When many are saving in banks and online apps, Rufai Ayooluwa, CEO of MyKolo, is out there instilling a culture of saving in the next generation.
A worrisome report posited by the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) in 2015 indicated that 90 per cent of total bank deposits in the country were owned by only two per cent of the over 70 million bank account holders.
Fast forward to 2017, Nigeria experienced an unprecedented fall in the naira against the dollar and businessmen like Rufai Ayooluwa who sold phones, laptops and phone accessories were in for a lot of trouble.
I had an interesting online conversation on #LockdownConvoswithGoldNne with the CEO of lifestyle brand, MyKolo, Ayooluwa, popularly referred to as the king of wood.
Which of your businesses did you start first?
Smartwood came first before MyKolo but both started in 2017. Before this, I was selling phones and laptop. But in 2017 I had to think of something else to do because the rate of bringing in phones and laptop went up.
Why did you choose to become an entrepreneur in 2017 instead of getting a job?
I have never worked for anyone except my mom after I graduated from Redeemers University.
I chose to be an entrepreneur because I feel people cannot pay me, I feel I’m too lazy to work for others. I started by working in the sawmill. My mother owned and ran a sawmill business in Lagos mainland. It was there I garnered the woodwork experience which I used in creating the Smartwood and MyKolo brands.
Which pain point were you trying to solve by starting the MyKolo brand?
In 2017, Nigeria had issues with the dollar because it went up and suddenly all my business ideas went obstinate. My best friend, who is late now, and I saw the local piggy bank, popularly called ‘my kolo’, and we fantasized with the idea of creating something like that. The first kolo that was created was really bad, but over time I sat down, researched more on continually improving on it. MyKolo isn’t a savings company, it is a lifestyle brand.
MyKolo is quite different from the norm because I believe our audience will always need one. We are currently working on our app which will be ready and out soon.
What about salary earners? How does the kolo aid their savings?
Our target audience is not the adult. Our main target is between the ages of 2 and 18. When we launched, adults started patronizing us. But after this pandemic, we are going back to the model.
How has the outbreak of COVID-19 affected your customers?
In dealing with the pandemic, we have gotten reports that people are breaking their kolo boxes and their children who are the main target audience do not have savings. The purpose of the kolo is to instil the discipline of saving in children. Because I believe kids are malleable and can be trained to inculcate the saving habit, unlike adults who might find it hard saving.
After this period is over, there would be so many changes. A lot of people would lose their jobs, economies will take on a different shape and some investors might pull out, but the business of saving still continues.
Run us through how the wood is gotten for MyKolo.
Most of the kolos we make are from recycling waste woods. We go to other states’ sawmill to get it. We pay a little for it. The work lies in transforming the waste wood into something pleasant and durable. One of the ways I have been able to get the amazing products we have today is courtesy of my workers. I always advise upcoming entrepreneurs and my colleagues to invest in their workers. Working with artisans can be quite hectic, they act crazy and I follow them in that corresponding way to also act crazy with them. Whatever attitude they put forward is the same way I act towards them.
I learnt how to deal with artisans from my mother while working with her at the sawmill, that the power of negotiation is very important. My workers are the best. I relate to them like my friends and family and understand where to draw the line as their boss. Artisans most times need motivation to work and give their best. Most times, I go to the factory as late as 10 pm, discuss with the artisans, and motivate them to work.
What other products are you rolling out?
Apart from MyKolo and Smartwood, we also have My Shibi. The old turning stick is quite ancient and has a fault. It does not have a grip, so we decided to enhance it and also engrave the names of the customers on it to personalize the product.
No business has thrived without challenges, what was the most daunting challenge you had to surmount?
One of the biggest challenges we faced as a brand was at the beginning when some of my artisans used wet wood to make the kolo and we started getting calls from different clients, complaints of money rotting in the box. At that point, we had to refund most of the customers who complained. But we have since surmounted that by treating the boxes.