How I Turned My Side Hustle Into a Sustainable Business

Swish Ideas began as a side hustle with the aim to modernize the gifts and souvenirs distributed at events in Nigeria. My goal was to make these items functional thereby adding to the joy the event brings to its audience. In turn, event hosts get significant value for their money and guests remember the event.

The demand for my service increased and I began receiving orders from various parts of the country. At the time, I felt that I had no other option but to take the idea seriously. In 2013, I launched making it Nigeria’s Premier Online Gift and Souvenir Store. Of course, in 2013, with the CBN cashless policy, the booming e-commerce market and a shift in consumer purchasing behavior, it was a perfect time to launch.

Medical doctor and founder of Swish Ideas Limited, Dr. Chioma Agha talks to AWP Network in this interview on how she turned her side hustle into her main hustle.

How did you come up with your business name?

Through the dictionary! I looked for synonyms of words like \”sophisticated,\” \”polished,\” \”unique,\” and with my research, I came up with the word \”Swish.\” I did not want to restrict the business to just gifts, so I added Ideas. Hence, Swish Ideas.

What inspired you to start?

The need and high demand for my service.

Who is your target market?

Wedding planners, event coordinators, corporate bodies, brides and grooms to be – it runs the spectrum.

How have you financed the idea?

My business has been largely self-financed.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

Everything sets us apart. Our company values – our commitment to clients, integrity, to offering the most unique, sophisticated yet functional gifts, our excellent customer service experience, a great return policy, super fast delivery and more importantly, there is NO minimum order quantity.

What is the long-term plan for your business?

I would like to get into manufacturing. We have produced a couple of souvenirs and moving forward, would like to incorporate an African theme into productions. This would help promote our very rich culture and heritage.

What challenges do you face?

We face many challenges. From poor branding and printing services to the extremely high-cost of logistics (transportation of goods to our clients) to getting an A-team. But challenges as I like to say, are brain exercises. You just have to think deeply on how to solve some of these issues.

What five (5) key things have you learned since starting your business?

  1. You can achieve anything you put your mind to.
  2. Persistence is key. NEVER EVER give up. Always remember why you started and keep your eye firmly on the goal.
  3. Listen to your customers. Truly, they hold the key to your growth.
  4. Be passionate. It is extremely contagious. Live and breathe your idea.
  5. Keep innovating. A business that ceases to innovate will eventually become static and die.

What five (5) things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?

  • The truth of the matter is that NOT everyone can be an entrepreneur and that is OKAY.  There is a fad about everyone wanting to be an entrepreneur and not wanting to work for anyone. I do not believe that should be the sole reason for wanting to be an entrepreneur. Besides, if we all became entrepreneurs, who would work for entrepreneurs? So everyone is important.
  • Look out for a real need or problem and solve it. Problems are opportunities. Open your eyes!
  • Remember the word lean start-up. Why loan money to rent an office when you can start right from your home?
  • Remember if the first prototype of your idea does not embarrass you, then you launched too late.
  • If your venture is not working and you have changed strategy several times, be willing to put your ego aside and move on to the next idea. Just make sure you learn the lessons and incorporate them into the next venture.

What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?

Start small and grow. I know a lot of people who started off with nothing. Of course, there are some complex ideas that may be capital-intensive, in that case, seek help. Start with family and friends before looking for proper investors. Always use what you have to get what you want.

How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?

Once we realize that there is “space” for everyone and get rid of the mentality that “only I must shine,” then we are good to go. Even if we are the best at what we do, we cannot do everything or take on all the jobs in our field. We should be willing to mentor, assist, encourage and support each other through our words and actions. We should learn to encourage a small business owner not only the celebrities who have made it. Do not despise humble beginnings as we all have to start from somewhere.

How many jobs have you created so far?

I have created six (6) jobs to date. I am thankful to have impacted people positively.

How has technology enhanced your business?

We are an e-commerce company and technology is the way forward. Technology makes the world so much smaller. At my company, we are able to maintain a wide reach using various tools and platforms to reach clients across the world – by utilizing an online site where anyone anywhere in the world can browse through and shop. At Swish Ideas, we will continue to invest in technology, as we know that e-commerce is going to contribute significantly to the GDP of our economy.

How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?

Innovation comes through problem-solving and empathy. Banks have created solutions to ease the pain of their clients. Online markets have emerged to support career mothers. So improving innovation requires looking at the world through an empathetic lens and  following through by coming up with solutions. Support comes through words and actions (financial would fall under actions). Lastly, let us not be quick to dismiss people and their ideas.


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