From The 9-5 Grind To The Startup Life: Ade Balogun Of Locitude's Story

Unapologetic lochead and founder, Locitude Studios Ade Balogun, is a longtime friend of the CapitalSquare family, so it was only a matter of time before we caught up with her for a little chit-chat about her journey as an entrepreneur. What makes her story even more interesting is that she saw an opportunity to do what she loved for a living and decided to make the transition from paid employment to entrepreneurship to make it a reality. She tells us all about her journey here: 

You went from watching YouTube tutorials for ideas on how to style your locs to running arguably the foremost loc studio in Lagos! There must have been an interesting story behind that:

4 years after I loc’d my hair, I got bored with the same old look and decided I needed to switch things up. I couldn’t think of anything else to do with my locs, so I decided to cut them. On my way to the salon, I casually mentioned to my boyfriend that I was going to chop off my locs. Apparently, he actually liked them, so he suggested that I consider trying something different with my locs instead. He googled ‘beautiful dreadlocks’ for ideas, and this particular video where the girl in it had curly locs, caught my eye as I’d never curled mine before.  

So off I went to get my locs curled instead of cutting them as I originally intended. After a long day of prodding and pulling and more than four hours under the dryer, my hair came out with barely a twirl🙄. My next appointment was just as disappointing.

At that point, it occurred to me that if the girl in the video tutorial could style her hair by herself, there was no reason why I couldn’t do the same too. I started researching methods and ideas for styling locs, ordered tools on Amazon and started replicating everything I watched in the tutorials. My hair became fabulous!

My hair became so sensational, that at work, colleagues looked forward to what new style I would come up with. Many of the ladies had no idea my locs were natural and would often ask what extensions I used to achieve certain styles. I was spending a lot of time answering questions about my hair, so I decided it would be easier to start a blog where I addressed most of the questions I got. Over time, I built a following and people would ask me where they could get their hair done. I would refer them to my stylist but they would come back saying that their hair didn’t turn out like mine and ask if I could style their hair. Of course, I declined because I didn’t think at the time that it was something I could do.

Around that time, I started getting bored with my job, so I decided to go back to practicing architecture. Because I hadn't practiced for a few years, I wasn’t getting as many jobs as I would have liked. On the other hand, I was constantly inundated with requests to do hair, so I decided to explore that since I enjoyed doing hair anyway. It was from that that Locitude was born.

Wow, that’s quite a story! What was the transition from paid employment to entrepreneurship like for you?

It was difficult. You have all these expectations, put in the money – all my savings in my case- and work so hard to see your dream come to life, but no one tells you that your dreams won’t come true immediately. It takes time for everything to come together in the way you want it to. I spent the bulk of my savings renting and setting up a little shop in Dolphin estate, Ikoyi. I expected that I would have a steady stream of clients from the get-go, but that wasn’t the case. There were days when I questioned my decision, and considered going back to the 9-5 grind.

Somehow, the drive and the passion to keep pushing forward has sustained me. Over time, things picked up and my clientele base increased. Also, having clients express appreciation for a job well done keeps me going and tells me I’m definitely doing something right. It hasn’t gotten easier, and I’m not where I’d like to be yet, but looking back I’d say it has been worth it.

Did you ever at some point see yourself becoming an entrepreneur, or did the opportunity to do something you love present itself and you ran with that?

I never imagined myself as an entrepreneur! While researching content ideas for my blog I came across this event called ‘Loc Appreciation Day’. It’s an annual event where locheads come together to celebrate their hair. I was still in paid employment at the time, and my colleague, Adeola, encouraged me to host it in Nigeria. I set about organizing, expecting 10 to 20 people max. Imagine my surprise and excitement when over a 100 people turned out for the 1st edition! People kept asking me what next. At that point, I realized I had the opportunity to do so much more, and people also wanted/expected more. It was an additional push for me to explore doing this full time. Perhaps if practicing architecture had taken off after I left Konga, I may never have been motivated to explore the opportunity. I’m really glad I did though!

Funding can be a major headache for entrepreneurs. How did you deal?

 I had some savings from my job at Konga. In addition to that, I also had support from family. Fortunately, after initial setup, cashflow isn’t much of an issue as far as day to day operations are concerned, because the business generates income daily so from what we make from one day to the next, we’re able to stay afloat. On the other hand, we also must work extra hard to ensure something is set aside for the rainy day.

 You’ve also launched your own line of haircare products. How has the reception for that been so far?

It’s been awesome and the Locitude community has been receptive. We currently have an oil blend range designed to meet the needs of locheads, and we’ll be adding more products soon.

However, the haircare line is only one of our mediums of expression. From the start, Locitude has always been more than just the hair studio. Locitude is first and foremost, a community and a safe space for locheads. This community has 5 distinct pillars and mediums of expression:

- The Hair Studio

- Our Product Line

- Content: via the Locitude blog and magazine

- Events: to foster a sense of community

- Education: we’re constantly seeking to learn more ourselves and educate other locticians so the Nigerian lochead has access to quality service and a great experience overall.

What notions about being a business owner did you have before you started Locitude that have proven not to be the case?

Within six months of launching, our clientele grew tremendously and it became clear that our space had become too small.  We had the means to move into a bigger space and we were excited about our growth and all the possibilities a bigger studio represented. I had this awesome idea for the layout of my new space. Infact I had even designed it on AutoCAD.

Unfortunately, because we had to focus on setting up the new space and settling in, my fancy ideas didn’t even begin to take shape until almost a year after we moved into the space. We had newspaper on the windows for the first 4 months! In my excitement, I didn’t realize a bigger space meant bigger running costs. As a result, there was little left over for the non-essentials like aesthetics.

It’s so easy to get caught up with things like appearances or ‘packaging’ to the detriment of your business. I still don’t have my studio setup the way I would like, but that experience taught me to focus on the most important things first.

In what ways has being an entrepreneur changed you?

It has humbled me! (laughs). I’m not even kidding. At my last paid job, I had a car and driver assigned to me. I hadn’t been to the fuel station in over two years. Now, I started Locitude at the height of a fuel scarcity crisis. Guess who had to go queue for fuel?

There are good days when we have a constant stream of clients walking in. There are also days when you are praying for just one client to come in because you need that money badly. Running my own business opened my eyes to certain realities. I grew up as an only child who got what she wanted without having to ask too many times. When I started my business and things didn’t always go my way, I had to learn to be patient with the process.

Besides your career as an architect, what else did you have to give up to embrace entrepreneurship

I'd say self. I had to let go of being a certain way. I've had to make sacrifices so that my business can continue to thrive. My boyfriend once described me as entitled one day when I was upset about how things weren't all going according to plan with Locitude. While that stung at the time, it made me realize that things won't always work out how I want them to. 

If you had to start all over again, what would you do differently, knowing what you know now?

I would enjoy the process more. I wouldn’t let the not-so-good days get to me so much because they come with the territory. I’d appreciate my efforts and how far I’ve come and not beat myself up over unmet expectations. I feel like letting setbacks get to me have actually held me back.

Locs are still perceived negatively by some. How do you deal with that?

Well, locs have been associated with certain types of people, but these days you find professionals and respectable people who also happen to be locheads. When I first loc'd my hair, my mom wasn’t thrilled. 7 years later, she now has 2-year old locs because her perception has changed.

I think that just by being ourselves, locheads can show the world that we are also normal, respectable members of society. One of the things that Loc Appreciation Day aims to achieve is to portray locs positively.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Just do it. There’ll never be a perfect time. However, understand your numbers and keep accurate records.

When you’re not running Locitude, how do you unwind?

Salsa! I've been dancing for a few years now, and I find that it’s the perfect way to unwind after a long day of being on my feet at the studio.

Thank you for your time, Ade. It's been a real pleasure talking to you.

Thank you!