Every entrepreneur has a unique struggle with entrepreneurship. The journey is never so easy. For entrepreneurs that run a business and have a 9-5 job to cater to, the struggle is on a different level. Having to juggle both jobs while handling your team requires lots of work, and with the right methods, any entrepreneur can smash it.
Previously, we spoke with Diana Wilson on how she helps women overcome the stereotype that says STEM is a men’s zone and become the best they can be. This week, we spoke with Kanayochukwu Okeke on how he infuses teamwork into his business and handles the discomfort that comes with being an entrepreneur and working a 9-5 simultaneously.
Please tell us about yourself and your brand.
My name is Kanayochukwu Okeke, a native of Anambra state in Eastern Nigeria. I’m the first child of 4 amazing children God blessed my parents with. I’m an accountant by training and a fashionpreneur by passion. I serve as a volunteer mentor in an NGO called SOLID Foundation Teens And Youth Ministry.
The name of my brand is Vaso Fitz. VASO is the Spanish word for GLASS which stands for Glamour Simplicity & Stylish. It is a brand that specialises in the production and branding of outfits like t-shirts, joggers, hoodies, varsity jackets, sweatshirts, safety wears, and scrubs amongst others, and branding/curating of gift items like mugs, custom flasks, wall clocks, throw pillows, frame enlargements, cufflinks, and so on. We give our clients the option of choosing from our wide range of designs or afford them the luxury of bringing their imaginations to life.
We strongly believe that “a family that slays together, stays together”; and so we do not take it for granted when we are called upon to put together outfits or gift items for celebrations by family and friends. When it comes to branding custom outfits and gift items for businesses, we pay great attention to ensure that the corporate branding needs of our clients are handled carefully and delivered timely. We have served individuals and corporate bodies in Nigeria and outside of the country.
Nice to meet you Kanayochukwu. What inspired you to start Vaso Fitz?
While going to camp for my youth service, I promised myself to be as productive as I could during my stay. So, I marched as if my life depended on it and when the Skills Acquisition Entrepreneurial Development program (SAED) kicked off, I went round to find out which of the skills acquisition advertised was in line with my initial plan. This resulted in my signing up for jersey customisation.
After learning and making some custom outfits for many corp members on camp, especially during the camp carnival, I followed up with the main classes outside the camp. At this time, I came first place in a competition organised by SAED and did plenty of research which landed me a free internship. My facilitator saw how good I was and granted me the privilege of teaching the next set of corp members that enrolled in his class along with him.
I made a couple of outfits on the side and was amazed at the excitement that came from the few friends I worked for. The excitement on the face of the few who patronised me in the early days sparked something interesting that I couldn’t quite explain and the compliments I got were mind-blowing. I had learnt so much and enjoyed the fact that it put smiles on the face of people. One smile after the other, I had found a place where I could express myself, help others do the same and still earn money in the process.
I battled with the name to use. After praying about it for a while, the word GLASS came. I was about to shake it off when Glamour, Simplicity and Stylish followed. An instruction to use the Spanish interpretation of GLASS made me look it up on Google and VASO was born.
Nice! How have you been able to get your team to work effectively together to produce the results you want in your business?
It has not been easy. The first hurdle is getting people you can rely on to deliver on what they’re expected to do considering you’re not there every time. I’m very big on motivation. Asides from encouraging them to do their best, once in a while I arrange lunch and sometimes pay them a little more than agreed. This does help them go the extra mile in delivering quality every time.
I say to them every time, “The people with the millions to pay for our services on the regular will come if we can prove ourselves to them with tangible results“. So, irrespective of the client, there is this mindset that the sibling, friend, neighbour, a relative or total stranger to this client might be with our money. We can’t afford to deliver anything less than what has been agreed upon.
What are the major teamwork tips you follow to grow your business and team?
The first rule I established is that no one talks down on anyone. I make them understand that making mistakes is a part of the learning process. So, regardless of the mistake anyone makes, no one is allowed to be insulting to that person. This has led to mutual respect among my team members. It makes everyone feel valued and respected.
The second is no buck-passing. If you mess up, own up and let’s find a solution asap. It doesn’t matter how big the mess up is, I expect whoever does it to speak up on time. Hiding it or shifting blame will just end up pulling us back and wasting precious time.
Working a 9-5 job alongside running a business cannot be easy. What are some of the major issues you face with juggling both?
Handling them both can be rather stressful since I have to give 100 per cent to both my business and my 9-5 job. Some of the major issues I face are having clients wanting to see me, getting disappointments from dispatch riders, creating content for advert purposes, battling Lagos traffic and clients expecting real-time responses to their messages. Being a startup founder with a 9-5 job, sometimes managing all of these at the same time can be hard.
How have you been able to overcome them?
I’ve found different ways to deal with each of these issues. For clients that insist on seeing me before they part with the money for the jobs they want VASO FITZ to handle, I schedule meetings for weekends. Considering the fact that I am at the office during the week, this tends to be the best time to meet up. Fortunately for me, however, a good number of the clients come from referrals, so it’s a lot easier to deal with them as our previous works speak for themselves.
When it comes to the dispatch riders, you get these guys who are good at first, then they wake up one morning and decide to mess things up pretty badly. It’s not easy getting a reliable logistics team to handle the delivery. There are three at the moment we work with and we have had no issue so far.
Sometimes by the time I’m back from work, I’m too exhausted to work on anything. So, for content creation, I contact someone I’m familiar with to help organise how contents go out and how best to manage it. Hopefully, soon, we should be able to come up with a viable template to work with.
Traffic in Lagos can be annoying. To get around when I need to, I make use of bikes, aka okada. They make the journey faster and easier.
When it comes to replying to messages in real-time, especially for new clients, it could be quite challenging. I use my break time to respond to messages and apologise for the delayed response.
Please tell us about a time when you faced great discomfort in doing them both and wanted to quit on entrepreneurship. How did you handle it?
Wow! I have faced quite a lot. One time, I was working on a project to make many T-shirts for a company. They had partners coming in from around the world for the event they ordered the shirts for. We were at the point of packaging for delivery when I got a call from their brand team saying that they had sent me the wrong mockup to work with and this was barely 20 hours to delivery.
They apologised and pleaded to pay for a redo to be delivered in less than 32 hours. Considering the complex nature of what we had worked on, I was trying to figure out how to go about pulling off a miracle when I got a call from another client that we supply custom mugs and gifts to for her gift shop. The dispatch rider broke all the mugs in his custody and messed up the gifts boxes. While the calls were coming in, I panicked wondering how we got into this fix and asking myself “Who send you sef?”
Through sleepless nights and amazing guys, backed up by God’s grace, we pulled through. It’s still a wonder to me to date how those events were sorted out in record time. I remember saying at some point, “I’m not doing again”, but here we are months later still taking orders and working around the challenges that come with them.
Wow! That is simply amazing. Well done. What are the major tips you follow that help you manage both your 9-5 and business efficiently?
The first thing I do is to commit everything into the hands of God as they come. The pressure of a 9-5 is enough on its own without adding a side hustle to it. Considering the services we offer; fashion, branding, and gift items to striving to deliver on time and as expected or beyond the clients expectations takes the grace of God.
Next, I plan the orders and prioritise them, so that none gets to suffer. I also try my best to keep my clients in the loop of what is happening because I understand how annoying it can be when you can’t get someone on the phone during the production process. This is especially when you’ve been disappointed in time past by other vendors, so, I always make sure that my clients have an amazing time with us.
I also have friends who remind me that I am only human, so I should make out time to rest. Sometimes, you just want to please everyone to the detriment of your health. Watch it! You’re of no use to anyone if you’re on the sickbed. So take good care of yourself. Make out time to laugh, have fun and give yourself a good treat once in a while. Like the saying goes; “problem no dey finish”😅. Then, this song comes to mind, “I can’t kill myself Ooo”. With that, we what? we mooooove.
What are the major lessons you have learnt so far about handling the discomfort that comes with running a business and working a 9-5 job at the same time?
Making out time to rest cannot be overemphasised. For instance, I crunch numbers all day at the office, sort out fabrics/patterns to work with, draft out designs and mockups on the system sometimes, and meet up with the guys responsible for the various production process to ensure we’re all on the same page. If time is not intentionally carved out for resting, I can’t be productive at any of them and the pressure that comes from them will definitely weigh me down.
I’ve learnt not to beat myself up when something goes south. There is always a solution. When the pressure of all comes to me, I listen to songs or a message from any of the pastors I respect or just look up these comedians on Instagram/Facebook to help calm my nerves.
You’ve sewn clothes with fashion designers before. What’s your opinion of the industry?
The fashion industry is a very interesting one. We have a unique way of telling our story here in Nigeria. Using our African prints (Ankara) as stand-alone designs or fusing them with other fabrics or materials to bring about a wonderful outfit or a blend of other amazing fabrics. There really is no limitation to what you can make.
It’s interesting to see the various concepts being created, modified or combined. If you know what you are doing and put in the effort, it could be quite rewarding.
What were your worst and best experiences with a fashion designer?
I don’t think I have any of such. I take every experience that comes as a challenge then I improvise where it is needed to give the best results.
What is the top advice you have for other entrepreneurs on teamwork and handling the discomfort that comes with running a business and having a day job?
First, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Understand your strengths and outsource areas you’re not competent in. It’s okay to collaborate, you know? The fact that you do a similar thing with a colleague in the same industry does not make the person your enemy/competition. The sky is big enough for us all to fly in.
Secondly, you’ll need to make lots of sacrifices. Depending on the business you’re venturing into, your social life might have to be put on hold for a while. You need to manage your free time well and minimise distractions.
Thirdly, treat every member of your team well regardless of their position. Let those who work for or with you be excited to work. Pay them their wages on time too. A little incentive once in a while will go a long way.
Fourthly, you need some source of power higher than you to pull through every day. I trust God all the way and He has never failed me.
Finally, show them you care, ask after their well-being, There’s a saying I love – “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care”.
Beautiful. Thank you so much for your time.