Running a business comes with its challenges, but running a business in unfamiliar terrain while studying can be quite something. It takes resilience, tenacity and, lots of motivation.
Previously, we spoke with Oluwabunmi Borokinni on how she maintains integrity in her business. This week, we spoke with Oluwaseun Olawale on how she started and runs her catering business in a foreign land.
Work role: Research/Teaching Assistant.
First thing you do every morning: Pray.
Best cloth to wear: Corporate wears.
For owanbe: Agbada.
What language do you speak when you’re angry: Any of these could flow well; English, Pidgin or Yoruba.
Please tell us about yourself and your brand.
My name is Oluwaseun. You can also call me Priscilla, aka Cici. I’m a ‘dey on your dey’ kind of person, so I like everyone to be on their lane. I’m mostly introverted but I can be extroverted when the occasion demands it. I’m a graduate of Bowen University, Iwo where I studied Computer Science. I’ve also got an M.Sc. in Software Engineering and I’m currently studying Computer Information Systems at PhD level.
Somehow, along my journey in life, I found myself outside Nigeria, working and schooling at the same time. One of my dreams was to have my own eatery but up until 2020, I had only cooked for and gotten paid by one friend, here in this Mediterranean Island.
My inspiration for starting the brand came from pain, which helped me focus more on cooking. Thus, Cici Meals was born.
How have you been able to start and keep your brand running in a foreign land?
Is started my brand when something I didn’t expect happened to me during the first lockdown, and it was a downtime for me. In trying to distract myself, I found myself prepping beans for moi-moi one day and I started getting ideas on how to brand Cici Meals. We were initially CillazKitchen and we just used to upload homemade food photos to Instagram before 2020.
Once I had this idea, I informed a few friends that I make moi-moi on Saturdays and kindly asked them to patronise me. A few of them did, but the delivery was free for the first time. It was a sort of strategy for me. Some of them paid, some didn’t, but we moved.
We started making more orders on other weekends. Then, from there, we started making soups and other meals like jollof rice and fried rice. We moved on to branding, making logos, printing stickers and all that. That’s how it all came together.
What are some of the rookie mistakes you have made and what did you learn from them?
The only mistake I can remember now is one that happened a few months ago. My client had specified that he wanted fish with his order but I had failed to mention that only beef was available. It didn’t end well because he gave a bad review about the beef, but that same beef was perfect for another client.
To correct this, I always make sure I put down the orders on paper. This helps me ensure everything is available and, of course, reconfirm the order.
How did you get your first clients?
My first clients were friends that knew I was capable of delivering good food. I just informed them and they patronised me.
TIP: Start your business with supporters like friends and family and spread out from that core.
How do you get clients to trust you?
I tell my customers the truth. I ensure that they get quality food for the money being paid. Just recently, someone asked if I could work out seafood. I informed the person that I had never done that before but I could try it if he was going to give us a trial. He trusted Cici Meals to work it out for him and we delivered our best. We got a good review. So, telling the truth makes people trust you.
What are the major challenges you have faced on this journey?
One major challenge is registering our brand here. The process is quite tedious, which is not encouraging at all.
Another challenge is delivery. We do not have a delivery van or bike yet. This still relates to registering the business. Clients that currently order have to pay normal taxi fare for delivery, and some people cancel orders for that reason. Some people also complain that orders are too expensive, but, truthfully, we serve our best at affordable prices.
How have you been able to keep the business running?
Pardon me, but in keeping this business running, I have to say omoh, it’s not easy. It requires a lot of energy and if you’ve seen my size you’d be wondering where this small lady gets her strength from.
I have to use the pay bus most times, gathering ingredients for orders here and there, cook and clean up. But a child of God must deliver and make some money. I enjoy cooking, so that’s like the motivation for me.
So far, how have you been able to juggle school and entrepreneurship?
As a PhD student, classes are in the evenings, and I attend to my term papers when I can and get educated. As a teaching assistant, I also attend my lectures and check my emails in the mornings. Meanwhile, I inform my clients of this and push orders to the less busy hours of the day. That’s how I juggle and try to balance the 3 roles.
I make sure I’m organised, communicate well with clients, prepare and deliver orders neatly. I just make sure I do the right things at the right time and deliver when I’m supposed to. This has kept me working efficiently.
Awesome! Thank you so much for your time.