How “crazy” are you? Crazy enough to quit a job in an oil and gas company to sell fruits and salads? In 2017 when singer, Mr Eazi, disclosed that he resigned from his oil and gas job to become a musician, Nigerians thought he was crazy. Well, that craziness is not limited to the Banku singer, as the founder of So Fresh, Olagoke Balogun, also took that leap of faith.
Just like Eazi, Balogun didn’t find fulfilment in his six figures 9-5 job. Usually, snagging a job in the oil and gas sector is a dream come true for most Nigerians, but Balogun didn’t find joy working there, as his passion lay elsewhere—selling fresh fruits.
While Balogun’s decision to quit a high paying job to sell fruits would seem ludicrous to many, for Balogun, it was a rational move because the job did not bring him contentment. “I wasn’t really satisfied with the work I was doing. I didn’t feel like I was making an impact and I wasn’t maximizing my strength and my potentials.
“Even though I was earning well, the family was comfortable, and I could go anywhere I wanted to go into the world, I didn’t really feel fulfilled. I didn’t feel my work made an impact.
“And there was more I wanted to do — to grow businesses, to employ people and just to make a difference in the society,” Balogun told Nairametrics.
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Taking the bull by the horns
It all began when he started accompanying his wife to the market. The unpleasant and unhygienic scenery made him uncomfortable.
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Tired of the unpleasant market environment, Balogun decided to take the bull by the horns, “I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I create the kind of environment where I will like to shop with my wife’ and then I spoke to her.
“‘How about if we could buy these things in a very serene, hygienic and well put together environment?’ She said definitely she will like to shop in that kind of place.
“And I asked her to start it. So that was how we started the business. Of course, when we started, we quickly found out that the market wanted something different from the original market model and we responded to that.”
Transition from oil job to So Fresh
Balogun didn’t jump ship immediately. His career switch was well-thought-out. While he was taking orders from his boss at the oil company, Balogun nurtured his side hustle (So Fresh).
Together with his lawyer wife (co-founder), Balogun established So Fresh (initially called Fruitivegies) in 2010 while still receiving his six figures salary. He didn’t just wake up to quit his job, “I planned for it for like six years. We started the business in 2010 and I actually left employment in 2016.
“So we had a proven concept—the business was growing, the numbers made sense, and we had milestones we had achieved on personal fronts. There was growing interest in the healthy food space in Nigeria, compared to when we started.
“Between 2015 and 2016, the awareness was growing, so I just thought that this was the right time to leave to make the best of this opportunity and push.”
Today, the company that started by selling fruits to Nigerians in 2010 has 9 outlets in Lagos and Abuja with 150 employees. The company’s revenue drivers are salads, parfait, juice and smoothies.
So Fresh sources its raw materials within Nigeria and other African countries.
Success met preparation
Apart from tapping into his earlier work experience at Mr Biggs, Balogun went back to school to study business, because for him, “Being a good fashion designer is different from being in the business of fashion making.”
He decided to learn how to run a sustainable business because he has a long-term plan for So Fresh. “You have to learn about business. I went back to business school. I did lot of research in the industry. I practically trained myself to run.”
Business model determines expenses
The business model of a company determines the capital needed to operate. For some startups, about N200,000 can be budgeted to establish the business, but to achieve the So Fresh standard, you need additional N3.8 million.
“For the skill and model So Fresh operates, it could be capital intensive. We are not just selling food, we are also creating an environment for people to come in, relax, and enjoy their meals.
“We started the business with like N4 million from our savings—myself and my wife,“ Balogun told Nairametrics.
According to him, the exit barrier for the business is high, considering the startup cost and other expenses that are incurred along the way.
So Fresh is a victim of poaching
Poaching is a norm in the business circle, and So Fresh is not immune from this business strategy which crumbles and lifts companies regardless of the market.
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“That happens every time. Some are poached, some poached themselves. What I mean is that we’ve had like groups of three (or) four people leave and then they go and start something similar.
“It’s normal in business. People will do what they want to do. Once you have a large percentage of your staff (between 80% to 90%) staying, I think that’s fine.“
The challenge for Balogun, since So Fresh began operation nine years ago, has been infrastructure, power and drinkable water. All of these have negative effects on the company’s revenue.