Chioma Ifeanyi-Okoro is the co-founder of My African Corner, an innovative digital media platform that aims to transform word-of-mouth marketing among the African Diaspora. The goal is to create a curated platform that serves as a hub for anyone to find all things African in cities across the world (starting in Toronto). Chioma is also the Toronto Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED), happening on Friday, November 17th.
We caught up with her this week.
SDTC: Can you describe your education/career trajectory?
CIO: I went to school at the University of Guelph and graduated in 2010 with a Bachelors of Commerce in Management Economics in Industry and Finance. I worked in banking and technology industries for over five years and completed my CPA, CMA in 2015. In December 2016, I quit my job and started My African Corner.
What was the impetus behind founding My African Corner?
When I first moved to Canada eleven years ago, I struggled with the basics, like finding a hairdresser to braid my hair. I was a seventeen-year-old Nigerian girl alone in a new country. I had moved from Lagos (which is the equivalent of New York on steroids) to a really small town in Ontario called Baden. When I graduated from Guelph, I moved to Toronto.
In Toronto, I was intentional about finding community and building my network. Through events and business conferences at my church, I came across so many business owners in my community who I would otherwise never have heard about because their businesses were based on word of mouth.
Before long, with a phone directory full of so many business owners, I officially became a “hub” for family and friends to find businesses owned by the African Diaspora. Soon enough, I realized this was a problem that needed a more concrete solution. In January 2017, my co-founder Aziz Garuba and I started working on My African Corner.
Walk us through a typical day in your life, from getting up until going to bed.
My days are a combination of meetings, content creation for our social media channels, phone calls, hopping from event to event within the startup community and the African community, creating PowerPoint decks for partnership proposals, planning major events for My African Corner and other organizations I volunteer with, sending a lot of emails, listening to audio books on the TTC for my bi-monthly book club (The Winners’ Circle), and completing the modules for a content marketing course I am taking. We got into the Social Venture Zone at Ryerson, so I spend some time there as well. I camp out at Starbucks extensively. I think it is time I got some sort of brand ambassador recognition. To decompress, I reward myself with an episode of Jane the Virgin or The Mindy Project before I go to bed. I also enjoy the occasional red velvet slice.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
Realizing when it was time to outsource. Entrepreneurs sometimes feel they have to do everything. I have spent this whole year trying to do data entry while also managing our go-to market strategy, running social media, business development, event planning, partnerships and everything else. We would have launched My African Corner sooner if we had paid someone to do our data entry from the onset. A good friend recommended the book Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. It has helped to shift my thinking.
What is your advice to other young WOC who may be thinking of starting their own businesses?
Own your narrative and step out with a mission to live your dreams unapologetically.
Our greatest limitation in life is our imagination. Of course, people will call your baby ugly. But all the greatest ideas seem ugly at first and then all of a sudden everyone wants to be a part of them. Don’t allow anyone to limit your imagination. Dream big and then wake up and EXECUTE.
Volunteer your time.
My greatest opportunities have come through volunteering. Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is one of such initiatives.
Speak up! Walk into a room and introduce yourself.
Do your research and have a valuable contribution to add to every conversation. Take courses to develop your skills, and read books and articles that expand your mind. Walk into every room with a clear agenda of what you want to get out of it.
Do your research, understand what exactly people care about and then communicate value.
I have walked up to CEOs at major organizations and Senior Executives and given them my elevator pitch. This is something I would not have been able to do in the past. The power of research!
Keeping my monthly TTC pass subscription in January was one of the best decisions I ever made. Going for events drastically transformed my entrepreneur journey. The connections I have made this year are priceless. I pretty much schedule my month based on the StartupHere Toronto website. I once heard a woman of colour say she was afraid of being the only woman of colour in the room. My response? Invite another woman of colour – or five.
Never give up.
It won’t be pretty. You will make mistakes. Things won’t go according to plan or they will take longer than you expected. Stay true to your voice and why you started. Dust off the craziness and keep moving forward. You’ve got this!
What do you love most about your career?
The people I have met. Genuine people who have moved the dial for me in so many ways. When you show up, you attract the right people who will help you live out your dreams. Every day is different and the possibilities are endless.