Interview: Blessing Achu, 360Creative Hub Founder, on Running a Coworking Space for Fashion Designers in Lagos
Coworking is growing in Lagos. Or to be specific, coworking spaces are growing in Lagos. A new one seems to open every month.
One of the spaces which has us really excited is the 360Creative Hub in Surulere, Lagos. A break away from the vanilla coworking space, the 360 Creative Hub positions itself as a creative hub built around the creative community.
As it is the first of its kind in Lagos, we decided to visit the place, and have a sitdown with the CEO, Mrs Blessing Achu.
Interview starts below.
What’s the origin story for 360Creative Hub?
I got inspired during one of my travels. It was actually while I was touring Europe with Startup Bus in 2016 that I got to learn about coworking spaces in depth. I got to understand that beyond space sharing, the sharing economy is a huge paradigm shift. It’s this whole movement where people share many things, not just spaces.
So I started researching. I noticed that while we have many coworking spaces catering to the IT crowd, not many are centred around the creative arts. Which is a sort of problem because when you look at the index of innovation, creativity itself is a major factor. Aside that, our fashion industry in Nigeria is gaining international recognition. All these considerations led me to one question? Why can’t we have a coworking space for the fashion designers? How do we build a sharing community for fashion designers as well as other creative people. And that’s what led to 360Creative Hub.
With 360 Creative Hub, my aim is to build a community around the fashion industry. Let’s find creative people and all adjacent professions that can contribute to a new cohesive movement, lower the barrier to entry for them, encourage experimentation and boost the industry.
Okay, so what’s your history? How did you find yourself here? Your background
I studied education in university but since my graduation, I’ve been working with IT companies for a long time. I started my career as a Business Development Executive for a licensed ERP provider in Port Harcourt. Then I worked with a firm that provided security applications (Soft Solutions). Then afterwards I went to work for VDT Communications which is a broadband internet service provider.
Do you have previous entrepreneurship experience?
Well, I’m an Igbo person. So you know one way or another, I’d have gotten around to doing one or two businesses.
During my school days, I lived in Kano and schooled in Nsukka. So, I’d buy large quantities of clothing materials like brocades and bring them to school to sell. I did that all through school. Then after my graduation, I started my career in Business Development. Then in 2016, I went on the Ampion Venture Bus (it’s an African road trip for entrepreneurs). Afterwards I was on the Startup Bus Europe which offers a similar but more in-depth experience.
The way people think in those places (developed economies) is a lot different from the way people think here. When I was on one of my travels, I was fortunate to ride with the founder of Eventbrite. During the brief ride on Uber with him he shared a few tips which has also guided me on my journey. On that road trip, we visited 7 European countries, I met different people, visited huge art labs. Those labs really made an impression on me and the seeds of 360Creative Hub were sown.
I pitched the idea of a sharing community for fashion people at a startup pitch competition but it didn’t win. So I decided to startup on my own.
360Creative Hub is a niche coworking space. When you started, how did it feel? How hard was it? Were there days you felt, this is too hard, how am I ever going to continue?
[Laughter] Even till now, it’s still so hard. You know, we’re bootstrapped from day one. But I have a very loving husband who understands me. So, first thing first, I cleared my account. Right now, I don’t have a dime to my name; everything is in this business. But I know it’s going to work. Maybe not immediately, it may take time but it’s going to work.
So I used all my money to start.
One of the major challenges was the facility itself — rent and renovation. Renovation took the bulk of the funds. It would have been nice to start in a bigger facility but a bigger facility is way beyond my budget. So, I had to get a smaller facility and renovate it for my needs.
If an entrepreneur is going to succeed, he or she needs to have persistence. As long as you’ve validated your product, you need to persist despite the odds, despite the hardships. Just persist. Have a support system, family and friends, and keep going at it.
What was the hardest thing starting out?
A time came when I ran out of cash. I woke up one day and started crying. Because so much needed to be done but there was no more money. It was this impossible situation yet I couldn’t close shop, I couldn’t go back because I’d already told people this is what I’m doing. They’d seen progress and had started talking about it.
Till now I don’t know how we successfully launched. I can’t say this is exactly what I did. All I know is, it all came together in the end.
My advice for anyone who wants to start on a journey like this, if you have a fulltime job keep your job. At least until your new venture gains some traction. Because my day job was the only thing keeping my mind and body busy. Work became like my escape.
A week to launch day, there was so much pressure on me. So much needed to be done. The workmen who needed funds to complete their jobs kept calling for their money and here I was without money. It’s enough to make one almost lose my mind. But I pulled through.
I thank God for His grace.
This is one question I’ve been looking forward to asking someone. You’re working a fulltime job and also running a coworking space. How are you balancing the two?
That’s why it’s important to have a support system. My space manager is my younger sister. I pick her up every morning and drop her off at the office. Then I go to work. In the evening, she comes home and gives me a rundown of what happened and then we review and I give her a list of things to do. So that’s one thing that helps me with that. Then I also recently employed a Business Development person with some experience.
Juggling the two takes a lot of planning. I find time during the week to come to the coworking space. Then I also delegate a lot. I trust people with responsibilities and resources. Even though it’s a practice that has hurt me but I still keep doing that. I’ve trusted someone with a million naira and he squandered it. It hurt me but we keep moving, right?
The truth is I can’t do it all by myself. I need good hands. So I have to trust people to do their job. The space manager, the business development person and so on.
What’s a typical day like for you?
In the morning I pray, then I set to take care of my kids and husband. I go to my day job. That place is also another hectic place because I have about 30 clients on my portfolio that I manage. It involves a lot of coordination and is quite demanding. Once in awhile, I check out 360Creative Hub emails and related stuff. After work, I go home. I make out time during the week to visit and mostly Saturdays, I come to here (360Creative Hub). Then I go home.
If you were not running 360Creative Hub, what would you be doing?
Probably digital marketing. Helping businesses grow using digital marketing. I’m a business developer so I like the idea of helping to grow businesses. I did a lot of hard selling back in Port Harcourt, cold calling leads and so on. So I’m really comfortable with the idea of growing businesses.
Then I’d probably also be teaching and running trainings. In fact, even now, I run trainings without getting paid because I sometimes help my friends when they have a sales team that needs training. I do that for free.
I like teaching and selling. So both of those things.
That ties into the next question. When 360 Creative Innovation Hub Hub no longer needs you, what will you be doing? What next? Do you see this training and digital marketing in your future?
Yes definitely. Digital marketing. And trainings.
Right now I’m trying to build structure into 360Creative Hub and also seal some partnership deals. Those two things will help 360 Creative Hub grow as much as I’d like.
One of the things I appreciated about my time on the Startup Bus was the quest by founders to create stuff that will make life easier for people. The profits would come in long term but the benefits to the society will be immediate.
If 360 Creative Innovation Hub can give aspiring fashion designers the opportunity to start small and grow big, possibly grow into international brands, and if that brand’s story can start here, then I’ll be fulfilled.
Do you know how to sew?
I don’t even know how to thread a needle. But when I resign, I plan to learn more about fashion. In a few months, I’m going to resign and focus fully on 360Creative Hub.
What’s the spread of your membership?
I tried to build the community around our niche. Specifically, I looked out for people whose businesses feed into the lifecycle of a fashion business.
So we have a logo designer, a photographer, a web developer, a digital marketing expert, a financial consultant and a HR consultant. All these businesses run from our dedicated offices but they also offer their services to the fashion designers at discounted rates.
There’s just one empty dedicated office left to be taken. What I’m looking for now to fill the last dedicated office is someone who manages models. So the fashion designers can have models to showcase their creations.
As for the fashion designers, I have three regular members. All females. A man came the other day to make enquiries. So we’ll see how that goes.
How do you do your marketing?
Social media marketing mostly. Plus I’m securing some partnerships with people in the US so our fashion designers can showcase their brands in some stores in the US. So anybody you know who’s in fashion who needs exposure, let them know there’s a big opportunity here.
So far, since you started 360Creative Hub, what has been your best day?
The day the first customer walked in the door. Today she has a dedicated office to herself.
There was this day, after spending so much on the generator, I realised I was conned. What was sold to me wasn’t what I paid for. I cried like a baby. I had to spend money repairing it. Really horrible day.
On coworking, someone said right now there are more coworking spaces than actual coworkers. Sort of like, supply exceeds demands. Any reaction to this?
Yes that’s true. But I think the problem is, the focus of most coworking spaces is on Information Tech (IT). They are neglecting other industries. Imagine if we had a coworking space for photographers or a coworking studio for artistes. A space with state of the art production equipment being shared by a community of music enthusiasts and experts. Imagine what that would do to output and quality of production.
Information Technology is good but there are things that still help tech to grow. If we have a coworking community for photographers, we can have developers building stock photography websites for Nigerians.
In fact, I’d say we don’t have enough coworking spaces yet. Maybe just in a particular industry.
In Mindspace, a coworking space in Berlin, there are companies worth over $6 million, working out of a coworking space.
I met founders, freelancers, designers, consultants all working out of coworking spaces. I met a fashion designer in Germany who works out of a studio at a coworking space. All the clothes she makes are done at that studio. She doesn’t even think about distribution because distribution companies come to the space to pick up her clothes because they know the space is for fashion entrepreneurs. In that same space, there are drycleaners. So it’s an ecosystem.
Buffrspace wishes Blessing Achu the best of luck in this endeavour.
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