If you’ve ever received a merch box from a tech company in Nigeria, chances are the business behind that box is WiiCreate. WiiCreate is a merchandising company that provides services to startups, individuals and companies.
In this interview, the co-founder of WiiCreate, Oreoluwa Shonibare, tells us about starting WiiCreate right out of university, running a successful business in Nigeria, and his thoughtful approach to savings and investments.
When did WiiCreate officially start?
The company officially started after we — my co-founder, Donald, and I — graduated from university. Donald had just graduated from Covenant University, and I was waiting for my convocation ceremony at Bowen.
Prior to that, we had sold customised T-shirts in our schools, and we knew the potential the business had. In 2017, he tweeted that he was looking for a co-founder; I saw the tweet and connected with him. The next day, we had an in-person meeting.
So when did you launch?
About three months after we first met. Initially, we wanted to get funding, but I didn’t have any experience, so I didn’t think we could get it. We didn’t know what it would become, but Donald painted a very compelling picture, and it was easy to plug into that.
Weren’t you worried about not getting a job right out of university?
Not really. By the time we started the business, there was the ₦300k I had saved from doing graphic design in my final year. The allowance from my parents was enough money for me to get by, so I was saving my design money. It is what we used to start the business.
I was scared, yes, but I had seen the amount of money that design had brought me already. So I just thought, if not now, when? I was 21; I didn’t have any responsibilities. I wasn’t paying rent, and I wasn’t financially committed to anybody.
What influenced this savings-oriented thinking towards money?
I’ve always been very independent in my thought process, and I come from a humble background. In fact, I’m the only one in my family who attended a private school, and that’s because I got a scholarship. One thing that made me focus on saving was thinking about what would happen after school.
In my third year, I got into an internship programme and realised that what we learnt in school wasn’t the practical knowledge used in the real world, and that scared me. I became more critical about spending because I didn’t want to have to depend on my parents after school.
At the end of the day, I was always thinking about what was next. I knew that money was always linked to survival, so from my fourth year, I started doing designs, and it was easier to put money aside.
Why were you looking for funding if you had savings?
Donald and I are from different backgrounds, and he had seen people get funding for their businesses, so he was hoping we could get that too. He had a very big vision for us at the start, and it would have cost a lot of money.
I, on the other hand, thought we could start small and go big afterwards. We eventually found a middle ground: Start small, gain experience, and then, try to get funding again.
Did the business boom immediately?
It didn’t take too long, but it wasn’t immediate. In the first three months, we sold only ten shirts to family and friends, but we kept tweaking and changing our strategy. Over the next four months, we sold over a thousand products.
When did things start to change?
In 2019, we sold 10,000 shirts, so we got more confident. In 2020, we launched what has become our major market now: merchandising. Now, we offer over 100 kinds of products for merchandising, including water bottles, mugs and T-shirts.
In our first year, we made about ₦5 million in revenue. So that convinced me that there was potential. By 2019, we did ₦15 million in revenue.
How did the success of the business affect your income?
For the first two to three years, I was reinvesting most of the profit. My co-founder and I didn’t have a salary at the beginning. So, in the first year, our salary was about ₦10k per month for the first few months. I knew we had to be very careful not to feel like we had arrived.
In our second year, we had about ₦2.5 million naira in reserves, but instead of increasing our salaries, we got a factory space and machines. It wasn’t until the third year of the business that we started earning a decent salary.
We always put growing the business first. It wasn’t about the money for us.
That’s impressive. You have such a healthy relationship with money.
I have Oxbridge College to thank for that. I was on scholarship there before Bowen. At Oxbridge, I learnt that it was important to live within your means and have your own money. It was very obvious to me how different I was, but I’m never one to look down on myself.
I saw the value of having good things and having good taste, but I also understood the importance of balancing that. I would see people spending my monthly allowance in one visit to the tuckshop. It made me understand the place of money, my background, the importance of values, and that I had the power to steer my life in the right direction.
The experience just made me aware. I think I would have been a totally different person without the scholarship to Oxbridge.
What’s the hardest part of running a business in Nigeria?
The most recent one is the forex rate. There’s also electricity, bad internet, high prices of everything, uncertainty of the economy, and uncertainty of the people you work with. Not necessarily your primary team, but your partners.
The other one is how people see businesses and business owners. I remember there was a dry period in the business, and I was looking for jobs. My friend’s girlfriend — now ex — reached out that her company wanted to make customised T-shirts. I told her the price, and she beat it down by 30%. Then, she said for every shirt, she’ll take ₦500.
There’s a wrong notion that all business owners are balling, and it’s because most people have seen business owners who ball and don’t actually build, so they think entrepreneurs are just enjoying themselves. But there were costs to cover. In our first year of running the factory, we spent ₦1 million on electricity bills. Anyone who runs a business in Nigeria is a gladiator.
There are several other businesses that create merchandise sets, how were you guys able to differentiate yourselves?
From the beginning, we wanted to be the biggest T-shirt company in Africa. When we pivoted into merchandising in 2020, our goal was to be the go-to for merchandising in Nigeria first, then Africa.
Because there weren’t that many companies that specialised in merch at the time, it was easier for us to quickly establish ourselves as the go-to for merchandising. We started to grow our customer base through referrals and by focusing our marketing on the tech ecosystem.
My co-founder left two years into the business, and I started a fresh Wiicreate. I think I’ve done a decent job.
How was that, your co-founder leaving?
I think that was one of the hardest things. Q4 of 2018 was one of the hardest three months of my life, but I understood why he had to go. When he left, I took a break to work for an Indian company, and then I remembered why I didn’t even want to get a job in the first place.
I returned to the business and I stripped the business model to a very lean one. We focused on T-shirts and business cards, and we were servicing only startups — with startups, there’s less bureaucracy and a more direct pitching process.
But it looks like all of it paid off eventually, yeah?
Yes. We got two new co-founders on board in 2019, and, since then, we’ve been growing 150% year on year in revenue.
Amazing. Any money mistakes you wanna share?
One I clearly remember was rushing into the stock market.
Why was that a mistake?
I didn’t know much about the market; I was just running from devaluation. So, I put my money in the stock market, and I got burned. But it was a good lesson to learn early because I didn’t have a lot of money. Thank God!
On the flip side, one of my money miracles was getting married earlier this year. Because of that, I had to take money from my crypto and my stocks. When the crash happened this year. I was already out. If not, I would have gotten burnt again.
Lucky you. So, what has changed about your approach to money?
One thing that has changed in my approach to money is understanding that there is a place for investments, like savings, and I’m now as intentional about it as I am about saving.
Any structure or guideline you’ve adopted for savings and investments?
I save and invest at least 40% of my income. I used to go as high as 50% before because once I survive a day, the day is gone, and I’m one day closer to payday. From that 40%, I do another ratio to divide them into savings and investments, so I have money for savings and investments. Currently, I do more dollar investments, though.
Favourite PiggyVest feature, and why?
That has to be the PiggyFlex, simply because it’s flexible. Life happens, especially for someone who runs a business, and you need to always have access to money to solve problems the moment they arise.
Any advice for someone who is where you were in 2017?
Find the market first, then find the product. When you find the market, you’ll find the product. You can always optimise products to the market, but not the other way around.
For young people starting a business, invest in your business. There’s a pressure to look a certain way once you’re the founder of a business, but you’re here for the long term. So, delay gratification, and be wise about what you spend.