Happy New Year!!! I wish you the very best and I pray this will be your best year yet! We're kicking off this year with our Emerging Entrepreneur interview series with Femi Alagbe of Fela and Friends handmade dolls.
Femi is one of those people that I just connected with instantly. She is super easy to talk to and we met when we both wanted to pursue our entrepreneurial dreams and it's been great bouncing ideas off each other and also seeing how far her Fela and Friends brand has come along since we started discussing it in the fall of 2015.
Enjoy the interview and be inspired.
Can you please tell us about yourself, what your business is about and the products or services that you provide to your target market?
My name is Femi Alagbe and I make handmade dolls. The name of my Business is Fela and Friends.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur and what was your defining moment?
I had always wanted to start something of my own, be my own Boss as it were. However, this idea came to me when I had my daughter. I was looking for a black doll for her, and realised that there weren't many options when it came to getting one. So I decided to make a doll for her, and so Fela and Friends was born!
What’s one unique thing about your business and what makes you stand out from others in your niche?
I make handmade black dolls. This makes me stand out as little black girls have a range of dolls to choose from rather than them being stuck with the one black doll in the group.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
When did you launch your business? I had toyed with the idea before but really didn't have the confidence to go the whole way. It wasn't until a trip to Brussels with my Cousin's wife sparked an impromptu coaching session! She gave me the confidence boost I needed. I officially launched the business in November 2015.
What productivity tools or apps to help with productivity on a daily basis?
As I make fabric dolls my sewing machine is very important. I started out with a very basic and small sewing machine, but then upgraded once I could. I also use Instagram and Facebook to promote my work and connect with possible buyers.
How do you balance being an entrepreneur, being a wife, a mum and everything else in between?
I think this has to be the hardest part of being an entrepreneur for me. What I try to do is utilise my days off in the week to work on my business. This can be difficult with the little one but I try to allocate my hours in the day to each task- cleaning, cooking, working, Fela (my daugter) and working out! It doesn't always go smoothly, but I try. I've also started getting up earlier in the day so I can get more done when my daughter is asleep. It doesn't always happen, but I'm working on it.
Can you share your greatest accomplishment in your business so far and why you are proud of it?
My greatest accomplishment is getting my work out there for people to see. I had a great fear of telling people I was starting a business, it was a fear of what people would think. Now I'm confident enough to tell anyone and the feedback I've received has been positive and encouraging. So I'm proud of the fact that I've come this far and I'm still going. I must also add my first market stall. I got a stall at the Africa at Spitalfields market event. I honestly thought if I sell one doll, I'll be happy. I ended up selling almost half my stock. I couldn't believe it.
Can you share a challenge you faced during your journey, starting out as an entrepreneur and how you were able to overcome it?
A challenge I faced and still face is my time management. There are days when I come home from my 9-5 and really all I want to do is relax and do very little. However I know there is always work to do. To overcome it I would allocate an hour in the evenings to work on a part of the business. Whether it is actually sewing a doll orresearching new ideas or even just going on social media to promote my business. It means I get more out of my day. I also had to use my weekends more effectively.
Tell us about a mistake you made starting out as an entrepreneur and the lesson you learned from it?
A mistake I made starting out was waiting to be perfect. My business coach (shout out to Bay) told me in the beginning- "Don't wait for things to be perfect, just get things done. Perfection will come along the way" In the beginning I would be so shy to put my work out there comparing it to others and thinking it wasn't perfect. I wasted a lot of time doing that. I learned that as you go on you learn and improve. So no need to wait until it is perfect, just get it done!
How have you been able to network and connect with other entrepreneurs, both new and established ones in the online space?
Social media has helped with this a lot. I am able to connect with other doll makers and market traders online. After doing my first market, I met and connected with other entrepreneurs as well. Etsy has also been a good platform to connect with other people.
What’s the next step for your business?
The next step is developing the Fela and Friends brand to offer more than just the standard doll. I want Fela and Friends to offer an experience to any child. We currently run craft workshops in Hackney Library and plan to expand this to schools, birthday parties and weddings for children's entertainment. We also plan to have more market days to get the product out there.
Please share parting words for emerging entrepreneurs out there or those that are still trying to decide whether to launch into entrepreneurship.
Go for it and don't give up. Make sure you have a good team of people around you, and if you need help and advice check out Entrepreneur's nook. She is brilliant!