Twenty-three year old Oluwafemi Coker is the Chief Executive Officer of Cokard Creative Agency. He spoke with COMFORT OSEGHALE on how he transformed his talents into a productive venture
What does Cokard Creative Agency do?
Cokard is a creative agency that does communication design. Communication design comprises graphic designs, web designs and experiential advertising including social media adverts for small businesses. I have always been an art person. I draw and paint. Even in secondary school, I was the only science student who took Visual Arts in my school. I had to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the school in the event that the Visual Arts classes interfered with my studies; they wouldn’t take responsibility because it wasn’t part of my science subjects. I went so far as to take the subject at the level of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and National Examinations Council. Unfortunately, I didn’t study Creative Arts for my first degree.
Even at that, I read up all the books I could find on creative arts. I started studying the works of industry giants in creative arts. As an undergraduate, I made money from arts, designing logos, handbills and flyers for departmental and students’ associations. I would use the extra money I made to augment my pocket money. That was how I coined the name of the company because my friends called the cards I designed Coker cards.
When you decided to take creative arts as a career, did you go for any training?
Yes I did. I read a lot from online tutorials, books and then I got mentors who were already established in the field of creative arts. I tried to master the craft and started doing jobs for people free of charge. That helped sharpen my skills and made me better at what I did. When the job I was doing became actually good enough, I started charging for it. The whole time I worked for people without charge lasted two year and a half years; it started from school. I had already got a followership from school through friends who knew I was into creative designs.
My career actually kicked off during my National Youth Service Corps. I started working with big brands. I met people and discovered that what I did was valuable. It was a profitable career.
After my NYSC, although I did a couple of jobs, I was determined to start my own company. I made the decision because I felt a lot of companies were too rigid. Things were often streamlined to a particular way and I couldn’t express myself creatively. I didn’t want that hindrance. Moreover, the kind of job that I did was not the type I could get gratuity for after retirement even though I was working for a company. That was when I decided there was no better time to start off than that moment.
When did you start your company?
That was in 2012, officially. But I had gone commercial before then. I had worked for people briefly. I worked for Jumia, Colonnades Hotel. Most of what I did was on contract or freelance basis. My parents were not really pleased with my decision when I first started off. They didn’t understand why I wanted to be self-employed so I tried to prove them wrong. When they saw how committed I was, they eventually came around. They had wanted me to take up paid employment. My mother runs her own business. I got the idea to be self-employed from her. She owns a school in addition to the business.
Some of my friends too didn’t understand it. They wondered why I made the decision because I was making decent money from paid employment. I was ready to leave the known for the unknown and find things out for myself and it has paid off so far. It is not all rosy but in the end it is worth it. Sometimes, it is good and other times bad. If I am working for someone, I know the job is 9am to 5pm. So, there is no way I would be called to work by 2am. But when you are self-employed, you might actually have a meeting by 2am. There were certain things that didn’t turn out the way I thought they would, things like being low on cash instead of expecting a monthly cheque.
I just felt that there was no job security in any paid employment. One day the employer might decide that he doesn’t need my services anymore or I get into an accident and that is it for me. So, I have to build a structure such that even if I am not there, I can still earn something. That is why I started my company.
Your company is three years old; what has been your experience?
It has been a mixture of good and bad. Everything keeps advancing so you have to keep in touch with what is happening in the industry. You have to keep in touch with the trend and even be ahead of it so you can predict it. One of my biggest challenges is my youthfulness. I even look younger than 23. So, trying to put people together who are older than you and giving them instructions is difficult. However, I have to stand my ground and make sure they understand this is why I want things done a certain way. At a point, I had to appoint someone as an operation manager to oversee the entire workforce. It is difficult striking a balance; I am friendly and try not to make everything all formal but at the same time, I try to assert my authority as a boss.
Is it difficult getting clients to believe in you and use your services?
Everyone at Cokard is a marketer but even if my employees do marketing, at some point, I have to talk to the client and convince them on why they should use our services. I am the last person in the chain of marketing. It isn’t so hard to get clients because I actually look for problems businesses are facing instead of just getting contracts. Then, I tell the organisations how we can help them tackle the challenges. It is about showing them a problem and giving them a solution.
I have had companies that were skeptical about giving me jobs. I understand it is because I am young but I try to convince them to give me even the smallest of projects like designing a power point slide. That way, it is probably nothing to them but it would go a long way in convincing them to retain my services.
How were you able to generate startup capital?
I did that from family and friends. It has been challenging meeting the everyday running costs but I try to be creative at it. Sometimes, I have to understand that it is not about the designs per say but the strategies I take that enable me to make money. I have to think smarter and learn to think ahead.
Do you think the government is doing enough to help youths to become self-employed?
I don’t think they are doing enough for youths who want to be self-employed in the sense that there is not enough access to loans and grants. There are lots of talented Nigerians out there but almost all of them want to take paid employment because they feel they would get a certain income. I don’t think there is job security in a place where you can be laid off the next day. Besides whatever you learn stays with you for life.
However I must commend the You-Win initiative because it is the only functional one trying to help youths. Even at that we need more of that. I have friends who know people that won grants from You-Win.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
Pursue your ambition and don’t let anyone make you feel less than who you are. You don’t have to depend on anyone before you achieve your dreams. With your mobile phone, you can build an empire. You are the only person holding yourself back. So, learn and study more about your chosen career.
It is better to work for yourself even though it is not easy. You are investing in yourself and no one can take that away. You have to also be prepared because it is much tougher than paid employment. When you work for someone, you expect an income but when you are self-employed, you can’t just turn down any job because you have bills to pay. Besides, people are very hard to manage; yet, you can’t afford to watch and let your company fall. You have to be up and doing every time and motivate people even when you don’t feel motivated. You need a lot of hard work and dedication to succeed.