Temitope Omotolani is the Co-founder and CEO of Crowdyvest, an impact driven platform focused on connecting its members to multiple sponsorship opportunities that are aligned with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The main focus of Crowdyvest is to raise funds for businesses in different sectors through crowdfunding, and to provide impact driven opportunities for people to increase their finances and contribute to economic growth.
In our interview with Temitope, we explored her entrepreneurial journey and the challenges she overcame to become the successful serial entrepreneur she is today.
Please tell us a little about yourself, your initial career aspirations and what drew you to entrepreneurship?
Temitope: My name is Temitope Omotolani. I am the Chief Executive Officer of Crowdyvest. I have a B.Sc in Economics from the University of Lagos and I am an alumni of Lagos Business School (LBS) & FATE Foundation Aspiring Entrepreneurship Program. Initially, I wanted to be an Architect growing up because that was what my mom thought would fetch me good money, but realistically I had to take many detours 😄.
The word “Entrepreneurship” has so much to do with “SELF”. Self actualization comes from my experiences as a kid up until this moment, so I would say that my realities drew me to entrepreneurship. I wanted to create solutions that will add value and still be good enough to make me money.
This led me to creating businesses that solved problems in my community and that was how I started my first start-up when I was 16, called ‘Gifted Hands’, a make-up business that ran for 10 years. At age 19, I founded a cleaning services company known as Fínífíní enterprises (which means “thoroughly clean”). It catered to houses, offices and the likes, and eventually had over 20 staff working with me.
In 2012, I launched another company that focused on the buying and selling of agricultural produce from the rural areas and sold to the urban parts of the city of Lagos through offline crowdfunding, and also set up a local market in Lekki (Lagos) every last Saturday of the month. It was called ‘Ojawara’. The business grew to the point where I had to partner with farmers in the Northern part of Nigeria to grow crops for me to distribute across different markets in the country. I later became one of the co-founders and COO of Farmcrowdy, where I coordinated all farm operations of over 25,000 farmers across 14 states in Nigeria for over 3 years before moving on to launch Crowdyvest in January 2020.
How much of your upbringing, surroundings and environment influenced your entrepreneurial journey?
Temitope: Well, I would say a lot. I grew up learning to be self-reliant and independent, making decisions for and on behalf of myself. I lost my dad at a very young age, and as the only child of a single mom who wasn’t always around, I had to grow up fast. I had to fend for myself, so I had to work, save and pay my way through school, hence the aforementioned businesses.
Speaking of my environment, I grew up in Mushin, Lagos, Nigeria and anyone who knows that area might have an idea how it was and probably still is. I am forever thankful that I got a chance to get out of that life even after the difficulties, pain and abuse I was subjected to.
Seeing how a lot of people around me got caught up in the “life'' there, I knew I wanted a different path. I did not want to be just another victim of circumstance. I wanted to someday look back on my life and marvel at how much grace I have enjoyed regardless of the impossibilities.
A major event in my life I like to reference is when I was about 17, where a friend invited me to an event where I saw a lot of young ladies hopping into their cars and driving off. I observed their seeming accomplishments, though I did not know them or what they did for a living, but I thought to myself, if they can have that, so can I. That jolted me, and I have been more driven ever since never to let my background put my back to the ground.
As an entrepreneur, what criteria do you use to define success?
Temitope: One of my favorite sayings is “Success is a moving target. Today’s excellence is tomorrow’s mediocrity”, so the moment you start to think you have arrived, you are planning to fail.
So in my own words, I would say success is a continuous tense. It is doing what makes you happy, adding value to lives and making positive impacts.
What would you say is your most valuable attribute as an entrepreneur?
Temitope: Being teachable! I have worked across different industries in the last 17 years; from being the makeup artist, to being the cleaning lady, to being the market woman, to being the farmer, and now leading a financial services company in the tech space. A lot of these businesses are in spaces I had no prior knowledge about but one constant has always been the fact that “I am teachable” no matter what. I studied Economics at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and I officially do not have any background in technology, but I learn, relearn and unlearn everyday from my amazing team and people I surround myself with.
Lagosians say that “if you know how to ask for directions, you can never get lost”, so that applies in business. Simply put, if you do not know something and you are passionate about it, just ask questions, be willing to learn because someone always knows more than you do.
What key challenges have you faced in your entrepreneurial journey, and how have you navigated these?
Temitope: I think any entrepreneur worth something has gone through the stages of self-doubt, weariness and uncertainty.
Entrepreneurship is a journey of faith travelled by crazy people😄.
I have had many dark days and considered paid employment, but what has kept me going is my belief and passion for the solutions my businesses create.
Knowing that someone’s life is better because of the work I put in everyday is a huge motivation for me to get going when it is tough.
I also try to take time to rest, travel, eat good food and have fun, that helps me rejuvenate. I surround myself with positive people that can help me push along the tough paths. What advice do you have for women aspiring to become business leaders and entrepreneurs, especially in Africa?
Temitope: I know a lot of women have different realities and society has neither been fair nor enabling in most cases, but I would say “Do Not Limit Yourself!” It is all in the mindset. If you believe you can do something, then you can. However, nothing good comes easy or from wishing, so put in the work, be yourself, take responsibility, surround yourself with the right people, strike when the iron is hot and if you believe in God, pray. Please give us an overview of Crowdyvest’s origin story?
Temitope: Crowdyvest was born out of the need to address impact and funding opportunities in different sectors of the economy. We first started from Agriculture, helping thousands of farmers across Nigeria access finance, put together by different individuals. We have since expanded into Real Estate, Transportation, Healthcare, Telecommunications, and many more, helping SMEs raise capital to fund their projects while our members make good returns on their investment.
We started as a team of 8 who sat around just one table and did all the operations. Things were a bit rocky in the early stages of the start-up, but as time went on, we gained more structure, definition, unified vision and mission. Now, we have grown to a staff strength of 27 with over 101,000 members from across the world and a range of 7 major product offerings within 18months. We have been able to help more than 10 businesses across different sectors achieve many of their project targets.
What value proposition is offered by Crowdyvest and how is it different from other investment platforms in Africa?
Temitope: We hinge our values on the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which makes us distinct. This simply means that we care about our members and the society at large beyond their wallet balances or the amount of money that they can trust us with. Our message says “Making more possible” and we mean that in any sense there is.
A lot of people do not understand how much they can achieve with the right tools or do not believe in starting small. We are proof that hunger and poverty can be alleviated gradually.
With the right savings and investment culture, coupled with viable opportunities, we can access to better education with proper planning, good health and ultimately improve their quality of life long term.
That is why we are sensitizing people on more productive ways to improve. It is everyone’s social responsibility to tackle those issues that are not as prominent or do not make the news. We believe our work helps tackle these goals in one way or another, and we have only just scratched the surface.
What is the target market and reach of Crowdyvest?
Crowdyvest is made for everyone living and breathing; school pupils, university students, civil servants, market vendors, artisans, entrepreneurs, investors and anyone in-between, across all ages. So, I would say the size of our target market is 7 billion plus people, and with our range of products, there is something for everyone while we work on even bigger expansions.
Therefore, everyone that aims to achieve their financial goals or other goals in any area of life is our target market.
What key challenges has Crowdyvest faced since its launch, and how have you navigated these?
Well, like the 17th SDG says, “Partnerships for the Goals”, but this can be tricky. Finding businesses that share your vision or can help achieve that vision is not a walk in the park. We have to make sure we do our due diligence, know their track record and also ensure that these entities can pay us back when the time comes.
The economic reality of the nation affects our business greatly as well. There is also the issue of regulations; trying to model your business a certain way but at the same time, in compliance with regulatory bodies. Having to pivot or adjust to new regulations when these bodies update their policies can take a toll on the business.
Before ending the interview please tell us what Crowdyvest’s future plans are for expansion in Africa?
Temitope: Our vision reads, “To be the leading impact-focused financial solution driven by digital technology with a community of over 5 million members by 2025”. We have our work cut out for us in achieving all-in-one financial solutions for all these individuals, businesses, and for their short or long term goals. This ensures that we make more possible for them, in order to attain financial freedom. Expansion into other countries within and outside Africa is also a major part of our growth strategy, leveraging on deliberate partnerships.
Thank you for participating in this Q&A session. We wish you all the best.
Temitope: Thank you.