‘I started my business with N20 to my name’

Dayo Tukuru

Dayo Tukuru is the brain behind Doda Interiors, a carpentry and interior decoration firm based in Lagos. Fondly called Lady Carpenter, this self-made businesswoman says working with wood is her passion. Also an interior decorator, she says she does a home from scratch to finish. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about her journey into entrepreneurship, the challenges of doing business, as well as how the ongoing recession has greatly helped her.

When did you decide to go into entrepreneurship? Did you ever dream of becoming a carpenter?
Not really. I lived with my uncle after losing my dad at a young age and he had a restaurant/hotel then. After closing from school, I used to go to the hotel to help him. I started as a sales representative and rose to become the manager at the age of 15. My uncle celebrated me because according to him, he saw something in me beyond what I could see, that I could manage even older people very well. After graduating from the university, I worked with LG Electronics as a marketer for five years, after which I went on to start my own electronics business. I ran it for a while before I ran into some problems with a staff and sadly, had to close down the business. After this, I got into furniture making about five years ago. I started with carpentry before delving into interior decoration.

It was the sad experience that led me where I am today. Truly, it was God that led me to where I am today because at that point in my life, I had no money and I was wondering if this was how life would continue. I wasn’t interested in working for anyone, as I wanted to be on my own, to be a problem-solver. So, I started thinking of what I could do that wouldn’t involve a huge capital to start with. I went on a fast because I wanted God to show me what next to do. One day while sleeping, the name ‘carpentry’ came to me and I was stunned. Before this, I loved doing things with my hands, and wood always got my attention. I started asking the Holy Spirit what it all meant and one day, while walking down my street, I saw a carpentry shop and a voice came to me saying, ‘this is what I am telling you to do.’

I was reluctant initially, but I summoned courage and went there, telling them my intention. The man refused, saying he couldn’t allow me to be an apprentice; that it was below me, as he had worked for me in the past. He told me it wasn’t a job for a woman, but I insisted that I wanted to learn. I apprenticed there for six months, humbling myself to learn as much as I could. This was how I moved on after that bad experience and I am enjoying it now.

How did you raise capital?
Starting required little or no capital. I didn’t have any money to be honest, remember I said I was left with N20. After my apprenticeship, I took courses online as well and it was during this period that I discovered that Lagos Business School was giving women in business scholarships on how to do business better. I applied and won. Before this wonderful opportunity, I sat down and estimated how much it would cost to do a job with profit. So, I collect 80 percent upfront, and with this, I carried out the job. I followed my plan, disciplined myself not to spend customers’ money and thought outside the box. After a while, I came across YouWin, and I won that grant. This really helped me in ways I cannot begin to explain.

What is the worst moment you have faced in the course of doing business?
One of the first jobs I did for a couple, a set of chairs they said they loved, but they refused to pay my balance after delivering the chairs to them. I needed to pay the people that worked with me on that project, but I never got the money from them. Another moment I cannot forget was when there was no jobs/sales for six months and NEPA cut off my power supply. I suffered during that time, crying, praying and believing, but I thank God that I didn’t lose hope, as things turned around.

What are some of the challenges you face and how are you overcoming them?
Doing business in this country is very tough. Power supply is one of the greatest problems hindering so many businesses, and depending on generators is no way to run a business. LASAA is also another problem, with regards to my branded bus. Every year, I pay N40, 000 to them because the bus is branded. This doesn’t still mean they will even allow you have a flex banner, they will pull it down and you have to pay fresh charges. Double and sometimes triple taxation is another problem we face from every quarter. But even with all these, the greatest problem for me is staffing. I don’t like changing staff every couple of months, but that is the sad reality. Sometimes, they go on their own after a few months and other times, you just have to let them go because of ineptitude and gross mismanagement.

What makes you different from your competitors?
I am blind to their existence, because I believe everyone is unique. Timeliness is very important to me, I have a standard and I keep to it at all times.

What has been the highlight so far?
Entrepreneurship is something every woman should try. It gives you a sense of belonging; it emboldens you, especially when you know what you’re doing. You’re also an extension of blessing to people by providing employment to people, which gives me joy.

What do you enjoy most being a business owner?
I love solving problems, providing solutions to people’s needs; this is what gives me joy.

Have you achieved your set goals business wise?
I believe goals should be renewed often. You have to keep checking and asking yourself if you’re doing what you set out to do, keep comparing your performance over time. I set weekly goals for myself and this keeps me focused.

Do you think enough women are going into business?
Before now, women preferred to stay at home, but I am happy that is changing now, as more women are big business owners. I pray they get it right, so that it wouldn’t be said that we started something we couldn’t finish. We need to go for courses, be more involved in women networking, we should have more forums, where women in business come together to encourage themselves, teach and educate each other, as well as source funds. There is no weak woman, as far as I am concerned.

Do you think government is doing enough to support and create enabling environments for SMEs and startups?
We are getting there. Government is making several options available, but the question is: are people even seeking these opportunities? There are several opportunities out there that people are not taking advantage of. The only way out of recession is entrepreneurship, because no matter how small a business is, if it is solving a problem, it is advantageous. Government can do more in terms of grants, loans, trainings, scholarships and so on.

Is the recession and Forex issue affecting you in any way?
Recession is helping me greatly, because people that would have imported furniture into the country can’t do so due to lack of forex. For me, it is a plus, as it is helping us showcase what we can do locally. We can compete very well with these imported furniture and I am glad people are realising this. I don’t pray recession continues, but I want people to patronise locally made goods.

Who and what motivate you?
Starting out, I fell in love with Ibukun Awosika and my aspiration is to be greater than her.

What advice would you give to anyone intending to go into your kind of business?
First, you have to make up your mind to be disciplined. Nobody understands what you want to do better than you, and if motivation has to come from outside and not from within, you have failed. You have to be deliberate about what you are doing. For me, impossibility doesn’t exist.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Doda is going to be a household name. It is going to be an institution, where people come to learn theory and practical and I believe we would get there.

In this article:
Dayo Tukuru


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