By Mfonobong Nsehe*
Olatorera Oniru is one of Nigeria’s most assiduous and ambitious young entrepreneurs. The 29 year-old lady is the founder of Dressmeoutlet.com, a Lagos-based e-commerce startup that retails fashion products sourced from across the globe. Dressmeoutlet.com strongly promotes made in Africa goods with the goal of retailing only the best 20% African designers. Olatorera continues to travel across Africa and beyond in search of unique treasures and creative manufacturers to retail on Dressmeoutlet.com and will be visiting China, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia and Tanzania within the next coming months. She enjoys going into the most rural of areas – learning, mingling and discovering unique treasures and natural resources that can be converted into luxury fashion apparel, shoes, jewelry and accessories.
Dressmeoutlet.com ships worldwide and currently has customers in different states across Nigeria, Uganda and the United States of America. The company now employs more than 20 full-time employees and will officially launch with a sales and exhibition event in Lagos, Nigeria on May 22nd, 2016. With years of experience from top companies including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Ericsson, Central Bank of Nigeria and General Electric, Olatorera Oniru is successfully building Dressmeoutlet.com into a fashion e-commerce powerhouse and currently has funding offers from notable investors including Nigerian investor Tony Elumelu.
I recently had a chat with Olatorera to learn more about her entrepreneurial journey and what she is doing to ensure Dressmeoutlet.com grows into one of Africa’s most successful online retailers.
Tell me about your personal, educational and professional background?
I grew up partly in Nigeria and the United States of America. I attended primary school at Maryhill Oyo, middle school at Queens College Lagos and high school at Leesville High North Carolina.
In 2008, I graduated Cum Laude Honors with a degree in Business Administration/ Management and Entrepreneurship from NC A&T State University where I had served as a Senator for Academic Affairs, Founder and President of the Association of African Students, Tutor for Disability and Support Services, Campus Lead for Monster’s Diversity Leadership Program and during a time when I had also worked for General Electric under the Financial Management Program Internship.
Upon graduation, I accepted an excellent opportunity to work for Bank of America Merrill Lynch as a Senior Analyst for the Global Markets and Investment Banking group attaining my 2nd Fortune 5 company work experience. Working for Bank of America Merrill Lynch sums up one of the absolute best times of my life – working on Wall Street in the world’s greatest city that never sleeps – New York City, while leading million dollar initiatives supporting the optimization of revenue by investment bankers. I was one of the analysts at Merrill Lynch that led the 2009 Global Asset Services Initiative to integrate Merrill Lynch systems with Bank of America’s after the industry buyout and consolidation during the 2008 financial Industry crisis. During my employed years at Merrill Lynch, I also served as co-founder and president of Network of African Professionals in New York and as a Junior Board Member of CASA-NY (Court Appointed Special Advocates New York).
After 2 years at Merrill Lynch, I accepted an opportunity to work for the Central Bank of Nigeria as a Senior Supervisor which I did for a year and then proceeded to obtain my Masters in Business Administration (MBA) Degree from Emory University where I focused on Finance, Leadership and Entrepreneurship. While at Emory University, I received scholarships from the National Black MBA Association and The Executive Leadership Council and was a finalist for the Emory Goizueta Business School Entrepreneurship Scholarship. I was also elected Vice President of Multi-cultural and served as Continent of Africa Captain. During my MBA days, I was keenly learning and strategizing on how to innovate, build, grow and lead a large company and thus my goal as an MBA candidate was to learn, learn, learn, plan, plan, plan. A good percentage of the business plan for Dressmeoutlet.com was written during my MBA days.
Upon graduating with my MBA degree, I accepted an offer with Lars Magnus Ericsson Corporation that provided me the most amazing 3 years of work experience as a global consultant and subsequently as Head of Sales Governance for the MTN Nigeria account, an account that generated over 300 million dollars in annual revenue for Ericsson. While at Ericsson, I obtained two Executive Leadership Certificates from the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland and from Stockholm School of Economics in Sweden.
Over the course of my employed years, I travelled to over 50 cities in over 10 countries in 4 continents. My entire career has been whole-heartedly rewarding and now I am more than ready for the ups, downs, thrills and joys of the entrepreneurial world.
So what made you delve into entrepreneurship? Seeing that you had built a very successful career working for multi-national conglomerates.
I was ready for the leap. I believe I have leadership capabilities to create, establish and innovate; and now I want to create global visibility for African products, create jobs for people, and generally do my part in making the world a better place and I would not have 100% of the freedom I need to grow if I remain employed. I have dreams and I want to make all my dreams come true and this requires me investing as much of my time as possible into my dreams. I want to express my love and care for people in my own way. More importantly, as comfortable as I was, earning way above average with the conglomerates I worked for, I just could not be too comfortable knowing that the poverty rate in Nigeria is 65% and even worse in other African countries. And I know we need more leaders in Africa coming out of our comfort zones to change the status quo. If we have the capabilities and opportunities to do something and do it well, we must utilize it, we must go out there and make a difference. I am ready to do whatever it takes to build the fashion industry in Africa, create more jobs, contribute to the economy, increase the standard of living and witness Africa blossom. With Dressmeoutlet.com, I aim to witness Africans innovating more with natural resources and capabilities, exporting more finished products and catching up with the giants of the world.
Access to financing is always a challenge for many entrepreneurs. How have you been able to fund Dressmeoutlet.com?
Dressmeoutlet is being funded from personal savings. I think it is safe to say that we are reasonably financially prepared for the next 3-5 years of running and growing Dressmeoutlet.com. Notwithstanding the fact that we are open to considering outside investors who buy into the company’s mission and vision 100%. We have been approached by companies that want to buy Dressmeoutlet.com and companies that want to invest in Dressmeoutlet.com. Selling Dressmeoutlet.com is not an option. Right now, the team and I are very focused on growing and increasing the valuation of Dressmeoutlet.com.
What does success mean to you?
Success means doing everything I can to push my dreams beyond my biggest imagination. Success means providing for others, creating jobs, employing people. Success means witnessing a reduction in poverty across Africa, witnessing a worldwide increase in the appreciation of human creativity. Success means stronger leaders in politics, success means more entrepreneurs across Africa, and success means a strong boom in the retail industry across Africa. Success means the smile on employees’ faces when they get a raise, success means the smile on the face of the graduate from Mushin when I tell him you’re hired. Success means greater partnerships between Africa and America and between Africa and the rest of the world. Success means the rise of Africa. Success means Africa catching up with the rest of the world’s developed nations. Success means dispatching the very best products out of Africa to homes worldwide. Success means: Greatness. For Nigeria. For Africa. For the world.
What’s next for Olatorera Oniru and Dressmeoutlet.com?
I am strongly and whole-heartedly dedicated to Dressmeoutlet.com. What’s next is continuing to provide the absolute best fashion and beauty products to the world and satisfying customers 100% of the time. We want to grow on a daily basis and are constantly super excited when new customers sign-up on the platform and find amazing products that they truly love. What’s next is entering new territories, increasing our supplier database and multiplying our customer database in hundred folds. We have plans to double the size of our photography studio, our warehouse, and our manufacturing unit within the next 12 months. We are also increasing advertising and marketing efforts. More importantly, we are constantly looking for the very best products across Africa and worldwide and thus constantly increasing the variety of great items on Dressmeoutlet.com. We always have new products on the website every week thus don’t miss out on items you would love, visit Dressmeoutlet.com often.
Any words of wisdom for young African entrepreneurs that are afraid of starting something?
Please do it. Go out there and do it, one step at a time, one day at a time, one handshake at a time, one clap at a time, one achievement at a time. Africa now more than ever before, needs more entrepreneurs springing up and booming industries. Africa needs you, I need you, and the world needs you to succeed in whatever your passion is as an entrepreneur. Utilize any and every resource that comes your way. Speak to professors, attend conferences, and apply to opportunities. Push your dreams; don’t let anything stop you from doing anything great for the world. Simply do well, live well and work hard.