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Go Big Or Go Home: Chef Koye, the risk taking Foodpreneur

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

1. Tell us about Koye! In 5 words

Koye in 5 words: Creative, passionate, risk-taker, consistent, hardworking.

2. Take us to the beginning, when and why did you decide to be an entrepreneur? 

For me, I won't say that I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, if I'm being honest, I'll say I was that "textbook definition" of a child, studied law, going down that line of "go to school, get your degree, get an office job", a regular 9-5 life, but along the line, I discovered my passion for food and I pursued it, which eventually led me to begin my entrepreneurship journey.

I officially started cooking as a business when I was in 200 level in the university in 2018. At first, I cooked as a "side thing", cooking during the weekends, not as an official business per say, just something to make extra cash in school. But from that, it grew and I'll say my passion was the strongest driving force I had, because I realized that the more I cooked, the more I enjoyed the feedback from the people who patronized me, and the more the drive to continue increased. So, I continued cooking and discovered that it was something I really wanted to keep doing, and I just pretty much continued.

For the entrepreneurship part, it was actually something that came along the line, because I never had the intention of starting a business. I actually wanted to do just a good blog at first because of my passion for cooking and creating content, but I realized that it wasn't really what I wanted. I enjoyed playing around with food, and I enjoyed being a part of that joy people got from what I do.

So, properly answering this question, I'll say I decided to become an entrepreneur when I discovered that what my food and my brand was about, basically brought joy to people's faces, so I knew then that I definitely wanted something more than my love for food being a side hustle. I knew that I wanted to pursue cooking full-time, but not pushing my school pursuit aside, so I had to shuffle school and business. 

3. How do you deal with fear and doubt?

Ok, fear and doubt, hmmm. At the beginning of this conversation, I was asked to describe myself in 5 words, and why I picked the word 'risk taker' is because I'm a very courageous person, and I'm someone who always does what she sets her mind to do, irrespective of the challenges surrounding me. I really believe in myself, and I don't seek validation from others. I have this conviction in me, and I know that I have to believe in myself first before others would believe in me.

So, I believe that has been my driving force for a long time in my life in everything I do, because there have been times in my business and my career generally, where I would want to venture into something and it's almost as if no one is doing it already and it seems as if it would fail. Definitely the doubts have always been there, fear would always be there, because entrepreneurship is something that involves risk taking, but I'm not scared of failure, honestly. I'm the kind of person who doesn't allow failure to weigh her down, instead it becomes a motivation to try again and learn from past mistakes, so I've had things that I have tried and have failed at, but I don't beat myself too much about them, instead I try again and again.

So, I try my best to be positive almost at all times, I'm very optimistic, it seeps into every part of me, my career, my decision making, and all of that, and so, before venturing into anything in my business, or generally, I don't allow fear or doubt get the best of me, I keep a positive mind and put in my best, and hope for the best outcome. 

4. How does your business look differently from when you started? Did you pivot a completely different direction than originally planned? How does where you are now compare to where you expected to be at this time in your business?

Like I said earlier, starting off, it was more of a side hustle, selling food parks on weekends within my school community, budget friendly parks for students, then fast forward to when I finished school, COVID-19 was one of the biggest hit on my business, because that period brought me into the "real world", so transitioning from a regular student brand to something I was pushing forward to the general crowd in Benin-City wasn't a ride in the park, that was my first challenge. But like I earlier said, I'm not one to give up easily, so I took up a lot of networking, put myself and my business out there, I knew the kind of crowd I wanted for my business, so I reached out to people via social media, joined a lot of business communities, particularly those centered around Edo State, also joined a lot of groups, yes, that how I found out about EBH Africa.

While on these groups, I did my best to stay very active, and it really helped me to connect with a lot of people, and these people formed my first set of customers in the real world, so that was how my business basically transitioned from a regular student brand to a big brand in the real world.

Yes, my business is way bigger than how it started, and the idea has transitioned over the years, from a brand that started as a side hustle, it has grown into a brand that caters for various needs ranging from food trays to event catering with finger foods, and also to a teaching path called the Gourmet Academy, and I'll say all of this definitely grew out of that side hustle business. The vision grew along the line, because with time, I saw the passion I put into it, and how the business was received by the public, because if there's one thing my brand is known for, it's that I venture into services that's not particularly common in Benin-City, so there's always this wild factor with the things I do.

I remember starting the food tray business officially in 2020, and then, there were really no markets for food trays in Benin-City, I knew about 2 to 3 vendors only who were also doing the food tray business, but I came and started food trays full time, that was my only service offered at that time, I branded my business around this particular service, and with that, it helped me dominate that space to a large extent, and it made people see that actually that was a very valid part of the food industry that so many people were overlooking, and now, we have so many people offering the food tray service.

In relation to whether I pivoted along the line, well for my brand, I knew I didn't want to be a caterer, doing the conventional business of catering for a number of guests for events. Catering didn't allow me to be creative, and that was part of the reason I ventured into the food tray business, because it gave me the opportunity to be creative, I took it the extra mile by doing the colour coded food trays, and the fact that I made it a fun process was was my strong selling point when I started off.

And then, along the line, by the time a lot of people got into the food industry generally, the food tray business had a decline of its own, and coupled with the fact that I was a student at that time, combining such a tedious business with school, wasn't really easy for me, so I eventually ventured into events, but I knew that I didn't want to go into events in the line of catering, so I thought of a way I could still be creative with food and bring it into events, and that birthed my after-party catering business, which is providing finger foods people could snack on while dancing at after parties. I majorly ventured into finger foods that were not actually desserts, I have a very versatile menu that gives people the opportunity to try out new foods.

In answering the last part of your question, I'll say where I am right now is a big step for me, because I didn't see myself coming this far, despite the fact that I'm a positive person who puts herself out there and believes in herself, I never saw myself owning a space of my own which I officially opened last year, I really didn't see that part coming because I had a plan to open a space after Law school and National Youth Service, but when the opportunity came last year, I crossed my mind, took the risk and worked on setting up my own space, and by the grace of God, I've come a long way, so I'll say I am way ahead of where I imagined my business will be at the moment, and I'll really say I'm proud of myself. And also, taking the city where I'm located, where they are not really receptive about new ideas, being a brand that thrives on new ideas and new concepts, trying to be creative, it has been really difficult because the people are not really versatile, and that's one of my challenges, but I've just kept pushing it because I know the vision for my brand and where I want it to go.

5. How do you set your business apart from others in your industry?

First of all, I'll say that another quality I admire in myself is my ability to not see competition in people.

Now, even though I'm in an industry that is largely dominated, I mean, you have so many food businesses around, I don't really see the competition with people. More than half of the people I have in my corner are fellow food business owners, and I can have meaningful relationships with these people because I'm not looking at whatever competition there is, and instead of seeing them as competitions, I actually see them as motivation to do more and to do better.

I never compare myself to other brands, I'm on my own lane, doing my own thing, thinking my own ideas, putting my own thoughts into reality. I draw a lot of inspiration from the internet, I research and google stuff, I'm basically almost always online learning new stuff, and I'll also say that I invest so much into my craft, I invest my time, I take a larger part of my day watching videos online, generally anything to improve my craft, I also invest money into my craft, paying for courses, lectures. I constantly invest in myself and in my craft, so that's one tool I have constantly uses to set myself apart from others in my industry, because the fact that I invest so much into this has really helped me to have a different mindset, one where I know my abilities, I know what I can offer, and I know what I can do. I'll say that this really helps me stay creative and think outside of the box, and that's majorly one thing my brand is known for, I do the extraordinary, I do what others are not thinking, and I'm the kind of person that likes to be the pacesetter, and I can say that I've started a lot of things in this food industry in my city that others have followed.

So, yes, these are a few things that help me stay ahead of others in the industry.

6. How did you market your business when it was brand new? How did you leverage networking or advertising or social media to start connecting with potential investors or customers?

At the beginning, I would say my advertisement for my brand majorly was within my immediate community, close friends, relatives, you know, constantly telling them what I was into. But then, like I said earlier, COVID-19 made me push myself into the real world, I joined business oriented communities, stayed active on these groups, reached out to people there, really networked with them, and I'll say that was really a game changer for my career because these were people who I didn't know before, from different sectors, but generally in Benin-City, and although there were people who ignored my messages, but I got people who responded to my messages, who later became my customers and I got referrals through them.

I'll say big time, social media networking helped my business to be where it is today. Yes, social media has given me some of my biggest clients ever.

I was also very active on Instagram, my colour coded food trays especially, made my page very attractive, so on the first visit to my Instagram page, your mind is captivated by the view, you're naturally drawn to the business, I included my prices in the captions, and my prospective customers w were straightforward, tweaking what they saw to suit their preferences.

7. What is your hardest part of being an entrepreneur?

My hardest part of being an entrepreneur is sometimes having the feeling that you have to do it all by yourself. You know, entrepreneurship is a really difficult thing to do, and maybe for the earlier stages of your business, you have to do everything by yourself, but when you grow to the point where you don't have to do certain things by yourself, having the confidence to outsource people to employ, to trust your employees to handle stuff the way you would do, is a big challenge for me. This is so because I'm next to a perfectionist, that's my kind of person, I like my things done almost perfectly, so having to employ people for me is like bringing people who would act or do things like I would, which is almost impossible. So most of the time, I have that feeling that I have to do things myself, and even though I feel like I still need to monitor or supervise you, I'll almost still end up doing it myself. But like I said earlier, with largely investing in my craft, I have taken a lot of entrepreneurship courses, and they've all made me understand that my business definitely has to grow beyond me, so I don't have to be scared of that feeling to get things done by myself. The best thing you can do for your business is to train those people, even if they can't do it like you, they should be able to push the vision and mission for your brand, they resonate with your core values, and with that, they'll definitely be able to see the idea and the vision you have for your brand and run with it

8. What is your favorite part of being an entrepreneur? Why are you glad you chose to start your own business? What makes it fun or exciting? 

My favourite part of being an entrepreneur is the fact that I can do anything I like, I won't even lie about this part.

There's this liberation that comes with entrepreneurship for me, the fact that you can decide to switch paths in business, yeah, it's not advisable, but it's a possible idea at the back of your mind. Like I said, I started off as a student chef, eventually grew into food trays and now, I'm into events, so it's entrepreneurship is something that allows me to express my flexibility and creativity, and my decisions are not rigid based on certain choices, I don't have limitations to what I can think of.

Well, seeing the kind of impact my business has made, honestly makes me excited that I started my brand. At the moment, my brand has birthed the teaching side which is Gourmet Academy, and if I must say, in as much as I'm passionate about food, I am more passionate about teaching, because now, I have the opportunity to educate people who are like-minded whether young or old, who just seek this knowledge, and they want to invest in their craft, and I'm privileged to teach these people with my personal experiences, I've been able to build, and I'm still building a community of well-informed food business owners.

I thrive to help people build businesses that are profitable, businesses that are not just built solely on passion, but businesses that would stand the test of time and exist long after them. So right now for me, my greatest joy is seeing these people excel, I mean, since I started my school, I've been able to train over a 100 students with different batches every month, and seeing these people leave my academy and start off their own businesses doing so well, some others already had their businesses before getting into the academy, so they take the knowledge, work on it, they learn unlearn and relearn, and they really run with the vision, and I'm so proud when I see majority of my students who are doing well, and I also still try my best to encourage those who haven't started off or still have those doubts and fears. But basically, the most exciting part right now, is seeing how much value my brand generally is providing for the society at large, both the catering part, when clients are excited over well executed jobs, and seeing the genuine joy from my students and how well their own brands are doing, from my teaching part.

9. What qualities do you think every entrepreneur should possess?

Number 1, you must be determined. Entrepreneurship would test every part of you, it would test your patience, it would test your mental ability to function, it would test every single part of you, you would have your good as well as your bad days.

Have a vision, know where you're going to, or else, it would be very difficult for you. Also, I'll say as an entrepreneur, you must have good people-skills, and even though you do not possess these skills, you can employ people who would work this part for you, because trying to grow a business as an entrepreneur is definitely going to grow beyond you, so if for example, you're really shy or deeply introverted, employ someone who would relate with clients for you, don't be shy to put yourself and your business out there.

I'll also say that as an entrepreneur, you must be consistent. You cannot lack consistency and thrive as an entrepreneur. Whatever sector or industry you find yourself in, try your best to be consistent.

No great brand was built in a day, there's no shortcut to success. Your success today would definitely not be the same success in six months or a year.

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