LLA Interview: “Failures and mistakes are part of the learning process.” Ijeoma Ndukwe-Egwuronu, CEO Bubez Foods

Successful entrepreneurs are those who turn ordinary products or services into extraordinary brands, creating value for customers and their target audience. For Ijeoma, meeting the hygiene and convenience needs of mothers with a local staple proved to be an ingenious and inspired idea. Enjoy her interview and read about how she’s turning Bubez Pap into an internationally acclaimed brand.

You used to retail high-end luxury clothing before you moved into food processing; what was responsible for that switch?

At the time I started the food processing business it started demanding a lot of time and attention from me and I couldn’t combine the both so I had no option but to shut down the clothing store. Of course in business we are talking about return on investment, naturally the foods processing business had a better ROI in terms of potential so the weaker one had to give way.

Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and how did you work towards achieving your dreams?

I realised by my 2nd year in Medical school that I wasn’t wired to be a doctor and I wanted to do business not necessarily because I knew all that it involved. I did all kinds of petty retailing while in school and by the time I graduated I focused on the clothing retail as we had mentioned earlier.

Okay, let’s talk about Bubez Pap; what was the inspiration behind starting that particular line of business? And why Akamu?

So here I was in 2012, neck deep in debt running my store, people will buy stuff on credit, bad debts were rising and it was crippling my business cash flow and threatening its existence and survival. I went to God in prayer seeking an answer to my problem and it came from 2nd Kings 4:2 AMP Version that says: “What do you have in your house of sale value?” And within a twinkling of an eye I saw Akamu in my fridge because it was a staple for my kids before they turned 2. I realised at that moment that a lot of mothers would love to give their kids and family pap/akamu/ogi but the stress of processing coupled with stress from work wouldn’t let them have pap as an option. I decided to bridge that gap and see hygiene and convenience.

You are popularly known as “Nwanyiakamu” and “Iyaologi” how is it that you’ve taken something that is usually thought to be so local, and made it into a thriving brand?

I knew it was considered lowly so I gave myself the name Nwanyiakamu/Iyalogi so that before anyone would diss me I had literally done that. Also I believe in naming a thing. As for growing it into a thriving brand, any business can be turned into a thriving brand first of all in the mind by believing in the product itself and doing everything else accordingly towards the set goals.

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Let’s backtrack a little. How did you secure funding for your business?

Grow your idea and the money will come. Think first about how to build a long-term and sustainable business and surpass customer expectations and be focused to it. The challenge most times is in divided attention. At the time when I knew I couldn’t grow Bubez Plaiz and Bubez Foods one had to be let go even though I had run Bubez Plaiz for 8yrs.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur?

I’m still facing them. They include cheaper access to funds, Human Resources, Power issues, name it. But I’m a firm believer in anything I set my mind to do, I look at the challenges and obstacles as stepping stones to the next level.

How is your retail and distribution structure? In what areas and locations can customers find Bubez pap?

At the moment we do direct distribution to the retailers, we are growing this in year of setting up the factory, and we are taking it one step at a time. We are in stores across Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Warri and expanding. We are also in talks with retailers in the United Kingdom

How awesome! What are some of the deliberate steps you’ve taken to grow your business and brand?

I believe in reading, reading and reading, no knowledge is a waste. I’ve taken an intensive media relations course, project management course, both in the UK, I’ve also attended communications strategy conferences in the US. I believe in brand building and that’s my area of specialty. I’m currently running a 6-month program at the Lagos Business School – the Owner Manager Program.

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How does your faith impact on you as an individual and a business woman?

My source is God, My Sustainer is God, My Guide is God. I depend totally and absolutely on the Holy Spirit for everything.

Some female entrepreneurs take umbrage at this question; but I think it’s an important one that needs to be asked. How do you combine being business woman with being a wife and mother?

There’s really no balance. I just try to have quality time with my kids as much as I can being that they are still young. We have movie nights at home on Fridays. I don’t miss their school events. I involve them in some of my work.

Where do you see Bubez Foods in the next 10 years; and what are your plans to take the brand even further?

In the next ten years I see Bubez foods as a leader in the foods processing industry with a huge export market share and as a household name. We are setting certain things in place and getting ready as a take over brand.

Name 3 women you would consider role models and sources of inspiration?

Ibukun Awosika, Mo Abudu, and Tara Fela-Durotoye

What do you know now, that you wish you knew 5 years ago?

There are a lot of them especially in financial investments but I guess it’s never late to right some wrongs. Failures and mistakes are part of the learning process.

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These are particularly challenging in Nigeria right now; what advice would you give entrepreneurs like yourself, on how to stay afloat?

Keep hanging in there be as focused as can be, re-strategise because no plan is cast in stone, watch your cash flow and cash cycle as closely as you can knowing that in business cash is king. The businesses not built on values will fade away but if we stand through these seeming tough times then we will reap the benefits in no time.

Words of advice for upcoming female entrepreneurs.

Nothing good comes easy just persevere. Don’t let the challenges and obstacles make you bow your head. Stand tall, dream big and start small, you have all it takes to succeed.

This interview is also published on YNaija.com 

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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