Bridging Business & Design with Nigerian Entrepreneur Susan Onigbinde

 
Source:  @DODO_Nigeria

Starting your own company in a burgeoning market isn’t easy. You face the challenges of having limited resources, infrastructure, and people to turn to for help. On the other side, there is so much potential, untapped opportunities, and excitement. Here at The Port, we know how difficult it can be to take that leap into the unknown and plunge headfirst into uncharted waters.

Greece’s burgeoning tech scene is garnering a lot of interest from investors, universities, and the government. So, we thought that a look at other new tech markets would provide interesting comparisons, insights and lessons for Greek entrepreneurs.

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We sat down with Susan Onigbinde, Founder & Creative Director of DODO Design Agency, based in Lagos, Nigeria. In creating and building DODO over the past four years, Susan is able to share with us both her personal founding experiences, as well as the design- and entrepreneurial-centric philosophies her team uses to guide her clients. Read on for Susan’s thoughts on the trials, tribulations and rewards that come with starting your own company in an uncharted territory.



Tell us a little bit about your background.

I went to design school at SCAD, a prominent design school in the Southeast United States. For me, it was an eye opener and extremely motivational experience.

After that, I joined design studios and startups in Chicago and New York City before moving back to my home country of Nigeria to work at the largest ad agency in Nigeria at that time, Insight Communications. It was one of the best experiences for me at the time, mainly because it helped me grow my design skills in the real world and help sharpen my vision for what I wanted my career to become. It was extremely competitive, with tight deadlines, and very client-driven. We worked with some of the largest companies in Nigeria, opening my eyes to their pain points and growth patterns.

From there, I started getting into design strategy. A question that I asked early on and still drives me to this day is: How do you use design processes to grow and innovate in business? I loved visual design, but I wanted more. I wanted to find the most potent way I could to add value to lives. After experiencing design and design strategy in the States, I always asked why we didn’t utilize design this way back home in Nigeria. I was most excited about the results the design process brought, I truly believed it could help improve businesses and quality of life back home. The idea of using design to create a certain ambience in a restaurant to achieve specific goals, or of building a service, or a brand to connect with people and improve their daily experiences really resonated with me. So I went back home and started DODO Design Agency to do just that.

What inspires you?

One of the big reasons I started DODO Design Agency was to answer the question, “How can we use design to improve quality of life?” DODO exists today in order to use design to help business provide value for their customers through experiences they create – in short making better products, brands, experiences.

Why is design important for a small business?

For small business, design is a way to innovate, and think creatively. Good design can help small businesses creatively solve problems.

Good design can help small businesses creatively solve problems.

What type of design materials should an early-stage company focus on creating?

First, it is crucial to take a step back and define one’s brand before doing much else tangibly. Devising your brand strategy helps you come out strong, grounded and well-positioned. Don’t underestimate the importance of this.

Devising your brand strategy helps you come out strong, grounded and well-positioned. Don’t underestimate the importance of this.

These days there are so many products and services to choose, and so many voices out there that for a customer to choose your brand over the rest, they must connect with it. A proper brand strategy not only provides more consistent tangible design across the board, it will help in building long lasting relationships with your customer.

A proper brand strategy not only provides more consistent tangible design across the board, it will help in building long lasting relationships with your customer.

Specific design tools that early stage companies should focus on are user testing & prototyping tools, empathy maps, buyer persona maps, and other things that allow you to test your idea with your ideal customer as soon as possible. This allows you to iterate fast and at low cost, while increasing your chances of meeting customers’ needs.

Tell us a little bit about the challenges of starting a company in an emerging market. How did you combat them?

A lot of systems in a market like Nigeria’s are not as straightforward as they would be in a more developed country. Generally speaking, the processes aren’t as structured as they should be. As a business owner, I often find myself going around in circles to get something that could have been done in three less steps.

Other factors like unemployment, quality of education, and infrastructure issues, are challenges that most businesses here face.

But just like any challenge out there, you’re can overcome them by coming up with creative ways to address them. What I’ve done is training our team to always be equipped to find solutions for the unique challenges we face.

But just like any challenge out there, you’re can overcome them by coming up with creative ways to address them.

What are some of the fundamental frameworks every business should turn to?

Every so often, make sure your brand is aligned to your vision, purpose, and mission. Because we have new employees and clients constantly coming in, we have to make sure that everyone is fully aligned to the vision. If you look at companies like Nike and Starbucks, they have been aligned to their vision from Day 1, but are constantly innovating while letting that guide their growth. In a nutshell, refine your brand strategy as you go, and build and innovate on it.

What were your biggest takeaways from your experience starting and working with small businesses?

There is something about going through a growth process like building a business that makes you stronger. Once you overcome a certain challenge, whenever it comes back, if it comes back, you are equipped to combat it better. Truly every challenge and “failure” is an opportunity for immense growth.

Once you overcome a certain challenge, whenever it comes back, if it comes back, you are equipped to combat it better. Truly every challenge and “failure” is an opportunity for immense growth.

Any other wisdom to share, for the entrepreneurial minded across the world?

Don’t give up. The challenges you face and overcome make you stronger and more resilient. Learning from challenges makes it all worth it.

Don’t give up. The challenges you face and overcome make you stronger and more resilient. Learning from challenges makes it all worth it.


The Key Takeaways on Building Your Business

We think Susan said it all! Our biggest takeaways?

  1. Check in frequently with your brand. As you scale and grow, it gets easy to lost sight of your original mission. As you gain more employees, it gets harder to make sure they are all aligned. Take an actionable step and put a monthly check in into your calendar to make sure that your next projects and steps are aligned with your brand’s vision.

  1. Adversity makes you stronger. We love Susan’s approach and mindset towards challenges. In a burgeoning market, challenges are all around you. They range from legal, to technical, to political, but overcoming them gets you one step closer to achieving your dream.


The Marketing & Scaling Resources For Your Growing Business

Need help with your brand strategy, scaling your business, or dealing with the challenges of growing in a burgeoning market? Reach out to us at the Port to help you with all your marketing and business growth needs. To learn how The Port can support your startup marketing efforts, get in touch with our team.

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