Itoro Effiong-Bright has built a brand for herself as a kitchen instructor, nutrition therapist and entrepreneur. The Banking and Finance graduate from the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, who is the ‘Chef’ Executive Officer of Ibomsoups, speaks with Africana Entrepreneur‘s Contributing Editor, CHIKA ONWUJI, about her journey from being an employee to an employer
What is the Ibomsoups brand about?
It is a fast-rising culinary brand that prepares and delivers over 70 different Nigerian dishes to the doorsteps of busy professionals and entrepreneurs.
After graduating from the university, did you intend to become an entrepreneur?
Well, I already had an interest in food processing and preparation since I was a teenager. But I didn’t think as far as wanting to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to be a banker; then along the line, I developed a lot of interest in teaching. So, it looked like lecturing would be it, and I pursued good grades in school to help me attain this. But with each passing day came the desire to want to know more about the kinds of food we have in Nigeria and how to make the most of them.
What training did you get to actualise your dream?
I attended Fate Foundation, Headstone Entrepreneurship College and Enterprise Development Centre – The Pan-Atlantic University. I have a certificate from Dr Chris Williams’ Family Health and Wellness International programme.
In 2016, I founded Kitchen Integrity, a multi-dimensional culinary initiative aimed at helping individuals and organisations rethink the process of cooking.
So, why did you still take up employment with a telecommunication firm?
It was basically the next thing to do after schooling (laughs). When you graduate, the next thing you want is a job. It was the same for me. My job met my needs but didn’t give me the ultimate fulfillment I wanted. There was something missing. With time, as I continued to render my services to family and friends, I discovered that I derived more joy from it, though I wasn’t making a profit. Everyday I left for work, I looked forward to going home to cook for my family and friends who requested that I helped. So, I started planning my exit from paid employment almost five years before I eventually resigned. I knew I needed to do a lot of planning, undergo a lot of training and do a lot of preparation. I took them in bits and was patient with the process – my last two years in paid employment was one of the most difficult periods for me. I had to sacrifice a lot of my sleep time for training, attending to personal business (Ibomsoups) and caring for my children. I went through all these because I didn’t want to resign from my job when I wasn’t sure if my business could pay my bills. I resigned because it was time. I couldn’t juggle both anymore. Business required my attention more as we had got more customers at the time. So, I had to discipline myself, summon the courage and leave to face my dreams.
So, you had a business by the side while working with MTN and Etisalat?
Yes, I did. I had already started running my business before I got the job with Etisalat, though I was running it on a very small scale. I didn’t have an employee then. I did the procurement, cooking and delivery all by myself.
Are you now fulfilled being on your own?
Oh yes! I can answer ‘yes’ a hundred times. In business, there are several challenges, but I still can’t compare this to the fulfillment I derive from pursuing my dreams – that feeling you have when you know you are giving value and it’s been appreciated. That feeling you have when you can empower someone, pay their salaries and still sustain your passion. There’s so much peace!
What are the challenges you encountered when you started the business?
The stage where I was the only one working was really tough. I couldn’t afford to employ anyone yet. So, I did everything myself. It was a major challenge as I was always looking stressed and tired.
Where do you intend taking Ibomsoups to?
First, Ibomsoups is not just about cooking and delivering Nigerian meals. A lot of other things have been added
How has your family supported your career?
Oh! My family is the best. My husband? Amazing and always supportive; he encourages me and gives me new ideas. My sons have been there for me too.
When I published my book, Make Your Food Your Medicine, my 10-year-old son sat by me most nights. While either typing or researching, he would ask me questions, give me suggestions and remind me of aspects I needed to write about.
(Laughs) He is a foodie, so we are always together in the kitchen.
This question my children ask actually sweeps me off my feet. When they notice I am under intense pressure working, any of them would come around to ask: “Mummy, is there anything I can do to help?” Oh, this question melts my heart. My interpretation of this question is, “We’ve got your back.” So, I can’t take all the credit for the progress we’ve made. My family is a major source of strength.
Who is your role model in the culinary business?
Definitely, George and Rhonda Malkmus, founders of Hallelujah Acres. I just love their template. They educate people, sell healthy products and help them cultivate a new eating habit. They have an all-in-one serene environment for their clients. They have developed a whole lot of recipes, also available in print. They have the kind of structure I look forward to.
What difference do you see between an employee and an entrepreneur?
As an employee, when you leave the office, you have closed for the day; you can bother about other things. You don’t pay directly for your error most times. But as an employer, whether you are at work or not, you are thinking about the business, all day and all night. It’s a lot of sacrifices.
What have you to tell potential entrepreneurs who are scared of leaving their comfort zone for the big plunge into the ‘unknown’?
Entrepreneurship, it is said, is not a bed of roses. But I say that it is also not a bed of thorns. It is actually a blend of both.
Before venturing into business, especially if you will operate in the Nigerian environment, plan properly, do your research, get trained, invest in bits until you are sure. Be careful when recruiting. Trust God and launch out into the deep; fight to sustain what you believe in; give it your best per time and be determined to succeed against all odds.