A UCL graduate with a certification in Innovation and Strategy from Harvard University, another certification in Innovation from Massachusetts in the bag. At 24, Debbie Larry-Izamoje has proven that age shouldn’t be a limiting factor when it comes to achieving success. Having started her company ‘Image Boosters’ at 21, Debbie has gone ahead to work with several brands in the Nigeria digital space while also empowering young adults on entrepreneurship. She tells us more about herself, her struggles and the journey that has produced this 24 year old trail blazing CEO.
Hi Debbie, so tell us who Debbie Larry-Izamoje is?
Debbie Larry-Izamoje is a young female Nigerian female entrepreneur who some like to refer to as the ‘entrepreneur’s best friend’. This is because of my passion for the process of entrepreneurship. I love to see young people do great things, fulfil their dreams and passion. I love to add value in people’s professional life by coaching them through consultation podcasts, article writing, CV reviews and my digital and PR agency called image booster.
I can sum up my entire personal and professional life in three words- “I must win”. My current employees at image boosters know that I have a havoc wrecking never say die spirit. I believe it’s impossible to subdue me, no matter what. I also make sure that this attitude becomes contagious within my team. In my free time, I eat good food, listen to body soothing music and I stay indoors with a book. I believe in character, values, vision and action.
What is it like being a female entrepreneur?
Being a female entrepreneur is such a unique experience. With time, I have come to realise that being a female entrepreneur sometimes gets really lonely and also means you have to work twice as hard.
In our country, we haven’t gotten to the time or point where doors are opened for many women as they are for men. Some people are dismissive once they know it’s a woman behind a certain project or brand while some try to take advantage of you being female. These experiences have nonetheless made me stronger, tenacious and true to my values. It means taking advantage of opportunity that comes to you while still standing with your values and making sure that you are not taken for granted just because you are a woman.
It also means playing on your strength and intuition. I believe that woman are really blessed with Great Spirit of discernment so it means also being able to differentiate between good and bad opportunities and playing in that field.
You have authored two books at a very young age, tell us what inspired that phase in your career?
My books were birth based on my passion and my need to help the next generation of entrepreneur’s like me build and grow. I started my business with little or no experience and it was really tough trying to find the ropes and right way through.
However, I made sure I was creating much awareness and being as transparent as possible with my journey to make people understand what it takes to be an entrepreneur because I wasn’t taught these things. I believe that a lot of people are not well prepped for entrepreneurship and this is a major reason why businesses fail. I had to learn from social media and I won’t say I was deceived but I saw a picture that was not what it really is now.
How do you define success especially as regards to entrepreneurship?
I truly believe success in entrepreneurship is being at peace with your journey. So wherever you are, if you wake up in the morning and you go to your workplace and you are at peace with the work you are doing or just talking to your clients that in the sense is success. I also believe success is reaching your goals either financial or client relationship goals, whatever it is. I believe success is getting to a point where you are satisfied with how far you have come even if there’s still a long road ahead of you.
What are the challenges you faced in your journey and how did you bounce back?
A major challenge for me was pitching to clients and this is because I am such an introvert and it was really difficult coming out of my little bubble. My age was also a big factor. My company was birthed when I was 21 as a result, a lot of people would tell me you are too young or you are a woman what have you done. I once had a manager at a multinational tell me I was too young and a woman to handle their huge digital communications. And even though I had many “No” and many people told l me I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t let it stop me.
I bounced back by being tenacious and not letting those doubts get to me.
So every time I was told a NO, I would go back to ask for the reason behind the “NO”. I found myself going back to read on how to get better and that was how I was able to bounce back from my early business challenges.
What principles and values have kept you going as a female entrepreneur?
I make sure I am as transparent as possible. I try to keep transparent relationships with my employees, clients and social media followers. I ensure that I am not painting a fake picture. Whoever that comes around me is rest assured that they are going to get the truth from me and this has kept me going. I am also surrounded by people who remind me of my values when I go off track. Also, one of my favourite things to do is to reflect a lot and take time out to think of decisions I have made to help better myself in the future this has kept me going.
What will you say is responsible for your success so far?
I would say my consistency, hard work, willingness to learn and being smart in taking opportunities has brought me this far. I have put myself in a position where I am always willing to learn from whoever is willing to teach me. I am never afraid to ask questions no matter how dumb the next person thinks my question is. I always go back to my books to learn something new and challenge myself. My religion and devotion to my prayers which is something a lot of us downplay has also helped in my success so far. It might not necessarily be in the journey called entrepreneurship but it has helped build my faith especially in difficult times in business.
Can you tell us about some women that are mentor figures/major influences to you?
My mum has played a major role in just being available, being my biggest fan and cheering me on in times when I don’t necessarily believe in myself. I admire Mrs Bowale Agboade and Bidemi Zakariyau have shown me the importance of having mentors that are where you want to or aspire to be and also their transparency and willingness to share from their wealth of knowledge.
Outside my career path, I look up to Mo Abudu, I love how she has been able to build several businesses and impact the lives of many people. I admire Serena Williams a lot because of her confidence, hard work, humble and true nature to her values.
I also admire Michelle Obama because she has shown us that you can have a family life and a professional life and be excellent at it.
As the Entrepreneurs Best friend, what do you think is the core of entrepreneurship?
The core of entrepreneurship is people management and it is the most difficult aspect because you get someone that is perfect for the job but you can’t afford to pay them and get some that’s not good but you have to take them on because that’s what you can pay for and then you have to spend time training. In some cases, you get skilled people with bad character and unskilled people with good character and so it’s almost a blessing if you are able to get the perfect team who would stick around and be loyal till the end. You also have to make sure your employees are happy with the environment they work in and while doing this, you must ensure there’s a structure in place and you are not just being a leader you are also being a manager.
How do you view competition?
I have never really been afraid of competition, if anything I believe competitors are there to ensure that I bring out the best from myself. If I ever get into any industry that I don’t have tough competition, I am not sure if I would like it because competition makes me tough on myself and not consider settling because I am constantly trying to get ahead.
You are young and a female, how have you balanced your personal life and your career?
To be honest finding that balance has been one of the most difficult aspects of entrepreneurship. It’s really hard to run a business, find love, stay in touch with family and friends and still maintain your spiritual life all at the same time. But I’ve come to realise that balance really starts from the mind. So I ensure that I make use of my to- do-lists and calendars, I also have family and friends that keep me grounded.
Are there any career mistakes you made that now with the gift of hindsight, you believe you would have done differently and what are they?
Yes definitely, Being an introvert I came into Nigeria with the mentality that I could stay in my little bubble and just assist businesses from there but I realised that doing business in Nigeria most especially stems most times from relationship and I wish I took time in the beginning stage to also build relationships as I built my businesses.
What core skills are a must have in this career path?
Creative thinking is very important, you need to be able to think outside the box. If every one is going right you need to go left and know why exactly you’re doing that.
If you weren’t in your field, what other field do you think you would excel in?
I think I would’ve done well as an editor of an online paper. I love to write and create content.
What advice do you have for upcoming female entrepreneurs?
Be sure that whatever business you start you’re really passionate about it and you’re starting for the right reasons also make sure you do enough research and get to know what you are signing up for. It is always good to have a mentor that is where you want to be in the next five years. Thus, you are literally tapping from the person’s journey and experience.
Be sure to network, put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to knock on the door even though sometimes they would be shut in your face. Don’t be afraid to learn from your failures and make sure you stay true to your values no matter how difficult it may seem.
The LLA Lady Boss Series is a weekly interview series that highlights the achievements and entrepreneurial journeys of African female entrepreneurs. The idea is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through enterprise and business.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.
If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things in enterprise, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and she could possibly be featured.