We approached 23 year old CEO and business student, Emmanuel (Eman) Ajadi to talk business, Tie Doctor, being a student and how he balances it all.
Eman launched his Tie business in 2012 whilst studying for his bachelor’s degree in International Business at the University of Birmingham, UK. Working with members of his team as well as international suppliers in China, Emmanuel operates Tie Doctor through market stalls located in Bricklane; Backyard market, London as well as through his online shop – www.tie-doctor.co.uk
Integr8: How would you describe your journey from the conception of Tie Doctor to its reality?
Emmanuel: I had the business concept in December 2012 and after much research, started trading in February 2013. At first I thought it might be difficult to start up the business but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. We started (and still trade) in market stalls which fortunately involves low costs and overheads.
Integr8: What inspired you to start thinking ‘Fashion?’ and why Ties?
Emmanuel: *laughs* When I was around 17 years old, I started selling wholesale women’s, men’s and winter accessories on eBay. Over time, market demand for the ties grew and I noticed how quickly they’d sell out. Due to already having the name ‘Tie Doctor,’ customers kept requesting when we would start selling ties and other products.
From that I just thought, ‘Hmm..people seem to like these..there could be a gap in the market for Bow Ties’ and so that ended up forming a major part of what became our first product line. I’d say that customer support has played a huge part in our product launch.
Integr8: Were your parents supportive of your vision?
Emmanuel: *laughs* Not at all! but luckily I didn’t rely on my parents for help. During my second year at University, I began to feel that I needed to devote more time to my business. A big part of that was feeling like I was not learning many practical skills from my degree. I felt like my time could be better put into the business so I took a gap year after completing my second year. Needless to say, my parents were not happy. They challenged me to finish my education first before putting my full focus into my business.
At the moment, I am balancing running Tie Doctor whilst completing my studies. It’s hard work but I believe life is all about doing what makes you happy. One question I always like to ask myself is, ‘Could you see yourself doing this in 10, 20 years?’ If the answer is YES, then I know I’m on the right path.
Integr8: Who or what would you say has been your biggest help and why?
Emmanuel: I would say our employee loyalty has been our biggest help. Customers are important but equally so are our employees. We try to encourage an open environment where workers feel relaxed and where they know that their views will be heard.
Integr8: What has been the biggest challenge and why?
Emmanuel: The biggest challenge for us unsurprisingly has been finance. We are a very small company with significant numbers of customers returning. It is what every business wants which is what makes it bittersweet. At the moment, we try to accommodate as many needs as possible but sometimes that isn’t always possible. Accommodating customers’ needs takes resources which we do not have. We sometimes get recurring requests from customers such as ‘When are you going to open your first store?’ or ‘When are you going to bring in new products?’
Hearing these questions warms my heart and just shows that our customers are clearly sticking with us and want us to grow quickly. This challenge has been immensly reduced by collaborating with a few government funding schemes – through which we were able to extend our product range with over 300 new stock items. With the cash inflow, we were able to achieve that in the space of two years. We do have a vision and a plan to grow the business.
Integr8: Have you collaborated with other start-ups? If not, do you plan to?
Emmanuel: Yes! We have partnered with other start ups/stockists such as Life in Paradigm in Stoke Newington and Handmade Alma in London.
Integr8: Do you have any regrets?
Emmanuel: In 2016, we turned down a big investment from an investor which in hindsight, would have been amazing. It was an opportunity we had taken time to consider as it would have been nice to have had the investment and the money. However, we felt the whole situation did not feel right and that it would take away the ethics and joy of the business.
Integr8: With so many things going on, how do you balance work and your student life?
Emmanuel: To be honest, it’s a big struggle. Managing the business whilst trying to excel in my university course has hit me a bit hard but my main work ethic is to ‘Do My Best.’ I have found that planning everything in the morning does help me out a lot as it gives me an indication as to whether I am slacking or falling behind on things.
It’s a lot of work but what keeps me going is the positivity and overwhelming support of my customers. My business emails are filled with a lot of customers who message in just to say thank you for the service we provide. We also get a lot of regular customers that even give gifts at Christmas which still blows me away. These are just a few examples why doing this pays off.
Integr8: Aside from work, what do you do in your spare time?
Emmanuel: Good question! In my spare time I like to binge on jazz.fm radio and just relax. I am a big music fan and some of my friends are DJs so we like to relax and just listen to positive music. I also travel, see new places with close friends.
Integr8: What are some of the lessons you have learned on your journey?
Emmanuel: One of the most important things that I have learned is that my business degree, although somewhat useful, does not help at all with the actual running of a business. So for example: Speaking to customers, suppliers and building rapport – these are cases where I’ve had to learn on the job.
I have also had to do things that did not make financial sense at a glance such as giving free products to our customers and taking suppliers out to meals (some of which were expensive). It seemed counter intuitive at the time as the traditional ideology in business is to negotiate with suppliers to keep costs low. At times, I had and still have to remind myself that we do it in order to build a better network and form good relationships.
To follow Emmanuel’s Journey and to find out more about Tie Doctor, Check out: