Be the Entrepreneur You Want to See in the World – On Entrepreneur Empowerment, Oprah, and the Art of Branding

Our inaugural Brand Amplifier alumna – Ronke Ige, founder of Emi & Ben – recently appeared on BBC The One Show Featuring Oprah Winfrey. Oprah came to the UK to promote her new film ‘The Butler’ and was honoured for her global role model status as an inspiring female entrepreneur. Since graduating Brand Amplifier, Ronke has emerged on the UK entrepreneurial scene as a leader in promoting young and female entrepreneur programmes. Post Ronke’s claim to fame, we sat down with her and BA founder Jeannette Pritchard at our Piano House studio to talk entrepreneurship, Oprah and brand amplification.

 

MD: First off, Congrats Ronke! That’s amazing news. What was it like to go on the show?
RI: I was honoured and slightly ecstatic to be interviewed by BBC 1 and be featured alongside Oprah Winfrey. The opportunity to feature with someone of her status doesn’t come often so it was definitely a moment I will cherish. She’s an individual I truly admire, (so much so I have a blog named in her honour). So the fact that SHE would get to know me for a few minutes and hear of my admiration for her, that’s something I’ll treasure and feel empowered by for years to come!

MD: And JP, as someone who has been actively involved in Ronke’s growth as a businesswoman for several years, what was it like to see her on the show?
JP: I’m very proud of her! But then again, I would expect nothing less. When I first met Ronke at Brand Amplifier five years ago, her energy and raw talent really left an impression. I knew she’d go far. It’s only a matter of time before she finds herself in the most wonderful situations. Fast forward five years later, she’s got time in front of her all time heroine! That’s truly remarkable. It’s a testament to her tenacity, but also, equally importantly, and this is a quality often overlooked in business, she’s a giver. Since the very first day at Brand Amplifier, she’d understood the meaning of giving, and has come back to mentor the next years of BAs since. They find her absolutely inspiring.

MD:  So, Ronke, how did you come to be on the show?
RI: I was invited to appear in my role as the UK Chair of the Twenty Ten Club. It’s a networking group that was formed to celebrate the success of Black women in business. Everyone who knows me is aware of my love and passion for supporting entrepreneurship programmes for young people and women. It goes without saying Oprah has been a longtime role model, so it probably seemed like a perfect fit for the Twenty Ten Club founder, Octavia Goredema and the BBC One Show producers.

MD: During the show you shared this quote from Oprah: “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” Why did that one resonate with you in particular?
RI: The quote echoed to me the importance of surrounding yourself with the right people, and speaks to my hands-on, realistic outlook on what real support means in times of need. These ‘good’ people are the ones who will stick with you during the down times and are not just there to enjoy the labours of your hard work by being your plus 1 for when the fun invitations come through the door!

MD: JP, one of your favourite sayings in BA is: “You need to decide if you’re running a salon or just cutting hair.” What do you mean by that?
JP: [Laughs], It means if you want to run a business, you need to see the big picture so more of your passion can actually happen in a big way. Lift your head out of the weeds and see the field.

MD: What inspired you to start a business?
RI: I have always had startup tendencies since I was a child – be my own boss, build my own brands. But I didn’t have the courage to start up on my own until I became pregnant with my first child. The idea of launching a business became less daunting when I was about to bring a new life into the world. When you’re about to become a mother, you start thinking about things like: will I have enough time to spend with the child if I worked for someone else? How do I create a solid financial future to raise the child? Those desires or basic motherhood instincts were so strong that I overcame my initial fear.

During this first pregnancy, my late grandmother who lived in Nigeria sent me a block of Shea butter to use as a moisturizer for my growing baby bump. And it got me inspired. Grandma knew Raw Shea helps prevent stretch marks and keeps the skin soft and supple. It is a full body moisturizer free of chemicals. Being completely natural was a big plus for me as at the time, as I became achingly aware of the side-effects different foods I was eating and products I was using on my skin would have on my health. 60% of what you put onto your skin goes into your bloodstream. This was a real eye-opener to me. Raw Shea butter wasn’t available in the UK at the time, so I had to constantly rely on people going to Nigeria to buy it and then bring it back. It was at this point I decided to form Emi & Ben Natural Skin Care, to make Raw Shea butter accessible to those who lived in the UK. The idea was fortuitously timed to serve a wonderful beauty need, meeting a market gap for pre-natal skincare.

I took a natural skin care course to learn the science behind it and develop my own formulae for body butters. The following year I launched the business with the help of The Prince’s Trust, pitched my business to a panel of 6 judges Dragon’s Den style, and secured a £3,000 business loan. It was after securing the start up loan that I joined Brand Amplifier in order to grow my brand and business.

MD: It’s interesting to note that startups are often born out of a real need. JP, what do you think is the key ingredient to start-up success?
JP: Access. Access to the right knowledge, the experience and business know-how from people who’ve made it. I loved what Oprah said during the show, “The door to freedom, that is education.” I couldn’t agree more. That was why I founded Brand Amplifier. I wanted to give these young women a leg-up in the game, a chance to network and pick up secret weapons in the art of branding, and if they try hard enough, walk away with cash injections for their businesses. Every year, we choose 20 finalists to receive this high-level training free of charge. And in the end they pitch to a panel of judges to win seed funding for their ventures. I love setting up smart women with big ideas to succeed from this programme. It’s been running for 5 years, and the success rate for BA alumni businesses is 85%. That’s staggering given the otherwise daunting startup survival stats.

MD: As an expert in the Art of Branding, what is the most important branding tip you want to share?
JP: If there’s one thing to keep in mind in this fragmented environment, that would be Consistency, with a capital C. I very much liked Oprah’s ethos of living with intention. If she’s happy, she’s happy on purpose. The same kind of purposefulness applies to the art of branding. You need to brand with intention. You must be single-minded and disciplined in your brand communications. McKinsey just came out with a Global Survey about how brands have been talking PAST their customers. Because there are so many topics, it’s so easy to get lost in the clutter. The only way to cut through that noise is to focus all of your energy on the same messages, and the right messages. So your brand emerges from the chaos like a laser beam.

RI: Yep, that’s one of my key takeaways from BA.  JP always insisted that we strive for consistency in everything we do, from a brand’s tone of voice and personality to business operations. This is my imprint to how I run Emi & Ben. She wanted to make sure we all had the key principles in place to run our companies successfully. She also stressed the importance of confidence in the brand, the vision and the team. Receiving such tips for success has really helped me focus on different aspects of my business, creating a brand which is loved and trusted by so many today.

I started off selling Emi & Ben body butters from a stall in Greenwich Market in 2009, where I met customers face to face and had them try our products and give feedback.  Now, many of our customers can purchase our body butters directly from the online store www.emiandben.com. We’re expanding internationally, growing beyond the UK. We currently have retailers in Ireland, Nigeria, Netherlands and most recently Germany. It’s very exciting times.

I feel honoured to have been part of the first Brand Amplifer programme and I sincerely urge fellow London-based women entrepreneurs to do the same.

Apply for Brand Amplifier 2014 here: http://www.brandamplifier.co.uk/

Watch Ronke and Oprah on BBC 1 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B_7eDEHWfw