Sunday, 11 January 2015

Be Inspired! Meet The Nigerian Entrepreneur Who Built A $10m Toy Company

Paul Orajiaka, a 37-year-old Nigerian entrepreneur, is the founder of Auldon Limited, the manufacturer of African-themed toys. Auldon manufactures dolls and other toys, which depict, promote and teach Africa’s cultural heritage to children.

Orajiaka founded the company 17 years ago with less than $100; it now has annual revenue of more than $10 million.

Apart from Nigeria, Auldon’s toys are now sought after in countries like South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, and some parts of Europe.

Last year, Auldon launched the Unity Girl Dolls, a set of multi-cultural dolls clad in the traditional attires of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups. It has been a runaway success and a tremendous hit among Nigerian parents and their daughters.

Orajiaka is currently studying for a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) at the Henley Business School of the University of Reading, United Kingdom, majoring in entrepreneurship. He spoke with Forbes magazine on various issues of his business.

Speaking on why he decided to venture into manufacturing African-themed toys, Orajiaka said he grew up in Warri, Delta State, in Southern Nigeria, and did his secondary school education in Benin City, Edo State.

He recalled that immediately after his secondary school education at Igbinedion Secondary School, Benin City, his sole ambition was to travel to the United States to seek the proverbial greener pastures, and never exactly planned to venture into the toy business.

Orajiaka was 18 at the time and determined to leave Nigeria at all costs. So, along with his friends, he made countless unfruitful trips to the American embassy in pursuit of an American visa. Eventually, all his friends were given visas, except him.

“Naturally, I became dejected and ashamed. I had no clue as to what my next line of action was going to be. So I decided to stay back in Lagos and not return to my hometown where my friends would mock me. You see, a lot of shame was attached to my disappointment at that time, being the only one out of all my friends who was denied an opportunity to go to the US.

“So I decided that the only way out for me was to stay back in Lagos and work with my in-law at the Idumota Market and that is how that reluctant step taken out of frustration ended up becoming my glorious journey to success and fulfillment,” he emphasised.

How demanding was it building a business from Idumota? Orajiaka said if he looks back now, he smiles because it was indeed a difficult decision to make at that time. He said Idumota is largely congested and is a hustle-driven environment and wasn’t fun at all.

He felt like a fish thrown into a sea, filled with sharks and there he was trying hard not to be eaten up. All these factors emboldened him to strive in making a mark. With this in the mind, he had no choice but to get used to it.

He said: “Not long after settling in, the lid on my eyes were taken off after I came across young men who were doing extremely well in their different spheres of business.

“Just before I got too carried away, I realised it was equally imperative that I go back to school and get educated. So while I was working for my in-law, I enrolled as an accounting student at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), after which I proceeded to getting a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Lagos Business School and Pan-African University (PAN).

“Today, I can confidently beat my chest and say, a humble beginning which started about 17 years ago as a small venture, is now a leading company, importing and supplying top quality range of educational toys to wholesalers and retailers in Nigeria.

“Going back, 1997, when we started, our capital base was just $30, but as at 2014, the company’s turnover has surged to over a $7 million. We have also metamorphosed into a Limited Liability company, status, which we attained in 2002 employing well over 400 people, inclusive of direct and indirect workers.”

Orajiaka further stated that his small business thrived despite the challenges of funds and frustration.
“I almost gave up because initially, it was an uphill task building this business from scratch, especially without funding from banks. It was near impossible to continue, but my frustration and anger at the banking system coupled with lack of support, only made me further persevere, be more passionate and determined to ensure that the business grew.

“I tell you, it would be unfair to blame or criticise some Nigerian entrepreneurs, who fail to surmount the numerous challenges, which stifle their growth. That said, I have come to realise that despite the myriad of challenges bedevilling them, which range from power, lack of funds, wickedly high bank interest, lack of infrastructure amongst others.

“An entrepreneur can still attain success, if he/she can recapture the passion and emotions of its beginning and inculcate same in its staff,” Orajiaka stressed.

What led him to go into the Unity Doll Project? Orajiaka said over the years, his attention got drawn to the painful fact that the nation’s cultural values was fast eroding, because most parents these days, shy away from teaching their children about their culture but instead allow them imbibe foreign cultures, which rob them of their identity and very existence as Nigerians.

He was also saddened to see that most toys in Nigeria have no social and cultural relevance to children. For him, that was a vacuum that needed to be filled urgently, hence he swung into action in order to make that important change, and that change gave birth to the Unity Girl Doll Project, a collection of 14-inch child developmental dolls that represent Nigeria’s three major tribes – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba – delivering a social message to infants across the country and by extension the world at large, enlightening them about the Nigerian culture, allowing them to have a sense of ownership early in life which puts them in good stead to making a positive impact when they are grown.

“For me my passion is educating them before time with positive Nigerian values and that’s why all the dolls have contents, which teach them all the positive stories and values they need to inculcate as they grow,” Orajiaka said.

Culled from Thisday

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