Mrs. Ikeoluwa Biobaku is the MD/CEO of Mix & Bake Confectionaries and Training School. A mother of two and Economics graduate of the University of Ibadan, she is married to Tunde, a building contractor and MD of Carat Aluminium. In her 40s and still looking very, very prim and proper, YES INTERNATIONAL! Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE and OLU ALUKO-APALARA visited her Ojodu, Lagos office weeks back and got her to speak on her business, family and other pertinent issues. Enjoy…
What got you interested in what you are doing?
I have always had this passion for baking for a very long time. So, I will say it is a thing I have always loved to do. It comes naturally to me. I studied Economics at the University of Ibadan, but then it was not as if I thought the passion was initially meant to make baking a business. It’s just like you liking to do something out of passion. When I left University of Ibadan, I worked in a bank for a few years. But then, I was still baking. What eventually turned the passion for baking into the big business and profession it is now could be termed divine direction. I went for a programme with the theme – Turning One’s Passion Into A Big Business. At the seminar, the lady handling the workshop gave examples of how people continue on a line of job they are not enjoying. The lady emphasized that whatever passion you have, add skill to it and you can surely turn it to a big business. At that time, I was already doing some sort of baking – little, little cake, and some friends and neighbours were already buying from me. It was after the seminar that I was motivated and the inspiration came. Of course, divinely. That, why not try these things you just heard at the seminar? It was as if God was waiting for me to just start, because immediately I began the baking business, things just started working, doors of favour just kept opening. And that was how it all started and turned out to become Mix & Bake today.
The name, Mix and Bake is so apt, unique and appropriate for what you do. How did you come about it?
Actually, I grew up in Warri; in an area where there is one flour mill called Mix & Bake. The name just stuck in my brain and it kept ringing. I told myself that, sure, that is a very good name for a confectionery. And because the name was being used by another company, we put it on a search. We were told that there was a flour mill, it is a limited liability company. But ours is an enterprise. Totally different style of business and we were told that the name can fly and for sure, it grew wings, and today it is flying (laughs).
What distinguishes Mix & Bake from the other people in the same line of business with you?
Mix & Bake actually started out as a strictly confectionery business, and along the line, we saw a need in the industry that needed to be met; a sort of opportunity. We discovered that people wanted to learn, especially lots of jobless graduates who are searching for employment. Some of these people wanted to learn and acquire a skill. The unfortunate thing here is that most people are not willing… You know this thing they talk about secrecy in recipes and all that makes most people not willing to share. But I am ready and willing to share the knowledge I have with others. That was how we started the training school. It began out of the love and passion to share with others. As God will further help us, the more people or students we enrolled and trained in the school, the more they kept coming back to ask us, please, we need so and so materials to decorate a cake. This went on for some time and we found out that more and more people kept coming to ask us please, where did you people get so and so product from? We want to buy, so that we will be able to decorate our own cake too. That was how we went into the sale of those things. Our evolution into selling confectionery accessories was also divine. The amazing thing here is that even other people that bake, our competitors, so to speak, do come around to pick items for their bakeries.
We understand you offer free training, what prompted this and how do you sustain it?
Yes. Like I always say, the free classes, training is divinely ordained. It was by God’s leading. The truth is that as at the time we started training people, we had to keep increasing the training fees, because there is a need to maintain a set standard. But the fee – paying training classes came to a stop. It was like people were no longer willing to come for the training anymore. We were sort of being too rigid with the idea, too stingy; sort of becoming like other confectioners, like other people in the industry who will not share their ideas or recipes, because they believe the formulas, the recipes are strictly theirs. You know each and every one of us, everybody has what God has called you to do. We all have one assignment or the other from God and during that period, I remember going out for some programmes too, motivational talks and all that where God so inspired the various speakers there, they gave us the undiluted word and the inspiration came upon me to start giving people free training. That is, those people who cannot afford to pay the fees. Then, I was like, ha! I sort of kicked against it as it came. Even then, it kept ringing in my head. It just won’t go away. But as time went by, I was able to surrender to God. I don’t want to sort of go too deep into the religious aspect, but honestly, my faith in God really helped me. There were so many people out there who could not afford (paying for) what we were doing and we thought: well, if through the free – training classes, we are able to share a little with them, give them the idea, teach them to do the basics, then, they would be able to cater for themselves, meet up with their petty financial needs and cater for their dependents also. My heart melts each time I listen to preachers. I mean men of God talking about how we can use our platforms to reach out to the less privileged in the society. So, I decided to give it a try and today I have realized that it is worth the effort. So far, I have no regrets at all for doing the free – training classes. The worldly way of gathering wealth/riches is always to acquire, acquire and acquire, but the Biblical and divinely ordained method of getting true success, real wealth is by giving, giving and more giving. Give, it shall be given unto you, pressed down, shaken together and running over. So, by God’s grace, I have experienced and enjoyed the privileges and benefits that come with giving and sharing with others.
You have been in this business now for over a decade, what has kept you going, what has sustained you?
God has really been so faithful. He has helped us to build structures that stood the test of time. When I started, I thank God for the husband He gave me. My husband has been so wonderful. He practically helped, stood by me. He insisted that I must first of all open a bank account and that I must not spend all the money I make. Have a bank account. He kept singing it into my ears. Well, as a learner, not ready to disobey my first business teacher, I opened the bank account where I deposited all the money for the business. He also encouraged me to go for business trainings and seminars. I like going for seminars and workshops; they have helped me a lot. This is one area I have observed that most of the women we trained are never interested in (seminars). Once it is not about baking cakes, making meat pies or sausage rolls, they will not come. So, I was able to leverage on these seminars and my church also helped me with the business school called Daystar Leadership Academy, where we were also taught about running a successful business. And recently too, I was a student at the Lagos Business School, where they equally told us how to manage a business successfully. So, it is all about learning to grow. As the business becomes bigger and more successful, you keep attending these trainings and seminars to keep you up to date. For instance, in our own line of business, you have to attend workshops and seminars that have to do with money management, finance/office administration, outside of how to just make cake, sausage rolls, etc. In those days, people will say I am very stingy. Even my father will tell me I am too stingy, all because I was just trying to manage the little money at my disposal. But I think this has helped me a lot because as the money comes, I was ploughing it back and I realized that the money just kept growing, growing and just growing. It is only recently that I started buying clothes and bags and shoes. I hardly have time for those things.
What would you say is the costliest mistake that most business people make?
There are lots of mistakes; many mistakes that most business people make in Nigeria. The major one is doing or going above your means. You know, not living within the company’s means. For instance, a customer could come now, say ha, this place, they don’t have air-conditioner in their office, why not go to so, so and so place? It is a known fact that this our area, Ojodu, has its own fair share of power challenges. It’s just an example of one of the things that can make a business go under. People tend to want to enjoy certain comfort at the expense of the growth of the business. It’s a matter of getting your priorities right and some degree of divine grace, added to human planning and efforts. You must also be able to monitor your books properly – sales turnover, cash flow, profit before and after tax and all other very important business growth facts as far as finance is concerned. Business owners should employ professional money managers, chartered accountants to periodically look into the company’s books and ask questions: Are we making progress? What is our financial stand presently? Where have we made mistakes? How do we move forward? The professionals in this field are the ones that will do these jobs, investigate the record books and make necessary recommendations to you. The mistakes we make in business are many, especially we, women. We would spend N50,000 to by head-tie (gele) for an owambe party that will last for a few hours than spending such an amount on an auditor to come look into our business books, to come and audit our account. These are just few of the costly mistakes business people make. These things have long term effect on the business. The boomerang does not happen suddenly, it builds up for years before the explosion, when people will now come around and wonder ha… what happened? But the business was doing well? The impact may be hidden for years, but will surely come out someday. So, in essence, one of the greatest and costliest mistakes business people make, especially women, is not getting their priorities right from the onset.
What would you say has been the toughest challenge since you commenced business and how were you able to surmount it?
Human beings are the toughest challenge. Human beings have been the toughest challenge for me. The truth of the matter, as far as business is concerned, is that you can’t work alone; do everything all by yourself. You must employ or hire hands to work along the fulfillment of your dream. Ours, here, is an expanding/growing business. We need people to work with us and for us. Money has never been a challenge to us since we started. You employ some people, they carry a whole lot of different motives for coming to work with you or for you. One staff can single handedly ruin a business just like another can literarily lift your business up to the next level. So, the greatest blessings and the toughest challenges are human beings.
What is the best way to deal with a staff who is not disciplined?
You simply give that staff a warning, then a chance and another opportunity. If such a person continues and refuses to change, then you have to let the person go, before he or she would pollute others. Somebody said I would rather hire a staff that is not skilled, but who has a good attitude than hire a skillful staff with a very bad attitude, because that bad attitude would ruin your business when customers refuse to patronize you. The unskilled staff, you can train. Such staff would eventually come to the understanding of the goals and objectives of the company, begin to like and understand the vision of the organization and eventually imbibe it with training. A skilled staff that pilfers, steals from the company, does one still keep such staff in the business? You set rules and regulations for a standard in your organization. So, if the skilled staff feels he/she is too big to submit to these rules, show such person the exit door. Simple!
What do you like best about this work that you are doing?
What I like best is creating what brings joy and satisfaction to people, putting smiles on people’s faces when they come pick our products and you watch them leave this place satisfied. For instance, nothing gives you fulfillment than when you just acquire a new knowledge or a new model of product and you pour it down for people to see – produce it, put it on the shelves; this gives me joy.
What do you not enjoy or like about this business?
It’s all these calculations, the figure parts, the accounting part, the nitty gritty of figures. These things put me off. You know all these looking into the books, adding figures and stuff like that. Maybe that’s why I am not an accountant. The reconciliatory aspect, when and where all of you must come together, sit down round the table and see if you are actually making profit or a loss and so on. I just wish I could just go on baking and decorating the cakes, getting the business going on and on with every other person doing his or her own part, with little or no check at all. It would have been smoother. But you know people, if your business must grow, if you must move forward and for you to fulfil purpose, you must put both eyes, not an eye, on the accounts/finance part of the business.
What is your dream for Mix & Bake and how much will you say you have succeeded with it?
Well, I have many dreams for Mix & Bake. When we started, I never imagined that Mix & Bake will expand this much; up to this level in such a short period of time. It was what I desired, but I was wondering how really it was going to happen. God has been so faithful to us in every way and we have enjoyed his mercy and favour in every step that we have taken so far. My dream actually is to take Mix & Bake to every nook and cranny of Nigeria. That’s number one. Number two, is to be recognized and acknowledged as one of the best training schools, which is my major passion now than the confectionery thing. I enjoy teaching people, sharing new ideas, new methods with people, and it is a dream come true. When I see my past students, those I have trained, those that passed through our training schools doing so well out there, in the business, nothing gives me fulfillment more than that. And you feel satisfied when some of them have to come back, identify you as someone that added value to their lives. You too have no option than to give glory to God for giving you that opportunity. It is true what is written in the Bible that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Because sometimes we are more concerned about charging fees, collecting money. You get true joy when you actually impact another person’s life positively and such a person comes back to express gratitude. Like saying thank you, you made me what I am today, accept my thanks. This gives me a lot of joy.
How easy or how difficult has it been for you to combine both your pastoral assignment, your duties as a mother and wife with the Mix & Bake business?
I will say first and foremost, it is the grace of God. I suppose as a people, individuals have different temperaments. I have taken time to study my temperament, which is choleric. A choleric could manage all these things, they could multi-task and do business very well. They are good leaders. That’s what I have learnt and read about choleric persons. And this has helped in no small measures. I am a go-getter. I am someone who is so ambitious, but I am glad this ambition is channeled towards God’s will and purpose. I also thank God for the husband I married because there are lots of women out there who cannot fulfil their purposes nor achieve their dreams because of the type of men they got married to. As a matter of fact, my husband has been the pivot, one of the many individuals that have helped to ensure that I fulfill my dream. If you were a wife to my husband and you refuse to get busy, you will surely die of boredom. He will keep pushing and pushing you to get things done, to get results. You can’t be in the study with my husband and you chat while he studies. You will have no option than to bury your head in the study with him because he does not have time for chatting while at the study. I have been able to manage that aspect so fantastically well. My husband does not give me any issue, he is always like, go, go, get it, you can do it, common, go ahead, get it and other encouraging words. Well, with my children, they are a bit grown up now. It’s not like they are big, but they are growing. I also have family members and friends who sometimes stand in for me when I am so busy. They assist in bringing them from school, they help in all other areas. My husband, as I told you, is a very understanding person, and very supportive too. I am a very hard worker, very ambitious too and always working hard and also trying to channel my ambition towards God’s will. I have been able to manage everything, with God’s help and reliable people around me. The ministry part, that is where the passion comes into play. I almost forgot. Yes, I should have mentioned this earlier in our discussion, under the vision and dream for Mix & Bake. One important dream for Mix & Bake is to lead Mix & Bake into positively impacting lives. To reach out to people, to tell people about God and His wonderful words. So far, God has helped us to achieve this much in so short a time. The presence of God has just been awesome and wonderful upon Mix & Bake.
What do you do outside of work? How do you relax when not thinking about Mix & Bake?
We go out together as a family, visit places. You see, my life is entangled around my work, and entangled around my church. Recreation for me therefore is always being with my church friends, we talk, share the scriptures, listen to messages. We do go on holidays as a family also. The truth of the matter, however, is that at all these so called holidays, I am always on the lookout for courses to attend, seminars and workshops to register for and be part of to learn a new skill, acquire a new method or gain more knowledge. Then, shopping too is great fun for me.
Can you tell us more about your family?
My husband’s name is Mr. Tunde Biobaku. He is into building construction. He runs the Carat Aluminium and building products. I have two daughters – Toluwani and Tomiwa Biobaku. Toluwani is in Form 2 in secondary school and each time I ask her what she would like to do as a career, she would tell me she wants to be a confectioner like mummy. Tomiwa is in primary five. When I asked her recently what she wanted to choose as a career, she also said she wanted to be a confectioner like mummy. I just looked at it and concluded that there must be something I am doing right which makes these girls want to become business women like their mummy.
You have talked so passionately about your husband. Can you tell us more about him and your love story?
(Long laughter) Yes, very funny. Well, I met my husband one year before we got married. That was some 16 years ago and the way we met was as curious as it was funny. I told you I studied Economics at U.I, Ibadan. It happened that I used to come to Lagos on holidays, spend some time with my cousins. My husband stayed in the same house with them. He was actually living on the flat above my cousins’. That was how they got to know each other and became friends. And from there, we became friends too. It was from the friendship thing he made his intention known to me; things turned out to become more serious…
Was it very difficult for you to let him have your heart or…?
(Cuts in) No, no, not at all. It was not difficult at all. One thing I must mention here is that in my final year at the University of Ibadan; this story is very funny to me, because I have always been a Christian from school. But it was not as serious as I am now in terms of commitment. I was in the hall with my friends, just chatting, when my husband came to Ibadan on his normal business trip. All along, my cousins had always wanted me to come and stay with them during the holidays. So, they just told the man (now my husband), please, help us bring our cousin from U.I on your way back to Lagos. My cousins always wanted me to come to Lagos for the holidays, because we were staying in Warri, Delta State then, since my father worked with Shell. And as a result, I was torn between going back to Warri for the long holidays and coming to spend the holidays at my cousins’ place in Lagos. So, my cousins just told me, wait, since my neighbour is coming to Ibadan, I will ask him to pick you so you don’t have to go board a public transport or stress yourself to Lagos. We were in this hall chatting and cracking jokes – you know students’ yabis and all – when somebody just came in to tell me that somebody was waiting for me downstairs. I just did not know how it happened. Just as that person stepped in to say someone was waiting downstairs for me; without even knowing who it was, married or whatever. The person just said ‘somebody is looking for you downstairs…bla bla bla…a young, handsome, gentle looking man like that’. And do you know as this person spoke on, what jumped into my heart was “That is your husband”. I could not help the joy and excitement and I just went ahead and shared it with my roommates. Everybody just burst out in this sarcastic laughter, because you know, then, we used to clown around. They all laughed at me and said you this girl, you have started your clowing again; you and this your silly acts, naughty girl and they all burst into another round of laughter. While all this was going on, that thing just kept repeating, “That is your husband”. I was like, I wish these ladies could hear and feel what was going on in my mind. And the rest, as they say, is history.
What is that singular thing that God is yet to do for you?
I will say God has done virtually everything for us; given us all we need. It’s now up to us, as His children, to walk into receiving and walk into getting those things. That’s how I will state it. My understanding of the God I serve is that He has given us all what we want, He has made everything we need available unto us. That’s my belief, according to my faith. My dream, my hope, really, is to be closer to God, to serve Him more. You know we run this business like a ministry, a calling to win souls for Christ. For instance, at our free classes, we open the events like a church setting, we pray, sing praise and worship songs unto God. We share the word and call for those ready to accept Christ into their lives. The response at each gathering has been tremendous and God has always glorified His word. The free classes eventually turned out to become a sort of… We do not advertise the religious aspect. We only ask you to come, learn how to keep your hands busy and do some little things such as cake baking, to put money into your pockets. It is for free, and the feedback and testimonies have been whaoh! Unbelievable. They come, eager to learn; pick what they can do to sustain themselves and get going, but when they hear the word, some of them come to the realization that it is always good to seek first the kingdom of God and all other things shall be added…God has taken me through so many experiences in life. I mean, it is difficult to be all you want to be in God’s agenda, and that is just my one wish. So, I will answer that question by telling you that God has granted me everything I want. It is just left for me to walk in that purpose because life is full of diverse distractions. You wake up in the morning, trying to do your morning prayers, calls and texts are already coming in; phone ringing and all. My one and only wish is that God should take total and complete control of everything and use me for His purpose alone. God has been so good to me in all areas of life. He gave me a good family, a complete husband, because out there, a lot of women keep complaining about the type of men they married. I have no reason to complain about mine. As a matter of fact, my husband would not let you relax, he pushes me to succeed always, saying – go, get it, you can do it and so on. I also wish and pray that my children will grow up and come out well and become great in the Lord too in the future. Because they are still very young now. And that we will all end well in life; we will not deviate from our purpose and calling in life. Amen.
Who has made the greatest impact on your life?
Whaoh! That is a great question. A huge one, because so many people have positively impacted my life.
Yes, but we said the greatest impact and just one person?
Well, my father has made a whole lot of positive impact in my life; my husband also has made a lot of impact in my life too. The church I attend, sincerely speaking, has also made a tremendous/great impact in my life. I must commend the spiritual leadership of my church and say a big thank you to Pastors Sam and Nike Adeyemi of Daystar Christian Centre, the home of stars, where role models are raised. They have made a great impact on my life. You see, I can’t just pick one individual as being the one that has made the greatest impact. It is a combination of good people joining hands to make me what God has destined me to be today. Yorubas would say it is the father and mother that bring a child, but it is the combined efforts of the community that raises the child. The people mentioned above and many others joined hands to positively impact my life – the family aspect, the spiritual and the business. I have one mentor, she is Mrs. Oyejola. She is a member of Redeemed Church. She taught me how to pray. When we started Mix & Bake, she would call, visit, talk to me, encourage me. She was never in a hurry to leave me. She spent quality time with me and on me. She was never tired or bored. She saw me as someone just coming up, who deserved all the good times one could spend with her. She sowed in me the good spiritual seeds that needed to be watered, nurtured to growth. She always knew what was appropriate for every need, every time. She calls at the right time to lift me up spiritually. Most times when doubts wanted to overshadow my faith and I felt, God, is your word really true? Is your word really for me? This woman would call and things would just fall back in line. All these people have positively made impact on my life. So, it will be hard picking just one person as the greatest.