Shared office spaces, commonly known as ‘co-working spaces’, is a fast emerging trend across Africa.
Not everyone who runs a small business can afford the burden of rent, and all the accompanying expenses and hassle that come with running a functional physical office. And this is exactly why the concept of shared office spaces has proved to be an exceptional favourite for young entrepreneurs and mobile business owners in Africa’s major cities.
The lady we’re about to meet abandoned her comfortable job in the banking industry to follow a more fulfilling entrepreneurial path. After cutting her teeth with a small business focused on selling baby products, she teamed with her husband to start a shared office space in the heart of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.
In this interview, she shares her interesting journey from employee to entrepreneur, and how she’s bracing up to take on the future.
Let’s meet her.
Tell us about yourself. How did you end up running your own business?
My name is Toyin Akinlade, an ex-banker now turned business woman (as I like to call myself). I left the world of banking where I had worked for a little over 7 years to join my husband in running an IT consulting firm. While at Zenith Bank, one of Nigeria’s biggest banks, I took on several roles in the Operations, Customer Service, and Marketing departments.
Working in the bank was not without its upsides and downsides as typical of any profession but year 2012 happened to be the year that I had the brainwave to quit my lucrative job and decided to go it on my own. That decision is one of the craziest things I’ve ever done because I left at a time when I was doing considerably well.
I left because I no longer found the job mentally stimulating as much as I wanted and I felt it did not make a lot of demand on my MBA which had cost a fortune to acquire. Coupled with that was the stress of juggling work with three young children under 5 years old at the time.
Two months after I left the bank job, I started a business I called Cradle and Beyond. I started the business with the token I was given from the bank as gratuity. It wasn’t a significant amount, but rather than moan about it, I thought to make good use of it and multiply it. I got into the sale of baby food, cereal, diapers and wipes which I sold to my former colleagues in different branches of the bank, as well as nursing mothers in my church and neighbors as well, doing home, office and church delivery.
I ended up joining my husband’s consulting firm as the Chief Operating Officer. After helping to put certain systems in place, the business started to run and perform better. However, a general lull in business in the middle of last year forced us to start thinking of diversifying into other areas to keep us and our business afloat.
Before the lull, we had always wanted to create another business by the side, a ‘bread and butter’ business. By this, I mean having a business that will always ensure there is cash flow; which is the lifeline of any business.
The kind of IT consulting services we render are quite bespoke and there were instances where we had quite a tidy sum of money tied down in projects and the issue of cash flow was always a problem. So late last year (2015), we went back to the drawing board, changed our business strategy and decided to sweat our assets more. Our asset at the time was our well-furnished office from where The Plectrum Hub kicked off.
What exactly is The Plectrum Hub, and how did you come up with such an interesting name?
The Plectrum Hub is a Serviced Office and Virtual Office provider; basically what is now known as co-working spaces. The whole idea is provide a ready-to-use office space and work spaces for both budding entrepreneurs and established business owners, so they can focus on growing their businesses and avoid the burden and inflexibility of rent.
Our goal is to encourage young businesses to ‘Stay Lean To Grow Big’. We do more than just renting out office spaces, we also endeavor to create an environment for businesses to network and collaborate through the events we hold within our space. That is why our core values are; Convenience, Professionalism and Collaboration.
A plectrum is the tiny stick used to strum a guitar or stringed instrument causing it to belt out the melodious tunes. It is actually the name of our parent company. We are of the opinion that no matter how profound and detailed any business strategy is, it will still require some seemingly tiny but absolutely essential business processes like the plectrum, required to execute the business strategy. We are plectrum that provides perfectly stringed business solutions.
How did you move from ‘idea’ to ‘action’ with the Plectrum Hub?
It was sort of easy for us to move from ‘idea’ to ‘action’ as we already had the basic things required to set up a co-working space. We had the offices already well partitioned, the right ambience, conducive environment, good location (in the heart of Ikeja, Lagos) and generally the professional image required to boost any corporate brand. To have a good start, we got an advisory team in place for guidance and then hit social media prospecting our target audience. Interestingly, we got our first client right off Twitter a month after we opened shop for serious business.
Who exactly are your targets in the market?
Our target market is primarily businesses that are into professional services. These include business consultants, accountants, online businesses and others like them who are looking to save startup costs and operational expenses, and who like to work in a community of like-minded business people.
How did you know the market would be receptive to another ‘shared office’ idea, when several already exist?
While we know quite a number of co-working spaces already exist, we believe that this is one industry where demand outweighs supply. Currently, there are not enough shared offices to go round for the high number of entrepreneurs and businesses who need this service. From the reception that we have gotten so far, we know we are not too far off the mark.
What were the main challenges you faced with getting the business off the ground?
The main challenge in getting the business off ground was getting additional funds to bring the business to the level we aspired to. We however worked our way round it by scaling things and choosing to grow organically.
What’s the kind of feedback you’ve received so far from customers? What are the top 3 reasons they prefer The Plectrum Hub?
Feedback gotten so far has been encouraging. I’ll say some of the reasons we are preferred will be first and foremost the flexibility of our service offerings, our top notch customer service and the human face we put to doing business. At The Plectrum Hub, we strive to always put ourselves in the customers’ shoes because we have been there before and know how increasingly frustrating it can be to do business in this clime.
How does The Plectrum Hub make money?
For now we are not smiling to the bank yet as we are just less than a year in business, but like I said earlier, we have a parent company that acts as a ‘big brother’ of sorts but things are looking up and we hope to break even in the shortest time.
Where do you see your business in the next 5, 10 and 20 years?
At the risk of sounding myopic, I can only talk about the next 5 years for now. We hope to have a few more branches within the next 5 years; at least two in Lagos and one in Abuja.
It’s common belief that entrepreneurs are restless people. Tell us about the next big idea you have in the pipeline.
Our next big idea is in the Media cum Entertainment sector. All I can say at this stage is watch this space.
What’s your single most important advice to entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business?
To any entrepreneur just starting out in business, I’ll say just three words; Perseverance, perseverance, and more perseverance. Rome was not built in a day. I abandoned the first business I started when I left the bank after a little over a year because I felt the margins were too small and customers were not being reasonable. I wanted to start making big money in very little time but I have since come to learn that business does not run that way, it has to go a full cycle and one must be prepared to go through the learning curve.
How can anyone contact you or register to use the facilities at the Plectrum Hub?
For bookings and further enquiries;