Igwe Twins: Multimillionaire food entrepreneur duo offer 5 business lessons

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Twin brothers, Tobias and Titus Igwe nicknamed Igwe Twins, left their village in Ebonyi state in search of the proverbial golden fleece in Lagos several years ago. They currently run Speedmeals Mobile Kitchen, a food service delivery company. Today, Speedmeals which started with just the two of them has 16 full-time kitchen staff and other part-time staff. After sitting with the young entrepreneurs for hours on a warm afternoon in Lagos, we glean out five business lessons from their inspirational success story.

Start Small

For the Igwe Twins, they had to start with nothing. You know how we say in Naija, “start anyhow”. That was how they started. In 2007, their first business idea was funded by a N50, 000 grant from the Reverend Father of the church they attended. It was a phone call business in  Apapa. It was called “Network of Peace Ventures”. They set up a canopy with chairs and tables; sold recharge cards; made phone calls and also engaged their customers who wanted to chat after a tiring work day. After five months, they returned  the grant. The impressed Reverend Father gave it back to them and they bought shares.

“Don’t eat everything; save something. Invest in something that will bring something in return.” Titus says.

But what has phone call business got to do with catering? They lost their father at 22 and used their running costs to finance the burial. On their return to Lagos, they were back to ground zero. They worked at a shipping company at Apapa; it was while they went around buying food for staff of the organisation that they began to think of Speedmeals: quality food delivered at the right time. They both went to a catering school, and the rest is history. 

SpeedMeals Mobile Kitchen co-founders Tobias and Titus Igwe

SpeedMeals Mobile Kitchen co-founders Tobias and Titus Igwe

Learn from Everything

Life teaches us through our experiences, not school. Titus Igwe has not gone through any form of academic training within the walls of a formal school. Tobias, on the other hand, studied part time at the University of Lagos—a long time dream for the two of them. However, one had to drop out because of lack of funds. That person was Titus. However, what Titus lacked in “formal school”, he gained through business trainings. He attended the FATE Foundation Business Academy. So, while Tobias came to the business with the “academic” knowledge, he had the business knowledge.

A conversation with Titus is dotted with quotes from several books and successful business entrepreneurs. He speaks of Richard Branson and how he started Virgin Atlantic. He draws lessons from his life and says their story is similar. Their road through entrepreneurship has been what he called “play-play.” We were just stumbling on ideas and learning the best that we can from them.” Titus says that their love for literature also made them support Bookjam, the now rested literary gathering with free small chops.

Partnerships Rock: Business partnerships are usually tricky. However, the Igwe Twins started their partnership from the womb. While Tobias baked the cakes, Titus was the craftsman of words. With every delivery, they would also add a poem written by Titus. Earlier in 2010, as part of the Nigeria at 50 celebrations, he performed one of his poems at a national event hosted by Channels Television.

“Sometimes, we would frame the poem and present to the client,” he says that till today, he is the one behind the strategy in the organisation while Tobias is more concerned about the operational end of things. The good thing about this partnership is that whenever one is down, the other is there to cheer him on. Titus says that he does not imagine life and business without his twin. Their amazing partnership has gone on to weather the storms of doing business in Nigeria and won them business grants and awards. These include the Samsung Real Dreams (2010); the MTN Business Grant (2012) and the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Foundation Grant (2015). Their awards include the United Nations Sukuma Africa Young Entrepreneur Awards 2011; and a nomination by African Awards for Entrepreneurship as Outstanding Small and Growing Business in Africa 2012.

Dream Big: Tobias and Titus Igwe were merely children without any perfect picture of their future when they began to dream of that future. Titus says that he knew that he would one day be on television and in the papers, for something good. In fact, he knew the posture he would strike. They came to Lagos; struggled through the hard times—which involved sleeping in a “passage” and generator house for years; yet they did not let go of their dream.

“We believe that dreams come true. We look at things with great optimism, with the hope that things will always get better.”

Do not just dream, write down the dream. Preferably, where you can see it. Behind the door of their Surulere office, you see: “our target is to feed 10, 000 people daily.” A big dream for a company that had a turnover of 3 million naira in 2010. Today, the Igwe Twins are living their Lagos dream.

Impact Others: The Igwe twins are seeing beyond themselves. Early 2016, they launched the Youth Enterprise Acceleration Strategy (YEAST) project. It is a grassroots strategy to create employment opportunities for young Nigerians. It takes the form of a series of community job fairs where unemployed youths are addressed then matched with opportunities.

There have been two of such job fairs already— one in Surulere with about 1,000 attendees and another in Apapa with 500 attendees. There is a strategy for ensuring that the unemployment needs of attendees are met which involves matching them with relevant opportunities. The next event is scheduled for October 4, 2016 in Yaba, Lagos.

yeast project

“We categorise them into unemployed, under-employed and unemployable. The fact that you went to university does not mean that you are employable. Employability is about having skills needed by your employer. The “unemployed” get the training and then they train and mentor the unemployable.” Titus say that it is a pay-it-forward idea to carry every category along.

In the end, YEAST hopes to create large skills centres where many of the attendees can learn requisite skills. These centres will also act as incubation grounds for young businesses. For instance: a shoe making factory will provide not only the basic skills needed to make a shoe from scratch but a graduate of such a facility does not need to go and build a shoe making factory of their own. They can work out of the same shoe factory company for as long as they want. For the Igwe Twins, this is a way to contribute their quota to the society.



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