Abiodun Folawiyo, a graduate of Accounting from the University of Lagos love for shoe-making was born over 17 years ago. He has since turned that dream into reality and is the CEO of Shoespeed Interglobal Services Limited. He has trained about 3500 people in shoemaking through the Shoespeed Academy which began 12 years ago.
Folawiyo has won many accolades and was one of the winners of the Build Entrepreneurs Today 5(BET5) programme sponsored by Diamond Bank. The 41 years old Shoemaker speaks about growing business from the scratch.
What spurred you into Shoemaking?
My love for shoemaking was born out of three major reasons. One is to solve the problems of not getting good shoes in Nigeria. As at 17 years ago when I started, it was tough to find a company or individual that make good shoes in Nigeria. That raised my curiosity and I kept telling myself, as long as this thing did not grow from the soil and it did not come from the sky, human being made them, I will go all out to build the skill to make shoes.
The second reason is the drive to be independent early in life. I keep hearing of no jobs and unemployment and I did not want that. The people I shared my vision with at the onset laughed at me. Some asked, you want to be a Shoemaker? They said it was for people that cant afford education or the less-privileged. I could not let my father know about it because my father wanted me to be a professor like him. When I decided to go on with my dream, it was a top secret from my dad.
So, I started learning from a roadside Shoemaker. While in my first year in University of Lagos, when I go home during weekends, I am with this road-side shoemaker. He asked ‘why do you bring yourself so low? And I told him the people I look up to have a humble beginning like this. Though my father wanted me to be a professor, I am working towards being a professor in shoemaking. So far, I have trained an average of 500 people in the last ten years.
Did you get more skills apart from the one from the Shoemaker?
The little I learnt from the road side Shoemaker, I built on it. I learnt more through trial and error. I also got a young man that was into shoemaking but did not have any formal education to work with me.
How did you get funds as a young entrepreneur?
It was tough raising my start-up capital because I could not share my dream with members of my family, but I was able to start with N12, 500 seventeen years ago. The business is worth millions of naira today.
Can your shoes compete with international brands?
A young man called me some time ago and said ‘I know how you do this. You buy shoes from international brands and you change the label to your brand name, Shoespeed. I asked why? He said because these shoes cannot be made by any Nigerian. I simply laughed.
Recently, I supplied some shoes to some people in the USA and I got a feedback from one of them. One of them said, he has to shop for new clothes to wear with the shoes.
What is you educational qualification?
I graduated with a second class lower (2.2) from University of Lagos and I studied accounting.
I bought my first car as an undergraduate and started paying my rent as an undergraduate.
What advice do you have for people who lack finance to starting their business?
Your start-up capital is not money. That is where we usually get it very wrong. Your capital is your passion. I define passion as an entity that lives in you. When you have passion for whatever you do, be it dress-making, make-up artistry, hair-dressing, it now becomes your driving force. The passion in me will give me creative ideas. That passion will lead me to the resources I need per time that will take my business from one level to the other. That is the passion that people will see in the future and will invest in you.
Where do you see your business in the next five years?
I see my business as one of the household brands that will be celebrated in Nigeria and some major part of Africa. I see my company as one of the companies that retailers of shoes will feel comfortable ordering shoes from. I look forward to the day, some retailers will say ‘why go to Italy to import shoes, why cant I buy here’. Because they will get it cheaper and its made in Nigeria.
The Shoespeed academy had started over 12 years ago.We have trained over 3500 people..We had done projects with LSETF, Nigerian German Center,Master Card Foundation to mention a few
With this we can create more jobs and build more industries and we will take our youths off the streets.
I have 12 people working with me now and I have six interns. We have our office at Ikeja, off Allen Avenue.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt as an entrepreneur.
To build a structure around your business. Dont be carried away by survival. A good business should have a structure because when you have a structure; it will guarantee the future of your business. Even when you are not around, it will outlive you.
Also, build your staying power. Avoid distractions. You may want to do ten things. But always remind yourself that you have to start with one and you can do one at a time.
What other things do you do?
I am 41 years old. The other thing I do now is teaching.I get invitation from organisations and corporate bodies to speak to their youths.
How has your business been able to withstand the effect of COVID-19?
Business has been good, very challenging too considering consistent increase in prices of raw materiels,diesel and the reduction in the buying power of customers. We started making facemask which helped us pay a reasonable portion of a loan facllity we took two weeks before lock-down.
The patronage from making facemask was good in 2020 and early part of 2021.We expanded to making Leather accessoties like Card Holders and Wallets for money.
Some of your raw materiels forb making shoes and other accessories are imported how are you coping with getting Foreign Exchange?
We started making our Leather locally in Kano to reduce drastically what we need to import from Europe. Also,we made some foreign proceeds in dollars from sales of facemask in the USA and Canada which we used for foreign payments.
How do you feel being one of the Diamond BET5 winner?
Its a reminder that I still have a lot of work to do. Because if an organisation finds me worthy and they decide to invest in me, to whom much is given, much is expected.
It has shown that the decision I made years ago to be a Shoemaker was good one. Now, when I introduce myself, I tell people my name and say I am a Shoemaker.
What is your advice to young entrepreneurs in Nigeria business environment?
Putting you resources into your investment is a great thing that if you do not reap now, you will reap in the future. For me, I separate assets from liabilities. I see my business as an asset and I am willing to invest all have into it per time. So, put in your financial resource, passion, emotion, creativity into your business and in years to come you will reap from it.
I will tell young entrepreneurs that there are great opportunitirs in Nigeria but you can’t access them without a fight.Be ready to give it your all strategically and consistently and you will definately succeed.Just keep seeing possibilities in the crises.