhetoric. I went from a million-dollar profit projection, to a million dollars in debt by the time the dust settled. Everything had gone south and I was left with a huge debt profile that would take me three years to repay.
To overcome this heavy indebtedness to the banks and finance houses, I had to sit with every one of them to thoroughly restructure all my debts with a feasible repayment plan. With no capital left, I had to seek financial help from family to help recalibrate my business. As an entrepreneur who is not averse to challenges, I carefully picked up the pieces, worked very hard and eventually paid off all the debts within the restructured repayment period. This experience left me with three great life lessons – 1) the classroom is different from the street; 2) do not be overly ambitious so that you bite off more than you can chew; 3) and in your quest to make big money, let that pursuit come with peace of mind.
2. What entrepreneurial achievement are you most proud of?
I am extremely proud of our Unity Girl dolls initiative. It is a collection of 14-inch dolls, each representing Nigeria and Africa’s major tribes. Besides allowing girls to play with a doll that looks like them, the product promotes national unity, cultural pride and delivers an empowering social message.
A portion of every Unity Girl doll sold is used to rehabilitate rundown elementary schools in remote rural communities. The level of decay in most public schools across Nigeria, in terms of infrastructure and teaching aids, is heart-wrenching.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I take most business decisions on impulse. Analysing the risks is rarely my first instinct. As an entrepreneur, I simply do not see the risks that others see. Or, alternatively, I see risk aversion in business decision making as non-entrepreneurial behaviour, and even far riskier. I will categorically say that my risk appetite is huge.
I have prevented this weakness from negatively impacting my business by developing a habit of seeking a second opinion from successful business mentors, whose advice, once given, I find hard to go against. My elder brother, John Orajiaka, who is very successful in his telecom business, has enormous skill for dissecting and analysing the very complex risky ventures that I will otherwise venture into due to my risk appetite. Such consultation from people I respect has helped tremendously in protecting me from overly-risky pursuits.
4. What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
I strongly disagree with the conventional wisdom saying you need a business plan before starting a new venture. Many budding entrepreneurs have failed because of this notion of drawing up a business plan prior to commencing operations. Some even go as far as hiring consulting firms to help them draw up a business plan, at huge cost. This business plan ends up keeping them fixated on a strict guideline, whereas flexibility is required due to the dynamism and complexity of the business environment.
As an entrepreneur, your most important asset is your business instinct which steers the very first opportunity conceptualisation. After that, you gravitate to the commercialisation and lastly institutional conceptualisation. Opportunity conceptualisation simply means: when you see an opportunity, you just grab it. You then commercialise it for profit, before institutionalising the venture to run even without you present.
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