Buky Akinmboni had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur. She had a good job with one of the largest advertising agencies in West Africa, and earned a decent salary. But life had other plans as she and her friend, Bolaji Fasanya decided to start a business in an industry that barely existed in the Nigerian marketplace.
After convincing themselves that the idea was worth a shot, they started their company in 2015 and named it Scentify. These ladies, now in their late 30s, chose the complete unconventional roads, never played by the book and did everything contrary to what business experts and schools of thought would advise. No business plan, no market research and they created a product before identifying a market. All they had was passion and the willpower to succeed.
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Of course, the odds were stacked against them. Buky went on to quit her day job to give the business all the attention it required. And today, the brand is gaining cross-border traction and has become one of the leaders in its category.
In this interview with Business Elites Africa, Buky elaborates on all the battles they had to fight and the price they paid to stay in business. She also admits they made lots of mistakes that other entrepreneurs can learn from.
You guys started your company in 2016, at a time when that type of business was almost non-existent in Nigeria. Of all businesses, why scented candles?
Let me give you a bit of our background. Bolaji and I have a background in advertising, communication and marketing. So we’ve tried to do business together in that field but nothing really took off. And then one day, Bolaji calls me and says, ‘Buky, what do you think about scented candles as a business?’ I was, like where is that coming from? All this while, we had only experimented with service-based businesses, and none worked out. I couldn’t wrap my head around a production-based business. Apparently she had watched a documentary on how to make candles and saw it as easy and unique. She just thought it would be a novel idea in Nigeria because nobody was doing it. I personally loved candles and fragrances. But I didn’t really key into it at the time because I was still working a 9 – 5 job at Insight Communications. We had this conversation in 2014. What was exciting about it to me was me getting to make candles for myself. I just thought it would be interesting to make candles that I can use. That’s how we started researching and practicing, and I got sucked into it. And by December 2015, we sold our first product. So basically Bolaji’s inspiration from something she watched and my passion got us started.
Some entrepreneurs would tell you to first find a hungry market and then create a product that’d serve the need of that market, but you guys did it the other way round. How did you find the market for your products?
You’re very right. The logical thing to do is to find a need and then create a product or service to cater to that need. But that’s not our story and I’m not going to try to sound intelligent or that we discovered any market. There is a reason why business schools will tell you to find a need before creating a product or service. That’s because it makes it easier for you when you enter the space. Because we didn’t do that, it was very difficult. First of all, we entered the market when the category was non-existent. There were consumers but they were very few. I realized when we started that burning candles was not a Nigerian thing. I have always loved burning candles, so I just assumed that there were many people like me who appreciated candles. A lot of people’s association with candles was from growing up and candles served as a source of light when there is no power supply. So trying to sell the product beyond my immediate circle proved really difficult.
When I presented the product to some people I thought would value scented candles, they’d ask me ‘what I’m I supposed to do with it?’ Some would even attach spirituality to it, insinuating that it’s diabolical. That’s because some religious sects (primarily white garment churches in West Africa) use candles for prayers. That was a huge shock for me because I didn’t do my research. I just assumed that since I was a candle lover, there are many candle lovers. I think that’s where passion also comes to play in a business because it was the passion that kept me going. It took a lot of re-education to let some Nigerians see scented candles in a different light. We let them know it’s not for light and not for conjuring of spirits or prayers. They are for your ambiance and to make your place smell nice. Some would argue that they have air fresheners for that. Another barrier was that some people thought scented candles were only for posh and rich people. We had to re-orientate them and let them see that it’s for everybody. And this was an uphill task…
I stumbled on acting. And then I fell in love with the art. …