We had the good fortune of connecting with Omobola Imoisili Entrepreneur & Storyteller and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Omobola Imoisili, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I started my original business because I was unhappy, but I started another side to my business because the pandemic forced me to get creative and innovate.
Before I started my business 3 years ago, I didn’t really see myself as the type to start a business. I had always planned to climb the corporate ladder and I was successful at that until things started getting stale at work. I was bored, unhappy, and found myself unable to concentrate, and there didn’t seem to be a clear path to get out of it. I decided that my happiness was my responsibility to manage so I started working on a project that I felt passionate about and would bring me joy. Representation in kids’ products and media had been important to me ever since having children, so I started by writing a children’s book about an African Fairy called Feyi Fay who travels the world helping kids solve problems. Then, I added other products like toys and backpacks to my collection.
I was struggling at first but got really excited when I found a way to make it work… and that’s when the pandemic hit. Everything came to a screeching halt overnight. All my partnership deals were cancelled. All my retail plans cancelled. I had already quit my job so I didn’t have anything to fall back on. I had gone from being a corporate executive to being broke and jobless. That’s when I decided I had to try something new and take my business virtual. Before the pandemic, I did book tours and I told the kids African Folktales as part of my sessions, so I decided to turn that into a virtual class. I launched my first class and before I knew it I had over 1,500 kids across 20 different countries joining me to hear African Folktales and learn about Africa along the way. I now host private classes and birthday parties, as well as visit schools, libraries and parks to share different stories. I would never have thought to start a class on African Folktales had it not been for the pandemic.
So today my business has evolved. Teni & Tayo Creations now produces workshops, toys, books and more for kids with a pinch of African influence.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
My company produces workshops, toys, books and more for kids with a pinch of African influence. My main workshop is one where kids can learn about Africa through folktales. In each class kids hear a new enchanting folktale or fairytale from somewhere in Africa, but before we start the story, we use the opportunity to learn about the continent. Sometimes we learn about the music, sometimes we learn about the geography, customs or food. Each class is like a box of chocolates. You never know what to expect! But what makes the class so fun is that while the stories are being told, the kids get to act out the scenes. Parents sign their kids up and hear their kids scream as the run from monsters, hop like bunnies, emerge from the river like a river goddesses and more. This class is by far my most popular product/service with over 1,500 children across 20+ countries having attended at least one virtual class. I now host private classes as well as visit schools, libraries, birthday parties, and parks to share different stories.
My toys and other products are also infused with a pinch of African influence. For example, my STEM solar powered car kits include a superhero mission set in Africa. With my build a safe kit, kids are greeted with an African proverb when they open the box, and my jewelry making kits include cowrie beads which are popular in traditional African jewelry and have other uses across the continent. No matter how small, every product has something inspired by Africa, even if it’s just the name of the characters.
I started this company because I wanted to see more representation in the everyday things made for kids. I have two young daughters and it is important for them, and for kids like them, to see themselves represented and know that they are amazing just the way they are. I also wanted kids from other backgrounds to learn about Africa in a way they haven’t learned about it before. I wanted them to understand that Africa is more than what you see on TV.
This business journey hasn’t been easy for me. I was compelled to start a business because I was unhappy in corporate America and I made loads of mistakes along the way. Then just as I was starting to make progress, the pandemic hit, and everything came to a literal standstill. But it was because of the pandemic that I came up with the idea for the African Folktales class, which is my most popular offering today. What I learned is that you must be flexible and nimble in business. Anything can happen and being able to pivot is crucial to survival. I also learned to listen to my customers. You may be in love with a product but your customers may love something else. You have to be willing to listen to what your customers want and be flexible rather than clinging on to something just because it has a special place in your heart. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My mother and father (Dr. Tokunbo Oluwole & Dr Gbadebo Akisanya) believed in me and my vision before I believed in myself. They are my biggest fans.
My husband, aunts, uncles and cousins are also so supportive. I made it this far because of them. There are too many to name.
I also want to give a special shout out to some of my friends and family who give me words of advice and encouragement along the way: Torera Sotinwa, Lola Adegoke, Coco Arowolo, Linda Okwor