#LLAInterview: “Find whatever works for you and run with it” LLA Meets Tayo Bolodeoku, Founder- Hans and Rene

When Tayo Bolodeoku’s twin boys were diagnosed with autism, it took a while to process it. As coping mechanism, she started baking from her kitchen and would at different times have friends and family over for treats. From baking for friends and family, she founded her own Gelateria, Hans and Rene which is Nigeria’s very first Made in Nigeria Gelateria. A Certified Le Cordon Bleu Chef and graduate of Accounting and Business Administration from the University of Sunderland and Webster University, London, Tayo shares her entrepreneurial journey with Leading Ladies Africa.

Having studied Accounting and Business Administration, one would assume a 9 to 5 job was the path for you. Did you make a career detour or has entrepreneurship been the path for you from the get-go? Why entrepreneurship?

The former has been the case for me. Entrepreneurship runs through my veins as both my paternal and maternal grandmothers were very successful business women. My Father is a successful entrepreneur, therefore, entrepreneurship, for me though seemingly a happy accident is what I know now to be God ordained. I initially began my career in the 9-5 path, I knew that punching numbers was not going to leave me feeling fulfilled but at that time most people went the conventional route so I persisted along that path.  I had always cooked and baked in my spare time and baking became a therapeutic escape during the time when we were trying to figure out what was wrong with my formerly bubbly eighteen month old twin boys.  As we went through the long process of diagnosis, I had to take a sabbatical from my job, my creativity was sparked, I began to get more innovative and experimental with my creations, thankfully friends and family were willing guinea pigs.  These “guinea pigs” encouraged me to commercialise my creations, their encouragement gave me the courage to start my business.

Let’s talk about growing up. Would you say the way you were raised in part prepared you for the life you have now? More so, would you say the values instilled in you as a child shaped some of your life’s outcome as an adult?

My Father like myself started off on the 9-5 route of banking and later moved into entrepreneurship. One of my most vivid memories growing up was watching our Dad’s work ethic; his study light went off like clockwork at midnight every night and by 4am the following morning it was on again. As his business grew, every week he left Ibadan early on Tuesday morning to work in Lagos and returned Friday evening.  He imbibed in us the value of hard work and discipline. From an early age, we were taught to memorise Bible verses, Galatians 6:7 was one of my parents’ favourite;  Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap”. Therefore, we were taught and knew that nothing was handed to us on a platter and we had to work for everything in life.   I have six siblings, when my fifth sister was born, my Mum transitioned to being a homemaker. Watching my Mum take care of us and run the household has been invaluable in shaping the way I run my business and home. My employees are like family and we treat each other as such. I have a great team both at home and in the office.

Hans and René is the first “Made in Nigeria” Gelateria. Did you set out to run a Gelateria? Or did the business evolve overtime to what it is now?

I set out to specifically run a gelateria. I don’t like the taste of ice cream, the taste of gelato is different and so is the texture which comes out a lot smoother and finer as it is frozen under different temperatures and contains less fat. I fell in love with the process of gelato making when I visited Italy on holiday and as I was writing my business plan, I felt that the differentiating factor in my business was to set up a gelateria as the lead product.  My mind was already well made up, I knew that my pastries would sell but I needed a product that would stand out in the already saturated baking industry.

Did you have fears setting out? What was your greatest fear and how did you manage it?

I was very comfortable baking and whipping up new creations in my kitchen for a few family and friends. However, I had never commercialised any of my creations as setting out to do this as a business would mean a much larger scale and a larger audience.  That in itself was frightening and not because I didn’t trust in the quality of my product but it just meant more pressure.  My support system being my family, were very influential in the birth of Hans and René as I don’t think I ever would have had the guts to set out and make it a business reality without them.  My greatest fear was letting others use my recipes for fear that they would not follow it to the letter as I am a perfectionist. I have been known to stay awake all night tweaking and perfecting recipes, therefore, I had to teach others recipes that I had perfected over the years, which in itself requires a great deal of trust. I have also learnt to let my employees make mistakes and get them to go through the process over and over till we turn out products that we are proud of.

Let’s talk about the name ‘Hans and René’- it has an interesting almost foreign ring to it. What does it mean?

Yes, I have heard that the name sounds foreign. On the contrary, Hans and René is actually a derivative of my twin sons’ names: Folahan (aka Hanny) and Folarin (aka Rinny).  The business might have never been birthed without them; it was only fair that I gave them some credit.  When we were coming up with a business name, we toyed around derivatives of their names and Hans and René was coined. Hans in German means Gift from God or God has been gracious and René in French means reborn or born again. I am a great believer in the importance of names, as you are being called your name reinforces its significance in your life. Hans and René is a gift of God, reborn in my life out of the ashes of pain. We felt that these names were apt and significant.

Can you share briefly on your educational pursuits? Did those trainings and degrees prepare you for what you do now?

Many creatives get carried away when trying to put structure around their businesses, my accounting and MBA degrees have definitely helped in shaping the way I run my business. From the very beginning, I invested in setting up a financial system, though it was expensive at that time, it has been our saving grace. I am also more aware of costs and expenditure than I would have been if I didn’t have that background, I am constantly carrying out costs-benefits analyses in my head and book-keeping is often a breeze. My Le Cordon Bleu background has been extremely influential as it taught me the basics and all the advanced learnings I would need to possess to become a pastry chef. My stint at the Carpigiani Gelato University was also an invaluable learning experience.  I am thankful for those learning experiences as they prepared me for the realities of running a business. I also ensure that I go for at least four training classes per year so I am constantly learning and innovating.

From your own experience, would you say there are peculiar challenges women in business face because of their gender?

There are the challenges that naturally occur as a result of our society being a particularly misogynistic one to an extent; I have had instances in the past where my staff would rather apologise to my husband for wrongs committed within my organization, so there comes that disrespect. I have learnt to rise above it and continue playing my role to the best of my ability. Sooner or later, with the incoming generation being more aware, exposed and educated, I believe that women will start to receive the respect that is due them especially where we are doing an excellent job, gender bias aside.

Digressing a bit, you seem not to use Social Media for personal promotion? Is that intentional? What are your thoughts on Social Media generally?

Due to the nature of my business, I sometimes have to be put out there. However, some things are still sacred to me such as my family. Although I am in this space, they did not elect to be in it so I try to keep whatever’s left of my public persona as quiet as possible. That’s why my personal social media page is on private. My thoughts on the impact of social media are mostly positive. I think it can be a great tool for marketing and increasing the visibility of a brand as it has been for mine. However, I believe that it can also be negative where a person is basing the highlights that are shown in other people’s lives as criteria for measuring their lives in its entirety. I think the youth are largely under pressure due to this. So you can conclude that social media, is what you make of it. If harnessed properly, it really could reap huge rewards for you.

In this interview, you said baking helped you cope with the reality of your boys medical condition at the time. How would you advise moms out there going through a similar season?

I would say that first that it is okay to feel what you feel.Embrace it all: the anger, the sadness, tears, scream if you have to but just don’t allow yourself to dwell too long on it.  Get up and fight, you have to fight for your children, you are their voice for now, so fight for them to be heard.

I became an avid researcher and reader because of my sons. I went to every appointment armed with information and challenged people if they dismissed my opinion. You are their parent, you know them so you know what they are capable of doing, don’t let strangers tell you otherwise. Don’t allow labels to define them. There is hope. I clung to God the most during the initial stages and still do.

Over the years, I have truly learnt the value of prayer. So this would be my second advice: Pray. It really is everything and then some.

Third, find an outlet. For me, that was baking and that really helped me stay sane. Find whatever works for you and run with it.

What counts as success and fulfillment to you?

To quote from one of my favourite books,  I see “the development of an extraordinary business as a never ending inquiry, an on-going investigation, an active engagement with a world of forces, within us and without, that continually amaze and confound the true seekers among us with awesome variety, unending surprises and untold complexity”

I am not fixated on ‘success’…an end point for many that enables one say, ‘I did it’. Rather, for me it is the beginning point because it raises more questions which in turn raise other questions…Fulfilment for me is being able to infect others with this same zest of not resting on one’s laurels but constantly reinventing and reinvigorating oneself.

If you could go back in time and speak to your 25-year-old self, what would you say to her?

Rewind to January 2000, a first time mother. I was 25 years old and was not quite sure what to do with this cute chubby baby who took over my world and spent the day, pooping, crying, sleeping and eating, in no particular order. What would I say to my 25 year old self? Get ready for an epic ride, this is the quietest time you will have in the next 20 years so soak in every moment. It really is not as bad as it seems, grab as much sleep as you can, speak positive words into his life and most importantly…BREATHE!

Moving on briefly, what counts as fun for you?

Like I said earlier, I’m a home buddy so kicking up my feet and resting at home is fun for me. The only other thing I enjoy just as much is travelling. I love exploring new places and scenery. Catching up on tv shows during my rare work free weekends is also a favourite pastime. 

Tell us 2 things most people don’t know about you?

1.       I am a very good mimic. I can mimic most people, it is my party trick.

2.       I dislike my given middle name (and no, I am not telling you what it is), to some people, it is a beautiful name but I didn’t think it suited me therefore; over the years, I have gradually dropped it from every documentation. To wind me up, some of my close family members still call me a modernized version of that name.

 2 book recommendations?

The E-Myth revisited by Michael E.Gerber and Lioness Arising: Wake up and change your world by Lisa Bevere.

What is your advice for women who want to tow this same path?

Embrace the journey, every single part of it: the troughs and the peaks, though in some moments it might look like the world is about to come to an end but every season has a lesson. Work hard and be very present in every moment, try and take in all you can because time flies and you cannot take it back. Have faith in God and be almost tunnel-visioned in focusing on your journey. We are all born with God given talents and for a unique purpose, so you have your mark to make on earth.

Had I known then, what I know now, I believe I would have worried less and trusted that God always makes all things work together for my good.

The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.

It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa; an initiative that seeks to effectively mentor and inspire women, with particular emphasis on the African continent.

Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to lead@leadingladiesafrica.org and we just might feature her.

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