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Small Business Operators Require Strong Will –Efua

The Managing Director, Exotique Cakes, Miss Olumide Efua, in this interview with IFE ADEDAPO speaks about what a small business requires to grow
How did you learn cake baking?
I went to the Nigerian Hotels Catering School in Ikoyi for a one-year course in catering and hotel management before going to the university. One of the last classes we had was interesting. That was when I fell in love with baking.
After my university degree, I just could not work for anybody. I don’t have that discipline to keep on studying for my ICAN and writing the exams over and over again. I decided to start baking, about 20 years ago. I started with N250 and then I didn’t have much support from my dad. My father was an accountant and he had his own firm. He believed I could have joined his firm as an accountant but I didn’t.
To him then, cake making was nothing and could be compared with frying bean cake by the road side. Starting with N250 was an uphill task because I had to buy materials in little quantities. I just kept living from one day to the other. When the customer pays for cake, I use it to buy the ingredients. I didn’t have much to invest in buying in bulk. Whenever they came in, I took part of that money to buy books. As of that time, it was second-hand books but it helped me to improve my skills.
How did you come about the name Exotique?
As of that time, cake making was not very popular. When I hear the name ‘exotic’, it reminds me of a beautiful pattern. I thought cakes are exotic as well when you come up with a beautiful design; they are foreign, they are not local to us. That was how the name exotic came about.
What were your challenges when you first started?
The first challenge was not the money but that people did not believe I could do anything good with it. I remember some of my friends back then who wanted to make a cake and I told her to pay N1,200. She said she could not because I was working from home and had little expenses. She said that Sweet Sensation was selling for N1,500 and she offered me N800.
People around me did not believe or support the business but I didn’t let that discourage me but I just kept at it. The passion is there and I love to design cakes. It just gives me joy. I kept on one day after the other, trying to improve myself.
Do you feel worried about side effects of taking confectionary products?
Everything should be in moderation. When you are eating cake, you are not supposed to sit down and eat the whole cake, you just need a slice. Even from a tender age, parents are supposed to teach their children that too much of everything is bad. But because it is sweet, people want to have the whole thing. Even people with diabetes can eat a little bit of it. I eat cakes everyday because I need to test its quality. Some customers say they don’t eat fruitcake but when they take a bite of what I have baked, they keep on eating.
What future do you see for Nigeria cake making professionals?
The sky is just the beginning. You will see many cake bakers of international standard who can compete favourably anywhere in the world. We need to raise the standards in desserts as well.
How can government support entrepreneurship?
We need funding, because for us to have a good product, the machines must be good. A lot of bankers, lawyers and accountants are in this profession. To start up, they can provide funds for bakers just like it is being done for bread makers.
I learnt that there is support for bread cottage industries in about 99 local governments in the country. Something like that can be made available for cake bakers because the skill is not for school drop-out anymore. Even the school dropouts and women can be equipped to help feed their families. About N150,000 grant is adequate for start-ups and for the bigger businesses, some banks are providing loans but government’s funding is not available. If there is access to government funding, it will be easier for entrepreneurs.
What is your advice to entrepreneurs who are looking for huge funds before they start their business?
There is no amount of money that is too small. About 20 years ago when I started, I had N250 and it was part payment for a cake; I bought the ingredient and I baked it. Back then, I didn’t have a gas cooker but I used electric cooker. The fact that I didn’t have the funds did not stop me. Start with what you have and over time, those who don’t believe in you will change their minds.
Everyone wants the big money, no one wants to start up small. No matter how small it is to start, it will grow if you keep doing it over and over again, finding different ways of doing the same thing to give you different results. We have done cakes for ministers and governors and President just by perseverance and improving on what we have.
What are the new trends in cake making?
Cake making in Nigeria has been evolving and it is something out of the box now. Different skills are applied into cake making like painting, beading, even tie and dye skills. Sculpture professionals work on cakes as well as painters. Engineers, electricians have input in the fine cakes that move, bring out fire and gravity. We have reached that level in cake making but dessert making is lagging behind. I decided to acquire that knowledge direct from the source. I want to learn the proper way of doing desserts.
I went to a catering school in the United Kingdom and I found out that a lot of techniques that we have in Nigeria on dessert are very wrong. There is an ingredient called cherry which people substitute with strawberry which should not be. The basics of these things need to be taught. The course is the fundamental and techniques in dessert, using the standards that allow people to get that knowledge and earn a better living, especially for those who don’t even know about it.
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