Paul Orajiaka, a 37 year-old Nigerian entrepreneur, is the founder of Auldon Limited, a manufacturer of African-themed toys. Orajiaka founded his company 17 years ago with less than $100 and today, it now has annual revenues of more than $10 million. Orajiaka’s story will
make you marvel.
From failing to secure a US visa several times soon after he left secondary school in the quest of seeking for greener pastures, from the shame he faced which made him leave Benin for Lagos to start trading at Idumota with his in-law…
Orajiaka recently spoke with Forbes, find the interview after the cut. Don’t say it is too long oo, read, and be inspired. To have millions in dollars is not beans ooo. Auldon manufactures dolls and other toys which depict, promote and teach Africa’s cultural heritage to, children.
Orajiaka founded the company 17 years ago with less than $100; it now has annual revenues of more than $10 million. Apart from Nigeria, Auldon’s toys are now sought after in countries like South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, and some parts of Europe.
Last year, Auldon launched the Unity Girl Dolls, a set of multi-cultural dolls clad in the traditional attires of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups. It has been a runaway success and a tremendous hit among Nigerian parents and their daughters. Orajiaka is currently studying for a Doctorate in Business Administration [DBA] at Henley Business School of the University of Reading, majoring in Entrepreneurship.
Forbes recently had a chat with him where he recounted his journey and spoke about his future plans.
Why did you decide to venture into manufacturing African-themed toys?
I grew up in Warri in Southern Nigeria, and I did my secondary school education in Benin City. I recall that immediately after my secondary school education at Igbinedion Secondary School, Benin City, my sole ambition was to travel to the United States to seek the proverbial greener pastures.
I never exactly planned to venture into the toy business. I was 18 at the time and determined to leave Nigeria at all costs. So, along with my friends, I made countless unfruitful trips to the American embassy in pursuit of an American visa. Eventually, all my friends were given visas, except me. Naturally, I became dejected and ashamed.
I had no clue as to what my next line of action was going to be. So I decided to stay back in Lagos and not return to my hometown where I would be mocked by my friends. You see, a lot of shame was attached to
my disappointment at that time, being the only one out of all my friends who was denied an opportunity to go the U.S.
So I decided that the only way out for me was to stay back in Lagos and work with my in-law in Idumota market and that is how that reluctant step taken out of frustration ended up becoming my glorious journey to success and fulfillment.
Idumota is a very saturated business hub and it’s not exactly the classiest place. Very few young men I know would like to start out in a place like that? How demanding was it building a business from Idumota?
I look back now and smile because it was indeed a difficult decision to make at that time. Idumota is largely congested and is a hustle-driven environment. It wasn’t fun at all. I felt like a fish thrown into a sea, filled with sharks and there I was trying hard not to be eaten up.
All these factors emboldened me to strive in making a mark. With this in mind, I had no choice but to get used to it. Not long after settling in, the lid on my eyes were taken off after I came across young men who were doing extremely well in their different spheres of business. Just before, I got too carried away I realized it was equally imperative, that I go back to school and get educated.
So while I was working for my in-law, I enrolled as an accounting student at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), after which I proceeded to getting a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Lagos Business School, Pan-African University (PAN). Expectedly, after graduating from school, I became better equipped for the journey ahead, which saw me take the management and
administration of my business to a greater scale.
Today, I can confidently beat my chest and say, a humble beginning which started about 17 years ago as a small venture, is now a leading company, importing and supplying top quality range of educational toys to wholesalers and retailers in Nigeria.
Going back, 1997, when we started, our capital base was just $30, but as at 2014, the company’s turnover has surged to over a $7 million. We have also metamorphosed into a Limited Liability company, status, which we attained in 2002 employing well over 400 people, inclusive of direct and indirect.
Nigeria is not known to be a conducive environment that enables small businesses to thrive. What gave you the drive to forge on amid challenges you must have encountered, especially funding?
You are not far from the truth; I almost gave up because initially, it was an uphill task building this business from scratch, especially without funding from banks. It was near impossible to continue, but my frustration and anger at at the banking system coupled with lack of support, only made me further persevere, be more passionate and determined to ensure that the business grew.
I tell you, it would be unfair to blame or criticize some Nigerian entrepreneurs who fail to surmount the numerous challenges which stifle their growth. That said, I have come to realize- despite the myriad of challenges bedeviling them, which range from power, lack of funds, wickedly high bank interest, lack of infrastructure e.t.c. An entrepreneur can still attain success, if he/she can recapture the passion and emotions of its beginning likewise inculcate same in its staff.