Tommi Edwards, founder & CEO of Eventbree
Nigerian events management entrepreneur, Tommie Edwards learned about business from a young age. Determined to make a name for herself in London, she moved to the UK at 21. This is her story...
I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. I was one of those shy kids, which I grew out of after a while. My parents are quite entrepreneurial and at the age of 16, my mom went to America, so she left me in charge of the family’s businesses. I had to manage the supermarket and a barber shop and that was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey.
I became a boss of 14 people, which was a bit strange, but I think it made me grow up very quickly as I was responsible for a lot. I had to make sure that everyone was being paid on time and that stock was replenished, as well as do all the accounting, it was a lot to learn. I was also taking care of the family at the time because I'm the only girl and the firstborn of four children.
I was probably one of the fortunate kids because I went to private school, but I lived in a different area from my classmates. I had friends who would come and visit once in a while, but I always had my hands full. At times, I thought, ‘Why is my mother doing this to me? I want to do this, I want to do that’ but in hindsight, I think the experience of having a lot of responsibility at such a young age made me the woman I am today.
I wonder how my life would be if I didn't have so many balls to juggle. You don't get to choose your family, but you can make your own self. From a young age, I've always had that at the back of my mind. So, if a limo dropped off a classmate at school and I use the school bus, it doesn't matter. Yes, we don't have a limo, but I will get a limo when I grow up if I want. That's been the mentality and what's been driving me since.
MOVING TO LONDON
I had a lot of friends at university that would travel to London during the holidays. When I was 21, I told my dad, ‘I'm coming to London to study my ACCA (qualification for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), and he said, ‘Why? I can't afford it’ and I told him, ‘Not to worry, I just wanted you to know.’
At the time I was doing modelling while juggling school. I became the face of Limca which was a cola brand and was paid very well for it. I also secured three other bookings, which meant I was able to pay my school fees.
I got my visa and I came to the UK all on my own. I didn’t know anyone here and I remember taking my suitcases to the school and being told my room had been given to someone else. I didn’t know where I was going to sleep, so I called my dad who said he had a cousin in Elephant and Castle who I could stay with.
It wasn’t the type of life I wanted to live, so, I hustled my way through London. My aunt was a cleaner, so I started cleaning with her. After a week I thought, ‘No, this is not me. This is not the life I left, to come and live in London’. So that day, I took the number 453 bus from Elephant and Castle and said, ‘Wherever this bus stops, that's where I'm going to stop.’ It stopped at Baker Street and so I started walking, looking for vacancies, and saw a sign in a shop window advertising for an assistant.
I walked into the shop and enquired about the role. They told me I needed a CV, so I found an EasyInternetCafé, typed one up and handed it in. I immediately had an interview in Victoria, so I jumped on the 82 bus to their head offices and got the job.
I've always been an entrepreneur. Running the family’s business at the age of sixteen inspired me to more. So I would catch the bus to Banana Island, an artificial island off the foreshore of Lagos, and buy African print. Then i'd travl back to Lagos and sell the prints at a higher price to the women in my mum’s office. They would pay me at the end of the month, and I would use that money to buy more and sell it again.
In 2010, I was getting married at Gibson Hall, in London and I had a clear idea of what I wanted it to be like. I started contacting event planners to help me and the figures they quoted me were really expensive, so I decided to plan the wedding myself.
Six years later, I was trying to plan something for a friend’s birthday party, and I realised that the problem I faced back then, calling a friend of a friend of a friend to get the name of a good supplier, still exists. So, I said to myself, I think it's about time someone does something about it.
Eventbree is like an online supermarket, where you can search for different event service providers, such as photographers, videographers or makeup artist. The prices, descriptions of what they're going to be offering you for that price, locations, availability, and reviews are all listed, and then we complete the booking for the customer.
SUCCESS AND CHALLENGES
I’ve found the greatest challenge of being an entrepreneur is finance. I fund the business myself by working as a consult for multinational companies in the investment banking and insurance sectors. As a result, I'm able to earn an income from my 9-5 job, while managing my business. At some point, I'll make the full transition to becoming a full-time entrepreneur, but for right now, all the money I make is invested back into Eventbree.
My two kids have been my greatest personal achievement, I've got a five-year-old and a three-year-old and they bring such joy and joy into my life. In terms of professionally, what I'm most proud of is Eventbree, because it felt like all the odds were against me.
Understanding customers and identifying what they really want was a challenge in the beginning. We ended up giving them what we believed they needed and saw their reaction to it.
As we were starting out as a marketplace, the ‘chicken or egg’ problem inevitably happened. The question was, how do we attract suppliers without already having clients to buy their product, or how do we attract customers without a product or service to purchase?
All of this led to us build a platform that is tailored to the voice of our customers. In a few weeks, we will be releasing some exciting new features, including the introduction of artificial intelligence.
I'm really, excited about the future. I can't wait to get into it, because I know there are some exciting things there. There's still so much to achieve, especially with my business Eventbree. I think that there's so much potential with Eventbree and what it could be. My primary goal is to make Eventbree a household name, and to be known for simplifying the event planning process in major cities around the world.
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